Kingdom Living 8: Praying in Secret

imagesMatthew 6:5-6 (ESV):

“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.

But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

In Matt. 5, Jesus taught about the greater righteousness. This greater righteousness is required to enter the kingdom. It is a mark of the kingdom. The greater righteousness comes from obeying the will of God. Do you obey the will of God in your life? That is probably the most important question you need to answer today.

Now in Matt. 6, Jesus teaches practical righteousness. There is the wrong way to practice this righteousness, and the right way. In vv. 1-4, there is the right way of giving and the wrong way of giving. In vv. 5-6, there is the right way of praying and the wrong way of praying. In vv. 16-18, there is the right way and the wrong way of fasting.

Today, we tackle the second example—praying to the Father.

When God Brings Out Good Things from Bad Situations

By Em Sumaway

imagesThirdly, God can use “bad” things or situations to teach us an important lesson and mold our character. What’s amazing about God is that He can bring good things out of bad situations. Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”

This verse is not saying that all things that happen to those who love God are good. Some things that happen to them are unfavourable, undesirable, disadvantageous, detrimental, and even plain wrong. But God can make all experiences work together so that good comes from them in the end.[1] Isn’t that amazing?

One writer once asked, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Another writer sharply answered, “There are no good people” (i.e., good enough to be deserving of God’s favor). Bottom line is that whether you are good or bad, unpleasant experiences will come your way. But you can take joy in the fact that God is in the business of producing good and positive results out of adverse circumstances.

HOW DOES THE STORY END?[2]

If we read further we will find out that Elijah survived the drought. He eventually went back to the King’s presence after about three years to announce that God will send a rain. What happened next is one of the most amazing displays of victory for God’s glory—the contest between Elijah and the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18).

So how does the story end? God was glorified. If we can summarize the lessons we learned from Elijah and the ravens in one word, it will be the word, obedience. What we can expect to be the outcome if we obey God—He will be glorified.

The first step to a life of obedience to God is to accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. Will you take that step towards obedience today?

[1] Editor’s Note: In the context of Romans 8, the phrase, “all things,” may include freedom in Christ from the law of sin and death (v. 2), condemnation of sin in the flesh (v. 3), giving of life to our mortal bodies through the Spirit (v. 11), the sufferings of this present time (vv. 17-18), the work of the Spirit in our weakness (v. 26), and the purposes of God in our salvation, from calling to glorification (vv. 28-30). The “good” may refer to all the benefits of God resulting from “all things,” including Christ-likeness (v. 29).

[2] I also came across a very interesting blog while preparing this sermon. You can find it here: file:///C:/Users/edsie/Downloads/Staying%20Dusty%20%20Why%20did%20ravens%20feed%20Elijah%20.htm. The central point of the study is that God sent the raven to teach Elijah a lesson on mercy.

When Obedience Becomes Tedious

By Em Sumaway

Secondly, remember that obedience is the right thing to do even when it’s tedious or unappealing to us. When the command seems dull, boring, and unamusing, we’d do well to obey because God’s ways are always better than ours. Even when the directive seems stupid (based on your personal understanding), or illogical, or unreasonable, we are to obey because God knows it’s what’s good for you.

When I was working for a BPO company in Lahug, Cebu City, I had to endure the tediousness of getting phone calls after phone calls of literally the same issue. It doesn’t help that you are dealing with very irate callers since the line of business I was a part of deals with policies and policy-violators. But I had to take phone calls or I won’t get paid. At times I dread having to pick up the headphones at the beginning of the shift because I did not want to go through the tedium of dealing with the same issues for the next eight working hours.

What the ravens did was dull and dreary. They had to bring food to Elijah every day! But they did it anyway. I’m sure that what Elijah endured was very depressing for him. He had to accept food from an unclean animal every day! But he endured anyway.

How about you? Are you tired of doing the same thing every day? Are you tired of going through the motions of being a Christian? Are you tired of doing the things that are expected of you by people around you because you are a God-fearing person? Or a more challenging question: Are you tired of obeying the Lord?

Who among you is tired of waking up every Sunday just to come to church? Who among you feels the best time to go to the mall is on a Sunday morning because the alternative (which is going to church) is supremely boring? Who among you prayed for the destruction of your enemy because the alternative (which is loving him) is inconceivable? Obedience to God can be tedious. But it’s the right thing to do anyway.

Whether you like it or not, times will come when, instead of excitement, you’ll feel like you’re dragging yourself in going to church. At times you’ll feel like you’re being forced to do something that you really do not want to do. Sometimes you will be mandated to behave, react, and respond in a certain manner even if you think that it’s illogical. If the mandate comes from the Lord, even if it seems unreasonable and unexciting, obey Him anyway. If the Lord commands you to do something, even if it doesn’t appeal to you in any way, do it anyway.

When God’s Will is Not Our Own

By Em Sumaway

imagesWhat are the lessons we can learn from Elijah and the ravens?

First, following God’s will may at times mean going against our own. This means that God should have the veto power in all aspects of our life. This truth applies not just to Elijah but to the ravens, too. Let me elaborate.

Ravens are selfish animals. It will hunt to feed itself or its young—or maybe not even its young (Ps. 147:9). The sure thing is that it will not hunt food for its bird-friend or bird-neighbor (if there are such terms). There’s no such thing as compassion for this bird. “Each to his own” is its motto.

Can you imagine how agonizing and difficult it is for a raven to not swallow the meat that’s on its mouth because God wants to reserve it for somebody they don’t even know—not even their kind! But when God commanded these self-centered birds to feed Elijah, they obeyed. This shows the transcendence and sovereignty of God—overriding the natural instinct of the ravens for His own glory. This is not the first time God did this in relation to the animal kingdom. Who has not heard of the classic story of Noah and the ark where the animals, even the wild ones, entered the big boat without causing any trouble? What happened to Daniel in the lion’s den? The story of the ravens is as simple as it is perplexing—God sent them to Elijah’s aid, and they obeyed.

Now the case of Elijah may be a little more problematic than that with the ravens. I’m sure God did not ask Elijah’s permission before sending the ravens because I think Elijah would have proposed a “better” alternative. One can easily imagine Elijah saying, “Lord, I have a better idea.” Who could blame him if he did?

Please remember that ravens are scavengers whose diet is composed of decaying flesh of dead animals. They are basically flying garbage disposals. No respectable Jew would eat a raven (or eat anything that comes from its mouth); and neither would you, I’m sure. How would you respond to an invitation to a dinner where the main course is fried raven or raven stew? I’m sure you will find a reason to be somewhere else that night.

The good news for Elijah is that God will feed him. The bad news (for him) is that God will do so through these unclean animals. We would have been less surprised (or less shocked) if God had used a turtle dove or a robin to bring the food. If given a chance, I’m sure Elijah could have come up with a long list of “nobler” birds to take the raven’s place.

There are times when we think we have a better idea than God’s idea. When was the last time that you made a decision that’s in direct contradiction to God’s will? How did you justify that decision? No matter what type of reasoning you assumed, it boils down to believing that you know better—that God somehow made a mistake in telling you otherwise. The adage appropriately sums it up—“Pride is a common human vice.” Pride tells us that just because it pleases us, it must please God, too.

Ah yes, pride. We are all prone to it in some areas. We have arrogant opinions of ourselves and very high expectations of what we can do. We are conceited and a lot of times we speak our opinions with great confidence, certain that we are correct.

Do you know what the Bible says about how wise man is? Let’s take a look at what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:25: “Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” God Himself said so in Isaiah 55:8-9, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Who is the wisest or most intelligent person you know? Einstein? Newton? Solomon of the Bible? It doesn’t matter who he is. The wisest of all men is still no match for God’s wisdom—not even qualified enough to spar with God’s foolishness! That’s how wise man is. If you think you are wiser than God, think again, my friend. Perhaps the moment you do that will be the beginning of true wisdom.

God’s ways are immeasurably higher than ours. “We’re like children learning basic addition and subtraction, compared to a college professor teaching advanced formulas that fill entire blackboards. Yet we insist that all life should be as simple as 1 + 1 = 2.”[1] We can’t possibly fathom the magnitude of God’s intelligence and wisdom or the pretext of His actions. We’re way out of our league. We just have to place our trust in Him, confident that He knows full well what He’s doing, and obey Him at all cost.

[1] 150 Need-to-Know Bible Facts.

The Backdrop (1 Kings 17:1-6)

By Em Sumaway

Elijah went to King Ahab to predict a coming drought. Now King Ahab is one of the most wicked rulers in Israel (1 Ki. 16:30). For 22 years, he reigned as the champion of evil, leading the nation of Israel to an extreme level of immorality (1 Ki. 16:29-30). King Ahab encouraged not just the worship of the Canaanite goddess, Asherah, but also, of Baal (1 Ki. 16:31-33). The worship of these two gods involved prostitution and infant sacrifice. These are illegal things in the sight of God but made legal in the rule of King Ahab.

Then came Elijah with a bad weather report. He, in no uncertain terms, pronounced judgment on King Ahab and the nation of Israel for their immorality. And this is in line with what Moses already wrote in Deuteronomy 28:15, 43-44. According to God’s promise, a disobedient nation will be cursed. It will be destroyed by droughts and floods. It will cease to be a world leader (kulelat). So when Elijah told King Ahab about the drought, he was not just foretelling the future, but also reminding them of the past warnings of God to a disobedient nation.

But what do you think happened next? Did King Ahab listen to Elijah’s warning? The next scenario suggests otherwise. God told Elijah to hide in a desolate region. If that’s not bad enough, I’m sure what God said next did not bring any comfort to the lonesome prophet—“I have commanded the ravens to feed thee there.”

God is a God of many surprises. I’m sure what God said here surprised Elijah like a bombshell. You see, for the Jews, ravens are detestable. It’s not an animal that they would want to have as a pet. And the interesting thing is that God Himself commanded them to “feel” this way about ravens.

When God gave the Law to Moses, he declared that ravens were unclean birds:

“These are the birds you are to detest and not eat because they are detestable: the eagle, the vulture, the black vulture, the red kite, any kind of black kite, any kind of raven, the horned owl, the screech owl, the gull, any kind of hawk, the little owl, the cormorant, the great owl, the white owl, the desert owl, the osprey, the stork, any kind of heron, the hoopoe and the bat (Lev. 11:13-19, emphasis added).

Because of this declaration by God, no Jew would have anything to do with ravens. But God chose this very bird to minister to a Jewish prophet. But then again, we already acknowledged that He is a God of many surprises, did we not?

Elijah and the Ravens

By Em Sumaway

Elijah_fed_by_Ravens_16-1281 Kings 17:1-6 (KJV) reads,

1 And Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the inhabitants of Gilead, said unto Ahab, As the LORD God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word.

2 And the word of the LORD came unto him, saying,

3 Get thee hence, and turn thee eastward, and hide thyself by the brook Cherith, that is before Jordan.

4 And it shall be, that thou shalt drink of the brook; and I have commanded the ravens to feed thee there.

5 So he went and did according unto the word of the LORD: for he went and dwelt by the brook Cherith, that is before Jordan.

6 And the ravens brought him bread and flesh in the morning, and bread and flesh in the evening; and he drank of the brook.

EXORDIUM

There are a lot of movies featuring animals behaving in very strange ways that you don’t normally see in real life. Who has not heard about, or has not watched, movies where there are giant spiders, flying horses, talking dogs or cats, a turbo racer snail, and farm animals planning to take over the world? Who has not watched the classic movie, Planet of the Apes?

There’s one particular movie that features an animal in the Bible passage above. The Birds by Alfred Hitchcock is about a mass rebellion of birds against other animals and human beings. These birds just suddenly started to attack any living being that comes across their path.

Speaking of birds acting strange, 1 Kings 17 features a story about birds that behaved in a very strange way or acted out of the ordinary. These birds did not attack any human being. On the contrary, they saved a human being from death by starvation. The birds featured are not your usual adorable birds that many people love to have as pets. We are talking about ravens—those dark-coloured birds that are normally more associated with death or some sort of dark magic.

The person on the receiving end of this act is no other than the prophet Elijah. He who became so popular for showing remarkable prophetic authority and power on Mount Carmel owed his life to the unusual behaviour of a flock of ravens. Let’s take a closer look at this peculiar phenomenon and see what valuable lessons we can learn from it.

III. Affirmation of Peter (John 6:66-69)

By Em Sumaway

John 6:66-60 reads,

66 After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.

67 So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?”

68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life,

69 and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”

Faith without knowledge is mere fantasy. The Christian faith is not a blind or a brainless faith. It is based on pragmatic and historical verifications. In the case of the disciples, they were first-hand witnesses of the teachings and the ministries of the Lord. They personally knew Him. Because they have witnessed sufficient evidence that Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah, they put their faith in Him. The verbs, “have believed,” and, “have known,” are both in the perfect tense in Greek which means that they have permanently believed and have known Jesus as the Son of God.

Although we haven’t met the Lord personally, like Peter we can always say, “We have believed and have known,” because we have the Scriptures as the foundation of our knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. Our faith is founded on factual events which are recorded in the Bible. We do admit that there are many imponderables in the Scriptures and requires more faith than reason. This was pointed out by Dr. Gadiel Isidro in our Christology class: Faith and reason go together, but faith continues where reason ends. This is the reason why we have to surrender our lives to the Lord because it is only then that we can accept Biblical truths which are not fathomable through logic.

Conclusion

Lastly, we ask this very important question: “To whom shall we go?” This is a question many unbelievers ask, may it be consciously or otherwise. Problems like sickness, poverty, emotional stresses, familial breakdowns and so on and so forth, lead people to ask, “To whom shall I go?” These people are looking for something, or someone, for security, peace, and love that will give life to their dying existence.

As Christians, we must grab these opportunities to show them where it is best to go – to the only One who has the words of eternal life. It is through faith in Him that one can receive wonderful blessings that go on beyond this present life.

Friend, go to Jesus now. He has the words of eternal life.