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Empty rituals

March 6, 2018 by Eric Stillman 0 comments

“This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’” (Matthew 6:9-13)

The past two Sundays, one of the main points of emphasis has been about the contrast between the Pharisees’ focus on external obedience to the rules of God (and sometimes their own manmade rules), and Jesus’ focus on internal faith and the need for God’s grace. While I admit that it’s easy to sit and point fingers from 2,000 years away at the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, the reality is that any of us can slide into a place where our faith becomes going through the motions, and the rhythms of our devotion become empty rituals.

One of the best things we can do for our faith is to approach those rhythms of devotion from a new angle. This week, I encourage you to do that with the most central of all Christian prayers, the Lord’s Prayer, as taught by Jesus in Matthew 6:9-13. For those of you who have been in the church a long time, you know how quickly you can lapse into rote recitation as soon as the pastor or priest exhorts the church to “pray as the Lord Jesus taught us to pray, Our Father…” Before you know it, the prayer is over. Your lips have moved, but your heart never really got engaged.

My encouragement to you is to take the Lord’s Prayer line by line this week, and expand upon it in your personal time of prayer with the Lord. Say something like “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be your name… God, I come to you reminding myself that you are not like us. You have always been, and you always will be. You are in heaven, and I am here on earth, only for a brief time. Apart from you, I will be like a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Lord, lift my eyes up to see you and life my life in light of your reality and will for my life. May you receive the praise that you are due through my life. May I live my life to bring you the maximum amount of glory.

Continue to the next line: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven… God, this world is so full of evil. People are still mourning the tragedies we have seen in the past year, from hurricanes and tornadoes to school shootings, to the everyday injustices that people experience. We need you here on earth. We need your will to reign, your kingdom to reign. We need you to transform hearts, to give our leaders hearts of justice and righteousness. And I need you to transform my heart, that I might live for your will and your kingdom instead of my own.”

Do you get the picture? Pray “Give us this day our daily bread,” and lay before Him the needs that are on your heart. Plead with Him to “forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors,” and then spend time confessing your sins to the Lord and dealing with any unforgiveness in your own heart. Ask Him to “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,” and pray for His spiritual protection over your life, asking Him to purify your heart, to free you from the hold of the evil one, and help you to live according to His Holy Spirit.

Brothers and sisters, do not let your faith devolve into empty ritual. Work to find ways to breathe new life into your prayers, your worship, your service, so that you might truly worship the Lord with your whole heart, soul, strength, and mind. Amen.

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