by Mike Ratliff
36 Τότε ἔρχεται μετ᾽ αὐτῶν ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἰς χωρίον λεγόμενον Γεθσημανὶ καὶ λέγει τοῖς μαθηταῖς· καθίσατε αὐτοῦ ἕως [οὗ] ἀπελθὼν ἐκεῖ προσεύξωμαι. 37 καὶ παραλαβὼν τὸν Πέτρον καὶ τοὺς δύο υἱοὺς Ζεβεδαίου ἤρξατο λυπεῖσθαι καὶ ἀδημονεῖν. 38 τότε λέγει αὐτοῖς· περίλυπός ἐστιν ἡ ψυχή μου ἕως θανάτου· μείνατε ὧδε καὶ γρηγορεῖτε μετ᾽ ἐμοῦ. 39 καὶ προελθὼν μικρὸν ἔπεσεν ἐπὶ πρόσωπον αὐτοῦ προσευχόμενος καὶ λέγων· πάτερ μου, εἰ δυνατόν ἐστιν, παρελθάτω ἀπ᾽ ἐμοῦ τὸ ποτήριον τοῦτο· πλὴν οὐχ ὡς ἐγὼ θέλω ἀλλ᾽ ὡς σύ. (Matthew 26:36-39 NA27)
36 Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane and said to the disciples, “Sit here while I go there to pray.” 37 And having taken Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be grieved and to be distressed. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is very sad to the point of death. Remain here and keep awake with me.” 39 And having gone forward a little, he fell upon his face praying and saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me, but not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:36-39 Possessing the Treasure New Testament v1)
I have been a Christian quite a long time (since January1986). Even though I began serving first as a Bible teacher then as a deacon while still teaching only a few years after God had mercy on me, I must confess to everyone that as I evaluate my walk prior to 2004 in light of my pilgrimage on the narrow path since then, I shudder. Of course we cannot go back and change our past. We can’t travel back to some specific point in time to meet ourselves in the midst of some self-focused nonsense and ask the poignant, “What are you thinking?” There were high points to be sure, but these were followed by long stretches of self-focused living with my religiosity just being part of that.
I have often wondered why God moved us away from our old home church in the OKC area in 2000 as the company I worked for created a new position for me in Tulsa. We were there only about 18 months when I was offered the job in the Kansas City area that I have now. What each move did was move us further and further away from the familiarity of that comfortable church family like we had back when we were part of the core leadership in our home church. We served at a local church here in the KC area until 2006, but remember, in 2004 God began drawing me away from that pietistic form of religiosity into a that personal cross bearing, self-denying, following Jesus life of a pilgrim on the narrow way of what we are all called to be, which is as our Lord’s disciples. From that time in 2004 until May 2006 when it finally became clear that God was moving us out of that church, I went though something I never thought I would ever have to bear in a church.
I would teach what the Bible clearly said and be heckled in class. I stood against all moves by the leadership to turn our church into a small version of Saddleback Valley Baptist Church, that is, I lost the battle to keep it from going Purpose Driven. However, God used that battle and my becoming Reformed in theology, therefore, becoming oriented toward apologetics, to build this ministry. However, those battles in that church were ugly and the leadership there treated me shamefully even though I never did the same to them.
Now we come to Matthew 6:5-15, which is the part of our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount dealing with two distinct, but very interrelated things, prayer and forgiveness. Before we get into that, go back and carefully read Matthew 26:36-39, which I placed at the top of this post. That was not difficult to translate, but it was painful for the Greek was vivid with the stress and heartbreak our Lord was going through just prior to his arrest that was to lead to the beatings and then to his crucifixion. However, notice that he withdrew from his disciples, asking them to watch, while he went to be alone with the Father in prayer. I am convinced that the physical beatings, the torture, and the execution was not what was causing his sadness of heart, but the fact that he was going to go the cross to bear the sins of those he came to save, to be their propititiation. The atonement, by which he would purchase a people by his blood was about to happen, but in the process, he would become sin, that is, the sin of those he came to save would be imputed to him on the cross and his death would pay the penalty for them. That is the atonement. It was during that period that he would be separated from the Father for the first time in eternity. That was when he would cry from the cross, “My Father, why have you forsaken me?” However, he also prayed on the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)
5 “And whenever you pray, do not be as the hypocrites; for they love standing to pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Amen I say to you, they have their reward. 6 But, whenever you pray, enter into your hidden room, and having shut your door, pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father, the one seeing in secret, will repay you.” (Matthew 6:5-6 Possessing the Treasure New Testament v1)
When I was that young Christian serving I was always amazed when those older men would stand up in Church and pray those long, eloquent prayers. Whenever I was called upon to pray in various settings, my prayers were short, succinct and to the point. I still believe that those in the Bible who prayed those long prayers were leaders like prophets or Kings and they were on very special occasions. Those prayers that God wants from us are those like our Lord describes above. God already knows what we need. The praying is for us to line up our will with his will to humble ourselves before him, to be living sacrifices.
7 “And when you pray, do not babble as the gentiles. For they think that in their wordiness they will be heard. 8 Therefore, do not be like them for your Father knows of what things you have need before you ask him.” 9 “You, therefore, pray in this way: ‘Our Father who is in heaven, let your name be hallowed, 10 let your kingdom come, let your will be done as in heaven also on earth. 11 Give to us our daily bread today. 12 And forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And do not bring us into temptation, but rescue us from the evil one.’ 14 For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men, neither will your Father forgive you of your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:7-15 Possessing the Treasure New Testament v1)
As I was stating above, God has graciously drawn me from being an immature, self-centered believer into one who truly is one who daily deliberately works very hard to repent of all my pietistic tendencies that only lead to immature, self-righteousness and self-centered religiosity. No, I reject all of that and deliberately recognize that as a disciple of my Lord Jesus Christ I must be one who has taken up his own cross, denied self, and followed Jesus. That means being a living sacrifice and that means spending time in prayer and time in the Word and sitting at the feet of those good teachers of his Word.
Therefore, I recognize that I do much better at this and am more humble, and less worldly when I take Matthew 6:9-13 each and every day and work through it verse by verse and pray those back to God as an entreaty with my own individual details wrapped around each one. It is amazing how circumstances that used to derail me have little to no affect when I am armored up after I have spent time in my inner room with the door closed, praying to my Father in private who is in secret and my Father who sees in secret repays or rewards me with peace and joy and spiritual growth. I am especially in love with v13, “And do not bring us into temptation, but rescue us from the evil one.” It is as if the enemy is powerless to touch what used to be a fleshly temptation button since I have been entreating God to rescue me from the evil one. Perhaps, part of how he does that is through the process of making us more holy as we become transformed through the renewing of our minds…thereby becoming those living sacrifices holy and separate unto God, which is our spiritual worship.
Please notice my brethren how closely tied to our holiness and spiritual growth is forgiveness. We must forgive those who have sinned against us. It does not matter how wrong they were or how right we were. Look at the cross! Who forgave whom at the cross? Therefore, we pray for God to forgive us of our sins as we forgive those who have sinned against us. Remember 1 John 1:8-10. We all have sinned and we will all continue to sin, but if we confess our sins, God is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Soli Deo Gloria!