Praying Before Your Meals

Being With Jesus:
John 6:11 (NLT)

Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks to God, and distributed them to the people. Afterward he did the same with the fish. And they all ate as much as they wanted.

This easy-to-overlook verse is sandwiched between two of Jesus’ outstanding miracles—the feeding of the five thousand with five loaves of bread and two small fish, and the miracle of Jesus walking on the water. Not only that, at the end of this lengthy chapter is some of the heaviest theology that Jesus would ever lay on his would-be followers. It was so demanding and confrontational, in fact, that his followers called it a “hard saying”, and many of them quit following him from that point on.

With so much important stuff going on in this chapter, it would be easy to miss the fact that Jesus stopped to give thanks before a meal. Think about that for a moment: Why would Jesus do that? In a sense, wasn’t he really saying grace to himself? What purpose did this serve?

To begin with, I think Jesus was truly grateful to his Father for this provision of resources by which the miraculous feeding could occur. I think Jesus was authentically thankful that his Father had authorized the use of Divine power and was about to yet again authenticate the Messianic ministry and mission of the Son. I think the Second Person of the eternal Trinity was a fundamentally grateful being. It was just who Jesus was; the organic overflow of his Divine nature was love, joy, confidence and, in this case, gratitude.

Jesus—the eternal, self-existence One—said grace before his meal. And if Jesus, who didn’t have to do it, did it, then we, who don’t have to do it, most definitely should!

Not only that, Jesus was modeling for us the appropriateness and power of gratitude. He was reminding us by his actions that it doesn’t hurt to stop and express thanksgiving to God, and one of the simplest and recurring ways to enter into gratitude is to say a simple “thank you” before each meal.

We don’t know exactly what Jesus said in his prayer, but it was likely short and sweet. John simply says he “gave thanks”. He acknowledged God in that moment, drawing attention to the Heavenly Provider and reminding both himself and those who were within earshot of his dependence on and gratitude to Father God.

That is something you and I can do too, each time we sit down (or drive through) for a meal. We can give thanks. As redundant and useless and perfunctory as it may seem, there is power in this simple act. And if Jesus, who didn’t have to do it, did it, then we, who don’t have to do it, most definitely should!

“We ought to give thanks for all fortune: if it is good, because it is good; if bad, because it works in us patience, humility, contempt of this world and the hope of our eternal country.” (C.S. Lewis)

Getting To Know Jesus: Before every meal this week, say grace. Pause, think about it; then offer up to your gracious Heavenly Father the gratitude that is in your heart for all the good things he has provided.

Do Good

Read Psalm 125

Featured Verse: Psalm 125:4

“Do good, O LORD, to those who are good, to those who are upright in heart.”

God is good! All the time! Even in tough times, which is likely the setting for this psalm. Some scholars believe Psalm 125 was written during the time of foreign domination—perhaps at the hands of the uber-wicked Assyria—or at least during a time when it seemed likely that Jerusalem would be overrun by the godless.

This is yet another psalm of assent (see blog entry on Psalm 120), and the writer penned the song for people to sing on their way to worship in Jerusalem. It prompted them to call upon God for two things: To keep Jerusalem pure (Psalm 125:3) and to keep Jerusalem prosperous (Psalm 125:4). The writer recognized that there was a serious temptation for people to fall away from God when times were tough—either by giving in to the godless culture that had swallowed the land or by throwing away their trust in the God who seemed to withhold much needed provision.

Of course, we recognize that God sometimes uses trials to purify our faith and tough times to bring a better kind of prosperity to our lives. But in a sense, the psalmist here is foreshadowing the very prayer Jesus taught his disciples to pray in Matthew 6:13, “Lead us not into temptation.” I believe The Message translation of that line in the Lord’s prayer captures quite well the ancient psalmist’s thoughts,

“Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.”

That’s not a bad prayer to pray, I’d say. Given the choice between tough times and good times, I will pray for the latter, following both the psalmists’ and the Lord’s example. Sure, I am willing to embrace trial as a necessary friend (James 1:2, MSG), but my first choice is to hold hands with the goodness of God.

Yes, do good, dear God, and keep me safe from myself and the Devil!

“Christian, remember the goodness of God in the frost of adversity.”
~Charles Spurgeon

Unholy Fire

Read: Proverbs 6

“Can you build a fire in your lap and not burn your pants?” (Proverbs 6:27 MSG)

“If you play with fire, you’re going to get burned!” That’s what my father used to say to me, and I’m sure his father said to him, and his father said to him.  The reason fathers the world over say that is because of the innate curiosity little boys seem to have for fire.  I’m sure even before matches were invented, back when man lived in caves, wore animal skins and first discovered fire, some cave dad was telling his son, “Trog, you poke fire with stick, you get bad burn!”

Okay, maybe it didn’t happen quite that way, but around 3,000 years ago Solomon mused in Proverbs 6:27, “Can a man scoop fire into his lap without his clothes being burned?” Of course, Solomon’s point is that what is true of physical fire is also true in the spiritual realm—that human beings are often drawn to the very things that can burn them, sometimes beyond remedy. This chapter in Proverbs mentions the three biggies of what we might call unholy fire:

The Gold:  Specifically, Proverbs 6:1-5 warns us about one of the riskiest, and therefore worst kinds of financial transactions of all: entering into a business partnership without prayerful and careful planning. Solomon doesn’t care whether the business opportunity has great potential or not, he just says agreeing to it apart from God’s wisdom is the height of foolishness. This is particularly true if the business deal is a get rich quick scheme, which seems to be the implication here.

If you’ve entered into a deal without giving due spiritual diligence to it, chances are, you’re going to get yourself burned! The wisest thing you could do would be to quickly and graciously extract yourself from your foolish partnership and chalk it up to a lesson learned the hard way.

“If you’ve gone into hock with your neighbor or locked yourself
into a deal with a stranger…Don’t waste a minute,
get yourself out of that mess!”

The Good Life:  Perhaps the most typical way we play with fire is by rejecting the common sense approach to work and wealth that simply rolls up it’s sleeves, sees the responsibilities before it, doesn’t over-think what needs to be done, just seizes the day and gets after it.

Solomon describes this approach to life in Proverbs 6:6-11 by illustrating the work ethic, of all things, the ubiquitous ant. More success stories are birthed from the ant’s I-work-hard-for-the-money life philosophy than any other.  Far too many people in our day, lured by lust for quick fame and easy fortune, are waiting for their ship to come in. The problem is, they’ve never put their ship out to sea.  God will reward you with the good life, but he expects you to get up in the morning, grab your lunch pail, put on your hard hat, and get to work!

“A day off here, a day off there, sit back take it easy—
Do you know what comes next?  Just this:
You can look forward to a dirt-poor life!”

The Gals: I suppose in fairness to the ladies, I should say “The Gals or the Guys”, since sexual indiscretion is an equal opportunity enticer.  Solomon knew from first hand experience what we have observed in the lives of countless high-profile people in our lifetime who have crashed once promising careers, burned sterling reputations and caused untold pain in innocent bystanders by allowing their sexual drives to do just that: Drive their behavior.

God never intended our sexual needs to be in the driver’s seat of our lives. Our brain was meant to occupy that position, and our moral core was meant to be our navigator.  As strong as our sexual drive is, and as susceptible as it is to temptation, just mark this down: If you give in to your sexual desires apart from God’s plan for sexual satisfaction within marriage, you are toast!  That is what Proverbs 6:26 says,

“The adulteress will reduce you to a loaf of bread,
Sexual indiscretion will prey upon your very life.”

Well, there you have it. You keep poking your stick in those three flames of unholy fire and eventually you are going to get burned.  There is nothing really profound about Solomon’s teaching here; he’s just telling it like it is.  And like that little ant in verses 6-8 which doesn’t need anyone to help it discover the deeper, hidden meaning of life, neither do you. The ant just does the right thing.

I hope you will, too!

“It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.” ~Edmund Burke

Winning At Life:

Think carefully about this and answer honestly: Are you playing with fire with the gold (the unspiritual pursuit of wealth), the good life (an irresponsible approach to success) or the girls (an uncontrolled sexual appetite)? Being truthful and accountable in these three areas may mean the difference between being blessed and getting burned!

Sin Resistant

Read: Proverbs 1

“My child, if sinners entice you, turn your back on them!” (Proverbs 1:10, NLT)

It was Oscar Wilde who said, “I can resist just about anything—except temptation,” Oh yeah, me too!

God’s Word says that you and I are on a glorious journey, but the truth is, this is no easy trip. An infinitely glorious and eternally rewarding one—yes; but easy—no!  In fact, Jesus said that the path we’ll travel on is straight and narrow, and not too many will actually find it, much less successfully walk it. To stay on this path, Jesus went on to say, there will need to be some self-denial, cross bearing, and intense focus.

That means today (let’s let tomorrow worry about tomorrow), you will have to say “no” to what this Proverb calls sinners: “My son, if sinners entice you, do not give in to them.” (Proverbs 1:10) The fact of the matter is, these “sinners” are all along your way, devilish hecklers disguised as adoring fans whose one and only assignment is to entice you down an alternative path, a shortcut to pleasure that, in reality, always fails to deliver what it promises while saddling you instead with nothing but disappointment, pain and loss.

Sorry to have to be the one to break it to you like this, but those “sinners” are waiting for you as you head out the door to wherever your glorious journey will take you today—to work, to school, to play, or even staying indoors to serve God in the daily routine required by your assignment at home.  Here’s the thing: You’ve got to be alert to them, be discerning to their sugar-coated manipulations, and ready to give them a throaty “no way” when they ply you with their counterfeit divines.

I’m sure you already know this, but these enticing “sinners” may not be real, live people.  They may be subtle arguments that enter your mind, or slick operators coming through the airwaves, or simple desires at work within your soul, or sinful systems at work in the world that throughout the day routinely pull you away from God as sure as the gravitational pull of the moon working twice a day on the tides.

They’re called temptations, by the way, and you are called to resist them.  And you can!  And if you will, the real prize at your journey’s end will far outweigh any of their mouthwatering promises.

“Temptation usually comes in through a door that has deliberately been left open.” ~Arnold Glasow

Winning At Life:

Read and meditate on I Corinthians 10:1-13.  Identify some of the “ways out” God has given you in every temptation.  Today, look for those divine exits—and take them.

Temptation

Matthew 3:1-4:25

Temptation

“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be
tempted by the devil.  And when He had fasted forty days
and forty nights, afterward He was hungry. Now
when the tempter came to Him, he said,
“If You are the Son of God…”
Matthew 4:1-3

 

Go Deep: Isn’t it interesting—profound, really—that Satan knew who Jesus was, that he was God the Son, yet tempted him anyway.

Satan once resided as Lucifer, chief of all then angels, in the presence of the Holy Trinity, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. So when Jesus became the incarnate Son of God, Satan knew perfectly well of his divine nature. Rather than backing off, however, Satan unleashed a torrent of enticements designed to derail the plan of God and get Jesus off his game.  And if the very Son of God would have to endure an onslaught of Satanic temptations, so will you.

It is also of interest that Satan didn’t tempt Jesus with obvious evil.  Three times he attempted to entice Jesus to sin with subtle, sane, and spiritual sounding goodies. The devil is the master of subtlety. He didn’t come to Jesus dressed in a red suit and pointed tail, pitchfork in hand, luring Jesus to commit murder or to steal a bag full of money.  No, this temptation was to gain what seemed good by sacrificing what was best.

It is highly likely that the temptations you will face today will be subtle as well.  Satan’s stock-in-trade is deception, which is what makes temptation so effective.  Jesus called him “the father of lies”, and he’s gotten pretty good at it over the millennia.  So in particular, watch out for the enticements that will be just slightly off center from God’s will.  Don’t accept good at the expense of God’s best.

In one sense, the temptations that will hit you today will be perfectly sane.  Jesus had fasted for forty days and was at the limit of what a human body could endure.  He was hungry, and Satan simply suggested that Jesus use his God-prerogatives to satisfy a physical necessity.

Jesus was called to be the Messiah of the Jews.  What better way to jumpstart his ministry than by hang-gliding from the highest point of the temple in Jerusalem—without a hang-glider.  What a great way to show off his God-powers and impress the people he was called to lead.

Ultimately, Jesus was called to be the Lord and Savior of the world.  Why not fast-track that plan by allowing Satan to hand deliver all the nations of the world to him in an instant.  No fuss, no muss.

The problem was, each of these temptations called for Jesus to depend on himself to get his needs met rather than trusting in God’s provision, timing and plan.  That is perhaps the most foundational and most common sin of all—to trust in anything or anyone other than God to get your needs and wants met.

It is likely that you will be hit with temptation in the same way today.  It will be subtle.  It will seem sane.  And probably, it will sound pretty spiritual as well—remember, each temptation Satan dangled before Jesus was prefaced with Scripture.

So be on guard today—sin is crouching at your door.  But it is not inevitable that you will succumb to it.  Jesus didn’t—which means that you don’t have to either.  Jesus knew the Word and will of God better than Satan, and so do you.  That’s one of the blessings of reading and praying the Scripture each day, as you are doing.

Likewise, since Jesus overcame his battle with temptation, he stands at the ready to help you in your battle.  So just ask him for his help—he is more than willing to come alongside you.  Hebrews 2:17-18 teaches us,

“For this reason Jesus had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”

So when sin comes knocking at your door today, just send Jesus to answer it.

 

Just Saying… John Quincy Adams, the sixth president of the United States, said “Every temptation is an opportunity of our getting nearer to God.” Temptation usually has the effect of causing distance between you and God.  Why not buck your temptation and use it to draw close instead.

Psalm 125: Do Good

One Year Bible: I Kings 2:1-46, Acts 5:1-42; Psalm 125:1-5; Proverbs 16:25

Do Good

Do good, O LORD, to those who are good,
to those who are upright in heart.
(Psalm 125:4)

God is good! All the time! Even in tough times, which is likely the setting for this psalm. Some scholars believe Psalm 125 was written during the time of foreign domination—perhaps at the hands of the uber-wicked Assyria—or at least during a time when it seemed likely that Jerusalem would be overrun by the godless.

This is yet another psalm of assent (see blog entry on Psalm 120), and the writer penned the song for people to sing on their way to worship in Jerusalem. It prompted them to call upon God for two things: To keep Jerusalem pure (Psalm 125:3) and to keep Jerusalem prosperous (Psalm 125:4). The writer recognized that there was a serious temptation for people to fall away from God when times were tough—either by giving in to the godless culture that had swallowed the land or by throwing away their trust in the God who seemed to withhold much needed provision.

Of course, we recognize that God sometimes uses trials to purify our faith and tough times to bring a better kind of prosperity to our lives. But in a sense, the psalmist here is foreshadowing the very prayer Jesus taught his disciples to pray in Matthew 6:13, “Lead us not into temptation.” I believe The Message translation of that line in the Lord’s prayer captures quite well the ancient psalmist’s thoughts,

“Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.”

That’s not a bad prayer to pray, I’d say. Given the choice between tough times and good times, I will pray for the latter, following both the psalmists’ and the Lord’s example. Sure, I am willing to embrace trial as a necessary friend (James 1:2, MSG), but my first choice is to hold hands with the goodness of God.

Yes, do good, dear God, and keep me safe from myself and the Devil!

“Christian, remember the goodness of God in the frost of adversity.”
~Charles Spurgeon

Spiritual Rubbernecking

Read I Corinthians 10

“No temptation has seized you except what is common to man.
And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond
what you can bear. But when you are tempted,
he will also provide a way out so that
you can stand up under it.”
(I Corinthians 10:13)

Food For Thought… One of those “ways out” from temptation that Paul talks about is for us to take a good, long look at the plethora of Old Testament saints who crashed and burned at some point in their spiritual journey. In the previous verses, Paul writes,

“These things happened to [these Old Testament saints] as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” (I Corinthians 10:11-12)

In other words, all you have to do is slow down and do a little Old Testament “rubbernecking” and it will make you think twice about making their mistakes. You know what “rubbernecking” is? It’s when you slow your car down and gawk at an accident along the side of the road. And if you have children in the car, you warn them: “Kids, that’s what happens when you don’t pay attention when you are driving!” My dad did that to me on occasion, and I’ve repeated the tradition with my children.

One of the greatest defenses against temptation of any kind if to slow way down, take a good, long look, and make the connection between what they did and what you’re about to do. That little cost-benefit analysis will likely lead you to say, “whoa, I don’t want what happened to David to happen to me.”

Take a leisurely afternoon drive through Old Testament country and look at the wrecks along the path of some of our faith-heroes. Take one look at what happened to Abraham in Genesis 16. Abraham got ahead of God’s timing with having a son, and Ishmael was the result. If you are wondering why that should be a warning sign, I’ve got three words for you: Arab-Israeli Conflict.” That’s what happens when you don’t trust God.

Take one look at Moses in Numbers 20:1-13. Moses decided to go a little beyond what God had commanded, and he struck the rock twice when God had told him only to command water to come forth from it. Because Moses tried to help God out, his disobedience caused him to forfeit entrance into the land of promise. Let that be a lesson to you: Even small sins can have huge consequences.

Take one look at David in I Samuel 11. A midlife crisis in a season of boredom along with an unwieldy use of power led to an adulterous affair. The affair led to a cover up which led to conspiracy which led to the deaths of some innocent people which led to a family in deep and abiding turmoil for years to come. That’s what happens when you choose a few minutes of fleshly pleasure over self-control.

Take one look at these good people who made bad decisions, and consider the outcome of their actions. Take one look and then hear Paul’s words loud and clear: “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” (I Corinthians 10:12)

What temptations are you facing? Just remember, others stronger and closer to God than you faced those same temptations. They ignored the warning signs and they failed. And if they could, they would shout, “Don’t you do it! Just look what happened to me!”

In truth, they are shouting to you. Their examples are written down in God’s Word for your benefit. So take a good, long look. Do a little rubbernecking.

That is your way out!

Prayer… Father, when I am tempted to sin, bring the faces of Abraham, Moses, David and other Bible saints clearly into my mind and remind me from their examples of what happens when we choose not to follow you.

One More Thing… “Temptation usually comes in through a door that has deliberately been left open.” —Arnold Glasow