Vigilantly seeking the things that are above

We should be finding ways to enact heavenly principles in the here and now.

Today we will be looking at the topic of vigilance. When we vigilantly “seek the things that are above,” we are not only looking forward to a heavenly eternity, but we should be finding ways to enact heavenly principles in the here and now, incorporating our new, spiritual kingdom life into the life we are living now.

The apostle Paul stated it this way:

Colossians 3:1-3 – If then you were raised together with Messiah, seek the things that are above, where Messiah is, seated on the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things that are above, not on the things that are on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Messiah in God.

It seems that Paul was basing this concept of seeking Yeshua taught that we should always keep asking, knocking, and seeking in order to receive, to have doors opened, and to find what it is we’re searching for.

Matthew 7:7-8 – “Ask, and it will be given to you. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”

According to Yeshua, this type of vigilance is rewarded with the objectives sought for. If we are consistently asking and seeking and knocking, then we will definitively obtain those things which we seek.

Paul carries this same theme of seeking and searching forward into a mindset that should continually guide us in our ongoing new life in Messiah. This seeking involves ongoing aspects of vigilance that are wrapped up in the definition of the original wording used in the text. The phrase he uses in the Colossians 3 passage means to seek in order to find a thing; to seek in order to find out by thinking, meditating, reasoning, to enquire into; to seek after, seek for, aim at, strive after; to require, demand; to crave. These types of urgent and continual qualities of vigilance carry the same intent of Yeshua’s exhortation to keep seeking until the objective is found.

Whenever I explore this passage, I am reminded of a quote by G.K. Chesterton which reads, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.” To seek first the kingdom is not just a weekend activity, or one which can be pursued by sharing “amens” on Facebook, or by reading and listening to everything that the current Christian subculture puts out (everything that is, except the Bible). No, asking, seeking, and knocking is a mindset; a consistent, methodical and undeviating value to be exercised at every opportunity where God’s will has yet to be expressed.

In like fashion, Paul uses the same wording to emphasize the believer’s desperate motivation to know God and his Messiah, to learn more about the things of God and to keep one’s focus there through the trials of life. This is what he prayed about for those early believers.

Ephesians 3:17-19 – I pray that you, being rooted and firmly established in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the length and width, height and depth of God’s love, and to know Messiah’s love that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Philippians 3:10-11, 13-15 – …that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. …  Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Messiah Yeshua. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.

Can we truly say with Paul that we are “straining forward to what lies ahead…pressing on toward the goal”? This type of imagery conveys effort, discipline, and sacrifice to attain God’s purposes in this life. How we answer that question will typically uncover our progression of growth and our impact among those of our generation for him. In a moment, we will review this idea of sacrifice during this life, and how Paul expressed the concept of a sacrificial life that is lived for the Messiah.

Living a sacrificial life for God is going to be something that is different for every believer because we are all at different places in our walk with him. To Paul, placing one’s faith in the Messiah was, in no uncertain terms, a matter of life and death: death to self and traditions of men, and new life as a new self that seeks after the things of God.

Romans 8:13 – For if you live after the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

Colossians 3:5 – Therefore, put to death whatever is worldly in you: your sexual sin, perversion, passion, lust, and greed (which is the same thing as worshiping wealth).

This putting to death of our worldly passions and desires was considered to be an ongoing practice, one to where the believer becomes the dichotomous “living sacrifice;” that which is constantly being offered up to God, yet continually alive, as well.

Romans 12:1-2 – Therefore I urge you, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service. Don’t be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what is the good, well-pleasing, and perfect will of God.

This renewal of mind comes as we vigilantly “seek the things that are above,” not only looking forward to a heavenly eternity, but finding ways to enact heavenly principles in the here and now, incorporating our new spiritual life into the physical life we are living now. In this way, we end up “putting to death” our selfish desires and we rise to the new life of our new self, created to be like him.

When Yeshua came into this world, it was as a human baby miraculously conceived in the womb of his mother. The spiritual element of his life was present from his birth, and this was brought to fruition at his resurrection from death. In this imagery is contained the following principle: the temporary mortal aspect, the flesh, has to die before the new creation, the spiritual reality, can be fulfilled. This is why Paul instructed the early believers to recognize that they were no longer to be focused on the fleshly aspect of anything, including Messiah.

2 Corinthians 5:16-17 – From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Messiah according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Messiah, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

Paul used the example and symbolism of Messiah’s resurrection beyond the flesh and applied it to the present life of those who believed in Messiah. He was encouraging them to operate from this mindset, because it was a reality in their lives that just had not come to pass yet; it was to be realized in the fulness of time at their passing from this life into the eternal kingdom of God.

2 Corinthians 5:1-4 – For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened–not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.

Life, in this sense, is eternal life: a status not only of unending existence beyond this temporary one, but a certain quality of life that is being generated within us day by day. When we are truly and whole-heartedly pursuing the things of God each day, we are becoming more and more of what God wants us to be as his representatives on this earth, and in anticipation of the life that is truly life beyond this mortal existence.

Colossians 3:9-10 – Do not speak falsehoods to one another, for you have stripped off the old self with its doings, and have clothed yourselves with the new self which is being remoulded into full knowledge so as to become like Him who created it.

2 Corinthians 4:16 – …even though our outward man is wasting away, yet our inward man is being renewed day by day.

I like how the Weymouth NT here phrased Colossians 3:10 as “the new self which is being remoulded into full knowledge…” The word that the apostle Paul uses here appears to be unique to him and only appears in these two verses: Colossians 3:10 and 2 Corinthians 4:16. It conveys the idea of renewal or renovation; something that is an ongoing process in the life of the believer. Saying that believers need to be remolded into full knowledge captures a vivid image: we need to have our substance crafted into something new in order to become useful to God. And the verse also tells us that the goal is “to become like Him who created it.” This is image-of-God language that is foundational to the theology of the kingdom. When we seek first the kingdom; when we pursue it by striving after it and craving it, reasoning through it and enquiring into it on a daily basis, it changes and transforms us. We become reshaped, remolded, and renewed in essence of being, causing us to become like our Father.

The apostle Peter phrased it in these types of terms:

1 Peter 4:1-2 – Therefore, since Messiah suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same understanding ​– ​because the one who suffers in the flesh is finished with sin ​– ​ in order to live the remaining time in the flesh no longer for human desires, but for God’s will.

Each of us only has a certain remaining time here to accomplish what God desires, and we don’t know when that eventuality will occur. If we are being led of God’s Spirit to grow in him, being molded into his image more and more each day, we should work diligently to be sure that God is receiving the benefit of his investment in us by our faithful and obedient representation of him. This is how we incorporate our new, spiritual kingdom life into the life we are living now, and how his will is accomplished in each generation.


If you enjoy these daily articles, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive on our Podcast Page, at Core of the Bible on Simplecast, or your favorite podcast streaming service.

Now also on YouTube, find us at: Core of the Bible on YouTube.

Questions or comments? Feel free to email me at coreofthebible@gmail.com.

Asking, seeking, and knocking

Being persistent in the ways of God is expected by Yeshua of his followers.

Being persistent in the ways of God is expected by Yeshua of his followers.

Matthew 7:7-8 – “Ask, and it will be given to you. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened to you. “For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

Yeshua’s teaching has been an inspiration to many over the centuries, encouraging believers to be persistent in following after God’s will. By consistently asking, seeking, and knocking, the faithful believer will have those things that God desires for them in the outworking of the kingdom here on earth.

It begins with asking. Asking God in prayer for his will to be accomplished in one’s life through the work of his holy Spirit is an imperative.

Matthew 21:22 – “And all things, whatsoever you shall ask in prayer, believing, you shall receive.”

As we seek for his ideals to be worked out through us, we recognize that we are carrying out his purpose for his kingdom.

Matthew 6:33 – “But seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”

Yeshua promises that for whoever knocks, the door will be opened. But there was also a warning to those of his generation who would not accept his message. The message of salvation from physical destruction was effective for his people for a limited time; the wrath of God was about to be poured out on Jerusalem in their lifetimes. There would be those who would only understand the truth of Yeshua’s prophecies and teaching when it was too late, and the day of Yahweh would be upon them. To those, Yeshua mentioned no amount of knocking would open the door.

Luke 13:24-25 – “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because I tell you, many will try to enter and won’t be able “once the homeowner gets up and shuts the door. Then you will stand outside and knock on the door, saying, ‘Lord, open up for us! ‘ He will answer you, ‘I don’t know you or where you’re from.'”

The good news is, through the faithful apostles of that generation, the message of the gospel of the kingdom went far and wide throughout the known world, and the remnant of God’s people everywhere heard the message and accepted it with glad hearts. Then, rather than knocking upon the door of God’s chambers for admittance, they instead responded to the knocking of Messiah upon the door of their chambers.

Revelation 3:20 – “See! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.”

The life of a believer today still consists of an ongoing relationship with God through our diligence in asking, seeking, and knocking. We must remain ever watchful for opportunities to correlate our lives within the context of his kingdom. By doing so, we will find that we receive the direction we need, we find what we have been looking for, and the door is opened to the presence of God each day.


If you enjoy these daily blog posts, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive on our Podcast Page, at Core of the Bible on Simplecast, or your favorite podcast streaming service.

Now also on YouTube, find us at: Core of the Bible on YouTube.

Questions or comments? Feel free to email me directly at coreofthebible@gmail.com.

How the Golden Rule teaches simple respect and compassionate giving

As we review the Golden Rule in its original context, we can learn how simple respect for others helps us demonstrate compassion.

Core of the Bible podcast #36 – How the Golden Rule teaches simple respect and compassionate giving

Today we will be exploring the topic of compassion, and how compassionate actions stem from a root of simple respect for others based on the respect and compassion we have received from God.

Yeshua stated it this way: “Therefore whatever you desire for men to do to you, you shall also do to them; for this is the law and the prophets.” Matthew 7:12

Of course, we know this as the Golden Rule. Certainly, anything that you wish others would do for you, do in the same manner for them, for this summarizes God’s teachings regarding others.

Applying what we know about ourselves to others

The simplicity and practical wisdom of this maxim is unsurpassed. We are, after all, self-focused by nature, relating to all other things outside of ourselves as to how we are affected or influenced by them. We know what we like, and we know what is offensive to us. We know when we believe our rights have been violated. We believe we know how we should be treated by others.

Since we are so familiar with ourselves and what we believe we deserve, Yeshua uses this innate familiarity with our own perceived deservedness and turns it on its head by suggesting that is the same way we should treat others. Our actions towards others should be based on our own internal sense of justice, fairness, and equity. This is the essence of compassion. Yeshua’s admonition focuses on the positive aspect of doing good for others based on what we know is acceptable, fair, and just in our eyes.

The fact that this teaching also summarizes the torah or instruction of God is of no small importance. Yeshua here defines the role and universality of the Bible message by summarizing its intent: the instruction and example of God should cause us to be equitable and compassionate in all of our relationships.

In the Greek Septuagint version of the scriptures is contained an interesting corollary to this admonition of Yeshua. It is essentially the opposite of his positive focus which reads like this: “What you hate, do not do to others,” (Tobit 4:15). Just like Yeshua’s teaching focuses on the positive, in the same way this idea of not doing to others what you yourself hate focuses on prevention of poor behavior that you recognize is unacceptable to you. If you don’t like being talked over in conversations, don’t do that to others. If you don’t like it when someone cuts you off in traffic, then don’t do that to others. If you don’t like when people talk about you behind your back, then don’t do that to others. What you hate, don’t do to others.

What we can glean from both of these complementary aspects of this teaching (do good to others, and don’t do what you yourself hate) is this: the things we like to experience and the things we feel negatively about can operate as a basic guide of God’s desires for our interactions with other people.

While there are many commands within the Word, or Torah, of God, if there were a command for every single possible error we could commit, the Bible would be a much bigger collection of books than it currently is. The simple fact is, God has built-in a sense of equity and fairness within the human condition. Even if we were to do nothing more than abide by the sense of what we believe inherently is right and wrong  behavior (based on how we would like to be perceived and treated by others), then we will be miles down the road of doing what is right in God’s eyes.

Then, for believers seeking to learn more about God and his expectations for us, our expectations should continually be adjusted and refined to match his, and this feedback loop of doing what’s right in his eyes is enacted. As our actions then become more in tune with his will, we exhibit more compassion with others when we learn and observe just how compassionate God really is with us. It is meant to become a cycle of positive reinforcement, thereby expanding the reach of God’s kingdom and ultimately glorifying him.

Respecting the context of the Golden Rule

The logic of this wisdom of the Golden Rule, “doing unto others as you would have them do unto you,” has been mocked by some who would take a literal rendering to the extreme. “What about individuals who enjoy being harmed by others? Should they go and harm others, because that’s how they would want to be treated?” The folly of this is self-evident: beginning with the premise of a non-universal aberration (those who enjoy harm) leads to a faulty non-universal conclusion.

As is typically the case, this type of flawed reasoning stems from isolating this verse from its surrounding context, which gives a broader understanding of how it is intended to be applied in the first place.

In this passage (Matthew 7:7-12), Yeshua is admonishing his hearers about the benefits of being persistent “askers” when it comes to opportunity and meeting of needs.

Matthew 7:7-8 – “Ask, and it will be given to you. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

This is a simple progression of logic: Ask-receive, seek-find, knock-receive access. Yeshua is setting up his hearers to understand that just as this is the natural order of things in God’s kingdom, God is willing to provide whatever is needed if only we are persistent in asking. This is exhibited through what can be readily seen in their lives already.

Matthew 7:9-11 – “Who among you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? “Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him.

Yeshua’s argument continues, “Since you can see that even unrighteous people know how this system works, then don’t you think God will do the same for us when we we ask? And if God is willing to assist us when we ask, then shouldn’t we do the same with others?”

Matthew 7:12 – “Therefore, whatever you want others to do for you [i.e., when you ask], do also the same for them [when they ask], for this is the Law and the Prophets.

Yeshua is saying that this request-response method is a summary of basically the entire Bible when it comes to compassionate actions. Somebody has a need and makes a request (asking, seeking, knocking) and the need is met (they receive, find, and gain access). This is the very definition of compassion. God does it with us, and we should do it with each other.

Yeshua says, “therefore” because his statement of the Golden Rule summarizes his previous line of reasoning. It’s as if he is saying, “Therefore, because of the examples I just gave you, you should practice the same level of compassion with others.”

That’s why the Golden Rule isn’t meant to be some stand-alone, hypothetical, philosophical statement that can be hijacked for alternative philosophy. It is meant to summarize a simple respect for others when they are in need, which is God’s method for helping all who are in need and asking for assistance. Living by the Golden Rule demonstrates a compassion for others based on the compassion that God himself demonstrates for us.

Our compassion is owed to those in need

To delve a little further into our connection with others and exhibiting compassion in their time of need, we can explore some other passages that deal with a biblical understanding of the Golden Rule and its application.

Proverbs 3:27-28 – When it is in your power, don’t withhold good from the one to whom it belongs.  Don’t say to your neighbor, “Go away! Come back later. I’ll give it tomorrow” ​– ​when it is there with you.

The example here is that a person in need is asking for assistance, and the respondent instead pushes them away and delays providing the need. This may be due to inconvenience at the time, or just a desire to brush them off.

This is very similar to the admonition of the apostle James when he writes:

James 2:15-16 – If a brother or sister is without clothes and lacks daily food and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, stay warm, and be well fed,” but you don’t give them what the body needs, what good is it?

James is basically saying that if we are not meeting someone’s need when they ask, whether today or tomorrow, what’s the point of our faith?

The Hebrew terms in the Proverbs passage here are interesting, because it implies that the good that is being withheld actually belongs already to the other person, it is due them. The good intention or action you have to offer someone in need is something that in actuality belongs to them already. The passage says they are the “lord” or “owner” of that good which you can bestow. You, therefore, by refraining to do the good, are keeping them from something that is rightfully theirs. When it is in your power to do good to others, you essentially owe it to them. In God’s eyes, they rightfully deserve the good that you can do for them.

Albert Barnes: The precept expresses the great Scriptural thought that the so-called possession of wealth is but a stewardship; that the true owners of what we call our own are those to whom, with it, we may do good. Not to relieve them is a breach of trust.

Pulpit Commentary: We are to do good to those who are in need or deserving of it, whenever we have the means and opportunity…The owners of good are those to whom good is due or belongs either by law or by morality, whether by desert or need…what we possess and is seemingly our own is in reality to be regarded as belonging to others. We are only stewards of our wealth…The meaning of the phrase is, “While it is practicable, and you have the opportunity and means of doing good, do it.” Do not defer, but do good promptly.

This ties in with what Paul writes in Galatians 6:9-10 – Let us not get tired of doing good, for we will reap at the proper time if we don’t give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us work for the good of all, especially for those who belong to the household of faith.

If this is the real state of our obligation in this life, that everything we have is potentially owed to others in need, this should provide a monumental shift in how we interact with those around us.

What capacities and resources do we have that can truly help others?

Do we have talents or skills that can help others? Perhaps we can help to repair things around the home that they are unable to do. We may be able to simply mow the lawn, or run to the grocery store for an elderly neighbor who is unable to do either.

Do we have the financial ability to assist someone else? Whether assisting someone with a utility bill that they can’t pay, or helping them with money towards the purchase of a necessary appliance, if we have the ability to help, we should! According to Proverbs 3:27, we already owe it to them! The Bible teaches us when we do so, we are not really giving just to them, we are ultimately giving to God.

Proverbs 19:17 – Kindness to the poor is a loan to Yahweh, and he will give a reward to the lender.

The word for poor here doesn’t necessarily mean a beggar. The word literally means those who are “dangling, weak or thin.” Certainly, while these words can describe beggars, they imply those who cannot help themselves due to their own weakness or perhaps financial leanness and are hanging by a thread. The word for loan means to join (as with Yahweh) in lending to those in such need, and their need becomes our own. Our participation in true acts of compassion means that we are co-laboring with God in his Creation to see his good kingdom come about. Many times our generosity and provision to others is in reality God’s way of providing for them, and we are merely the instruments of his provision.

Conversely, it is not in our power to give what we don’t have.

Acts 3:6 – But Peter said, “I don’t have silver or gold, but what I do have, I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, get up and walk! “

Peter said, “What I do have, I give you.” He didn’t have silver or gold, what the beggar was asking for, but he had something better: he could help him walk! This should be our guide for being compassionate with others. They may be asking for a specific need, but we may only be able to assist in another, perhaps greater, way that helps them even more! This just continues to highlight how we need to learn to get our focus off of ourselves, and learn to perceive the real needs of those around us when they ask us for help.

We shouldn’t be concerned with our lack of ability to give substantially due to the necessity of providing for our own needs. God does not expect us to bankrupt ourselves for the sake of others, otherwise, other people would then need to provide for us. The goal, then, is that our assistance of others comes from the good that we can do, what opportunities we do have, not the ones we don’t.

The future of compassion

Paul writes: 2 Corinthians 8:13-15 – It is not that there should be relief for others and hardship for you, but it is a question of equality. At the present time your surplus is available for their need, so that their abundance may in turn meet your need, in order that there may be equality. As it is written: The person who had much did not have too much, and the person who had little did not have too little.

In this type of scenario, all believers work together, not to a base of uniformity, but from a base of unity. We all have a commitment to the kingdom first, and therefore our personal resources become secondary to the needs of those in the kingdom, those to whom our good is “due.”

The equality of needs would all be met in God’s type of economy. Consider the unity and equality of the early believers:

Acts 4:32-35 – Now the entire group of those who believed were of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but instead they held everything in common. With great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was on all of them. For there was not a needy person among them because all those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the proceeds of what was sold, and laid them at the apostles’ feet. This was then distributed to each person as any had need.

Wow, this is a bold example for us. Consider the possibilities if congregations today practiced this type and level of commitment to compassionate provision of others. Those who had multiple homes or additional land or resources would sell them. Those who had income above their needs would cheerfully provide it to the congregation leadership. All of those surplus funds would then be distributed to those in need within the fellowship of believers.

In a capitalist economy with a reliance on self-ownership of property and goods, this can seem like a crazy, left-wing, socialist type of proposition. And yet, as you can see by this very passage in Acts, this is the biblical design for the people in God’s kingdom. One of the primary reasons it seems so strange to us is because we have been raised in a culture that is in many ways fundamentally and diametrically opposed to this type of communal participation and care.

But I’m not talking here about the type of national government system that we should be promoting, not at all. The early believers lived in the Roman economy with all of its faults and shortcomings, and yet “there were no needy among them.” What I am presenting is the biblical model of congregational governance. For this type of system to work, you would really have to trust God and trust your leaders. This is why it can only work with true believers who are committed to following God’s Word by living beyond reproach, and according to his Word.

But I can guarantee you that congregations who truly and faithfully practiced this would explode in growth. As people’s needs would be met, they would become more available to help the needs of others, and so on. Poverty rates would drop and standards of living would rise. Just like those early days in the believers’ congregations, outsiders would take notice and respect their commitment to help one another.

Acts 5:13-14 – No one else dared to join them, but the people spoke well of them. Believers were added to the Lord in increasing numbers ​– ​multitudes of both men and women.

The kingdom of God could be advanced with amazing rapidity, all through the faithfulness of men and women willing to trust God and one another with true acts of compassion.

Summary

Ultimately, since it is God’s design for his kingdom to increase and fill the earth, we can look with eager anticipation toward its fulfillment while continuing to lay its foundations in our current generation. While we may struggle today with our own needs and the needs of others in our current society, we can still demonstrate biblical compassion by abiding by the principles of common respect contained within the Golden Rule. If you like people being nice to you, be nice to them first. If you enjoy being congratulated by others, then look outside your own perspective and do the same to others. If you desire that others provide help to you in your time of need, then find opportunities to do so for others when you are able to do so. If you want people to respect your views, then respect theirs. While you may disagree with their conclusions, they still have the same right to hold their views as you do with your own.

Simple respect solves all interpersonal relationships. Compassionate giving solves the needs of the community. While we may not be able to immediately solve all of the social ills of our current society, this type of simple respect and compassionate giving is how God implores all of us to love one another. When we do so, others will take notice of how our lives are based on different standards, higher standards. And that may be all that’s needed to open a door to sharing the message of the kingdom with them when they ask. And once they ask, and we faithfully respond, then they just need to be willing to receive.


If you enjoy these daily blog posts, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive at https://core-of-the-bible.simplecast.com/ or your favorite podcast streaming service. Questions or comments? Feel free to email me directly at coreofthebible@gmail.com.

Persistence in prayer according to the will of God

Yeshua teaches about being persistent in prayer by instructing his followers to ask, seek, and knock continually. As we learn more about these aspects of prayer, we also learn more about the nature of God.

Core of the Bible Podcast #18 – Persistence in prayer according to the will of God

In this episode we will be exploring the topic of Vigilance, specifically persistence in prayer according to the will of God.

Yeshua stated it this way:

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. “For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” Matthew 7:7-8

In his saying here is an aspect of continual, persistent activity: always keep asking, knocking, and seeking in order to receive, have doors opened to you, and to find what you’re searching for.

Vigilance can be defined as concentrated focus over long periods of time during which one is continually striving toward a target objective. It is in this sense that Yeshua is explaining how continued and prolonged effort is required in pursuing the things of God, and in the practice of pursuing God himself in prayer.

Persistence in any endeavor will always provide the benefit sought for, but even more so when we continue in prayer for the things that God would have us pray for.

Now, admittedly, consistent and intentional prayer is something that many of us, including myself, struggle with on a regular basis. When I have listened to sermons on prayer or read about prayer life practices in general, most of the time the individual relays the personal struggles they face in the practice of prayer.

Why does it seem so difficult? For me at least it has been mostly because I haven’t understood the mechanics of prayer and how it works. Perhaps this is a similar challenge for some of you, as well. Our logical minds are fixated on pigeon-holing God into some sort of descriptive prison so that we can then know how to poke and prod at him to understand how he operates.

For example, if God is sovereign, and he already knows what we would pray for before we pray it, then why bother? Does he really need us to pray before he acts in any situation? Can we somehow change God’s mind by praying? All of these types of questions can flood the mind and make any attempt at prayer unfruitful.

Among believers there are several different views of God that can affect how we choose to approach him in prayer.

There is the “total control view” which sees God as knowing everything about everything everywhere, at all times. Every atom of every living or inert thing is positioned exactly as he desires at every instant. The path of each life is mapped out before it even starts, and it will not waver at any given time. If this is an individual’s perspective, then why pray if God already has everything planned out for all time?

At the opposite extreme there’s the “prayer controls everything” mindset which states essentially that God is unable to do anything unless and until his people pray for it. This, essentially, becomes and idolatrous view of prayer, where God is essentially inert in a situation until someone prays for his involvement in a specific way, then he can act. In this view, God is subservient to the person praying.

Another perspective perhaps midway between these extremes is the “dynamic involvement view” which holds that while God is in control of all things, he is still involved in all aspects of his continually unfolding creation, moving things here and there to modify his plan as it moves through time, ensuring that everything ends up where it needs to be in the end. In this view, prayer would seem to have more effect than in the total control scenario, because as situations are “live” and haven’t been cemented into place yet, there is still an opportunity to perhaps persuade God of a specific outcome.

These descriptions of God’s activities are all wide generalizations with differing emphases, when in reality I believe these views are more like definitions on a spectrum, with individual beliefs falling anywhere in between various aspects of these descriptions as far as what they believe about God. The reason this is possible is because Scripture can be called up to support each of these differing views to varying extents. So, in a sense, they are all kind of true while not being exclusively so.

So what are we to make of all of this messy theology?

What I’ve learned is that while God is definitely in control of all things, he allows us to be involved in the outworking of his creative actions. He has allowed man the privilege of co-ruling and co-reigning with him in his Creation; that’s what the story of Adam and Eve is all about. Somehow, and I don’t know how, and nobody can explain this fully, but somehow God is totally sovereign and in control of everything, yet he still allows us genuine free will, not imagined or illusory. He is is not in any way constrained or obligated by anything we say or do, yet he still chooses to be responsive to us and our needs on a personal level.

This has been a huge personal revelation for me, because it demonstrates that the  sovereignty/free will issue is not an either/or proposition, but a both/and reality. God desires to have a real sense of intimacy with the individuals of his Creation, but he is in no way beholden to them. If he chooses to enter or create a covenant relationship, he is free to do so and he will be faithful to that. In a similar way, if we choose to believe him or not, we are free to so. Quite honestly, a relationship with God is the freest relationship we can ever experience.

Yeshua understood this type of relationship with God because he encouraged believers, in fact expected them, to be involved with God on an intimate level, just as he was. Yeshua was absolutely clear that God desires us to confide in him, to rely on him, to trust him, and to do so continually.

John 17:11, 21-22  I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them safe in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one just as we are one. … that they will all be one, just as you, Father, are in me and I am in you. I pray that they will be in us, so that the world will believe that you sent me. The glory you gave to me I have given to them, that they may be one just as we are one –

That’s a level of intimacy that should be a common occurrence with all believers, especially since Yeshua prayed that that would be the case with his followers.

So with this understanding that God desires his people to pray, and with Yeshua’s clear directive for perseverance in prayer, let’s take a look at some other aspects of prayer that we can glean from Yeshua’s teaching in other contexts.

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To further understand aspects of prayer, we might consider what Yeshua taught about it within the various contexts of his teaching.

Prayer is EXPECTED of God’s people

Matthew 6:5-7  “And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites…

“But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.

“And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words.

Luke 18:1 Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart…

Notice Yeshua mentions repeatedly, WHEN you pray. This is not an option for those who claim to believe in the one true God. He teaches that people should always pray and never give up. Yeshua assumes that prayer is a standard operating procedure for his followers, and he is simply guiding them in specifics. We should pray to the Father, we should pray privately, we should pray simply, and we should pray with perseverance.

If Yeshua taught that people should pray, then his view of God is one in which prayer is significant and has real value, and we should take that to heart as well.

Yeshua also taught that prayer CHANGES OUR VIEW OF OUR ENEMIES

Luke 6:28 “bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you.”

I’ll be honest, those are the hardest people to pray for. Nobody enjoys having to deal with people who curse them or who use them and abuse them. Yet, Yeshua directs that those who are antagonistic or overtly hostile towards us are especially those whom we should be praying for. We should speak well of them (which is what blessing them is) and be kind to them, praying for their well-being. What? Why would this even be a thing that he asks of us? 

For one thing, this type of perspective removes emotional animosity and allows us to endure strife, but it also has the ability to change their perspectives and their lives depending on how God chooses to. When you react to animosity and oppression in ways that are not expected, it can have a profound impact on those individuals. His kingdom is one in which all should be made to feel welcomed; in so doing, many hearts are changed.

Yeshua relates that prayer also helps us OVERCOME TEMPTATION

Matthew 26:41 “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed [is] willing, but the flesh [is] weak.”

Luke 22:46 Then He said to them, “Why do you sleep? Rise and pray, lest you enter into temptation.”

This is real-time help when we need it, not some idealistic goal to hope to attain at some point in the future. Yeshua is relating that prayer provides real help in the very time and moments when we are tempted. If God is not involved in real-time, then Yeshua is relating a falsehood about the effectiveness of prayer. By viewing these characteristics of prayer, we can come to a better understanding of God, and how he chooses to work within his creation.

Prayer STRENGTHENS OUR FAITH IN GOD

Mark 11:22-24 NLT – Then Jesus said to the disciples, “Have faith in God. I tell you the truth, you can say to this mountain, ‘May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and it will happen. But you must really believe it will happen and have no doubt in your heart. I tell you, in all that you pray and ask for, believe that it is laid hold of; you will see it happen.

These verses are the favorites of the “name it and claim it” crowd, those who believe that as long as they have enough faith and believe strongly enough in their desire, it will come to pass. This is the error of the Secret, or the Law of Attraction crowd.

Generally speaking, they take this verse to essentially mean that whatever you truly believe in your heart, or whatever you “speak into the universe” will come to pass and be manifested in your life.

The problem with that is that meaning can only be true if you pull this passage completely out of its biblical context. I mean, you need to physically  tear this passage completely out of the Bible and have it stand on its own to try and force that meaning into it. Nowhere else in the Bible is that type of mentality taught or instructed.

We know that can’t be the meaning of this passage, because it starts off with the words “have faith in God,” not “have faith in whatever you’re choosing to manifest.” Right there is an indication that something is off when this wrong interpretation is drawn from this passage.

To understand this passage correctly, this teaching has to be taken within the context of the Bible as a whole.

To have faith in God is to understand the nature of God from his word. And in his word, God is sovereign and his will is always accomplished.

1 John 5:14-15: “This is the boldness which we have toward him, that, if we ask anything according to his will, he listens to us. And if we know that he listens to us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions which we have asked of him.”

John’s teaching helps clarify this concept for us in a huge way. Essentially having faith in God, we understand his will from his word, and when we ask anything according to his will, of course it will come to pass. So these are the things that we should be believing for to come to pass in our lives and the lives of those around us: those things that are within the will of God.

Romans 8:26-28: “In the same way, the Spirit also helps our weaknesses, for we don’t know how to pray as we ought. But the Spirit himself makes intercession for us with groanings which can’t be uttered. He who searches the hearts knows what is on the Spirit’s mind, because he makes intercession for the saints according to God. We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose.”

The idea that prayer has real consequences again intimates that God is active within his Creation and desires us to exhibit faith in him when we pray. When those consequences come to pass, it strengthens our faith.

Most importantly, Yeshua teaches us about PERSEVERANCE IN PRAYER. When we persevere in asking God, we are more apt to be positioning ourselves within his will, because our continual focus is our dependence on, and fellowship with, him.

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Yeshua highlights this through the famous “ask, seek, and knock” passage that we started off with here in Matthew 7:7-8

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. “For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.”

So, what should we be asking for, what should we be seeking, and where should we be knocking?

Interestingly, Yeshua has provided those answers for us within the context of his teachings.

Ask:

Matthew 6:8-13 …your Father knows what you need before you ask Him. So then, this 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.

This is the primary thing we should be asking for, God‘s kingdom to come on earth. And of course he authorizes other things in your life that are according to God‘s will such as our daily provision, forgiveness, and avoidance of temptation.

We are to ask for his holy Spirit

Luke 11:13 KJV – If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall [your] heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?

Praying for God‘s holy Spirit is really a prayer for his presence in our lives.

What about seeking?

Matthew 6:33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.

Again, the kingdom of God should be front and center in all of our praying. And we should be seeking his righteousness, which is doing the right thing according to his word. I’m hoping through all of these examples you can see the pattern emerging how closely prayer is tied to understanding God‘s word.

So that’s the asking and seeking aspect that Yeshua teaches us about. What about knocking?

Now the knocking is a little more subtle and obscure, but where this word for knock is used in other passages, I think a beautiful picture about prayer emerges.

Luke 12:35-36 “Be dressed for service and keep your lamps burning, as though you were waiting for your master to return from the wedding feast. Then you will be ready to open the door and let him in the moment he arrives and knocks.

Revelation 3:20 “Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends.

Both of these images involve a knocking and a welcoming in when the door is opened. Both of them involve the guest coming in to a prepared meal or feast.

If the context of the ask seek and knock is all about prayer, then it’s as if Yeshua is saying that when we knock on God’s door in prayer, the door WILL be opened and we will be welcomed in to share a meal with him. And of course sharing a meal is the Hebraic equivalent of fellowship, and honestly intimate fellowship.

Putting this all together, when we ASK for God’s kingdom to come, when we SEEK God’s kingdom first, then when we KNOCK on God’s metaphorical door in prayer, we will be received with open arms and welcomed in to a bountiful table.

And when our prayer life is saturated with the kingdom mentality, it prevents us from asking amiss for our own selfish desires, as James relates:

James 4:2-3 You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong–you want only what will give you pleasure.

The outline of persistent prayer that Yeshua gives us here in Matthew 7 ensures that our prayer life stays focused on the kingdom. All of the imperatives in this passage convey continuity and persistence: keep asking, keep seeking, keep knocking. This vigilance in prayer will provide a continual stream of opportunity for aligning with and expanding God’s kingdom.

It is this process of constant pursuit of the kingdom that branches into new possibilities. These can then open up into unforeseen (by us) directions of God’s will, thereby achieving his purpose. Remaining static and hoping that God’s will drops into our lap is not the biblical way. It is only as we remain consistently searching and moving that we can then be drawn and directed into the areas of growth that God has for us according to his will.

Well, once again, I hope I’ve been able to provide you some ideas and concepts to meditate on further. We need to keep in mind that many will pray and then do nothing more; true believers are expected to keep asking for the kingdom to be manifested, to keep searching for kingdom opportunities, and to keep close fellowship with God in prayer in hopeful anticipation of accomplishing God’s direction and purpose in this life.

If you enjoy these daily blog posts, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive here. Questions or comments? Feel free to email me directly at coreofthebible@gmail.com.