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Saturday, March 30, 2024

21 Ways to Pray (plus variations, bonuses, and tips)

I focused on prayer in my personal life during the 40 days of Lent, from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday. I heard recently that prayer is the engine that drives life. The illustration was of car. You can have a beautiful, shiny car with brand new tires and an immaculate interior, but it won't take you anywhere if it doesn't have an engine; it's pretty useless. In your life, you may impress people with your outward appearance by saying and doing the right things, but you won't get anywhere without prayer. Prayer is the engine that moves us spiritually. And prayer is so much more than we think. Here are 21 different ways of pray, plus several bonuses, variations, and tips. I pray these will help you go deeper in prayer and connect you to the power of God to move your life.

1. Simple Prayer
Richard Foster names 21 types of prayer in his book "Prayer".  The first type is "Simple Prayer".  Simple Prayer is coming to God just as we are, without pretense, sharing our thoughts, feelings, joys, and sorrows. It's the foundation of a prayer life, emphasizing honesty and openness with God, akin to a child speaking to a loving parent. This form of prayer encourages us to lay down our complexities and approach God with simplicity and sincerity.  You don't have to do anything special.  You just talk to God.

2. Prayer of the Forsaken
Prayer of the Forsaken is when we cry out to God from a place of feeling abandoned or distant. It mirrors Jesus' own cry on the cross, helping us to express our deepest doubts and fears to God, trusting that He is with us even when He seems far away. This prayer teaches us that it's okay to question and wrestle with God's presence in our lives.

3. The Prayer of the Examen
The Prayer of Examen is a reflective practice that involves reviewing our day in the presence of God, identifying moments where we felt closest to or furthest from Him. It encourages gratitude for God's presence and asks for His guidance in recognizing His work in our lives, helping us to notice and respond to God's daily invitations.

4. The Prayer of Tears
The Prayer of Tears allows us to bring our deepest hurts, grief, and sorrow before God, trusting Him with our vulnerabilities. It acknowledges that it's okay to cry and be broken before God, who comforts us and collects our tears as a testament to our trust in His presence and healing.

5. The Prayer of Relinquishment
The Prayer of Relinquishment is about letting go of our desires and outcomes, surrendering our will to God's will. It's a practice of trust, where we release control and open ourselves to God's plans, finding peace in the midst of uncertainty and faith in God's goodness.

6. Formation Prayer
Formation Prayer focuses on allowing God to shape and mold our inner being, aligning our hearts, minds, and wills with His. It's a prayer of transformation, seeking to become more like Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, fostering spiritual growth and maturity.

7. The Prayer of Adoration
The Prayer of Adoration centers on praising God for who He is, beyond what He does for us. It's an expression of love and worship, acknowledging God's greatness, goodness, and sovereignty, drawing us into a posture of awe and reverence.

8. The Prayer of Rest
The Prayer of Rest is about finding peace and rest in God's presence, trusting Him beyond our understanding or efforts. It encourages us to cease striving, to relax in God's love and care, and to find rejuvenation and strength in His sovereignty.

9. Sacramental Prayer
Sacramental Prayer sees the sacred in the ordinary, recognizing and celebrating God's presence in rituals and everyday moments. It bridges the spiritual and physical, inviting us to encounter God through tangible means and acknowledging His grace in all aspects of life.

10. Unceasing Prayer
Unceasing Prayer is the practice of maintaining a constant awareness of God's presence throughout our daily activities. It teaches us to turn every thought, word, and action into a prayer, fostering a deep, ongoing communion with God.

11. The Prayer of the Heart
The Prayer of the Heart is a silent, wordless prayer where the heart communes directly with God. It transcends language, focusing on the deep inner connection between the believer and the Divine, often leading to profound experiences of God's presence and love.

12. Intercessory Prayer
Intercessory Prayer involves praying on behalf of others, lifting their needs, concerns, and situations before God. It's a powerful way to express love and compassion, standing in the gap for those around us and believing in God's power to intervene.

13. Healing Prayer
Healing Prayer seeks God's healing touch for physical, emotional, or spiritual wounds. It's an act of faith, inviting God's restorative power into our lives or the lives of others, acknowledging His ability to heal and transform.

14. The Prayer of Suffering
The Prayer of Suffering joins our own sufferings with those of Christ, offering them up for the benefit of others or as a form of intercession. It's a profound expression of solidarity with the suffering of Jesus, finding purpose and redemption in our own pain.

15. Authoritative Prayer
Authoritative Prayer uses the authority granted to us through Jesus to pray against evil and for the establishment of God's kingdom on earth. It's a bold form of prayer that confronts darkness with the power of Christ's victory, asserting God's rule and reign in various situations.

16. The Prayer of Radical Commitment
The Prayer of Radical Commitment is a total surrender to God, dedicating our lives fully to His service and glory. It's a decisive step of faith, choosing to follow God's calling and purposes above all else, regardless of the cost.

17. Prayer of the Ordinary
Prayer of the Ordinary finds God in the mundane aspects of life, celebrating His presence in everyday moments. It encourages us to see the divine in the ordinary, fostering a sense of sanctity and gratitude in all aspects of life.

18. Prayer of Petition
Prayer of Petition brings our personal needs, desires, and concerns before God, asking for His help and provision. It's a form of prayer that expresses our dependence on God, trusting Him to care for us in both big and small matters.

19. Corporate Prayer
Corporate Prayer is the collective prayer of a community, whether a church, family, or group of believers. It emphasizes the unity and power found in praying together, strengthening the community's faith and fostering a shared experience of God's presence.

20. Prayer of Thanksgiving
Prayer of Thanksgiving is an expression of gratitude to God for His blessings, grace, and work in our lives. It's a reminder to acknowledge God's goodness and to cultivate a heart of thankfulness in all circumstances.

21. Prayer of Praise
Prayer of Praise joyfully acknowledges God's greatness, celebrating His attributes and acts. It's a prayer that elevates God above all else, rejoicing in His majesty and expressing our unwavering adoration and love.

BONUS (More Tips and Ways to Pray):

22. The Prayer of Abandonment
The Prayer of Abandonment is a profound form of prayer that involves surrendering oneself fully to God's will, especially in moments of feeling forsaken or in deep distress. It is characterized by a total relinquishment of one's own desires and plans, trusting God completely even when His presence feels distant or His plans unclear. This prayer reflects a deep faith and acceptance of God's sovereignty, embracing whatever comes as part of His divine purpose.

23. The Prayer of Waiting
The Prayer of Waiting is an act of stillness and patience in God's presence, trusting in His timing and wisdom without rushing for an immediate answer or outcome. It emphasizes the virtue of quiet trust and the relinquishment of control, allowing God to work in His own time and way.  “Lord, in this quiet moment, I wait for You. Teach me to rest in Your timing, embracing the peace that comes from trusting in Your perfect plans for my life. Amen.”

24. The Examen of Conscience
The Examen of Conscience involves a thoughtful reflection on our actions, thoughts, and emotions throughout the day, assessing them against our spiritual and moral values. This introspective practice helps identify areas of sin or neglect, prompting repentance and the desire for personal growth in alignment with God's will.

25. Meditative Prayer
In Meditative Prayer, we engage in focused reflection on Scripture, the nature of God, or spiritual truths. It emphasizes the importance of quieting the mind and heart to listen attentively to God's voice and presence, fostering a personal and transformative encounter with the Divine. This form of prayer cultivates a space for the soul to explore the depths of faith, enabling a deeper understanding and intimacy with God through thoughtful meditation and reflection.

26. Contemplative Prayer
Contemplative prayer
is a silent, loving encounter with God, characterized by resting in His presence rather than engaging in verbal communication. It's a deep form of prayer that seeks to experience God's presence intimately, beyond words or thoughts, fostering a profound spiritual union.  One way to practice this form of prayer would be to begin with a brief prayer or Scripture reading to center your thoughts on God.  Sit comfortably and breathe deeply.  Silently invite God into this time, expressing your desire to be with Him.  Let go of specific prayers, thoughts, and images. Embrace the silence, resting in God's presence. If your mind wanders, gently return your focus to God without judgment.  Listen: Stay open and receptive to God. Contemplative Prayer is more about listening to God than speaking to Him.  End your time of prayer with a moment of thanksgiving, acknowledging God's presence and the time spent together.

27. Lectio Divina
Lectio Divina, or "Divine Reading," is an ancient Christian practice that combines reading, meditation, prayer, and contemplation of Scripture to foster a deeper communion with God. Through this four-step process, believers are invited to listen to the Holy Spirit's guidance, allowing God's Word to speak personally and transform their lives.  Methodi:  Take a reading from scripture; the psalms or parts of the prophets or epistles are most useful for this style of prayer.  Read through the text very slowly.  When you are struck by a word or a phrase STOP.  Stay with the words that moved you, maybe repeating them slowly, allowing them to sink into your heart. Only move on when you are quite ready.  Try to have an inner stillness so that you can perceive the gentle action of God.  Examples of texts you might use are:  Psalm 139:1-18;Isaiah 43:1-3;Romans 8:14-17, 28-39; 2 Timothy 1:6-10.

28. Prayers of Protection
Prayers of protection are
petitions to God for safeguarding against spiritual, physical, and emotional harm. These prayers invoke God's power to shield and deliver individuals or communities from evil, danger and deception, emphasizing trust in God's omnipotence and care. They serve as a reminder of the believer's reliance on God for security and the assurance that, even in times of peril, God's protective presence is a constant refuge.

29. Body Posture
Body Posture - In his book "Prayer," Richard Foster highlights the significance of body posture in enhancing the prayer experience, suggesting that physical positions, such as kneeling, standing, or lifting hands, can reflect and even deepen the intentions of the heart in prayer. He explains that these postures are not mere outward forms but can significantly impact the inward spirit of prayer, promoting humility, reverence, and openness to God. Foster encourages believers to consider how their physical posture can express and facilitate a more profound engagement with God during prayer.

Kneeling - Signifying humility and submission to God.

Standing - Reflecting respect and honor in God's presence.

Lifting Hands - Indicating surrender and a desire to receive from God.

Bowing - Expressing reverence and worship.

Prostration (lying face down) - Demonstrating utmost humility and dependency on God.

Walking - Used in walking prayers or labyrinths, symbolizing a spiritual journey or pilgrimage.

30. Dancing Prayer
The Tripudium is a form of sacred dance prayer mentioned by Richard Foster as an expression of joy and worship. It traditionally involves a pattern of three steps forward and one step back, symbolizing the dance's progression and occasional retreats in the spiritual journey. This rhythmic movement serves as a physical metaphor for the spiritual life, where the faithful advance in their relationship with God, encounter challenges or moments of reflection, and then continue forward. The Tripudium is celebrated as a way to engage the body in prayer and worship, embodying the joy and dynamism of the spiritual walk with God.  Click here for an example of the Tripudium dance.

31. Labyrinth Prayer
A labyrinth is used in prayer as a tool for meditation and spiritual reflection, offering a physical path that mirrors the journey of life and the inner journey of the soul towards God. Walking the labyrinth involves following a single, winding path to the center and back out again, which facilitates a contemplative state where one can meditate on Scripture and pray in the presence of God. This practice allows individuals to quiet their minds, focus on their spiritual walk, and seek clarity or guidance. The labyrinth serves as a metaphor for the twists and turns of life, inviting walkers to surrender their questions and burdens as they move towards the center, symbolizing a deeper communion with God, and then carrying back out into the world the peace and insights they have received.

32. Written Prayer
Another way to pray that has been helpful for me is to write out your prayers.  The writing process can help you collect your thoughts and refine your prayer into more specific terms.  Writing out your prayers can also serve to keep a record of your prayers (a prayer journal) that you can review later to see how your prayers have evolved and/or how God has answered your prayers.  Written prayers can also be left in special places.  There is a long tradition of writing short prayers and leaving them in the cracks of the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem.

33. Breath Prayer
Breath Prayers are a simple practice that involves pairing a brief prayer with the rhythm of one's breathing. A short phrase or scripture that can be spoken in one breath is chosen to pray throughout the day. This form of prayer encourages mindfulness and constant communion with God. As one inhales and exhales, the prayer is silently repeated, embedding the prayer into the very act of breathing encouraging ongoing connection with God. This practice helps center the believer's thoughts on God's presence, offering peace and spiritual focus amidst the busyness of daily life.

34. The Jesus Prayer
The Jesus Prayer is a simple yet profound prayer consisting of the invocation: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner." It is designed to foster a continual awareness of God's presence and to facilitate a deepening of one's relationship with Christ through repetition, often in sync with one's breathing. The prayer embodies humility, repentance, and a heartfelt plea for God's mercy, making it a powerful tool for spiritual growth and contemplation.

35. Centering Prayer
Centering Prayer is a method of Christian meditation that encourages practitioners to cultivate inner silence and a deeper awareness of God's presence by letting go of their own thoughts and emotions.
Choose a sacred word that best supports your sincere intention to be in the Lord's presence and open to His divine action within you. Let that word be gently present as your symbol of your sincere intention to be in the Lord's presence and open to His divine action within you. Whenever you become aware of anything (thoughts, feelings, perceptions, images, associations, etc.), simply return to your sacred word, your anchor.  Suggestions for centering words:  Peace, Love, Grace, Trust, Mercy, Light, or Presence.

36. Float Sessions with the Holy Spirit
Let me share a memorable prayer retreat I try to practice about once a year. It started a few years ago when my wife gifted me a float session at Lucidity Float in Chattanooga, TN. They provide 90 minute sessions in a specially designed float tank filled with highly concentrated salt water. The concentration is so high you float in the water. The tank is also enclosed and completely dark. It is a very relaxing, distressing experience (unless you are claustrophobic).  I also find it quite prayerful. My method is to choose a short verse to be my focus during the session. As I float silently in the pool of water, I concentrate on the verse as I slowly clear my mind of all else. It usually takes 15-30 minutes to get centered. My mind will wander to things I need to do, people I need to call, etc. But each time I realize my distraction, I gently return to my verse. Eventually, I am totally relaxed and my mind is clear and focused. It's hard to describe, but I enter a state halfway between awake and sleep. Sometimes I actually do drift off to sleep for a moment, but then I surface to an in-between state of consciousness centered in the Scripture I've chosen.  On my most recent float for my 50th birthday, I chose Jesus’ baptism from Matthew 3:16-17, especially the phrase “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”  Entering into a state of deep meditation, I received God's gracious affirmation that Christ is in my heart and therefore those words from Matthew 3:17 are for me too. I am His dearly loved son, and God is pleased with me. I imagined the Holy Spirit Dove descending on Jesus as He rose up out of the baptismal waters. Then, my mind wandered from the waters of Jesus’ baptism to the waters of creation in Genesis 1:2, “The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.” This was a connection I had never thought of before. And I can't rightly say I thought of it then either. Rather, it was given to me by the Holy Spirit as I meditated on God's Word subconsciously. This “soaking in God's Word” was deeply refreshing and insightful as the Spirit guided my mind through many other moments in Scripture where the Spirit interacted with water--the dove soaring from Noah's ark to find dry land after the great flood, the holy presence of God in the pillar of fire and smoke parting the Red Sea to deliver His people from Egypt, Elisha's lost ax head floating to the surface of the Jordan River, the Ethiopian Eunuch being baptized by Philip before Philip is inexplicably carried away by the Holy Spirit.  Prayer is a powerful thing–refreshing and renewing, connecting and surrounding us with the power of God, the source and sustainer of life.  Delve deep into prayer.  Soak in it.  Float in it.  If you’d like to try a float session, you can read more about them and book appointments at this link.

37. In the Name of Jesus
Praying "In the Name of Jesus" signifies more than just appending a phrase at the end of a prayer. It is praying with the awareness and recognition of who Jesus is, His authority, and His will. To pray in Jesus' name means to pray in alignment with His character, purposes, and desires, as if Jesus Himself were making the request. It implies a deep relational understanding and connection with Christ, acknowledging His role as mediator between God and humanity. Praying in Jesus' name invites His power and presence into the situation, asking for prayers to be answered according to His will and for His glory.  Whether or not the specific phrase “in Jesus’ name” is specifically stated, all true Christian prayer seeks to embody the attitude of being in Jesus’ name.

38. Amen
The word "Amen" is a declaration of affirmation often found at the end of prayers, signifying agreement and truth. It is derived from Hebrew, meaning "so be it" or "truly," and has been adopted as the traditional closing word to prayers and hymns, underscoring the trust and faith placed in the words that precede it. "Amen" is more than a ritualistic conclusion; it is a powerful expression of belief and confidence in the promises of God, symbolizing the prayerful petitioner's hope that their words will be heard and acted upon by the Divine. Its use unites believers in a common acknowledgment of the presence and sovereignty of God, making it a profound connective thread in the fabric of spiritual practice.

Monday, March 25, 2024

From Palms to Purpose: Trusting the Unseen Plan

Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week.  Holy week is the most sacred period in the whole year for Christians.  We will read the story of Palm Sunday from the Gospel of John today.  Now before we do, I want you to consider something.

The Gospel of John is 21 chapters long and gives the details of Jesus 3 years of public ministry.  Of those 21 chapters, 10 of them tell what happened during Holy Week—the last week of Jesus’ life.  So almost half of the Gospel of John is about Holy Week.  And it all starts on Palm Sunday.

As we read the story, try to visualize what it like to be in the crowd on Palm Sunday.  If you’ve been to a parade, you know something of the atmosphere.  The whole community has come out.  The crowds are excited and celebrating joyfully.  Street vendors are out and the smell of cooking food fills the air. 
Parents nostalgically point out the spectacular sights of Jerusalem to their children, recalling the times they came to the Holy City when they were little.  The hustle and bustle of the city is electric as every one anticipates the coming of Passover—the most holy holiday of the Jewish people.  Added to this are the stories circulating about a possible Messiah who raised a man named Lazarus back to life after he had been buried in a tomb for 4 days.

John 12:12-16
The next day, the news that Jesus was on the way to Jerusalem swept through the city. A large crowd of Passover visitors 13 took palm branches and went down the road to meet him. They shouted,

“Praise God!
Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hail to the King of Israel!”

14 Jesus found a young donkey and rode on it, fulfilling the prophecy that said:

15 “Don’t be afraid, people of Jerusalem.
Look, your King is coming,
riding on a donkey’s colt.”

16 His disciples didn’t understand at the time that this was a fulfillment of prophecy. But after Jesus entered into his glory, they remembered what had happened and realized that these things had been written about him.

Ancient Symbols
The people were waving palm branches and shouting Hosanna!  Palm branches were one of the national symbols of ancient Israel.  This was a patriotic parade; for the people in Jerusalem, waving palm branches was like waving an American flag for us.

The crowds were chanting Hosanna! (which literally means “Save us now!”)  This patriotic crowd was joyfully anticipating the coming of a new long-awaited Jewish king who would win their freedom and independence from the Roman Empire.  They wouldn’t have to pay taxes to Rome.  They wouldn’t have to endure pagan Roman practices in their city.  They wouldn’t have to suffer the humiliation of persecution from a foreign oppressors anymore.

Have the difficulties of life ever made you feel oppressed?  Humiliated?  Under siege?  
Have you ever longed for liberation from those things that hold you captive?
Have you ever wanted God to save you from the problems you face?
Jesus is the Savior King.  He’s the Special One God chose to set us all free.

But the Anointed One, the Messiah, is a King like no other rescuer we’ve ever known.  He’s a Savior that saves us in ways deeper than we even know we need.  And that’s good, because we need a Savior more than we even know.  And we need saving in ways we don’t even realize.

When the crowds in Jerusalem wanted a King riding a warhorse to destroy their enemies, Jesus came riding a donkey, the ancient Israelite symbol of peace.  Donkeys are slow and steady and dependable, but they’re not the swift beast you ride into battle swinging a sword at your enemies.  Kings in Israel made a statement when they entered a city by their mode of transportation.  If they came on a horse, it meant they were coming to attack you.  You better get ready, because they had a sword with your name on it!  They meant to spill your blood.

But when the king rode on a donkey, everyone in the city knew:  This king comes in peace.  John 12:15 says, “Don’t be afraid, people of Jerusalem.  Look, your King is coming, riding on a donkey’s colt.”  But within a week, many of the same people cheering for Jesus as their Savior King decided Jesus wasn’t the one they wanted.  His idea of salvation wasn’t what they expected.  So they changed their chant from “Hosanna!” to “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”

John 12:16
Verse 16 says, “His disciples didn’t understand at the time that this was a fulfillment of prophecy.  Right there in the thick of everything, they couldn’t see what was really going on.  They couldn’t put it all together—the people shouting, “Hosanna!  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” which is a quote from Psalm 118 that was written 1,000 years before Jesus came.  Psalm 118 also shares these prophetic words:  “The stone that the builders rejected has now become the cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing, and it is wonderful to see.”

So, the people rejected Jesus on Good Friday when they crucified Him, but He rose on Easter Sunday and became the cornerstone of a New Temple—the Church, which is not a building, but a holy and redeemed people.  The Disciples couldn’t see what God was doing on Palm Sunday.  It wasn’t until later when they looked back that they could see.

I wonder how many times we have that same experience?  We go through something—whether it is a joyful celebration or painful suffering—and all we know is what we see, what we feel, what we know.  But God is doing something greater than we can understand in that moment.

We can look back over so many stories of the Bible and think how we would have done things different that God.  There is dreamer, Joseph, way back in the Book of Genesis whose brothers sold him into slavery. Later, he was thrown into a dungeon for a crime he didn’t commit.  There is David, the little boy who defeated the giant Goliath, who served King Saul faithful, but Saul was jealous and tried to kill David.  And, of course, there is Jesus, who the people cheered on Palm Sunday, but then they crucified him on Good Friday.  

I read something this week that made a lot of sense to me.  It said[i]:

I would have pulled Joseph out of that prison, out of that pain.  Bout in doing so, I would have cheated nations out of the one God would use to deliver them from famine.  I would have interrupted the great story of God delivering Israel out of slavery in Egypt and the Passover from which Christians derive the sacrament of Holy Communion.

I would have pulled David out of Saul’s spear-throwing presence, out of the caves he hid away in, out of the pain of rejection.  But in doing so, I would have cheated Israel out of a God-hearted king.

I would have pulled Jesus off the cross, off the road that led to suffering and pain, off the path that would mean nakedness and beatings, nails and thorns.  And in doing so, I would have cheated the entire world out of a Savior, cheated us out of salvation, out of an eternity filled with no more suffering and no more pain.

And oh friend, I want to pull you out of your suffering, out of your pain, out of whatever problem you are facing.  I want to change your path.  I want to stop your pain.  But right now I know I would be wrong.  I would be out of line.  I would be cheating you and cheating the world out of so much good. Because God knows.  He has a plan.  He knows the good this challenge will produce.  He knows the beauty this hardship will grow.  He’s watching over you and keeping you even in the midst of this.  And He’s promising you that you can trust Him.  Even when it all feels like more than you can bear.

So instead of trying to pull you out, I’m lifting you up.  I’m kneeling before the Father and I’m asking Him to give you strength.  To give you hope.  I’m asking Him to protect you and to move you when the time is right.  I'm asking Him to help you stay prayerful and discerning.  I'm asking Him how I can best love you and be a help to you.  And I’m believing He’s going to use your life in powerful and beautiful ways.  Ways that will leave your heart grateful and humbly thankful for this road you’ve been on.

You see, God has a plan that’s so much bigger than we can see.  There are things at work you cannot understand right now.  But you can trust God.  And that’s really what Jesus asks of you.  He says, “Trust me.  Believe in me.  Have faith.”  And maybe you don’t have much faith at all.  But Jesus said, “If you can just have the faith of a mustard seed, you can move mountains.”

God saves you, by His grace, when you believe.  So believe.  Trust Him.  Have faith.”  It will carry you through the streets when people are shouting praises.  It will strengthen you when you need to carry a cross.  And faith will make it so one day you can look back on it all and  remembered what happened and realized that these things where all part of God’s glorious plan.

[i] Adapted from a blog written by Kimberly Henderson

Monday, March 18, 2024

Building on Rock vs. Building a Life That Lasts | Matthew 7:24-29

The Introduction
I have now preached twenty-three sermons from Jesus Sermon on the Mount from Matthew chapters 5, 6, and 7.  Leave it to a Methodist preacher to take one of Jesus’ sermons and turn it into 23 sermons.  But Christ’s teachings are so important it was worth soaking in each one.

Let's list Jesus' lessons from the Sermon on the Mount:

  • He said you are to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world.
  • And Jesus said He didn’t come to abolish the Old Testament Laws but to fulfill them.  So therefore, we should live righteously—just as He lives righteously.
  • We shouldn’t murder, but we shouldn’t even be angry or curse at people.
  • Not only should we avoid adultery, we shouldn’t even lust in our hearts.
  • We should be faithful to our spouse, not take revenge, and go so far as to love our enemies.
  • We must be generous and help the needy, not in order to impress people with wealth and generosity, but do it privately so no one even knows we are giving.
  • With that same attitude, we should pray and fast privately, so no one even knows we’re doing it.
  • Store up treasures in heaven where they won’t be corrupted or stolen.
  • And don’t worry about anything, but trust God to take of you.
  • You shouldn’t be judgmental, thinking your are better than anyone else.
  • But don’t throw your pearls to pigs.
  • Treat others as you would like them to treat you.
  • Because the gate to heaven is narrow and the path to life is difficult and few ever find it.
  • And we have to be careful of false prophets, because many will sneak up like wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing saying things people like to hear.  But we can tell who is a true prophet by the fruit they produce—because bad trees can’t produce good fruit.
  • And we should produce good fruit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  Because these are the fruits of a true disciple.  
  • Not everyone who cries out “Lord! Lord!”  will enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  Only those who did the will of God the Father. 

These are the foundational teachings of Jesus Christ.  If we say we are Christians, these are the core teachings we follow.  And here’s how Jesus finished his sermon—Matthew 7:24-27.

Matthew 7:24-27
“Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. 25 Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. 26 But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. 27 When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash.”

The Solid Foundation
Jesus says, “Any who listens to my teachings and follows is wise, like a person who builds a house on a solid rock.”  Now, we’ve just finished 23 sermons based on Jesus’ core teachings in the Sermon on the Mount.  They are challenging, but not difficult to understand.  If you build your life upon these teachings, your life will stand against anything. 

We will all face many trials and tribulations in this life.  But if your life is built upon the solid rock of Christ, you will not fall even when rains and floods and wind beat against you.  Now, you know we’re not talking about rain and floods and wind.  We’re talking anything that life can throw at you:  grief, divorce, depression, unemployment, alcoholism…  You can think of hundreds of trials and tribulations you might face in your life—whether they come in your own life or in the lives of people you love.  But when these trials come against you, you will not fall if your life is firmly build upon the solid rock of Christ’s teaching.

Even when cold, dark death comes to visit you (as it comes for ever person), you will not fall if your life is built firmly upon the rock of Christ’s teaching.  For everyone “…who believes in Jesus will not perish, but have eternal life.”

But I must also point out that Jesus says, “Any who listens to my teachings and follows is wise, like a person who builds a house on a solid rock.”  You’ll notice he says, listens and follows. 

There are many people who come to church every time the door is open.  They love the experience of being at church.  They love the music.  They love the people.  They may even love to hear the words of Jesus preached and read from the Bible.  But you can’t build a solid foundation on hearing alone.  You also have to follow.

James 1:22 says, “But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves.”  Many people listen to the Word of God week after week, but never do the Word of God.  They are only fooling themselves.  It is critical we listen and follow Jesus’ teaching.  It is the only way our lives will be able to remain standing when the troubles of life assail us and when death finally comes to visit and we must face Jesus on our last day.

Sinking Sand
Jesus teaching is a solid foundation that can support your life and even lead you into eternal life in Heaven.  Everything else is sinking sand.  There are a lot of people who build their life on things beside Jesus teaching.  But it’s not a solid foundation.  It cannot stand.

You cannot build your life on a foundation of feelings, but so many try.  They base everything on how they feel.  Some even choose to follow Christ because of an emotional religious experience.  Maybe they went to a revival and heard the Word of God or some great spiritual music and it moved them and made them feel something wonderful and the experience led them to follow Christ.  But that cannot be the foundation--because the feelings change and sometimes fade.  We have highs and we have lows.  Feelings are good and can be (should be) part of our walk with Jesus, but they cannot be the foundation.

Some will say they found their faith on traditions instead.  They say traditions last generation after generation and are more permanent that feelings and emotional experiences.  Traditions can be a helpful part of our walk with Christ, but they cannot be the foundation.  Traditions change and sometimes they are wrong.  Sometimes we find our traditions are contrary to Scripture and must be discarded.  Other times our traditions lose their value when they now longer serve to connect us to Christ and the mission of His Church.  So tradition cannot be our foundation.

Others will say the build their life on ideas, reason and philosophy.  They want to use their intellect to build a reasonable foundation that doesn't rely on tradition or religion or superstition.  Some may even subscribe to the best ideas and knowledge of the modern era.  But these also are an inadequate foundation.  For we soon find we were wrong.  And the morals and values and philosophies of today are soon found by another generation to be out dated and rejected.  These too are sinking sand.

What about family?  Surely family is a sure foundation upon which we can build.  Well, family is very important.  Maybe it should be the walls or the roof or the carpet of our life, but it cannot be the foundation.  For our family is only human.  They cannot fill the void in our life that only God can fill.  And family members will disappoint, reject, or die (for they are only mortal).  Family cannot be a truly solid foundation.

Nor can the pursuit of pleasures, our careers, wealth, status, popularity, or anything else other than Jesus' teachings be the sure foundation we need to stand against the storms of life.  Everything else is sinking sand.  If you try to build your life and your faith upon them, they will fail and you will fall.

Believe in Jesus
We are told often in Church (and in the Bible), “Believe in Jesus and you will be saved.”  This is true.  I can quote many Scriptures that say this and I preach it.   But what does it mean to believe?

To believe Jesus means to trust Him enough to leave behind your life of sin and follow His way of living.  Jesus’ way of living is spelled out in the Sermon on the Mount (as well as the Gospels and the teachings of His people in the Bible).

James 2:14 puts it this way:  “What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone?”  You see, saving faith is listening to Jesus’ teachings and following them.

We all fall short, but God is gracious and forgiving.  In 1 John 1:8-9, it says:  “If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth.  But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.”  

So, as we end the message today—as we end this series of messages on Jesus Sermon on the Mount—I invite you to join me in a confession of our sins.  The words to this confession are taken the new Methodist hymnal "Our Great Redeemers Praise" on pages 738-739.  This is part of the Wesley Covenant Service.

The Confession
Leader:  We are those who seek to live as true disciples of Jesus Christ, but sometimes we fall short. Let us now examine ourselves before God, humbly confessing our sins and submitting our hearts so that we do not deceive ourselves and cut ourselves away from God. Let us pray:

People:  Father God, You have set forth the way of life through Your Son Jesus Christ, whom You love dearly. We shamefully confess that we have been slow to learn of Him and have been reluctant to follow Him. You have spoken and called to us but we have not listened. You have revealed Your beauty to us, but we have been blind. You have stretched out Your hands to us through our friends, but we have passed by them. We have accepted Your gifts and offered little thanks. We are unworthy of Your unchanging love.

Leader:  We now confess to you our sins.

Please forgive us for the poverty of our worship…

for the selfishness of our prayers…

for our inconsistency and unbelief…

for the ways we neglect fellowship and Your grace…

for our hesitation to tell others about Christ….

for the ways we deceive others…

People:  Forgive us for when we waste time and when we misuse the gifts you have given us. Forgive us for when we have made excuses for the wrong things we have done and when we have purposefully avoided responsibility.

Leader:  Forgive us that we have been unwilling to overcome evil with good and that we have not been ready to carry our cross. Forgive us that we have not allowed Your love to work through us to help others and that we have not made their suffering our own. Forgive us for those times when instead of working for unity we made it hard for others to live with us because of our lack of forgiveness, inconsiderate judgment, and quick criticism.

People:  Forgive us for when we have not tried to reconcile with others and when we have been slow to seek redemption.

Leader:  Forgive us also for these sins that we silently confess to you now.

Leader:  God, the Father of all mercies, is faithful to cleanse us from our sins and restore us to Christ’s image. Praise and glory be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! Amen.