Matthew 8:23-34

Readings for this week July 26 – 30
Click here for a pdf of this week’s readings

(Prepare for Alan’s Sunday night message on ‘The Secret Life of Trees’ with our previously created Daily Readings here.)

Day 1 – ‘Little Faith’

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 8:23-26

What does it mean to have little faith? It can’t just mean coming to Jesus like the disciples did here. They were in trouble, fearful for their lives, and so even in the midst of their panic they went to Jesus and roused him from his sleep. They came to him. They sought him out as the only one who could save them. Fine, no problem there, we should all be so disciplined to seek Jesus first. And yet his response – as well as calming the storm and saving them – is to reprimand their ‘little faith’. Clearly he wasn’t happy about something. They had disappointed him in some way. It wasn’t wrong for them to come to him in this crisis, crying for help. When our faith is low and fearful, Jesus still hears us and answers us. We can still rely on him to hear us. But it seems like he wanted something more.

‘Little faith’ is faith that lacks courage, that wilts under pressure, that struggles to stand in the face of struggle or opposition or fear. It is faith that does not grow in trust and confidence in Jesus, the one who has complete dominion and lordship over the entire cosmos, the natural world included. If his lordship is that ample, shouldn’t our faith be too? Jesus won’t ever turn us away. He won’t say, “You of little faith; come back when you have more.” He will always take us as we come and help us however we come. But faith requires the courage to trust in Jesus with confidence, no matter the circumstances.

Questions to Consider
When are your ‘little faith’ moments? What makes your trust in Jesus waver? How can you guard against this happening?

Prayer
Gracious God, be merciful in my weak moments when I fail to trust you as I should. I believe, help my unbelief. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 2 – Growing Our Little Faith

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 8:27

The disciples do not come across as very heroic in this episode on the lake. Frightened, panicky, helpless to act in a constructive way and deal with the situation, nevermind save themselves. And this assumes the situation really was serious enough to endanger them, something made doubtful by Jesus’ stinging rebuke of their lack of faith – either the boat was not in danger of sinking, or, after all that he had shown them and taught them, he expected them in some way to be able to deal with the problem. Or at least to act stronger in the face of the storm than they did. But they were scared and they failed to act with any courage. In short, they were human, fallible disciples who did not even attempt to trust Jesus to work through them, on their behalf, to still the storm.

Who is this man they roused from sleep to aid them? He is the one all disciples are called to rely upon because we know we will all fail at some point – probably many points. Sometimes those times of failure occur at those very moments when we think we can do it on our own, within our strength, relying on our own resources. What we see in the boat on the lake is the absolute necessity of placing our confidence in the Lord only – knowing that we can have complete confidence in him, though the disciples should not have needed to wake Jesus in order to do this. It is not our own worth that determines God’s response but his grace that determines ours. His grace is more important than our faith – but our faith does need to grow.

Questions to Consider
What grows your faith? What makes you trust Jesus more and more?

Prayer
Holy God, grow my faith, deepen my trust, strengthen my reliance on you – all so I may know the right way to respond and act when troubles come. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 3 – Lord Over the Worst We Can Throw at Him

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 8:28-29

In just a couple of verses Matthew manages to paint a quite horrific scene, containing almost every type of contamination and ritual uncleanliness imaginable – all to show that Jesus has dominion over them all and is more powerful than any circumstance, situation, ailment or affliction. To begin with, Jesus has crossed over into the Gadarene area, a Gentile area, pagan territory, a rocky barren landscape compared to the paradise of Israel. It is an area inhabited by pigs and demons – unclean things that observant Jews would stay well clear of. And as if the encounter with the demonic was not bad enough, the demon possessed men inhabit a graveyard, a place of ritual contamination to be avoided at all costs.

And yet none of this gives Jesus pause for even a moment. The entire created order is his. He has lordship over it, not creation lordship over him. Whether the physical creation of the natural world, or the emotional and psychological make up of human beings, or the domain of the spiritual, it is all his and will all one day bow to him. There is no place, no domain, no affliction, no person, no circumstance that stands outside his embrace. However much the world and what is in it may not acknowledge his power and his lordship at the moment, as we see in these episodes, he has already begun healing, restoring and redeeming all creation, returning people to themselves and to him. 

Questions to Consider
What is our response to the aspects of creation that do not acknowledge Jesus as Lord? How do we deal with these aspects of life and the world?

Prayer
Lord God, you are the King of all creation. We praise and worship you for your goodness to us and your care for your people and your world. Help us be tender stewards of your love. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 4 – The Lord Has Set Us Free

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 8:30-32

Jesus is Lord of all. All. He has authority over all spiritual powers and as we see in this episode, he loves to release people from bondage to them. Bringing freedom to people – to all people, from all manner of things, including the demonic – is something that Jesus specifically came to do. Who is this man? He is the one who sets us free. The freedom Jesus offers isn’t just freedom from slavery to sin. It transforms every part of life, and makes all things possible. This particular chapter has been all about Jesus setting people free from physical and spiritual problems, releasing them into new life, showing them the possibilities faith in him can bring and what a life of following him looks like.

We have been set free. This is the primary fact of our existence. We were in chains – of all types: of sin, corruption, evil and death – and Jesus rescued us. He has freed us from so many different types of bondage and imprisonment, so that we can become the people we were always meant to be in God. This is a major part of the restoring work that Jesus has done and a key part of the message we have to share with the world. People need to know that freedom is possible, and the best way we have of letting them know this is by telling people our freedom stories: how we have been set free, how Jesus rescued us, stories of our new life in him.

Questions to Consider
How have you seen Jesus free others? What have you been set free from? What have you been set free for?

Prayer
Heavenly Father, thank you for the freedom you have given us. May I always be searching for ways in which to offer your freedom to others, and working to set free those who are in any way enslaved or trapped. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 5 – Nowhere He is Not Lord

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 8:33-34

In this eighth chapter of Matthew we have moved from physical illness to mental illness, a movement that signifies that Jesus has dominion over all of life, and is truly Lord of all. We have also moved from people who sought out Jesus because they believed Jesus could heal, to disciples who were uncertain and afraid, to men who derided and scorned Jesus and mercilessly mocked him. We have ranged across the land, through cities, across wilderness and water, from Israel to pagan land – there is nowhere Jesus is not Lord, nowhere he cannot work, no one he cannot heal. And the faith of those we have encountered has ranged from deep (the leper and the centurion) to unremarked upon (Peter’s mother-in-law) to borderline (the disciples) to rudely absent (the demoniacs).

One thing we must notice from all these encounters is that, as much as Jesus might praise someone’s great faith (the centurion for example), he does not require such faith in order to help. He gives help regardless of the measure of faith – that of a mustard seed would be enough, and even for faith that small he still promises great results. Jesus will help no matter how badly we stumble and stutter on our way to him – as long as we at least do make our way to him. He will not rebuff our approach, he will not calibrate his response to our level of faith, he will not make the concrete signs of his grace and love dependent on us. He will exhort us to greater faith but his heart’s love is greater than our response and is not limited by our limitations.

Questions to Consider
How has your faith growing lately? What has changed for you?

Prayer
Almighty God, you take me as I am but do not limit your love based on the way I am. Thank you for loving me as I am and loving me too much to let me remain as I am. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

Matthew 11

Readings for this week July 19 – 23
Click here for a pdf of this week’s readings

Day 1 – “Are You the Messiah?”

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 11:1-6

John knew all about Jesus. He’d heralded the coming of Jesus as God’s Messiah, the Lamb of God coming to take away the sins of the world. He’d been the one to baptise him, and John’s ministry had even attracted followers, some of whom, like Andrew, switched allegiance and began following Jesus. If anyone knew what Jesus was about, you would think it would be John. And yet even John had doubts. Perhaps he let his own fears and concerns influence his view of Jesus when it didn’t look like things were turning out as he had expected. Imprisonment certainly made John question what he had seen and heard. Was Jesus the Messiah? Was he the saviour, come to rescue his people? Was it all true?

How does Jesus answer John’s question? He says, “Look and listen.” He tells John’s disciples to report back to John what they see and hear happening. He doesn’t give them a theological writing on the Messiah, or try to convince them that he is the promised one based on what they shared in the past. He simply tells them to report what they see now: the lame walk, the blind see, the sick are healed, and the poor are hearing the good news. That’s what happens when the Messiah comes. That’s the type of thing that happens when the Saviour is among us. This is how we know he is God: people get healed and restored. There was no greater signpost that Jesus could point to than the transformed lives of the most neglected and overlooked people in society. God moves, lives are changed, and people see the difference that God makes.

Questions to Consider
What difference has God made in your life? What does life in the Messiah mean to you? Where have you seen others experience Messiah?

Prayer
Heavenly Father, help me look and listen to find where you are moving in the world around me and where you want me to be. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 2 – The Signpost to the Light

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 11:7-19

Jesus pointed to John and said “Of those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist.” This about a man who wore animal skins and dined on insects and honey as his staple diet! John’s devotion to God’s call on his life didn’t look ‘normal’, it wasn’t safe or benign. Yes, he had a specific call to pave the way for the coming of the Messiah. But he followed that call, idiosyncratically maybe, but obediently and radically, showing us how outlandish and arresting and faithful our love for God can be, if we will only let it.

And if John the Baptist was such a great prophet, if he was so amazingly faithful to his message, no matter the consequences, a signpost pointing to something greater, then how much more amazing must be the one to whom John is pointing? Through his faithful obedience, the light of Christ – the light of the One John fearlessly attested to, that gives light for all to see – was made known to all.  John was not the message or the focus of the message, but rather was humbling himself in order to point to Jesus, the one who was the light. If John, the messenger, is so great even according to Jesus himself, then how much greater must Jesus be, the content of the message itself, the one John is pointing to? John is more than a prophet, so the one who comes after him must be so much more than a prophet.

Questions to Consider
What is your opinion of how John the Baptist did what he did? How is such radical obedience present in your life? What would such obedience look like for you?

Prayer
Lord God, give me the courage to follow the example of John, who was so courageously and inventively devoted to you and your call, no matter the methods required or the resulting consequences. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 3 – The Future Judge

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 11:20-24

Up to this point in the gospel, words of judgement have been on the whole few and far between. Jesus’ words have emphasised the mercy that he expects his followers to exhibit and live out, the mercy that flows from the heart of God. But now we get harsh words of judgement, as a reminder that Jesus, as well as being our merciful Saviour, will also be the future Judge. But, perhaps rather surprisingly, these words of judgement are not directed at those we might expect them to be: the godless, the pagans, the outsiders, those who turn their backs on God. Instead, it’s the insiders, the religious, Jesus’ own people he aims his words at, who think they have it all together, and believe God could not possibly find fault with them.

Bethsaida, Chorazin and Capernaum have seen Jesus, they have heard his message and experienced his miracles – and yet that isn’t enough. Despite what they have seen and heard, they have not been changed. They have not grasped the message – or, rather, they have not let the message grasp them and transform them. For those who imagine they can encounter God and then carry on as before, the words of Jesus are a sound rebuke, a judgement call on their lives. We all need to listen to all the words of Jesus, the mercy and the judgement, in order to make sure that our time in his presence is time spent attending to his word and his will, and opening ourselves up unreservedly to the word that changes and transforms us into his likeness.

Question to Consider
How can we guard against the hardness of heart that refuses to let Jesus change us?

Prayer
Almighty Father, keep me supple, keep me open to your transforming Spirit so that the moulding and shaping you have begun in me can continue towards completion. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 4 – When is Failure not Failure?

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 11:25-27

We have seen that the unrepentant get scolded, the comfortable and blasé receive rebuke for their apathy and complacency. But that is not what the afflicted and the burdened and downtrodden and the marginalised need – or receive. Paradoxically, Jesus praises his Father for revealing his truth to the “little children”, the little people, the unremarked, those at the bottom, rather than to the rich and powerful and wise. It seems almost perverse that Jesus, having criticised those who have spurned his message, gives thanks to God for that very spurning, and celebrates the fact that it is those not normally accorded honour and praise to whom God has revealed the truth of who he is.

If we were only to look at Jesus’ ministry from a purely human point of view, it might very well seem like a failure. He preached, he taught, he healed and delivered people – and didn’t really get the positive response he was looking for. More often than not he was misunderstood or ignored. And we know that the journey would pass through a place called Golgotha, a scene of what looked, to everyone who witnessed it, like the ultimate failure. But God was in control, standing behind the plan as the absolute guarantor of the message of his Messiah and the salvation of the world. God was – and is – in control. God comes to the little people. They are the ones he reveals himself to, the ones he longs to bless, assist, raise up and edify. He is closer to the lowly and the little than to the high and mighty.

Questions to Consider
How has failure impacted you? How has God helped you place failure in proper perspective, helped you see it from his point of view?

Prayer
Lord God, thank you that you are always in control, even when I cannot see it, even when I think everything is going wrong. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 5 – Another Way of Being

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 11:28-30

What kind of man is Jesus? He is the one who invites the tired, the weary, the needy, the overwhelmed – in short, those for whom life is too hard right now – to come to him. Those in danger of failing by the wayside; those for whom the joy and vitality of life is a distant memory; those not coping with the stresses and strains of life – all are called to come to him to receive rest. Yet what Jesus offers to the tired and weary is…a yoke. An implement of work, a tool requiring effort from the one shouldering it, a device that only works if you keep walking and moving. That doesn’t seem very restful; surely the weary could use a break, a rest, a cold drink and a seat in the shade? 

Jesus offers us another way of life, another way of being. Life does not stop and neither do the stresses and strains it comes with. They cannot be avoided or magically made to disappear, but they can be managed and shouldered and seen in a new light. He offers us a new way to carry our lives, a way that, yes, does involve a yoke, but that yoke brings balance and proportion to life. Life will contain burdens we cannot escape; Jesus gives us the equipment to carry those burdens and a new way to live. His way is gentle. He is with us and offers us the chance to learn directly from him as our guide and mentor. He offers himself to us. We walk alongside him with his yoke on us, learning how to live on the way. The burden is light, once we have been shown how to carry it.

Questions to Consider
What does the yoke Jesus mentions mean to you? Why does he offer us a yoke?

Prayer
Heavenly Father, restore me. Re-energise me. Help me see how the pieces of my life fit together as a joyous whole dedicated to you. Show me how to live. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

Matthew 10

Readings for this week July 12 – 16
Click here for a pdf of this week’s readings

Day 1 – The Power of Healing

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 10:1-4

Sometimes there is tension between bits of the bible. And sometimes there is tension between the bible and today. Here we see both. The Twelve, these very ordinary men that Jesus has called to follow him, are given the power to cast out unclean spirits and heal all sickness and disease. Matthew uses the same words for the disciples’ mission as he did for Jesus’ mission in 9:35. They are to do the same as him. What Jesus does, his followers are to do too. He is the model of mission for his church. That seems clear enough. But many have pointed out that the Great Commission at the end of the gospel, which we looked at post-Easter, mentions nothing of healing among the disciples’ tasks. Disciple, baptise, and teach. That is all that is explicitly passed on to the disciples. No mention of healing or exorcising, which we definitely still see in the church throughout the book of Acts. All authority resides with Jesus; the mission continues through the disciples.

So is there still healing? Can disciples heal today? First Corinthians says yes (see 12:9, 28-29), at the same time as describing it as a gift given to some. But Jesus has taught us to pray, to come to the Father and share our needs and concerns, to pray in and for all things. Whether we are specifically given the gift of healing – one of many precious gifts that the Father gives out to his children – or not, joining in solidarity with the sick to combat their afflictions and pray for healing is something that all disciples – and like the Twelve, we are all ordinary – are called to do.

Question to Consider
What has your experience of God’s healing power shown you about God?

Prayer
Almighty God, you are a God who heals and who brings restoration and wholeness. Thank you for the power of your redeeming, healing love. Make us channels of your grace and healing for others. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 2 – Mission Matters

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 10:5-15

Across the synoptic gospels these mission instructions are found in four different versions, testifying to their central importance in the mission of the Jesus community. These instructions are simple, yet profound – just like the mission itself is supposed to be. Firstly, where to go: Jesus came for Israel, so that is where he sends the Twelve. Though the whole world is the target, Israel gets the first shot, the first opportunity to receive and acclaim one of their own as God’s promised Messiah. Next is what to do – heal and proclaim the gospel, the coming of God’s Messiah – followed by how to do it: not ostentatiously, not arrogantly, but simply and humbly.

Jesus’ last two points are about the people they are to reach out to in mission and what to do if they do not reach back. For Matthew, ‘worthy’ people are those who are receptive to the gospel message, those who will welcome the messenger and thus provide the messenger with a sense of stability, a base, an HQ from which to reach out. Conversely, if no one welcomes, if the response is rejection and not reception, then they are to leave. But they must remember that rejection does not equal failure. Jesus himself said that not all peoples and places would necessarily be receptive. But Jesus provides responses that do not require the burden of rejection to be shouldered by the disciple. Jesus lays out a mission strategy that is effective and yet simple and sensible. He is a radical leader, but his ways are sometimes radically simple.

Questions to Consider
What does mission look like in your neighbourhood? What strategies do you see being simple yet effective?

Prayer
Lord God, guide me as I look for the ways and means to share your gospel with others. Help me not overthink, but be guided by your example and your Spirit. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 3 – Facing Opposition

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 10:16-23

This chapter is a little summa missiologica, a collection of everything Jesus said about mission so that his church would know his methods, know what was expected and, especially in this passage, know what to expect. And what we can expect is trouble, opposition and persecution. Jesus pulls no punches here. He tells his followers that following him and sharing the gospel will result in persecution, in physical assault and punishment, even in family members turning against us. The mission work of the church takes place in an environment of trouble, suffering, and hostility, in a world that doesn’t know – or want to know – him or us.

But rather than bucking up his followers with a call to arms and rallying them to a battle standard that calls for heroically striving against the forces arrayed around us, Jesus, instead of describing us as soldiers, describes us as…sheep. And sheep going up against wolves – I think we can all see how that will likely end! But his point is that in the midst of all the trouble, the merciful, humble, non-violent, other-centred ethic laid out in the Sermon on the Mount still applies. In everything, including mission, we are still disciples. Frederick Dale Bruner says, ‘“Missionary” and “disciple” are, respectively, the outward and inward sides of the same reality: the Christian.’ The ethic of Jesus is not put aside when the mission gets tough; rather, that is when the ethic can be most transformative in us, when through trusting the one who sends us out we are moulded and formed and changed just as much as those we introduce to Jesus. 

Questions to Consider
Why will we face opposition, persecution? What does it mean if we aren’t?

Prayer
Almighty Father, give me strength to persevere in the face of opposition and ridicule. May your opinion be all that matters, your guidance all I appeal to as I seek to do your will. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 4 – In Him Alone

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 10:24-39

We will face trouble. But we can do so knowing that God is with us. We can trust him. These next instructions show us how to deal with the trouble by focusing on trust in the one who sends us. And the heart of this trust is not a list of bullet points to action or abstract teaching to implement and follow, but a relationship. These verses teach us the importance – and efficacy – of trusting in God, and they do so by focusing on our relationship with Jesus. He is our Lord and master. He knows us. He loves us. He sees what we face and what we go through; indeed, he faced it too, and went through so much more than we are likely to face. Here he reassures us of our importance to him, of his care and provision for us, no matter what, and exhorts us once again to trust the one who has counted the very hairs on our heads.

What Jesus wants above all is to bind us tightly to him so that our trust is in him alone. Not in ourselves, not in family, not in our place or position, not in the very things that clamour for our attention and promise salvation and comfort and protection. Solely in him, the one who has come to divide us from all that stands between him and us, so that he assumes his rightful place at the centre of ourselves with all else arrayed appropriately around him. So we trust him and the promise he makes to be with us, expressed in the ultimate promise of his Holy Spirit in us and with us to empower and guide.

Questions to Consider
Where else do you find yourself looking for assurance and guidance? Why? How do you remedy this?

Prayer
Gracious God, for when I looked elsewhere rather than to you; when I tried it on my own strength; when I trusted in myself more than you – I am sorry. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 5 – Links in the Chain

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 10:40-42

From God to Jesus to the original apostles to us – God’s mission of love to the world flows from his heart, through the Son to the apostles and us via his Spirit.  We are all involved in a direct line from God. Not a single disciple is left out of the mission of God. In these few verses Jesus shows that even those who welcome and support and offer hospitality to those carrying God’s word to others are a part of his mission work. We all have a part to play. When we think of mission to our neighbours and communities – we all have a part to play there. When we think of our mission and witness in our workplaces, schools, and the regular places of our daily travel, we all have a part to play there.

And when we think of our mission and witness to the wider world – a mission that might not necessarily see all of us relocating elsewhere around the globe – we all have a part to play there too. For those who stay, we offer prayer support for those who have gone and for the communities and peoples they have joined. We offer financial support in order to sustain them and provide for them and their new communities overseas. No one can say they don’t have a role in God’s kingdom work, wherever it is, however big or small it may seem to be, whatever the circumstances. God calls his people to engage with the world in tandem with him in his work of redeeming, storing love.

Question to Consider
What part are you playing in bringing God’s love to the world, especially those at the edges of society?

Prayer
Lord God, thank you for giving me a place in your kingdom and a role in bringing your love to the world. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

Matthew 9

Readings for this week July 5 – 9
Click here for a pdf of this week’s readings

Day 1 – Healing and Forgiving

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 9:1-8

It’s very easy to say to someone you forgive their sins – after all, there’s no evidence that can be produced one way or the other to prove that the sins are forgiven. Healing someone is a bit different: people will be able to tell if the person is healed. But Jesus heals the man and then goes on to use the healing as a springboard for revealing who he really is, much to the consternation of the watching religious leaders. This is a major gospel moment in which we see freedom come to someone who is trapped and bound, always at the mercy of others. And then, beyond even this, freedom from the tangle of sin is offered as well. Holistic restoration of body and soul. Freedom from imprisonment. Who can offer such gifts?

God is present in the person of Jesus. Jesus does what only God can do, declaring a person to be forgiven of their sins. The healing was miraculous enough and revealed the loving heart of God – yet others had performed such miracles before, throughout Israel’s history. But forgiving sins is God’s prerogative alone – something that Jesus claims the authority to do. Getting close to Jesus gets you close to God and the gift of freedom that he offers. But as we will see (in the very next chapter) and have recently seen (post-Easter), Jesus gives his followers the authority to do exactly what he has done here: to heal illness and to forgive sins. Jesus has given us freedom and placed in our hands the power to free others and bring them wholeness.

Question to Consider
How are you bringing freedom to others?

Prayer
Lord God, you have given me the freedom to free others, to be a channel for your healing and your gracious forgiveness. May I not spurn the opportunity to do so. Guide me to the people and places that need your healing and grace. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 2 – Loving the Socially Untouchable

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 9:9-13

Tax collectors were hated. They were tools of the Roman empire, instruments of oppression and injustice, exploiting their position to squeeze their countrymen dry while feathering their own nests. They were moral lepers, shunned and despised, and yet Jesus still says to one of these social untouchables, “Come follow me”, and spends his evening in the company of many tax collectors. The call to follow was enough to tear this cosseted, conniving, conspiring tax collector away from all that held him and all that he held dear and set him on the path of following Jesus. He gave up all the comfort and security of his position for the discomfort and insecurity of following an itinerant teacher across the countryside.

Psalm 26:4-5 says, “I do not sit with deceitful men, nor do I consort with hypocrites; I abhor the assembly of evildoers and refuse to sit with the wicked.” Did Jesus never read his psalms? Rather than avoid evildoers and the unrighteous, he seems deliberately to seek them out. The “holiness by separation” that scripture seems to demand becomes in Jesus’ own example “holiness by association.” Compassion and mercy – identification with others – trumps sacrifice and judgement – separation from others. Every one of us was once the wrong type of person: sinners and enemies of God that Jesus came to save, fellowship with around the table, and call to follow him. We owe the same fellowship to those who are ‘the wrong type of person’, the love and acceptance Jesus showed us.

Questions to Consider
Who are today’s untouchables? What can we do to associate with them and show acceptance the way Jesus did?

Prayer
Heavenly Father, no one is beyond your love. May we, your people, be champions of the marginalised, forgotten and voiceless. May we strive to bring into the light those pushed to the sides. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 3 – The Old and the New

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 9:14-17

For a so-called religious leader, Jesus sure does get things wrong a lot. The scribes and the Pharisees have both had a go at him over his claims to forgive sins and his association with sinners: he says the wrong things and acts in the wrong way. John’s disciples (whom we might expect to show some affinity with Jesus) now upbraid him over his disciples’ behaviour – his followers do the wrong things too! Having been challenged over who he eats with, Jesus is now challenged over what to eat and how often to eat. It seems like he’ll eat with anyone and eat anything at any time. Fasting was seen as an essential part of any spiritual discipline, illustrating the subjugation of body to spirit and a visible way of showing one’s discipline and sacrifice in the pursuit of holiness and purity. And yet Jesus barely mentions it unless prompted.

Jesus has shown us to be very careful of worldly influences, but also to be open to serving the world and healing its pain. Here, he shows us that there is similar freedom around the spiritual disciplines we inhabit. Perhaps he chooses not to emphasise fasting because of its personal, private nature: it is an individual discipline that is of no benefit to others, and yet Jesus’ ethic is focused on the neighbour. He does not command fasting; neither does he prohibit it. Instead, it remains an option in a person’s spiritual armoury if they choose it. But, says Jesus, be aware that often the old and the new mix uncomfortably, that new ways of living can often rub up uncomfortably against the old.

Question to Consider
What is your view of fasting and its purpose?

Prayer
Gracious God, thank you for giving us so many ways of connecting with you and worshipping you as our Lord and God. May we use the range of ways there are for worshipping you wisely and for your glory. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 4 – Do Not Be Afraid – Have Faith

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 9:18-26

Several things stand out in this passage, most especially the levels of faith displayed by the father of the dead girl and the woman with the issue of bleeding. The woman doesn’t even seek a face-to-face encounter with Jesus – for her, it would be enough to merely touch the edge of his cloak and she would be healed. Whether from a humility that does not wish to disturb Jesus and impose upon his time, or from the fear of potential embarrassment should she share her predicament in public, she believes touching his cloak is enough to heal her. As for the synagogue leader, the faith that believed in “healing at a distance” we saw with the centurion reaches its ultimate example with faith in Jesus’ ability to raise the dead, to reach beyond our human horizon and return even the dead to life.

Do not be afraid. Just have faith. Sometimes faith is born of desperation, of extremity and hopelessness. The paralytic man and his friends were desperate to get near to Jesus (Mark has them coming through the roof of the house!); after twelve years of illness the woman is desperate to be healed; and there is no more poignant and (on the face of it) pointless desperation than that of a parent mourning a dead child. And yet Jesus responds to all of them. He brings hope and life out of despair and death. God’s gift of grace and life has the final say, no matter how dire the circumstance. He is the God of the impossible. Do not be afraid. Just have faith.

Questions to Consider
What does faith look like day to day? In what ways does it change who we are and how we view Jesus?

Prayer
Almighty Father, strengthen my faith. Take me deeper into you; teach me to trust you more and hope for greater things than I might otherwise. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 5 – Breaking Boundaries

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 9:27-37

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus exhorted us to be merciful, to develop the characteristics of mercy and show grace to others. In chapter nine he has shown us what this mercy looks like. Throughout this chapter we have seen Jesus healing people and restoring them back into society, returning them to community. Those who have been ostracised, marginalised, or even entirely removed from all human contact and fellowship because of death, have been brought back to physical wholeness and social wholeness too – they have been given life again. Whether it is a physical affliction or ritual uncleanness (and the former usually meant the latter) or even the (supposedly) final end of death itself, Jesus crosses all boundaries – and calls upon those who would follow him to have the faith to follow him across these boundaries too.

Outsiders and outcasts matter to Jesus, no matter the reason for their isolation and abandonment. It’s the sick who need the doctor, the friendless who need friends. Restoring them to wholeness and community matters to Jesus, no matter the boundary that must be crossed to do so. That his followers do the same as he did matters to Jesus, no matter what. Does our faith stretch far enough to believe that Jesus really can do these things? And does it stretch even further to believe that he can – and will, because he wants to – do these things through us, if we have the faith in him to cross whatever boundaries need crossing in order to invite others into our family?

Questions to Consider
What boundaries is Jesus asking us to cross today? How do we do this?

Prayer
Loving Lord, make us into bold boundary breakers. Show us the barriers that keep people isolated and in pain and show us how to cross them, break them and free people in solitude and isolation. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

Matthew 8

Readings for this week June 28 – July 2
Click here for a pdf of this week’s readings

Day 1 – Restoring the Outcast

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 8:1-4

Lepers were the classic outsiders – literally. They were seen as cursed by God and therefore not just physically contagious but also spiritually dangerous to have around. They were abhorred, shunned, cast out of their homes and villages and forced to inhabit the wilderness, graveyards, abandoned areas. They were cut off from their families and communities and treated as if they were already dead. Community and care were denied to them. So the first amazing thing about his miracle is the audacity of the leper to even approach Jesus. This person, one of the most marginalised of people in ancient Israel, has come seeking Jesus.

And Jesus grabs him; he touches him. He doesn’t stand back and heal him from a distance, speaking words of command while not coming near. Jesus gets close and touches him. The miracle of healing is miraculous enough itself but the way Jesus healed here speaks volumes as well. He gets close, up in the man’s personal space and he further breaks all cultural taboos by touching the man, by engaging with the cursed and despised. Jesus also articulates his desire to heal: he lets the man (and all around who can hear) know that he actually desires to heal him. The man’s restoration and wholeness are important to God, and what Jesus does now he does willingly. He is not healing a man to get him out of his way but engaging with him and declaring his desire to heal. By directing him to the priests, Jesus is also restoring him to community: the priests’ declaration will allow him to return to society – this is healing at its most profound and restorative.

Questions to Consider
Who in our society is outcast? How could they be restored to community?

Prayer
Lord God, give me an eye and a heart for those cast out and marginalised. Show me how to love and welcome those pushed to the edges. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 2 – No Need to Even Ask

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 8:5-7

The centurion has such faith that – like the leper – he doesn’t even need specifically to ask Jesus to heal him. He simply states the fact that his servant is sick. He doesn’t implore Jesus to heal his servant, he doesn’t ask if Jesus will come and heal his sick servant; there is no beseeching, no begging, no attempt to put his situation in the most attractive light in order to coax some sort of response from Jesus. The centurion simply says, “Lord, my servant is in great pain.” It is almost as if he knew that with Jesus he could simply be as open and straightforward about his life as he could possibly be. He could talk about his life; whether or not he had the words for what he wanted, his faith was such that he knew he could just share his problem and leave the rest to Jesus, because he knew Jesus would respond to his situation.

Is our trust in God enough that we feel free enough to simply talk to God about our life, share our concerns and inner thoughts with him, without trying to explain what we want or feeling we have to convince God to do something we want him to? Jesus’ response to the centurion – “I am coming to heal him!” – shows that Jesus is very eager to help. He doesn’t need convincing; he stands ready to meet our needs, poised to come to our aid should we have the simple faith to open ourselves to him. He already knows us intimately and loves us passionately; we should be open and honest with our needs and our desires.

Questions to Consider
What makes us want to hide or withhold our problems from Jesus? What would exercising faith like the centurion’s truly look like for us?

Prayer
Heavenly Father, give me faith like the centurion’s, a faith that does doesn’t hide, a faith that confidently approaches you on behalf of others and seeks your will for your world. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 3 – On Behalf of Another

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 8:8-13

This is the first long distance healing in Matthew’s gospel and there is much that we can learn from it. The healing was of the servant of a Roman centurion – a Gentile, and a soldier in the force occupying Israel – a fine example of loving one’s enemies in action. A conversation took place between Jesus and the centurion; the centurion’s faith is such that he deems it unnecessary for Jesus to come to his home, as he believes that simply saying the word is all Jesus needs to do to heal his servant. Jesus commends the centurion’s faith; his faith is not the source of the healing but it is the channel through which the healing came.

But an important thing to note is that the centurion’s servant was healed by the faith of another. No mention is made of the servant’s faith. Jesus asks no questions about the servant’s beliefs. The centurion’s faith played a crucial role in bringing the healing power of Jesus to his servant. It is on the basis of the centurion’s faith that his servant is healed. Interceding on behalf of others is not only possible, but crucial in the life of followers of Jesus. Our faith-filled prayers can help others, no matter who they are or where they are. Through our faith in Jesus Christ, others can be helped, supported, healed, restored, saved. When we have faith in Jesus, we have Jesus with us, ready to act, to heal, to intercede for others – if we will only talk to him about it.

Questions to Consider
Why is interceding in prayer for others such an important part of being a disciple? How is your discipline of prayer for others growing?

Prayer
Loving Father, lay upon my heart those in need to pray for, near and far, known and unknown, whether they know you or not. May seeking your heart always find me seeking good for others. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 4 – Touching, Taking and Carrying

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 8:14-17

Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. When we think of this, we often think of the crucifixion and the defeat of sin and death achieved on the cross and through the Father raising the Son back to life. But there is also an important element of ‘taking away’ seen here in chapter 8 of Matthew, with the encounter with the leper, with Peter’s mother-in-law, and with the multitudes who were brought to Jesus in the evening for healing and deliverance. We see this in the quote from Isaiah: “He took on our sicknesses and carried away our diseases.” Matthew places this quote here, near the start of Jesus’ ministry, as if to signal that this applies to his entire life and ministry, not just to the work on the cross.

This taking on of people’s sickness and disease is exactly what we see Jesus doing in this chapter. He touched the leper – taking on the sick man’s physical illness and ritual uncleanness and healed him, dispensing with them – and with their consequences. He touched Peter’s mother-in-law, entering the place of sickness, and healed her. And when the demon possessed are brought to him he shows no hesitation in entering into contact with those whose possession makes them the most ritually unclean, carrying away their contagion and replacing it with health and restoration. That which is wrong with us, that which afflicts us and damages us, Jesus takes away.

Question to Consider
How are we to imitate Jesus in taking on ourselves the sickness and disease and brokenness in this world?

Prayer
Loving Father, show me how to alleviate the pain and suffering I see in the world around me. Make me turn my face towards the agony of others rather than away. Work through me to bring relief. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 5 – Called Again…and Again

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 8:18-22

Two men speak to Jesus: the topic centres around following him. Verse 21 states that “another of his disciples” came to him, confirming that this second person is a disciple and implying that the first was too. These men are not prospective disciples, checking out the landscape, seeing if they want in. They are already ‘in’; they are already disciples. The first has his casual claim of following Jesus wherever he goes challenged by Jesus himself (shades of Peter and his denials?); it is not easy following Jesus, rough times are pretty much guaranteed. The second almost seems to be looking for a temporary ‘out’; rather than washing his hands of him and letting this backslider go, Jesus implores the man to remain with him.

As much as discipleship is a lifelong journey, and as much as we all hope that we will always be faithful to the call and enter into a lifelong process of transformation and development and growth as followers of Jesus, I think we all know it isn’t automatically that smooth or easy. It’s not necessarily a one-time deal; it certainly doesn’t always go the way we hope or plan. Like these disciples we sometimes want to rethink the deal, renegotiate terms, reconsider our position as the circumstances of life change or the reality of the road hits home – again. But Jesus doesn’t dismiss the first disciple’s bravado, he challenges it. He doesn’t release the second disciple from following, he calls him again. “Follow me” isn’t something we will hear only once. We will hear it many times. Jesus wants us with him, and he will continually call us to follow – to make sure we are.

Questions to Consider
What makes you want to renegotiate your discipleship? What things make you think twice about following?

Prayer
Lord God, you are merciful. When I stumble, when I stray, I pray you will help me to keep listening for your call, and turn again towards you. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

Matthew 7

Readings for this week June 21 – 25
Click here for a pdf of this week’s readings

Day 1 – Do Not Judge, But Use Your Judgement

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 7:1-6

If someone says something several times, if there is a topic that they like to come back to again and again, then it is safe to assume that the topic is especially important for them – and if it’s Jesus talking, then it’s important for us too. The fifth Beatitude exhorted us to be merciful; chapter five also contained teaching about anger and hate; the Lord’s Prayer sought God’s forgiveness for our transgressions against others. The fact that Jesus talks about showing mercy to others so often here tells us how important he thought it was as a marker of faithfully following him.

A call against judging is not the same as a call against discerning. Later on Jesus speaks of discerning true prophets from false ones; discernment is important, even necessary, in the life of the disciple. What Jesus commands us to avoid is playing God over others, passing final judgement on them as if the final verdict on their lives was ours to give. Once again Jesus turns his saying back on its head. He says “judge not” – and then tells us to remove the log from our own eyes first: in other words “judge yourselves.” The critical eye we would train on others should first be focused on ourselves. Any attempt to remove the speck in another’s eye comes after dealing with our own weaknesses and blind spots first – and hopefully we will have some compassion for them once we do. We are still to think and act critically (verse 6); we are certainly not called to be blind to what others do. But first and foremost we are not to be blind to what we ourselves do – our own sins, weaknesses and blind spots.

Questions to Consider
Why are we so quick to condemn others but excuse ourselves? How do we distinguish judgement from condemnation?

Prayer
Gracious God, give me a gracious heart, a heart slow to judge and quick to love, a heart that seeks to see people the way you see them. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 2 – The Simplicity of Asking

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 7:7-12

“[W]e carry around heavy bundles of wishes that never become askings. We talk to ourselves about our problems in the form of much thought, worry, and sleeplessness; we might talk about our problem with those close to us, too, but even we Christians are strangely reluctant to talk about our problems with the Father. Here Jesus opens the doors of faith as widely as they will ever be opened again and promises a fruitful audience with the Father – for the simple asking.[…]

“The point of this powerful invitation is simply, in the words of the hymn, “O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear, All because we do not carry Everything to God in prayer.” We need to be reminded that asking is not (as some spiritual teachers tell us) more selfish than praise, which, we are told, is more God-centered; or that asking is more selfish than thanksgiving, which, we hear, is more humble. All six sentences of the Lord’s Prayer are petitions, that is, they are askings. And the right way for disciples to appear before God is not as givers to a divine Egoist, but as receivers from a generous Father. There can be more self-centeredness in the praise understanding of worship, which assumes that we are the important actors and God the passive recipient, than there is in the asking understanding of worship, which lets God be God and us be human beings.”

Frederick Dale Bruner, Matthew: A Commentary, Vol. 1: The Christbook. Matthew 1-12, pp.343-4.

Questions to Consider
What stops us asking God? Why keeps us from approaching him with our deepest prayers?

Prayer
Loving Father, you are a good God who loves us and welcomes us with open arms each time we come to you. Oh how you long for us to come to you more often, with greater openness. Help us do so. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 3 – Final Warnings

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 7:13-23

The Sermon on the Mount does not end with “They all lived happily ever after.” Jesus ends with three warnings. He began the sermon with meekness; now he ends it with toughness. The narrow gate and the rough road might not sound attractive but they are the only road the faithful disciple of Jesus can tread: allegiance to him alone and commitment to the robust, transformative discipleship the road will require of us. And there will be others we may meet along that road – the false prophets, the charlatans offering cheap transformation and easy virtue – whose sales pitches and charms we will need to guard against. The narrow gate and the rough road are not the spectacular way. They are the simple way, the humble way, the dedicated and faithful way of Jesus Christ and all who follow him.

We will, all of us, be known by our fruit. Only those doing the will of my Father, says Jesus, will achieve the kingdom of heaven. Even seemingly spectacular fruit can sometimes fail to exhibit Jesus’ command to do the will of his Father. The fruits that Jesus commanded were not spectacular and earthshattering, they were simple and formative, based around care and concern for others and the appropriate disposition and control of our anger, lust and selfish tendencies. The price for failing to hear and act is great and these warnings are not to be dismissed lightly.

Questions to Consider
Why do you think Jesus felt the need to include these warnings? What do they tell us about discipleship?

Prayer
Lord God, keep me to the simple path of loving obedience. May I worship you, control myself and serve others in a way that shows the marks of your coming kingdom. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 4 – When the Storms Come

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 7:24-27

Jesus does not promise that his followers will be spared rain and flood and wind. We know trouble will still come our way; the rain falls on the just and unjust alike and will not spare us its attention. Heeding Jesus’ words is no protection from troubles afflicting us; but heeding his words offers protection during these troubles. Building on the foundation of the words of Jesus – doing his words, performing his will – ensures the house is still standing once the storm has passed. The foundation is beneath the house supporting it, not above the house shielding it.

We should note as well that Jesus is talking about two types of disciples here, two types of followers, not about disciples and non-disciples. The houses represent those who hear and do Jesus’ words, thoughtfully applying them and living them out and thus building on a solid foundation, and those who only hear Jesus’ words but, for whatever reason, do not do them. The house that falls is the house of disciples who believe Jesus’ words are important enough to listen to but not important enough to do: in one ear but out the other, with no impact on the way through. The two houses do not get treated differently; the same thing happens to one house as happens to the other. But once the storm has passed, one house remains standing and the other does not. It is gone. The result of not doing Jesus’ words – of not living by his words – is catastrophic for any life that may be attempted to be built on it. Foundations matter.

Questions to Consider
How do we make the words of Jesus the foundation of our life? How does this work in practice?

Prayer
Almighty Father, thank you for providing us with the surety of your presence and the tools to live life well in your service and for your glory and for others. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 5 – Seeing the Father’s Will Done

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 7:28-29

“Your will be done.” That is the key. God’s will is to be done, it is to be enacted, it is to be carried out. Inner dispositions and attitudes are necessary but what Jesus wants is the fruit of these attitudes, the deeds that such dispositions create, enacted in the world for the benefit of others. As we have seen, the doing is important, it does play a part. God’s grace and mercy towards us lead to faith in the Father who forgives us; this faith compels us out into the world to proclaim and work for the justice of God for all. What we find in the Sermon on the Mount is an ethic that is eminently practical because it is meant to be lived out. The heart of God is revealed and enacted by the one who then empowers us to live it out too.

For it is in the person of Jesus that we see the Father’s will being lived out. From beginning to end, that was what he was about. From “I have come…to do the will of Him who sent me” (John 6:38) to “Not my will but yours be done” (Mark 14:36) and beyond, the person of Jesus himself is the key that unlocks the Sermon on the Mount for us. He talked it and he walked it. It is our relation to Jesus that makes our doing of the Father’s will even possible. Jesus taught it, enacted it and empowers it in us. In the Sermon we come face to face with him. If we are not connected into the true vine, we will not bear the fruit that we should. Jesus displays absolute love to the lost, and demands the same absolute love from us.

Questions to Consider
How do we ensure that it is God’s will that is done in our lives and not our own? How do we live the Sermon on the Mount each day?

Prayer
Sovereign Lord, “not my will but yours be done” – I pray that for my own life and my own heart. Speak to me and reveal how to put your desires into action each moment of my day. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

Matthew 6

Readings for this week June 14 – 18
Click here for a pdf of this week’s readings

Day 1 – Doing Right

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 6:1-4

If chapter 5 was about the what of Christian life, then chapter 6 is about the how. Doing right is important; doing it the right way is also crucial. Done in the wrong way, righteousness becomes self-seeking, love is offered for selfish reasons, we act (even rightly) for the positive attention it brings and come to believe we can rely on our ourselves and not on God. The righteousness just taught about in chapter 5 can be harmful; if we don’t heed Jesus’ warning, it can end up as self-glorification. We saw last week with the call to be salt and especially light that there is a vital, visible, public element to the embodiment of our faithful discipleship. The performance of good works in a way that draws attention to God is laudable. Performing the private good works talked of here in a way that causes people to notice them is not.

Jesus illustrates his point with three particularly pertinent examples: secret charity, prayer and fasting – three actions seen as key elements of a life of devotion and holiness. The assumption is that the disciples do all three of these things; the emphasis is on how they do them. Jesus’ calls us to have a deep concern for others – but we must show such concern in the right ways: unselfconsciously, and in a way that is not puffed up. Our heavenly Father knows and sees. Like a loving Father, he is impressed. He rewards. We are made to be noticed by God and to want such heavenly attention. Rather than eliminate this desire, Jesus redirects it.

Questions to Consider
How do we guard against self-righteousness? How is Jesus transforming your motivations?

Prayer
Lord God, keep my way straight and my gaze only on you. May acclaim and regard remain far from me; may your good words of love and encouragement be all I seek to hear. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 2 – How Not to Pray

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 6:5-8

In the lead up to teaching the disciples how to pray, Jesus teaches them how not to pray, revealing to them two major pitfalls that the ostensibly religious can fall prey to, if the ‘self-righteous’ desire for acclaim trumps the righteousness Jesus has shown us in chapter 5. We are not to pray for show. Ostentatious public prayers designed to accrue acclaim may very well do so – but that is all the reward available to those who pray such prayers. Such attention seekers get what they seek – attention – and nothing more. The truth is God meets us mainly in secret, in the private places, the ‘inner rooms’. He sees, he hears, and he rewards faith that shows itself to need no reward.

Secondly, Jesus attacks the misconception that thinks there must be a lot of prayer in order for it to work, as if the efficacy of the prayer is dependent on the length of the prayer. It is not. Rather, there is no need to pray with a multitude of words. Once we no longer feel compelled to pray out of the necessity of having to pray a lot, we will be actually be freed to pray for a lot. Remove the obligation to go on and on, and suddenly we are able to go on and on in prayer about the things closest to God’s heart. God is not a reluctant listener. He is an attentive, compassionate Father for whom prayer is a chance for his children to engage in conversation with him. He welcomes, he listens, he engages. All we need to do is come to him openly and honestly.

Questions to Consider
What is prayer? What role does it play in our relationship with God? How do we avoid praying for show?

Prayer
Heavenly Father, may my prayers be pure expressions of my love and worship of you. I cannot fool you or deceive you or misdirect you with fancy words. Grant me honesty and vulnerability. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 3 – The Lord’s Prayer

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 6:9-18

Now Jesus shows us how to pray, to pray with the certainty that we are praying in line with the will of the Father and with the certainty that our Father hears our prayers. The first part of the prayer is about the Father, praising his name, praying for his kingdom to come and for his will to be done. We position ourselves as servants, as petitioners, but it is the almighty, all-loving God of heaven and earth whom we are petitioning. The second part of the prayer shows Jesus’ concern for our human concerns. They are important to God too. The Lord’s Prayer is a prayer for the whole of life. Everything important is addressed, because in it Jesus addresses everything he considered important in prayer: God’s glory, the spread of his kingdom, the doing of his will, and what we as his disciples need in order to live and follow.

What does this prayer teach us about what prayer is and what it can do? That distance is no barrier to the power of God’s answers to our prayers. That we can contribute to those who are suffering and grieving being supported, and to feeding and reviving the hungry. That we can ask for and receive forgiveness for the sin that plagues our world and for the sins that cross our hearts each day. That we can seek the reconciliation of relationships with each other, with our planet, and with God, and can pray for our work for the coming of God’s kingdom. Prayer is powerful because God is powerful and invites us to join his work by praying for his world.

Questions to Consider
How is the Lord’s Prayer a template for your prayers? What does it teach us about how to pray?

Prayer
Gracious God, teach me again how to pray. Renew again my passion for you and sharing all I am with you. Give me your heart for the world and a heart of prayer to see your world transformed and renewed. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 4 – The Impossibility of Serving Two Masters

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 6:19-24

Jesus states it very bluntly: serving two masters is impossible. Not difficult; not unspiritual; not for the special few – it is impossible. So we aren’t even to try and do so. That would be to waste our lives. Any second master would drag us away from our first, God. Any two masters would be incompatible. Jesus has vastly different goals than we do. To become his followers is to discard our aims and plans and to embrace his. He calls us to turn our backs on the goals that the world entices us to adopt and to instead claim his goals as our own. We either serve our own desires for success, money, possessions, promotions, pay rises – Mammon – or we serve God, and take on his goals of serving others and calling the world back to him.

All allegiances other than to God – even allegiance to any particular economic order, whether capitalist, communist or socialist – are false allegiances that we need to be liberated from. The fact that so many can so easily equate an abundance of wealth and possessions with God’s blessing, and do so unthinkingly; the fact that we sometimes find rational financial calculations so much more trustworthy than God; the fact that prosperity theology is even a thing, never mind so prevalent; the fact that capitalism may be the most corrosive substance known to Christianity and yet we so unhesitatingly tie ourselves to it that determining which is host and which parasite is impossible – all this shows how far we have fallen from serving God only, and how much closer we need to cleave to him.

Question to Consider
Why do money and possessions have such a hold on people?

Prayer
Almighty God, show me where I have failed and served masters both obvious and insidious rather than you. Convict me in my faithlessness and help me to atone for my betrayal and live again as you desire. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 5 – The Wrong Anxiety

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 6:25-34

Where do we look? Where is our focus? That is what we are being challenged with here. A careful reading of this passage shows us that nowhere does Jesus tell us not to worry about clothes and food and so forth. What he tells each of us is not to worry about my clothes, my body, my needs. This entire passage is addressing the anxieties that lead to selfishness, a concern only for our own needs. A life of living, active faith will disregard one’s own needs, trusting to God to take care of us, and will instead run counter to a society consumed by rampant consumption by seeking to put the needs of those most in need first.

Food, clothing, shelter – these things are very important. The things that Jesus mentions here are not bad or evil or unimportant: he acknowledges that God understands the necessity of such things as food and clothes. We have seen that human needs are basic enough to be included in the prayer Jesus taught us. But it is the obsession with these needs – especially in western culture – that Jesus warns against. We are to take our eyes off ourselves and look around to see the people and places where others have no food and no clothes and to be anxious – and active – for them. We need to be liberated from our anxious selfish obsession over food and clothing so that we can give the proper attention that the lack of such basics as food and clothing for so many in this world deserves.

Questions to Consider
How does our anxiety have a hold on us? How do we trust God more day to day and seek the welfare of others more day to day?

Prayer
Holy God, give me your eyes and your heart. Turn concern for self into concern and love for others. Make me my last thought and others my first. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

Matthew 5

Readings for this week June 7 – 11
Click here for a pdf of this week’s readings

Day 1 – The Sermon on the Mount

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 5:1-2

The Sermon on the Mount is famous enough to be a recognisable phrase even to those who may not know of or care about spirituality and religion very much. It contains some of Jesus’ most famous sayings and teachings, the beatitudes in particular. But what is the point of the Sermon on the Mount? And why do so many see the beatitudes as merely platitudes, well-meaning but unrealisable and unrealistic aspirations for would-be disciples to aim for, good in theory but impossible in practice? Why are people often so quick to explain them away, spiritualise them, or push them out to some sort of ‘next world’ setting where they will finally be relevant and possible as a way of life?

But the Sermon on the Mount takes seriously the already/not yet nature of our position as disciples of Jesus in this time and place, the world to which he has come, but that does not yet acknowledge him as king. We live in between, not quite one thing, not yet the other. If we were already perfected citizens of God’s kingdom, we wouldn’t need these instructions. Likewise, we wouldn’t have a hope of approaching and in some way embodying these instructions if we weren’t in the process of becoming mature followers of Jesus, of changing in imitation of him. These chapters are an ethic for disciples of Jesus, a way of life to be embodied and developed, but one that the world is also invited to listen to and learn from and join with if they wish. It is a yoke chosen, not enforced.

Questions to Consider
What is your view of the Sermon on the Mount? How has it shaped you?

Prayer
Gracious God, teach me again through your word. Help me see your teaching with new eyes and a new heart so that I can become more and more like you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 2 – A Kingdom-Ready People

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 5:3-12

The kingdom comes with Jesus. The future fullness of the kingdom is somehow present in him, the one who feeds the hungry and comforts the broken-hearted – and who calls his kingdom people to live out the reality of the coming kingdom now. This requires humility. The humble disciple will, with faith, relinquish their own rights and prerogatives and instead seek God’s ways of justice for others. No one who has humbled themselves can treat others as objects, or view relationships only through the lens of self-interest. No one who has humbled themselves will seek their own advancement or think that they can act for the kingdom under their own strength, because only God is the source of love and mercy.

Followers of Jesus act with mercy. We do not try and force our way (which we often conveniently label ‘Jesus’ way’) on others, or on the world. Instead, we humbly trust in God’s strength rather than our own. The kingdom is promised to the humble, the powerless, the oppressed, and the poor in spirit, those who trust in God for deliverance rather than in seizing it for themselves, or seeking favours from the powerful, or through trying to twist a corrupt system in their favour. And humble, kingdom people yearn for God above anything and everything else. This yearning for God – for his righteousness, for justice and mercy and forgiveness – is the hallmark of his followers. God is with the broken-hearted and those who mourn; his followers should be on their side too, because to walk with those in pain is the kingdom way.

Question to Consider
How is God’s kingdom contained in the beatitudes and embodied in us?

Prayer
Almighty Father, help me live a different way. Show me how every thought, word and step each day can be a moment when your kingdom comes a little more. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 3 – Salt and Light

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 5:13-16

Never one to mince words, having laid out the appropriate lifestyle of a disciple, Jesus also gives a couple of illustrations of what a disciple who claims to live out a kingdom lifestyle, but doesn’t, is really like. They are like tasteless salt or invisible, hidden light – worthless. If we ignore the beatitudes in the preceding passage, and do not live lives of meekness and mercy, seeking peace and the welfare of others, then this salt-and-light paragraph is a stark warning of what we will become (or what we may already be). It’s not so much about what we do (though this is still important) as it about what we are and what we choose to embody.

The invisible light is a particularly apt metaphor too. The life of a disciple that does not reveal any of the Father’s works or exhibit any of the Father’s love is, well, as useless as invisible light for helping you see. We shouldn’t be doing good works publicly for our own honour and glory; rather we should be doing any public works for God’s honour – we should be doing everything we do for God’s honour. Just as Israel was called to be a light to the nations, we are called to be light for the world too. Our public words and actions will have an impact on the spread of the gospel – for good or for ill. Hopefully for good; at least they should do if we are following properly. As Jesus says elsewhere, we’ll be known by our fruit, and if it is tasteless and invisible then we are failing in our duty as disciples of Jesus.

Questions to Consider
Why does Jesus highlight the perils of failing to follow him faithfully? How do we stop this from happening?

Prayer
Gracious God, help me be faithful, help me live as an active, honest citizen of your kingdom, a light for others, a beacon of what can be if the world will follow you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 4 – The Inside and the Outside

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 5:17-37

God sees and knows what each of us is made of. He sees the outside, how we speak and act and what we do, but also beyond the outside, into the intentions and motivations of our hearts, where our character comes from. When we damage or neglect our relationships with others we also damage and neglect our relationship with God.  Jesus does not separate the two here, but rather links them together because though the recipients of our ‘attention’ can vary – God, others, even ourselves – such attention, wherever it is directed, stems from the same heart. To claim to love God but to act in anger towards others is to fail to understand the nature of the love for God that one professes to have. The same heart cannot love and hate in this way: the one (hate) tarnishes, undermines and invalidates the other. Our faith must be visible in our lives, not just heard on our lips.

Jesus drives a harder bargain than the Law does. He does not oppose the Law – he makes that very clear – but he does reinterpret it, and he shows how the customary practice in effect during his day was inadequate – because corrupted – to the task. What was an outward action (murder, adultery) he brings into the heart (hatred, lust) to condemn its presence there at the root of ourselves. A murderous or lustful heart cannot be a merciful heart and will not result in merciful actions of love towards others. The outside and inside are intimately connected; what is seen on the outside is a result of what is on the inside.

Questions to Consider
Why does Jesus emphasise this point? Why is how we deal with anger so important?

Prayer
Heavenly Father, help me not act out of misplaced, self-righteous anger. The darker parts of myself need to be acknowledged and offered to you – transformed by you – just as much as the rest. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 5 – Loving Our Enemies

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 5:38-48

If ever there was a demand made more stringent than the Law required – and more stringent even than most contemporary interpretations of the Law required – it was this one about loving your enemies. And at this moment in time it seems even more counter-cultural – and thus necessary – than ever. Loving your neighbour was understandable and commendable: it was natural to want to stay on good terms with those you were living with, and such love and concern was also seen as being a good child of Israel. Such generosity was also extended to the foreigner residing in the land. But for every text that called for loving your neighbour, there was one that saw the corollary of this as exhibiting a passionate hatred for the enemies of Israel, an active desire for their comeuppance and destruction.

We are good – no, great – at hating our enemies, and at insisting that others do so too if they want to be good people. And we are always finding new enemies to hate. God desires the transformative righteousness of the heart: not a rule-following obedience but a heart-changing devotion; not a calculating favouritism that loves for its own benefit but an indiscriminate love that seeks the best for the one that hates;  not a love confined to the deserving but a love lavished on the unworthy. This is, after all, the example God set by bestowing all his love upon us, even while humanity was still calling him enemy.

Questions to Consider
Who are your enemies? Who would you rather hate than love? Why? What does God want you to do about it?

Prayer
Lord God, help me love those not easy to love, those I would rather hate or ignore. Help me pray for my enemies, for their well-being, for them to know your love the way I have come to know it. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

Matthew 4:12-25

Readings for this week May 31 – June 4
Click here for a pdf of this week’s readings

Day 1 – Going Where God Calls

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 4:12-16

John is thrown in prison; Jesus sees this as the sign to begin his wider public ministry. The way has been prepared; now it must we walked. Jesus has grown up in a small, unassuming country town, but now it appears the time has come to find a more suitable base for his mission now that it is moving into gear. Capernaum held greater notoriety, had a greater population, and was closer to a prominent trade route and to the lake of Galilee. More people would be able to see and hear Jesus and their stories of their encounters with him would spread further and faster from this town than they would from Nazareth. From a ‘mission strategy’ point of view, the move makes sense.

Many of us may be following God’s call in our own ‘Nazareth’ at the moment, faithfully serving him for many years. But for a lot of people there comes a point when God calls us on to larger challenges, to bigger and harder places, to locations and people in greater need of the gospel and the accompanying liberation and freedom that God wants all people to experience and enjoy. As disciples who follow God’s call, we need to make sure we are listening for and are open to that call to a greater task too. That God loves us and that we are to love all our fellow human beings surely requires that we continually seek whether by staying or going we can best serve God and them.

Questions to Consider
When has God’s call led you into more challenging situations? How did you hear the call?

Prayer
Lord God, guard me against complacency. Keep me from ever thinking I know exactly what you have planned for my future. May my heart and my mind always remain open to the moves of your Spirit and your plan for my life. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 2 – What Discipleship Looks Like

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 4:17

Everything was now ready. God had commissioned Jesus (see back in Matthew 3:17), he had been tested in the wilderness and passed with flying colours, John the Baptist had prepared the way for him, and he had moved to Capernaum, ready to begin his public ministry. Matthew begins this section with a brief one verse summary of Jesus’ message, a message that aligns perfectly with the message of John: Sort yourselves out, get your life in proper order, because the kingdom of God is fast approaching. Submit now, in advance, and you’ll be ready when he comes to rule the whole world. Jesus’ message lined up with John’s; likewise, the message of Jesus’ followers must line up with Jesus’: we must proclaim the imminence of God’s kingdom, demonstrate his kingdom rule over demons and illness, and pass on the teachings of Jesus that he passed on to us.

The remainder of this passage shows what this will look like. We will see Jesus call people to leave their professions and their families and follow him. The call to follow in this way is a radical call that makes radical demands. Discipleship is not a safe option. It is not designed to leave the life of the one who follows unchanged. The status quo will not – cannot – be maintained concurrently with a relationship with Jesus. He brings change to the world and change to his followers. As we will see, Matthew goes on to provide us with several examples of (then and now) counter-cultural servant leadership and radical discipleship.

Questions to Consider
What is radical about discipleship for you? How do you remain faithful to God’s call to radical discipleship?

Prayer
Heavenly Father, when people see me, may they see you. May I be an example of what true discipleship looks like. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 3 – “Fishers of Men”

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 4:18-22

So much has been – and could be – written about this most famous call to the first disciples. Four men called to follow Jesus while at work, yet they didn’t allow the importance of their income to hinder their response to the call. Four men who appear to have immediately dropped what they were doing and followed Jesus without hesitation, no questions asked. (Wouldn’t you have some questions to ask? Terms and conditions to discuss? Wouldn’t you want to find out more about Jesus first?) They heard the call. They responded.

The one whom the Father called now calls others to follow as well, carrying on the Son’s mission. A great and noble task, but one entrusted to ordinary men, ordinary people who were simply going about their regular business at the time they were called. And Jesus doesn’t just call them to travel with him and listen to what he has to say, merely to follow passively. He tells them he will make them ‘fishers of men’ – he’ll teach them how to catch people for the kingdom, how to do for others what Jesus will do for them. Yes, they will be disciples, but right from the moment of the call being a disciple of Jesus involves making disciples of Jesus. For these first disciples – and for us – following Jesus means imitating a pattern of life and practice in such a way that others can imitate that same pattern of life and practice by looking at us and following what we do in imitation of our king.

Questions to Consider
Why is making disciples such a crucial part of being a disciple? What does this look like? How does it happen?

Prayer
Gracious God, as we imitate you, may others imitate us. May we model and show and teach what it means to be a true follower of yours. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 4 – The Cost of Following

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 4:20

For those first disciples there was an economic cost to following Jesus. They left fairly comfortable, secure jobs behind. They took on the uncertainty of following this unknown travelling preacher across the countryside, seemingly without so much as a second thought or backward glance. We cannot think that such costs do not apply to us today. The unbalanced, biased economic systems in place then are still in place now, just in fancier wrapping with more complicated names. But the call to the kingdom first, for the sake of the world, has not changed and still comes in the same wrapper and goes by the same name of Jesus as it always has.

“I would give up everything if Jesus asked me to, but he hasn’t asked me to,” we might say. But perhaps we haven’t been listening closely enough or hard enough. With so many self-inflicted distractions clamouring for our attention, drowning out the cries of so many around us – in fact, so many specifically designed to do so – it is no wonder that maybe even the subtle, soft, voice of God has been drowned out too. Perhaps if we were to listen more closely to the need and poverty around us and the cry for daily bread coming from the hungry mouths of so many millions in the world today, we would clearly hear the words of Jesus calling us to drop everything and follow him for the sake of his kingdom, for the saving of the world.

Questions to Consider
What are the economic consequences of following Jesus? What should following Jesus mean for how we use money and how we approach our place in the world’s economic systems?

Prayer
Almighty God, transform my wallet. Remind me that it is yours. Transform my approach to money and make it yours – as it is already anyway. Help me place greater trust in you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 5 – Holistic Healing

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 4:22-25

This chapter of the gospel of Matthew ends with a succinct summary of the mission of Jesus and its preliminary regional effects. He teaches in the synagogues, he preaches and he heals. The personal presence of Jesus is crucial to this mission; he makes himself available to both his disciples, beginning the regimen of teaching and instruction that will carry on throughout his ministry, and to the public in general – that, too, will carry on. The good news is intimately connected with the kingdom of God, with the in-breaking of God’s rule, the inauguration of his saving reign in and through Jesus, that Jesus embodies by his presence and enacts in his ministry.

But Jesus’ ministry is not just a ‘spiritual’ one, although obviously the spiritual aspect of life and creation is hugely important for Jesus; the inauguration of God’s reign and the defeat of the powers enslaving creation testify to that. But Jesus’ ministry is not restricted to the spiritual as his many healing and exorcisms and miracles show.  He is interested in human beings holistically, the physical and the spiritual, and the ways in which both combine and interact to provide wholeness and health and human flourishing. Jesus cares about people in their totality. He is concerned for their needs, societal as well as spiritual. We do his message a disservice if we only focus on ‘saving souls’ just as much as we do if we only focus on ‘social injustice’. Jesus addresses and heals all brokenness; to follow his call is to do the same.

Questions to Consider
Where do you see brokenness around you at the moment? How can Jesus help? How can you?

Prayer
Lord God, show me brokenness wherever it is, and show me your healing power wherever it is needed, for whoever needs it. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

Baptism

Readings for this week May 24 – 28
Click here for a pdf of this week’s readings

Day 1 – The Baptism of Jesus

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 3:1-17

Jesus was baptised at the very beginning of his ministry. It was his first public action that would have brought him to the notice of the wider public. There were other ways in which he could have made his mark, ways which would have brought him to the attention of the established religious leaders in Jerusalem, or perhaps made him known to a wider section of society than just those going into the desert where John the Baptist had set himself up, calling people to turn from their sins and be baptised, so they would be ready for the Messiah’s arrival. A big proclamation; a grandstanding speech; an amazing series of miracles – any one of these would have been a spectacular, attention grabbing start to his ministry.

Instead Jesus deliberately headed into the wilderness to associate with ordinary people as they repented of their sin. Did Jesus need to be baptised? Well, no. Being innocent of any sin, Jesus did not need baptism. But then again, in some ways, yes, he did. As Israel’s – and humanity’s –representative, it was right and proper that Jesus enter the waters of baptism to identify with us in our humanity and to signal the start of his mission of forgiveness, reconciliation and restoration. It was also important that he receive the public approval, not of people, but of his Father. Jesus obeyed the will of God the Father, who in turn poured out his love and the gift of the Holy Spirit upon him. This was the beginning of Jesus’ public mission, one that he did not start until the eternal community – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – was reunited at the time of his baptism.

Questions to Consider
What barriers might Jesus have had to overcome in being baptised? What about you?

Prayer
Heavenly Father, you came as one of us, walked and lived as one of us, showing us the way to go and taking us there yourself. Thank you for being with us in all things, including baptism. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 2 – Two Step Programme

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Acts 2:38

The Jewish festival of Pentecost was the time God chose to dramatically fill his followers with his Holy Spirit. Crowds were drawn to the spectacle, and when Peter said to them that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, many were convinced. ‘What shall we do?’ they asked. Peter’s instruction was simple: repent and be baptised. Baptism is an important act, an act with a big impact. It is the ceremony Jesus gave us – that Jesus himself modelled for us – to show that we have turned from sin to God and gratefully accepted his salvation. Baptism publicly declares that we are now joined to Jesus, that we have embraced him and the new life he offers. But more than this, it also signifies that we are joined to the family of his followers. Baptism is a communal event.

Baptism is a family event that shows we are joined—related—to others who have made the same choice to follow Jesus. Baptism shows that we have joined a family – God’s family – and that we are taking our place alongside our new siblings. That is why we do not – cannot – baptise ourselves. Only others already in the community, already part of the family, can do so. Jesus said that baptism would be one of the signs of those who are obediently following him—a sign of commitment to him and to the community of faith through which he does his work in the world. It is a sign that we are committed to him and committed to living and growing together as his people, for the sake of the world.

Questions to Consider
What does baptism mean in your spiritual journey? If you haven’t yet been baptised, what is holding you back from following Jesus in this way?

Prayer
Lord God, thank you for this loving, exasperating, joyous, perplexing, transformative family that you have welcomed me into. Help me be an active member, giving and receiving love from my fellow disciples. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 3 – Intentionality is Vital

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Hebrews 3:12–14

Discipleship is crucial, yet it is often overlooked. Or if not overlooked, then regarded as something that just happens, as if by osmosis. Hang around other Christians long enough and you’ll find yourself changed into a disciple. Well, maybe. But probably not by much and probably not very effectively. Discipleship is so much more than this. It is an intentional process, one that we must actively engage in together. We are baptised into the community with each other and we carry on travelling with each other. We are all involved in four key relationships: with God, with ourselves, with each other, and with the world. The journey of discipleship is about the transformation of these four key relationships from broken, shattered, dysfunctional relationships into thriving, growing relationships in which, through the power of God’s Spirit and with the help and encouragement of his people, we are transformed further and further into the likeness of Christ – into disciples.

Jesus’ death on the cross makes this transformation possible. Jesus bridges the gap between people and God, transforming the relationship that God originally created. This transformed relationship extends outwards to other followers of Jesus and the world at large. All our relationships are held together by the cross. As Jesus set out to save and serve the world God loves, so he calls us to follow him. But we must do so deliberately, consciously, sacrificially. We will be changed, and it is by God, working through his Spirit and through others, that we will be changed.

Questions to Consider
What does being intentional about discipleship look like for you? How are others discipling you? How are you discipling others?

Prayer
Gracious God, help me be open to your Spirit, especially the ways in which your Spirit works through others to transform me. We are conduits of your Spirit not for our own benefit but for others. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 4 – The Importance of Relationships

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – John 15:16–17

Following Jesus means something revolutionary. We move from being the centre of our own lives to obeying Jesus and make him the centre of our life’s journey. We give up our place on the throne and let King Jesus take the seat that was always rightfully his. Discipleship involves submission and renunciation. This is inescapable and should not be ignored or shrugged off just because it is hard and needs to be worked at every day. But it is not about following a new set of laws and rules that will make us acceptable to a reluctant, fault-finding god either. Being a disciple is about having a relationship with the God who loves us and welcomes us with arms wide open – and continually doing everything we can (and everything we can’t!) to grow that relationship.

Relationships are more important to God than anything else. In fact, they are his very nature. The Bible tells us that God is three persons in one being—an eternal, loving community made up of Father, Son and Holy Spirit: the Trinity. The call to follow Jesus is the invitation to enter into the love relationship of the Trinity, and to do so as part of the community of his disciples. In Jesus we not only see God, but we can also get to know God, and become aware that we are known and loved by God. As we come to know Jesus as king, we recognise that he wants to bring his kingdom into every aspect of life and every relationship that we have. Following Jesus doesn’t only transform our relationship with God, it changes every relationship that we experience.

Questions to Consider
Why is discipleship without relationship impossible? How are our relationships the setting for disciple-making?

Prayer
Almighty Father, strengthen my relationships so that I grow to be more and more like you in all I do. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 5 – The Invitation to Faith

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Romans 10:14-17

In order to follow, people must hear the call to follow. In order to join the community, people must hear the invitation that God offers to all people to be reconciled to him, join the family and enter the whole-life discipleship programme that is life in the community of God’s people. And the best way for people to hear that invitation – and challenge – is from those who have already made that journey into the radical community of God’s followers. Disciples invite others to be disciples too. Disciples help transform others into disciples – and allow others to transform them too. Discipleship is ongoing, transformative, and communal. And God’s invitation to discipleship, to following Jesus, lies with us.

Romans 10:17 is in some ways a key summation of Paul’s thought and the impetus behind so much of what he did. People can only come to faith through hearing the gospel from those who have already responded to its call, and the specific message that must be heard is the word of Christ, the good news about Jesus Christ as the crucified and risen Saviour. A disciple is someone who shares the message of the one who has transformed them, who invites others into the community, and who works to encourage and help – and be encouraged and helped by – others in God’s family. Paul heard the call of Jesus and responded – and then spent the rest of his life inviting others to respond to that call too, to join their local community of fellow responders and work to transform themselves, each other and the world, for the sake of God’s kingdom.

Questions to Consider
How do people ‘hear’ the gospel from you? What is it in your life that proclaims the saviour to those yet to hear?

Prayer
Lord God, help me play my part in calling others to take on the mantle of discipleship and follow you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)