Praying the Message of Jesus

Daily devotions and thoughts from Eugene Peterson

February 1

On a Hillside

 

When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught his climbing companions. This is what he said ... 

MATTHEW 5:1-2 

 

Surrounded by new disciples, Jesus began the teaching that would train them in the new life, which is God's kingdom. No words rival these in importance or power.

 

What do you know about the Sermon on the Mount?

 

My hope, Lord, as I attend to your teaching, is that I will be formed into your likeness, not just informed about what you once spoke to your disciples. I want to be thoroughly taught by you so that I can thoroughly live for you. Amen. 

February 2

At the End of Your Rope

 

"You're blessed when you're at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule." MATTHEW 5:3

 

Self-made and self-sufficient people live in a fantasy world, empty of the reality of God. In contrast, the poor in spirit are deeply aware of being God-made and God-sufficient: Everything derives from the goodness of God, and everything depends on the grace of God.

 

What does poor in spirit mean to you?

 

I empty my life, God, of all god-substitutes and all idol-alternatives. I have nothing so that I can receive everything. A life rich in wonder and blessing. Amen. 

February 3

Lost What Is Most Dear

 

"You're blessed when you feel you've lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you." MATTHEW 5:4

 

The willingness to respond to pain, to misfortune, to suffering, enables us to participate in the divine compassion that changes damnation to redemp­tion. Sorrow does not gee stuck in despair, but discovers comfort.

 

Whose sorrow do you share?

 

"O come and mourn with me awhile; O come ye to the Savior's side; O come, together let us mourn: Jesus, our Lord, is crucified! A broken heart, a fount of tears, ask, and they will not be denied; a broken heart love's cradle is: Jesus, our Lord, is crucified!" Amen. 

February 4

The Content

 

"You're blessed when you're content with just who you are - no more, no less. That's the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can't be bought." MATTHEW 5:5

 

In a day when assertiveness is in vogue, contentment is likely to be dismissed out of hand. A precise understanding helps: It is not slack laziness but disci­plined ambition; in place of riotous aggression, controlled obedience.

 

Who is the most content person you know?

 

Lord Jesus Christ, I will not deny my vitality or squelch my energy, but I will place them under your rule so that they will serve your purposes. I will not harness you to my requirements, but offer myself to yours. Amen. 

February 5

A Good Appetite 

 

"You're blessed when you've worked up a good appetite for God. He's food and drink in the best meal you'll ever eat." MATTHEW 5:6 

 

Righteousness is food and drink for the whole person. It is never listed among the basic dietary items in the nutrition textbooks, but it is more important than any of them.

 

How do you express your appetite for God?

 

I hunger and thirst after your righteousness, dear God. Feed me on the bread of heaven, quench my thirst with the cup of blessing Daily I will dine at your table, with Jesus as my host. Amen. 

February 6

Care-Full

 

"You're blessed when you care. At the moment of being 'care-full,' you find yourselves cared for." MATTHEW 5:7

 

God responds to our misfortunes, our ignorances, our failures, and our disobediences in ways that draw us close to him and save us from our trouble. Mercy. It is the opposite of the harsh condemnation that rejects. Because God does it, we can do it.

 

Who has treated you with unexpected care?

 

God, even as I have been accepted by you in mercy, help me to accept others-not condemning, not rejecting, not scolding, but sharing the promises of salvation through the mercies of Jesus Christ. Amen. 

February 7

Your Mind and Heart Put Right 

 

"You're blessed when you get your inside world-your mind and heart-put right. Then you can see God in the outside world." MATTHEW 5:8 

 

Dilettantes shop for God as they would for a new pair of shoes. Their purposes vacillate, and they live distracted. But simple intention is the way to comprehension and fellowship. "Purity of heart is to will one thing." 

 

What distracts you from God?

 

I have a difficult time, God, silencing the competing voices, shutting out the seductive images. I want you, but I want a lot of other things, too. "Put me together, one heart and mind; then, undivided, I'll worship in joyful fear."  Amen. 

February 8

Cooperate Not Compete

 

"You're blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That's when you discover who you really are, and your place in God's family." MATTHEW 5:9

 

Life in God's kingdom is not a competitive survival of the fittest. The prize does not go to the srrongest and the swiftest. Jesus teaches us how to make peace with our neighbors, evoking the best in them, not destroy them as dangerous rivals.

 

Are you better at competition or cooperation?

 

Show me how to use my life, Jesus, in ways that will make others better, not get the better of them. I will no longer look at others as competitors for your favor, but as companions in your life of peacemaking. Amen. 

February 9

Persecuted

 

"You're blessed when your commitment to God provokes perse­ cution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God's kingdom." MATTHEW 5:10

 

Lest we think that the peacemakers of verse 9 are bland, gray-flannel conformists who are afraid to rock the boat, Jesus defines our righteousness as that which frequently provokes opposition in a world whose values are called into question.

 

Who doesn't approve of your life in Christ?

 

When the storms of opposition come, dear Christ, help me to stand my ground and not hold back and instead throw myself into the work of the Master (see 1 Corinthians 15:58). Root me in righteousness so that my growth is impervi­ous to popular dissent and always faithful to you. Amen. 

February 10

Be Glad and Give a Cheer

 

"Not only that-count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens-give a cheer, even!-for though they don't like it, / do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble." MATTHEW 5:11-12 

 

If we take the offensive against our opposition, we are liable to harshness and bluster; if we get on the defensive, we lose initiative and appear timid and unsure. When we dance our faith, the enemy is disarmed and drawn into the celebration. Leaping joy is the sanity of blessing in a lunatic society.

 

What do you have cause to rejoice in?

 

Lord God, I will not use the world's weapons to fight your battles, and I will not be backed into a corner by those who scorn your love. Be with me as I cele­brate my witness in joy and announce my confidence with gladness, for Jesus' sake. Amen. 

February 11

Salt

 

"Let me tell you why you are here. You're here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You've lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage." MATTHEW 5:13 

 

Minuscule and insignificant as individual Christians are, we are God's way of preserving society, of sharpening the taste buds of civilization. Our usefulness is not in what we do, but in what we are by God's grace.

 

What are the main uses of salt in your life?

 

Father, I keep thinking I have to rush out and do something; you keep calling me back to be someone. Use this life that you have created and redeemed to preserve and enhance those among whom I live today. Amen. 

February 12

Light

 

"Here's another way to put it: You're here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We're going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don't think I'm going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I'm putting you on a light stand. Now that I've put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand-shine!" MATTHEW 5:14-15 

 

Salt is a powerful, hidden influence; light is a blazing public illumination. Christian disciples are not only a behind-the-scenes influence, but also an out-in-the-open enlightenment.

 

What are the main uses of light in your life?

 

You, Lord, the light of the world, be light in me so that my life shows the clar­ity and warmth of your salvation. With your light I would not darken anyone's path by the shadows of my doubts or the gloom of my unbelief Amen. 

February 13

Open House


"Keep open house: be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you'll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven." MATTHEW 5:16 


Good works are an important means of witness; but they are also ex­tremely susceptible to pride. Jesus can teach us how to use good works as glorifications of God and not simply as advertisements of ourselves.


What are some ways you can be generous with your life?


"So let our lips and lives express the holy gospel we profess; so let our works and virtues shine, to prove the doctrine all divine. Thus shall we best proclaim abroad the honors of our Savior God, when His salvation reigns within, and grace subdues the power of sin. " Amen

February 14

Complete

 

"Don't suppose for a minute that I have come to demolish the Scriptures -either God's Law or the Prophets. I'm not here to demolish but to complete. I am going to put it all together, pull it all together in a vast panorama. God's Law is more real and lasting than the stars in the sky and the ground at your feet. Long after stars burn out and earth wears out, God's Law will be alive and working. Trivialize even the smallest item in God's Law and you will only have trivialized yourself. But take it seriously, show the way for others, and you will find honor in the kingdom. Unless you do far better than the Pharisees in the matters of right living, you won't know the first thing about entering the kingdom." MATTHEW 5:17-20

 

No detail in the Law and the prophets was corrupt or obsolete. But much of it was empty. Sin cracks had appeared, and the vitality had leaked out. But Jesus does not therefore discard them-completion is the gospel program.

 

How does Jesus complete the Law and the prophets?

 

I see, Father, that there is nothing that you once used that cannot be used again. Lead me into the eternal meanings of your ancient words so that I may live in a present obedience, Christ living in me. Amen. 

February 15

Far Better

 

"Unless you do far better than the Pharisees in the matters of right living, you won't know the first thing about entering the kingdom." MATTHEW 5:20

 

Religion that is a matter of careful, moral calculation is all wrong. The gospel requires a leap of faith. Christ does not counsel a safe, manageable morality that anyone can learn in ten easy lessons, but a reckless adventur­ous life commitment.

 

What was the righteousness of the scribes?

 

I do not want to be a religious bookkeeper, Lord, but a faith explorer, ready to take risks without counting the cost, ready to love without taking out insur­ance against suffering, ready to plunge into obedience without calculating my rewards. Amen. 

February 16

If You Are Angry

 

"You're familiar with the command to the ancients, 'Do not murder.' I'm telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder. Carelessly call a brother 'idiot!' and you just might find yourself hauled into court. Thoughtlessly yell 'stupid!' at a sister and you are on the brink of hellfire. The simple moral fact is that words kill. This is how I want you to conduct yourself in these matters. If you enter your place of worship and, about to make an offering, you suddenly remember a grudge a friend has against you, abandon your offering, leave immediately, go to this .friend and make things right. Then and only then, come back and work things out with God. Or say you're out on the street and an old enemy accosts you. Don't lose a minute. Make the first move; make things right with him. After all, if you leave the first move to him, knowing his track record, you're likely to end up in court, maybe even jail. If that happens, you won't get out without a stiff fine." MATTHEW 5:21-26 

 

The old commandment was intended to protect relationships, not just prevent murders. Anger that treats another contemptuously is murderous. Feelings that divide persons are destructive. Obedience reduced to not doing something is half-obedience.

 

Why is anger dangerous?

 

Do I diminish others, reduce them, despise them, God? With your help and direction I will augment them, respect them, and exalt them. Amen. 

February 17

Blind Your Right Eye

 

"You know the next commandment pretty well, too: 'Don't go to bed with another's spouse.' But don't think you've preserved your virtue simply by staying out of bed. Your heart can be corrupted by lust even quicker than your body. Those leering looks you think nobody notices-they also corrupt. Let's not pretend this is easier than it really is. If you want to live a morally pure life, here's what you have to do: You have to blind your right eye the moment you catch it in a lustful leer. You have to choose to live one-eyed or else be dumped on a moral trash pile. And you have to chop off your right hand the moment you notice it raised threateningly. Better a bloody stump than your entire being discarded for good in the dump.'' MATTHEW 5:27-30 

 

No spirit surgery is too costly and no self-discipline too exacting in our development as Christ's servants. Our sin-split personalities think one thing and do another, or do one thing and think another. Jesus trains us in a mastery over self that brings us into single-minded devotion. 

 

Compare this with 2 Corinthians 10:3-6. 

 

Help me, O Christ, to maintain a ruthless mastery over my pride and self centeredness so that every part of my life may be coordinated in acts of love. Amen. 

February 18

Divorce


"Remember the Scripture that says, 'Whoever divorces his wife, let him do it legally, giving her divorce papers and her legal rights'? Too many of you are using that as a cover for selfishness and whim, pretending to be righteous just because you are 'legal.' Please, no more pretending. If you divorce your wife, you're responsible for making her an adulteress (unless she has already made herself that by sexual promiscuity). And if you marry such a divorced adulteress, you're automatically an adulterer yourself. You can't use legal cover to mask a moral failure." MATTHEW 5:31-32 


The guardian commandment on love, designed to protect intimate personal relationships, in practice had become the occasion for casuistic legalism. Jesus returns our attention to people and what happens to them.


What is wrong with divorce?


God, I know that you give commandments as tools that express your love, share your grace, and communicate your will, not as formulas for making me righ­teous. Help me to use them your way. For Jesus' sake. Amen. 

February 19

Don't Say Anything You Don't Mean

 

"And don't say anything you don't mean. This counsel is embedded deep in our traditions. You only make things worse when you lay down a smoke screen of pious talk, saying, 'I'll pray for you,' and never doing it, or saying, 'God be with you,' and not meaning it. You don't make your words true by embellishing them with religious lace. In making your speech sound more religious, it becomes less true. Just say 'yes' and 'no.' When you manipulate words to get your own way, you go wrong." MATTHEW 5:33-37 

 

Elaborate incantations or vehement curses are alike futile. God cannot be manipulated by our use of language. Prayer, the opposite of swearing, is language put to the service of God. It is the simplest and purest speech there is.

 

What Scriptures does Jesus quote?

 

God, purge all pretense and affectation from my speech. I want all my words to be an offering in love, all my speech a servant of truth, in the ways that Jesus taught. Amen. 

February 20

Love Your Enemies

 

"Here's another old saying that deserves a second look: 'Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.' Is that going to get us anywhere? Here's what I propose: 'Don't hit back at all.' If someone strikes you, stand there and take it. If someone drags you into court and sues for the shirt off your back, giftwrap your best coat and make a present of it. And if someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously. You're familiar with the old written law, 'Love your friend,' and its unwritten companion, 'Hate your enemy.' I'm challenging that. I'm telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. That is what God does. He gives his best-the sun to warm and the rain to nourish-to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that." MATTHEW 5:38-47

 

Jesus commands a daring and courageous initiative that closes the gap between offender and offended. Love is not a reward to be parceled out as a favor to friends; it is a tactic by which we share the best in us so that others have an opportunity to live at their best.

 

Name an enemy you will love.

 

Christ of compassion, for too long I have let my emotions and my prejudices tell me who and how to love. No longer. I will go to school in your salvation and learn your way of love. Amen. 

February 21

Live Out Your God-Created Identity

 

"In a word, what I'm saying is, Grow up. You're kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you." MATTHEW 5:48 

 

When we abandon the way of knee-jerk ethics-mindlessly reacting to the words and actions of others-we are free to become what love and grace stimulate in us: a wholeness that will finally be perfect.

 

Compare this with Ephesians 4:15-16.

 

Fashion in me what is obedient, eternal God, what is trusting and loving. Deal with what is rebellious, wayward, and misguided. I submit myself to your potter's hand. Amen. 

February 22

Trying to Be Good

 

"Be especially careful when you are trying to be good so that you don't make a performance out of it. It might be good theater, but the God who made you won't be applauding." MATTHEW 6:1

 

The Christians who care only for God's approval live free of the tyranny of conformist pressures, relaxed under the steady direction of the God who loves us and gives himself for us. Those who try to please the world by their good behavior very quickly find themselves under the unkind surveillance of a thousand critics.

 

What behavior of yours is determined by what people think?

 

Make me indifferent, God, to the world's approval, but sensitive to yours. How easy it is to get enlisted in the piety parade! Keep me from pretense, from poses, from posturings. For Jesus' sake. Amen. 

February 23

Behind the Scenes

 

"When you do something for someone else, don't call attention to yourself. You've seen them in action, I'm sure -'playactors' I call them -treating prayer meeting and street corner alike as a stage, acting compassionate as long as someone is watching, playing to the crowds. They get applause, true, but that's all they get. When you help someone out, don't think about how it looks. Just do it-quietly and unobtrusively. That is the way your God, who conceived you in love, working behind the scenes, helps you out." MATTHEW 6:2-4 

 

When what is supposed to give aid to poor bodies becomes a means of aggrandizing proud spirits, piety is turned on its head. Nothing spoils acts of mercy and gifts of charity more quickly than publicity.

 

How do you keep from calling attention to your giving?

 

Father in heaven, lead me to speak in kindness and act in mercy unob­trusively and faithfully, just as you worked quietly and persistently behind the scenes in Jesus. Amen. 

February 24

Not a Theatrical Production


"And when you come before God, don't turn that into a theatrical production either. All these people making a regular show out of their prayers, hoping for stardom! Do you think God sits in a box seat?" Matthew 6:5


Prayer that is used for any other purpose, no matter how lofty, than to personally converse with a personal God is a sham. It must never be used as a part of public relations. It must never be put to the services of creating a good image.


Why might someone be tempted to make a show out of his or her prayers?


Free my spirit, God, from self-consciousness and self-righteousness. Forgive me for confusing the outward and the inward. Let my prayers be spontaneously honest and personally passionate. Amen. 

February 25

When You Pray


"Here's what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won't be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace." MATTHEW 6:6


A quiet, secluded place diminishes our tendencies to pose and strut; it also eliminates distractions. Prayer is a conversation with God in which authen­ticity of spirit and attentiveness of mind are essential.


How do you get privacy in prayer?


"Father, in Thy mysterious presence kneeling, fain would our souls feel all Thy kindling love; for we are weak, and need some deep revealing of trust and strength and calmness from above." Amen. 

February 26

Peddling Techniques

 

"The world is full of so-called prayer warriors who are prayer­ignorant. They're full of formulas and programs and advice, ped­dling techniques for getting what you want from God." Matthew 6:7

 

"Knowledge of speech, but not of silence; knowledge of words, and igno­rance of the Word." We live in an age of mass communication and mini­mal communion. When we have a good listener, we do not have to talk either a lot or loudly. God is a good listener.

 

Do you ever pray using formulas and empty phrases?

 

Holy Spirit, make the connection between the words of my mouth and the meanings in my heart so that my words may never be without personal mean­ing and my spirit never be without a means of expression. Amen. 

February 27

Knows What You Need

 

"Don't fall for that nonsense. This is your Father you are dealing with, and he knows better than you what you need." MATTHEW 6:8 

 

Prayer is not a job list assigned by us to God. Nor is it a transfer of informa­tion between earth and heaven. God knows our condition and our needs. Prayer, like the best conversations on earth, cultivates intimacy, nurtures obedience, and becomes a way of working with God.

 

If God knows what you need, why pray?

 

In my prayers, O God, I will not make speeches to you, but nurture a relation­ship with you. I want to express myself completely and listen to you devoutly, in Jesus' name and for his sake. Amen. 

February 28

Pray Like This

 

"With a God like this loving you, you can pray very simply. Like this: 'Our Father in heaven, reveal who you are. Set the world right; do what's best-as above, so below. Keep us alive with three square meals. Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others. Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil. You're in charge! You can do anything you want! You're ablaze in beauty! Yes. Yes. Yes."' MATTHEW 6:9-13

 

The act of praying is no uncharted wilderness where we hack and forge our way. It is well traveled, with rich traditions and deep culture. Jesus' words are compass and map for finding our way to the deep interiors.

 

Why is this prayer important to you? 

 

O Thou, by whom we come to God, the life, the Truth, the Way; the path of prayer Thyself hath trod; Lord, teach us how to pray!" Amen

February 29

Praying the Message of Jesus does not have a devotional for today (being a leap day). So instead we are including a short devotional from Our Daily Bread on our current chapters in Matthew.


“This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.' For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. Matthew 6:9–15 


Notice the basic themes Jesus teaches us to address when we pray. The prayer begins with worship on several different levels. First, we celebrate our relationship with our Creator that allows us to call Him “our Father.” His exalted nature is brought to mind as we remember that He is in heaven and bears a holy name. When we understand His character and wisdom, it should drive us to long for His purposes and rule to be realized here on earth, in the same way it is in heaven. We are then challenged to look to Him for all our needs. His daily, faithful provision is a source of great comfort and assurance for the child of God.


Right before Jesus gives us what we call the Lord’s Prayer, He says, “your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matt. 6:8). If God already knows our needs, why is it still important to ask Him? What does prayer mean to you?


Lord, your forgiveness gives me joy. Oh, what joy for those whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sin is put out of sight! Yes, what joy for those whose record the Lord has cleared of guilt, whose lives are lived in complete honesty! (Psalm 32:1–2)


You can pick up a copy of the Our Daily Bread books for free in the Cypress lobby. Each pocket-sized book contains 3 months of daily, 5 minute devotionals, such as this one. You can also find them online at odb.org or on their Facebook page at facebook.com/ourdailybread/