Praying the Message of Jesus

Daily devotions and thoughts from Eugene Peterson

March 1

Father

 

"With a God like this loving you, you can pray very simply. Like this: 'Our Father in heaven, reveal who you are."' MATTHEW 6:9 

 

"Our" is the operative word. We cannot come to God as if he were a private deity, a household god. He is no personal idol we manufacture to our speci­fications. In prayer God is not reduced to our requirements; we are expanded to rhe dimensions of his majesty.

 

Why is "Father" such an important name for God?

 

Our Father: reveal yourself to me not as I have imagined you and not as others have stereotyped you, but as you really are: creator of all that is, loving redeemer of all your people. Amen. 

March 2

Reveal Who You Are

 

"With a God like this loving you, you can pray very simply. Like this: 'Our Father in heaven, reveal who you are."' MATTHEW 6:9

 

The word "God" comprises goodness and holiness and glory. But in every­day usage it is marred with superstition. People read into the word "God" fears and ignorance and blasphemy. The name needs cleansing and burnishing.

 

How does God reveal himself to you?

 

Reveal who you are: purge the words that name your presence, cleanse the images that fill my mind. Scrape the noun clean of rust and grime until 'Jesus" and "Christ" say the clear truth about you, Father. Amen. 

March 3

Set the World Right

 

"Set the world right; do what's best - as above, so below." MATTHEW 6:10 

 

Every political scheme devised by humans is flawed somewhere, corrupt finally. The task of ordering people's lives in harmony and in fairness eludes our competence. Meanwhile, there are people who are already being ruled in love and who experience in that rule God's goodness and fulfillment.

 

What does "as above, so below" mean?

 

Set the world right. Establish your principles of redemption in me and among all who kneel in your presence and confess your lordship. Inaugurate your rule, Lord Jesus, and make me a charter citizen. Amen. 

March 4

Choosing God's Best

 

"Set the world right; do what's best - as above, so below." MATTHEW 6:10 

 

Our wills are given to us to exercise freely. We can assert them noisily and brashly, like Adam, in choosing what is beneath us and thereby being diminished; or we can choose, like Christ, the way of our creator and redeemer and learn a greater freedom in an expanding reality.

 

How does your will differ from God's will?

 

Do what's best-as above, so below: the will that freely elects redemption in your creation, the will that comprehends all things and everyone in a divine purpose, the will that frees my will from slavery to sin and puts it to work in righteousness. Amen. 

March 5

Three Square Meals

 

"Keep us alive with three square meals." MATTHEW 6:11 

 

God created our bodily as well as our spiritual hungers, and will provide for their satisfaction. Prayer has as much to do with the necessities of this day's living as with the certainties of eternal life.

 

What physical needs will you pray for today?

 

Keep us alive with three square meals: I will not let my needs become anxieties but will submit them to your providence. Give, Lord, all that I need to live obediently and joyously. Amen. 

March 6

Forgive

 

"Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others." MATTHEW 6 :12 Apart from forgiveness each step we take is a link in the cause-and-effect sequence of sin and death. With forgiveness we travel from "strength to strength" by grace to life eternal. In the same way that bread is a basic need for the body, forgiveness is the basic need of the spirit.

 

Who can you forgive as you have been forgiven?

 

Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others: I want each detail of my life to be a result not of the sins I commit, but of the mercy you pour out in Jesus. Don't, God, ignore me, indulge me, or reject me. Forgive me. Amen. 

March 7

Safe

 

"Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil." MATTHEW 6:13 

 

Christians are not moral giants, flexing our muscles and displaying our trophies before the world as evidence of superior spirituality. We are in a battle that vety often threatens to overwhelm us, and we need help. 

 

What do you need to be kept safe from? 

 

Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil: I thank you, God, that you are not coolly manipulating me, puppet-like, on a string; but that you are with me, on my side in this war for eternal life, and that you will bring the victory. Amen. 

March 8

Yes

 

"You're in charge! You can do anything you want! You're ablaze in beauty! Yes. Yes. Yes." MATTHEW 6:13

 

In these closing statements to the Lord's Prayer, Jesus summarizes the languge spoken in God's kingdom, voiced with energy given by God's power, and however stuttering, resplendent with God's glory.

 

How does the Lord's Prayer help you to pray?

 

You're in charge! You can do anything you want! You're ablaze in beauty! All that you are, O God, evokes and shapes my prayers to you. Keep me in the company of all who are struggling to master this tongue. Help me to be articu­late in this great language. Amen. 

March 9

Frogiveness

 

"In prayer there is a connection between what God does and what you do. You can't get forgiveness from God, for instance, without also forgiving others. If you refuse to do your part, you cut yourself off from God's part." MATTHEW 6:14-15

 

God's work includes our neighbors, and we must join him in it if we are to continue in his ways. We are always trying to reduce God's work to some­thing exclusive and private, but he will not permit it.

 

Whom will you forgive today?

 

At first, Lord, these words look like a posted warning, but now I see in them a way of promise-your words of forgiveness spill out into the world through my acts of forgiveness. Thank you for letting me share in your great and creative work of forgiving. Amen. 

March 10

Don't Make a Production

 

"When you practice some appetite-denying discipline to better concentrate on God, don't make a production out of it. It might turn you into a small-time celebrity but it won't make you a saint. If you 'go into training' inwardly, act normal outwardly. Shampoo and comb your hair, brush your teeth, wash your face. God doesn't require attention-getting devices. He won't overlook what you are doing; he'll reward you well." MATTHEW 6:16-18

 

Routines dull perceptions. The purpose of a discipline such as fasting is to interrupt the routines that cushion us from the foundational realities and so sharpen our awareness of the eternal essentials.

 

Will you choose a day, or a meal, to fast this week?

 

Lord God, I let too many things distract and divert me from paying attention to you. Train me in the simplifications that will put me in touch with what matters most-your love, your salvation, your grace. Amen. 

March 11

Treasure

 

"Don't hoard treasure down here where it gets eaten by moths and corroded by rust or-worse! -stolen by burglars. Stockpile treasure in heaven, where it's safe from moth and rust and burglars. It's obvious, isn't it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being." MATTHEW 6:19-21 

 

God has nothing against treasure; his concern is about its location. The location of our treasure, that upon which we expend energy and fix hopes, determines the direction of our goals and the shape of our behavior.

 

What do you value most?

 

Father, I put all my wealth, my investments, my possessions in trust. You are my future and my confidence. Cure me of the possessiveness that holds tightly and will not let go. Amen. 

March 12

Open Your Eyes Wide

 

"Your eyes are windows into your body. If you open your eyes wide in wonder and belief, your body fills up with light. If you live squinty-eyed in greed and distrust, your body is a dank cellar. If you pull blinds on your windows, what a dark life you will have!" MATTHEW 6:22-23 

 

Our eyes are remarkable and accurate signs of our inner spiritual health. They narrow into slits when we hate, envy, and scheme. They open wide in wonder when we live in adoration and generosity.

 

What obstructs your vision of God?

 

God, your world is so full of people to love and things to admire. Keep my eyes wide open to receive all the sensations of color and form in your creation and to love everything and everyone I see in Jesus' name. Amen. 

March 13

Two Gods

 

"You can't worship two gods at once. Loving one god, you'll end up hating the other. Adoration of one feeds contempt for the other. You can't worship God and Money both." MATTHEW 6:24 

 

Faith is not an amalgam of all the bits and pieces of "religion" that are deposited in the delta of the soul. The Christian is not a collection bin for every religious emotion that passes through the nervous system. Chris­tian faith is choice and service-choosing Christ as Savior and serving him as Lord. 

 

How would you serve "money"? 

 

I know, God, that I cannot trust you as just another item in the religious stew I keep simmering on the back burner of my life. Master me absolutely so that I may serve you in body, mind, and spirit, as I now attend to your word of creation and command in Jesus Christ. Amen. 

March 14

Don't Fuss


"If you decide for God, living a life of God-worship, it follows that you don't fuss about what's on the table at mealtimes or whether the clothes in your closet are in fashion. There is far more to your life than the food you put in your stomach, more to your outer appearance than the clothes you hang on your body. Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, careless in the care of God. And you count far more to him than birds." MATTHEW 6:25-26


Survival needs, important as they are, must not be allowed to define or dominate us. We are created for something far more complex and profound than food and drink and clothing. God's love, care, and providence are the wide world in which we learn to live easily and exuberantly.


What anxiety will you turn over to God?


Father in heaven, forgetful of my high calling in Christ, I find myself flattened out on an economic plain, living from hand to mouth with a mean, survival mentality. Awaken the desire to live by your will, as your child, in your love. Amen. 

March 15

So Much as an Inch?

 

"Has anyone by fussing in front of the mirror ever gotten taller by so much as an inch?" MATTHEW 6:27 

 

Anxiety bums up enormous amounts of energy, wastefully and ineffi­ciently. It produces nothing. It is the opposite of faith, which requires only plain attentiveness to God and simple responses to his will-and moves mountains.

 

Compare anxiety with the faith described in Hebrews 11:1.

 

Lord Jesus Christ, you have so richly and extravagantly provided me with meaning and purpose and beauty and goodness-what more do I want? Help me not to be anxious but to find contentment and put my trust in you. Amen. 

March 16

Look at the Wildflowers

 

"Has anyone by fussing in front of the mirror ever gotten taller by so much as an inch? All this time and money wasted on fash­ion -do you think it makes that much difference? Instead of looking at the fashions, walk out into the fields and look at the wildflowers. They never primp or shop, but have you ever seen color and design quite like it? The ten best-dressed men and women in the country look shabby alongside them. If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers - most of which are never even seen -don't you think he'll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you?" MATTHEW 6:27-30

 

Anxious preoccupation with the needs and wants of daily living distract us from God, who is already present in each detail to help, strengthen, provide, and redeem by his love.

 

Compare this passage to Matthew 8:26; 14:31; and 16:8.

 

Dear Christ, I set aside right now my nervous concern for what I must do; I center my thoughts on what you are doing in me and in the world. I want to trade in my anxieties for your gift of faith. Amen. 

March 17

You Know How God Works

 

"What I'm trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God's giving. People who don't know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works." MATTHEW 6:31-32 

 

Faith breathes a confidence that God knows our needs better than we do and provides for their fulfillment. The frantic doubt that God may have forgotten about us, the panicky suspicion that God may have decided against us-all that is excluded by faith.

 

What are you most sure of in God?

 

For your uninterrupted mery, O God, for the constant surveillance of your provident eye, for the steady assistance of your strong arm, for the persistent invitational knocking at the door of my life, for these I give thanks. Amen. 

March 18

Steep Your Life

 

"Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don't worry about missing out. You'll find all your everyday human concerns will be met." MATTHEW 6:33

 

Our priorities should be clear by now: We are made by God, for God; therefore the meaning and fulfillment of our lives must take place in the country of grace. What he says and what he does, and how we respond and how we obey, are the center realities of our lives.

 

What evidence is there in your life that you are pursuing the things of God?

 

"Be still, my soul: the Lord is on thy side; bear patientry the cross of grief or pain; leave to thy God to order and provide; in every change He faithful will remain. Be still, my soul: thy best, thy heavenry Friend through thorny ways leads to a joyful end." Amen. 

March 19

Don't Worry

 

"Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don't worry about missing out. You'll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don't get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes." MATTHEW 6:33-34 

 

If we are in control of what happens to us and in charge of our own well­being, we do well to be perpetually vigilant against evil and on constant alert for the lucky break. But if God is in control, if his kingdom is already a reality, we are separated from such debilitating anxieties.

 

What are you giving your attention to?

 

My God and King: In the course of this day, as I am presented with choices to make and paths to follow, give me the wise courage to decide to live in your reality, where I will experience your power and glory in Jesus Christ. Amen. 

March 20

Don't Criticize

 

"Don't pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults -unless, of course, you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging." MATTHEW 7:1-2

 

When we criticize others-evaluate their worthlessness, their lack of virtue, their practice of vice-we waste the moral energies that were given to us for use in the work of compassion. Examining others with an eye to spotting their defects is self-destructive.

 

Whom are you tempted to judge?

 

I find, by your Word, O God, that I am utterly incompetent to criticize others. I have only meager information about them; I only vaguely understand your purposes in them. Instead of pronouncing judgments on them, I will work and pray for them, in Jesus' name. Amen. 

March 21

The Smudge/ The Sneer

 

"It's easy to see a smudge on your neighbor's face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. Do you have the nerve to say, 'Let me wash your face for you,' when your own face is distorted by contempt? It's this whole traveling road-show mentality all over again, playing a holier-than-thou part instead of just living your part. Wipe that ugly sneer off your own face, and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbor." MATTHEW 7:3-5 

 

Not until we refuse to indulge our curiosity about what is wrong with others are we free to cake a genuine interest in chem as people loved by God to whom we may become witnesses in truth and companions in faith. Too many times we confuse religious gossip with spiritual concern.

 

Whom are you judging instead of loving?

 

Lord, bring me to the place where my interest is not in condemning sin in others, but in confessing it in myself I find it much easier to mount an indig­nant assault on everyone else's sins than to repent and be cleansed of my own. Amen. 

March 22

Don't Be Flip with the Sacred

 

"Don't be flip with the sacred. Banter and silliness give no honor to God. Don't reduce holy mysteries to slogans. In trying to be relevant, you're only being cute and inviting sacrilege." MATTHEW 7:6 

 

Our Lord leads us in knowing when to speak and act, just as he teaches us what is to be done and spoken. Timing is important in witnessing and helping, teaching and preaching. "Readiness is all." 

 

What good deeds have you done in the wrong place?

 

Holy Spirit, give me the gift of discerning hearts and being sensitive to needs, so that as I share the truth and goodness of my Lord, I may not provoke rejec­tion by my rudeness nor encourage irreverence by my ignorance. For Jesus' sake. Amen. 

March 23

Ask

 

"Don't bargain with God. Be direct. Ask for what you need." MATTHEW 7:7 

 

When we ask we admit our inadequacy and confess God's sufficiency. Asking is the basic prayer. In such prayer, connections are soldered between our brokenness and his wholeness.

 

What will you ask from God today?

 

Great God, consummate all my desires in your love; complete alt my wants in your grace. Thank you for the invitation and the promise: the invitation to put all my needs before you, the promise that you wilt meet them in wisdom and peace. Amen. 

March 24

Do It for Them

 

"Here is a simple, rule-of-thumb guide for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you, then grab the initiative and do it for them. Add up God's Law and Prophets and this is what you get." MATTHEW 7:12

 

The most remarkable thing about this summary sentence on behavior is not in the words themselves but in the life-commentary that Jesus provided. This is what he did. He converted all morality from wish to reality, from ideal to actuality. And what he did he enables us to do.

 

How can you use this golden rule in a specific action?

 

"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. 

March 25

Total Attention Required

 

"Don't look for shortcuts to God. The market is flooded with surefire, easygoing formulas for a successful life that can be practiced in your spare time. Don't fall for that stuff, even though crowds of people do. The way to life -to God! - is vigorous and requires total attention." MATTHEW 7:13-14

 

Faith is not an accumulation of vague impulses that tend, generally, toward the good, nor is it the nurture of obsci'ire emotions of piety; it is choosing to walk through a particular gate ("I am the Gate" [John 10:7]) and down a definite road ("I am the Road" [John 14:6]).

 

What do you find difficult or demanding about God's way to life?

 

Lord Jesus, you are my way and my truth and my life. Lead me through the place of concentrated decision into the country of expansive blessings. Amen. 

March 26

Be Wary of False Preachers

 

"Be wary of false preachers who smile a lot, dripping with prac- ticed sincerity." MATTHEW 7:15

 

Christian charity must not be confused with pious gullibility that puts up with fraud and nonsense in its leaders. Religious claims are the easiest to make, but the hardest to document. Prophetic mantles easily assumed must be painstakingly verified.

 

How do you exercise caution toward religious leaders?

 

Give me, Lord, the gift of discernment so that I may not be led astray by those who prey upon my faith, so that I may not be exploited by those who would profit from my devotion. For Jesus' sake. Amen. 

March 27

Bad Apples

 

"Chances are they are out to rip you off some way or other. Don't be impressed with charisma; look for character. Who preachers are is the main thing, not what they say. A genuine leader will never exploit your emotions or your pocketbook. These diseased trees with their bad apples are going to be chopped down and burned." MATTHEW 7:16-20

 

In evaluating religious leadership, it is far more useful to observe how a person treats his dog than to ask him for his opinions on God. A person's "fruit" is not success anecdotes or upward-swinging statistical curves but instances in which it is obvious that inward belief has metamorphosed into behavior.

 

What fruit do you see in your spiritual leaders?

 

Father, I don't want to be uncritically naive toward someone just because he or she is called pastor, or preacher, or evangelist; but neither do I want to develop a cynical skepticism toward anyone who is in the spotlight. Show me the middle way of alert obedience in and through Jesus Christ. Amen. 

March 28

Master, Master

 

"Knowing the correct password -saying 'Master, Master,' for instance -isn't going to get you anywhere with me. What is required is serious obedience-doing what my Father wills. I can see it now-at the Final Judgment thousands strutting up to me and saying, 'Master, we preached the Message, we bashed the demons, our God-sponsored projects had everyone talking.' And do you know what I am going to say? 'You missed the boat. All you did was use me to make yourselves important. You don't impress me one bit. You're out of here.'" MATTHEW 7:21-23

 

Name-dropping works the same way in spiritual things as it does in earthly things-it gives the impression ofintimacy when there is only the flimsiest of relationships. Using the name will get us nowhere if we are unrelated to the person we name.

 

Are you a religious name-dropper?

 

Lord Christ, when I use your name, keep me honest so that I am expressing a relationship with you and engaging in a response to your will. I want my whole life, not just my mouth, to speak your name. Amen. 

March 29

On Solid Rock

 

"These words I speak to you are not incidental additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundational words, words to build a life on. If you work these words into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who built his house on solid rock. Rain poured down, the river flooded, a tor­nado hit-but nothing moved that house. It was fixed to the rock. But if you just use my words in Bible studies and don't work them into your life, you are like a stupid carpenter who built his house on the sandy beach. When a storm rolled in and the waves came up, it collapsed like a house of cards." MATTHEW 7:24-27

 

Visible behavior is built on invisible truth. Jesus provides the commands that, as we obey them, are solid, foundational underpinnings for eternal life.

 

What are some items in your life foundation?

 

All praise to you, O God, for giving me such weighty, sure, foundation-making commands. Thank you for giving me the desire to respond to them in obedient belief Give me daily directions for building upon Christ the rock. Amen. 

March 30

The Best Teaching

 

When Jesus concluded his address, the crowd burst into applause. They had never heard teaching like this. It was apparent that he was living everything he was saying-quite a contrast to their religion teachers! This was the best teaching they had ever heard. MATTHEW 7:28-29 

 

The world is so full of people who attempt to shock, startle, and surprise us that we finally become blase. Then our Lord comes along and speaks the truth simply and truly. The sheer authenticity and naked reality of it shakes us out of our ennui.

 

What is most astonishing to you in Jesus' words?

 

''My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness; I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus' name. On Christ, the solid rock, I stand; all other ground is sinking sand." Amen. 

March 31

Master, If You Want To


Jesus came down the mountain with the cheers of the crowd still ringing in his ears. Then a leper appeared and went to his knees before Jesus, praying, "Master, if you want to, you can heal my body." Jesus reached out and touched him, saying, "I want to. Be clean." Then and there, all signs of the leprosy were gone. Jesus said, "Don't talk about this all over town. Just quietly present your healed body to the priest, along with the appropriate expressions of thanks to God. Your cleansed and grateful life, not your words, will bear witness to what I have done." MATTHEW 8:1-4


The leper is the needy person in extremis: cut off, lonely, shunned. But no needy condition is so extreme or so absolute that we are consigned to despair. There is hope in God. The approach, timid and tentative-" if you want to" -unexpectedly finds a bold and positive desire to save: "I want to."


What was so bad about being a leper?


I want cleansing, dear Christ, quite as much as that leper. But in your way; what you will. I want my life to be shaped not by my demands, but by the sure and mysterious movement of your grace. Amen.