Sunday, August 30, 2009


Mark 7:1-5

Once again we encounter the Pharisees and the teachers of the law “who had come down from Jerusalem.” We met this group or another just like it back in 3:22 when they came to evaluate the situation in Capernaum and proclaimed that Jesus was possessed by Beelzebub. This time they have gathered around Jesus’ disciples and observed that some of them were eating their food without washing their hands first. In verses 3 and 4 Mark explains to his Gentile readers how the Pharisees, and indeed all the Jews, practice the tradition of ceremonial hand washing. He clearly states that it is a tradition of the elders and that they have many such traditions, washing cups, pitchers, and kettles. The Jewish legalists went to Jesus and questioned him about the careless practices of his disciples, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with ‘unclean hands?’” According to the tradition of the elders, eating with unwashed hands rendered a person ceremonially unclean.

The traditions of the elders were compiled in a book called the Mishnah. The major concern of the Mishnah had to do with ceremonial cleanness. The Law simply stated that priests were required to wash their hands before serving in the temple and before eating their food after serving in the temple. Eventually, the elders came to believe that if washing was good for the priests then it must also be good for them too. And if some washing was good, then lots of washing would be better. About two hundred years before Jesus the practice of washing hands before meals became popular among the lay people who wanted to appear spiritual too. Then by the time of Christ, everyone who wanted to be spiritually considered anyone lived by these rules of the elders. Of course, those who fell under the category of “sinners” didn’t bother to try to live by the teaching of the elders.

There is something very important for us to understand about God’s law here. So often we come to the portions of the Old Testament that talk about God’s laws and we try to read through them as quickly as possible because they don’t mean anything to us. God did give the Jews laws concerning clean and unclean. If a person became ceremonially unclean he was not allowed to go into the temple and worship. In effect, being ceremonially unclean cut a person off from his worship of God! But the thing we have to understand is that these laws, and there were many of them, had to do with God’s holiness, not man’s. A man could not make himself holy by avoiding things that were unclean. Remaining ceremonially clean simply allowed him to participate in worship. God is the one who was holy and the rules concerning ceremonial cleanness were intended to remind his people that he was not to be treated as common. He was not like the gods of the pagans. One could not simply walk into the presence of the Lord with all the dirt of the world upon him. To come into the very presence of God in worship is a holy thing! Yahweh was not like any other god! This is something we have completely lost! We are so accustomed to the freedom we have to come into the presence of God that we have lost the sense of awe that should go along with it! The Jews could not make themselves clean or worthy by ceremonial washing. Rather, it was because God is holy that they had to cleanse themselves and recognize his holiness!

You see, there was a reason for all these laws about ceremonial cleanness. Our first parents in the Garden of Eden sinned against God and a separation was established between God and the people he created. God was holy and man was not. In his holiness, God was completely “other” from sinful man. While at one time God walked with his people in the Garden, now men could no longer come into his presence. The separation between God and men was the very thing that required the ceremonial cleanliness laws. But when God finally revealed to the Hebrews that they were going to be his people he established a means for them to come into his presence and worship him. The ceremonial laws were established to make a way for men to come into the presence of God and pray and bring their sacrifices. They were still prohibited from coming into the Holy of Holies and the immediate presence of God. No matter how clean they were, no matter how long they had remained clean, they could not enter his holiest place. You see, man could never make himself clean enough to actually come into the presence of God. God had to come to him! This was the reason Jesus came to earth! When the Son of God came he transcended the separation between God and men! Because of Jesus, the Messiah, there was no longer any need for laws concerning ceremonial cleanness!

Saturday, August 29, 2009


Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless;
maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed.
Rescue the weak and needy;
deliver them from the hand of the wicked.
Psalm 82:3, 4

Benevolence: from the Latin meaning “good wish.” The synonym the dictionary gives is “philanthropic.” From the Greek meaning “love of mankind.”

Almost all churches have a benevolent fund. We had one in my little first pastorate but I don’t remember ever having to use it. At my second church, a much larger church, we were on a main highway and we had frequent visits from people who were asking for gas or food. At my third church, a church plant, we used our benevolence fund mainly for our own people who ran into troubles. (We had no building and no phone so nobody else could find us!)

I have rarely met a pastor who enjoys dealing with the weak and the needy. Most churches have their benevolence fund so structured that pastors don’t feel they can be of any real help. Often people in need go from church to church hoping to find help. Our local ministerium has organized with the local grocery store, the gas station, and the police department. They have a shared benevolence fund. If anyone comes to their churches they are sent to the police department to register and then receive script for food and gas. One of the pastors in the group said laughingly, “When I tell them they have to go to the police department they usually just leave town!” I guess with this plan they don't ever have to really get to know the people who are asking for help.

I have sat in so many meetings with elders discussing benevolent needs that it makes me stressed just to think about it. How many times have I heard a leader say something like, “We really have to be careful because this person may be taking advantage of us.” Or, “They really should be working; we shouldn’t help if they’re not working.”

Now I am pastoring in a community where there are some very real needs. It’s harvest season so there are many, many migrant workers in the area to do the harvesting. I don’t know if the farmers need fewer men this year or if there is a surplus of workers but there are a number of people who can’t find work.

We had a family come to church for the first time three weeks ago. The man wasn’t working. They have two little children under the age of three. They are staying with his niece but have to be out of the house by the first of the month and have no place to go. They are receiving aid in the form of food. No car. No car seats for the kids. No place to live. What are we supposed to do? We have no apartment for them to live in. We have no car to give them. We aren’t even an official church yet so we don’t have a benevolence fund!

What would you do? Should we just pass them off to social services? When is the church going to realize that God brings these people into our lives so WE can help them? Mia has spent many hours with the lady over the last few weeks. The woman’s sister invited her and the kids to come and live with her a couple of hundred miles away. The man is staying here, hopefully to find some work. So what did we do? We bought her and the kids bus tickets to her sister’s town. Mia took her shopping this afternoon at Walmart and bought her two car seats and some clothes, diapers, baby wipes, etc. The total for all this stuff came to just over $200.

Two hundred bucks. That's nothing! On the one hand, I feel like we did what we were supposed to do to “rescue the weak and needy.” I think we did what Jesus would have done. On the other hand, I wish we could have done more. I believe we are called to do more. I’m conflicted tonight.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


Joshua 4

It was time for the Israelites to cross over the Jordan River into the land of Canaan. God told Moses to put the ark of the covenant out in front of all the people. Usually the ark was carried along with the tabernacle and its furnishings in the middle of the procession with tribes in front of it and tribes behind it to protect it. But this time the ark was going to lead the people.

Of all the Hebrews over the age of twenty who left Egypt, only Caleb and Joshua remained. They were the only two who were adults when God parted the Red Sea and allowed Israel to cross over on dry land. Even as Israel was safely delivered out of their bondage through miraculous waters, so Israel would be delivered into their new land through miraculous waters.

For this reason, to show that God was going to lead them and go before them, the ark was to go first. As soon as the priests who were carrying the ark stepped into the flooding Jordan, the waters backed up at some distance to the north and the people crossed over on dry land.

God commanded Joshua to choose twelve men, one from each tribe, to carry a stone from the middle of the bed of the Jordan River. This they did and when the Israelites encamped at Gilgal the twelve great stones were set up as an ebenezer, a monument. Joshua said to the Israelites, In the future when your descendants ask their fathers, “What do these stones mean?” tell them, “Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.” For the LORD your God dried up the Jordan before you until you had crossed over. The LORD your God did to the Jordan just what he had done to the Red Sea when he dried it up before us until we had crossed over. He did this so that all the people of the earth might know that the hand of the LORD is powerful and so that you might always fear the LORD your God. (Joshua 4:21-24)

The stones formed a monument which was designed to pique the curiosity of the generations to come. Fathers were charged with the responsibility of telling their sons the story behind the stones. The stones themselves were not important. They were just stones from the middle of the river. It was the story that was important! It had to be told so all the people of the earth might hear about the power of God. It had to be told so God’s people would always remember what he did for them and never wander away.

We celebrate sacraments which are acted out ebenezers. We tell our children what baptism means and why we do it. We tell them about the grace and love of God. We tell them about the bread and the fruit of the vine so they will be familiar with the story of Jesus and his sacrificial death on the cross. Our children and all peoples of the earth must know these stories of God’s power, grace, and love.

But there is more. We each have a story. What is that story? What are the ebenezers, the monuments, in our own lives? What piques the interest of our children and grandchildren and causes them to ask us why we do this or that or what does that mean? We must tell our stories. How did you start being Christian? Why did your life change when you were twenty-four? Why do you wear that cross around your neck all the time? We have stories and they must be told. Every single one of us Christians has a story that tells of the power, grace, and love of God. Telling that story is the work of the kingdom of heaven!

Monday, August 24, 2009


Mark 6:30-34

Earlier in this chapter we saw Jesus sending his disciples out, two by two, on ministry trips. They went from town to town preaching repentance, casting out demons, and healing the sick. Now they have returned. Mark tells us they gathered around Jesus and reported to him on the things they had done on their missions. But a problem arose. While Jesus was listening to the disciples and ministering to them they were constantly being interrupted by many people who were coming and going and seeking time with Jesus. Things were so busy that the disciples didn’t even have a chance to get something to eat. They were completely worn out and exhausted and Jesus could see that. Instead of neglecting their needs in order to minister to others, Jesus invited them to go on vacation with him. They needed rest and Jesus wanted to make sure they got it. They couldn’t rest in Capernaum because there were just too many people around who wanted and needed their ministry. So Jesus asked them to go camping with him in the wilderness where they would be away from the crowds. They got into their boat and began sailing north along the coast of the Sea of Galilee toward Bethsaida (Luke 9). There they would be able to relax, recuperate, and recreate. They could just rest and have some fun!

Jesus and the disciples sailed north along the coastline of the Sea of Galilee toward Bethsaida. There was a completely unpopulated area near where the Jordan flows into the sea. It is only about three or four miles from Capernaum. As they sailed, many on shore recognized their boat or their sail and began to run along the shoreline. Word began to spread among all the towns and villages that Jesus and his disciples were coming. Before Jesus even came ashore there was a very large crowd waiting there for him. He was trying to get away with his men for a break from ministry. He wanted time to minister to them and allow them to rest and recuperate from their labors. What did Jesus do? Did he tell the people to go away because he and his men were on vacation? Did he get upset with the people and ask them why they can’t just leave them alone once in awhile? No. When Jesus saw the crowds waiting on shore for him he was deeply moved. The Greek word describes a “pit of the stomach,” heartfelt, tender, loving emotion. And why did Jesus feel this way when he saw the people waiting? Because they were like sheep without a shepherd! If sheep lose their shepherd they are completely defenseless. Sheep have no way of defending themselves against predators. Without their shepherd they will become hopelessly lost. They will just mill around and around and wander off. They have no sense of direction and cannot find their way home. They will eventually starve to death. Sheep cannot provide for themselves. If they do not have a shepherd they are condemned to death. So Jesus, seeing their condition, felt deep compassion for them and began to teach them many things for a long time.

Here is what we can learn from Jesus’ care for the crowds. The church is the body of Christ. He is no longer physically present on earth so we are charged to carry on his ministry, to do the things he would be doing if he were here. So we minister to people like he did. We show them his tender, heartfelt love and compassion. When we see people hurting, we hurt along with them. How do we see all the people around us? Do we care about them? Are we concerned with their problems and struggles? Do we look at them like people who are in need of a caring shepherd? How do we look at them and feel about them? If it is in any other way than with deep compassion because they are like lost sheep, then we don’t have the heart of Jesus!

What is the best way to show the love of Jesus to them? In this passage, Jesus shows us two ways: teach them the truth and minister to their needs. This is what Jesus did. The best way to love them is not to entertain them. The best way to love them is not to provide a bunch of programs for them to attend. The best way to love the people around us is to build relationships with them. We can only help them as Jesus would if we can get close enough to them to gain their trust. We need to grow close to them so we can understand their troubles and stand beside them as they face them. This is what Jesus did. He also taught them the truth. The best thing we can give to a person is the truth. Tell them about God and his Son and their love. Share the good news of Christ’s gospel with them. But we can’t tell them the truth until we have built a relationship with them!

Saturday, August 22, 2009


Joshua 1:1-9

Moses was dead. Joshua had known this day would come. It had finally arrived. He had seen so much since Moses returned to Egypt. He saw the plagues and the miracle of Passover. He had passed through the Red Sea. He had climbed Mount Sinai with Moses. He had spent countless hours in the tent of meeting where Moses met face to face with God. He had spied out the land of Canaan and stood firm against the other spies who were afraid to take the land. He had traveled every step of the way with Moses. He saw God meet with Moses and he knew God gave directions to him.

But now Moses was dead. He was God’s appointed leader of Israel. He was the one who was to lead them across the Jordan to take the land. He was the one who would have to deal with all the issues of the people. Was he up to the task? Would he be able to follow in the huge footprints of Moses? Would God meet with him face to face? Would God give him directions like he gave to Moses?

God said, Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give them—to the Israelites. I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses…No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life.

So God would speak to him! This was the promise God had given to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses! The promise was his too! But he needed more. God knew he needed more and said, As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. That is what Joshua needed! God continued, Be strong and courageous…Be careful to obey all the law…Do not turn from it…that you may be successful wherever you go…Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night…Then you will be prosperous and successful.

God told Joshua to be strong and courageous. Why would he have to be strong and courageous? If God was going to be with him what could go wrong? Even if he obeyed everything God said there would be difficult and trying and fearful times. God told Joshua to be strong and courageous because he would need to be strong and courageous in order to face all the things that lay ahead! It would not be easy! God said, Do not be terrified. There would be terrifying times! God said, Do not be discouraged. There would be discouraging times. But Joshua’s hope was in this, For the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go. God himself would be with him and he had God’s word to be with him wherever he would go.

These are difficult and trying and fearful times. These are terrifying times. These are discouraging times. But our hope is this: God is with us. His Spirit indwells us. He is with us wherever we go and no matter what we face. We have his word in the Bible and that is our guide. He will lead us through whatever these times bring our way if we are careful to do everything written in it.

Friday, August 21, 2009


Deuteronomy 34:1-5

Moses climbed up Mount Nebo. He was 120 years old but he still climbed with the agility and strength of a young man. He was going up the mountain to die. He didn’t feel like he was about to die. No, he felt like he always remembered feeling. With God going before him he was ready to take on whatever came down the road. He still had a bright eye and a spring in his step. He still had that inner energy that he felt when he was only 80 and stood before Pharaoh.

But God had told him he was going to die that day on that mountain. He stood on the summit and God opened his eyes to see the entire land of Canaan. This was the land God had promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This was the land to which God had told Moses to bring the people of Israel. It had been a long road. Forty years of traveling. Forty years of following the fire and the cloud. Forty years of meeting with God, hearing his word, and proclaiming it to the people.

Moses looked out over the land and saw that it was rich and flowing with milk and honey. He could have thought about his life and his legacy. What a life! Put into the Nile as an infant, found by Pharaoh’s daughter, and raised as Egyptian royalty. Forty years spent as a member of the royal family with all of Egypt at his feet. But then came his flight into the wilderness and forty more years of shepherding, marriage, and children. Then that day his life was changed. The bush burned and was not consumed and God spoke to him and called him to his life’s purpose.

What a life! He returned to Egypt with his older brother, Aaron, and called upon Pharaoh to let God’s people go. He called down God’s miraculous plagues on the Egyptians. He led the people out of Egypt. He stretched out his staff and the Red Sea parted and all Israel passed through the Sea safely while Pharaoh’s army was drowned. He climbed Mount Sinai and met with God and received the tablets of commandment. He built the tabernacle. He met with God face to face in the tent of meeting.

What a life! God provided manna and water in the wilderness. He brought quail into the camp so the people could have meat. He led Israel behind the fire and the cloud. God spoke, Moses listened. He told the people what God said whether they wanted to hear it or not.

What a life! What a legacy he would leave behind! But as Moses stood on Mount Nebo in the last minutes of his life he was not thinking about his legacy. He was not thinking about how he would be remembered. He was thinking about his failure. The last recorded words of God to Moses are, This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, “I will give it to your descendants.” I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it. Instead of speaking to that rock in the wilderness; instead of doing what God told him to do; he had called attention to himself and struck the rock! And for this he would not enter the land!

Men think of things like legacies. When politicians and coaches see retirement looming they talk about their legacies. When young pastors wake up and realize that they are old pastors they are tempted to think about their legacies. How will I be remembered? Will I be remembered? Will people talk about me when I’m gone?

At the end of a long and glorious life, Moses was not thinking about his legacy. He was faced with two things: his sin and God’s grace. I remind myself that these are the two things that really matter. I am a sinner and God has been gracious. In light of these things, what is a legacy?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


Mark 4:35-41

The Sea of Galilee lies about 630 feet below sea level and is surrounded by mountains. This geological construction allows for an interesting weather phenomenon. At the end of a hot day the cooler air from the mountains tends to rush down while the warmer air from the lake and the desert rushes upwards. Aided by crevasses and ravines cut into the mountains, on extreme days this exchange of air masses can create gale force winds and air pressures on the lake. When the winds blow down hard off the mountains they can actually depress the water level enough to cause a massive “sloshing” effect across the entire lake. Mark says it was a mega-gale, a furious hurricane force wind that swept down upon the lake that evening. Even with the skills of several experienced fishermen in the boat, it was nearly swamped. Can you imagine what was going through the minds of the disciples as they battled to keep their fishing boat afloat? This looked really bad! They did everything they knew and it wasn’t enough! The water crashed over the gunwales of the boat again and again and they couldn’t bail it out fast enough to keep up. The water inside the boat continued to rise and the boat was beginning to founder.

Let’s pause at this point in the story. Put yourself into their situation. What is going through your mind? What are your thoughts? Do any of these thoughts sound familiar? “I didn’t sign on for this!” “What did I do to deserve this?” “We’re only doing what Jesus told us to do. Is this what he wants for us?” “This is what I get for trying to do the right thing.”

Here is an important lesson for us from this storm. Following Jesus does not guarantee that we won’t have to deal with severe storms in our lives. In fact, following Jesus may just guarantee that we will encounter terrible storms! These disciples were only doing what Jesus told them to do! They were carrying the exhausted Jesus across the lake at his own request. The storm was not their fault. They did not bring the gale down upon themselves by doing something wrong! The storms you are dealing with in your life are not necessarily your fault! It is wrong to think that all the troubles in our lives are caused by our sin. We will meet with storms and there is nothing we can do to prevent them! They are not barreling down on us because we have a lack of faith. It will not help for people to tell you that you just need to have more faith; or that you just need to “trust the Lord.” You have faith! You are trusting the Lord! And this is what you get for your efforts! Obedience will actually lead us into storms. Consider how Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit out into the wilderness to encounter the temptations of the Devil! Think about the many missionaries who have followed the Lord’s direction to a mission field where they have lived very trying lives or even lost their lives! Consider our own church! We have obeyed the Lord’s leading and planted this church and we are trying to minister and serve according to the Lord’s direction. We have struggles and hardships and trials because we are trying to be obedient. What is your storm? Loss of employment? Loss of health? A broken relationship? The betrayal of a friend? The suffering of a loved one? Whatever it is, it’s not necessarily your fault. Storms come into the lives of people who faithfully follow the Master!

Tuesday, August 04, 2009


Mark 4 is a chapter of parables. They are clearly kingdom parables. The kingdom of heaven (kingdom of God) is one of the major themes of Mark’s writing. It is very important for us to keep in mind the context of Mark’s gospel. He is writing in Rome and his readers are both Jews and Gentiles. To this point he has revealed a few of his major themes. Jesus Christ is the Son of God. He came to earth bringing the kingdom of heaven with him (as mentioned above). He is the king of that spiritual kingdom. He invites men and women to become citizens of his kingdom through repentance and faith. He demonstrates the awesome nature and power of his kingdom through signs and wonders. The power of his kingdom supersedes the power of demons and sickness and disease.

His reader finds another question developing in his mind. Mark’s readers are residents, if not citizens, of the Roman Empire. Exactly how do this kingdom of God and the Roman Empire relate to one another? Are they in conflict? Can they coexist? Hasn’t the might of the Roman Empire proved to be too great for Christ’s kingdom? Even as this gospel is being published, aren’t Christians being driven underground, into the catacombs beneath Rome? Aren’t Christians being put to death by the hundreds in the Colosseum? The Christians themselves have to be wondering about the condition of Christ’s kingdom. They trust in Christ. They are citizens of his kingdom. But things look rather gloomy and bleak. What is happening with the kingdom of heaven that Christ brought to earth?

Do you bring in a lamp to put it under a bowl or a bed? Instead, don’t you put it on its stand? For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open. (Mark 4:21, 22)

The first parable is not technically a parable but an illustration used to make a point. Jesus presumes the question, “Why does one bring a lamp into a room?” Obviously, a lamp is used to be able to see what is in the room. Therefore, it would be ridiculous to put a lamp in a place which would prevent it from lighting the room. Jesus chooses two common objects for his illustration. One would not put his lamp under a peck measure. Neither would one put his lamp under a couch. These actions would defeat the purpose of the lamp which is to reveal the things that are obscured by darkness.

A literal translation of the Greek gives us an interesting insight into what Jesus is saying. The New International Versions reads, “Do you bring in a lamp to put it under a bowl or a bed?” A literal rendering is, “A lamp does not come in order to be put under a measure or under a couch, does it?” The lamp is personified. In other words, the lamp is portrayed as doing something a person does; it comes into the room. So Jesus is talking about himself as the lamp that comes to shine light into the darkness and reveal whatever is hidden in that darkness. His kingdom, the message of his kingdom, and he himself come into the darkness of the world in order to reveal the truth. Jesus preaches the truth of the kingdom and that truth is light. It is the means of the growth of the kingdom. People hear that truth and repent and believe it and enter the kingdom.

What is hidden in the darkness of the world into which Jesus brings the light of the kingdom? God’s truth. The truth God gave to Israel in centuries past. The way to a genuine relationship with God has been hidden in the darkness of the world. The Pharisees and the teachers of the law have hidden the truth under mountains of their own rules and regulations and traditions. Their false righteousness has served to mislead the people for centuries. No prophet has come to Israel since Malachi, over four hundred years before Christ. Now Christ has come into the world as the light which will reveal the truth and show the way into his kingdom and right relationship with God.

What lesson can we draw from this illustration of the lamp? I know that Jesus did not teach this lesson in order to give us specific directions for New Hope Church. Nevertheless, there are principles which can be drawn out that should give us guidance. Jesus shows the means by which the kingdom will grow. It will grow through the presentation of the light, the word, the truth of the gospel of the kingdom. The simple shining of the light of the kingdom will do the work God wants done in this world of darkness. So what are we as a church and as individuals supposed to do to advance the work of Christ’s kingdom? We should make certain that the truth does not get buried under a couch; that the light does not get set aside in some place where it will fail to show the way to right relationship with God. We need to avoid getting all caught up in human traditions and rules and regulations. We cannot let the light be hidden by phony religious righteousness. Churches try all kinds of things to try to bring more people into their buildings; all kinds of enticements and gimmicks. These things tend to hide the truth of the gospel of Christ’s kingdom! Jesus did not bring the word of the kingdom to earth for us to hide it under junk like that! We as a church and we as individuals must very carefully hold up the truth of the gospel, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, to our society and our culture because this is the means by which the kingdom of heaven grows on earth! Are you holding the light up high so it shines on you and all the people who are in your circle of acquaintance? Is kingdom truth shining from you and revealing a genuine relationship with God? Or has your light become hidden under some dirty laundry in your life?

Monday, August 03, 2009


I’m back again. What a week! I’ve been working feverishly on a Church History paper and really needed to get it off my list of things to finish. My ordination is being transferred to the Reformed Church in America and one of the things I had to do was write this paper on the history of the denomination. It’s entitled “Missional Ecumenism in the Reformed Church in America” and it got a little longer than I anticipated. I really enjoyed doing the research for it but it seemed to take forever to organize all the information I gathered. Anyway, it’s done now so let’s see if I can be more consistent in posting things here!

In Luke 11 the disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray just as John taught his own disciples to pray. We know what Jesus did. He told them to pray what we have come to call the Lord’s Prayer. (I’ve often wondered why we call it the Lord’s Prayer instead of the Disciples’ Prayer!)

Then Jesus tells them the story about the man who goes to his friend’s house at midnight because he has received unexpected company and needs bread to put on his table. But his friend is already in bed with his children and doesn’t want to get back up to give him bread. Luke 11:8 says, I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man’s boldness he will get up and give him as much as he needs. What is Jesus teaching his disciples about prayer? When we pray we are to be bold. Simple. Let’s not complicate this. When we pray we are to come boldly with our requests.

Jesus goes on to say, Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened (Luke 11:9, 10). Again, what is Jesus teaching about prayer? Ask! Seek! Knock! In other words, keep being bold by continuing to ask, seek, and knock. Jesus teaches perseverance in prayer.

Finally he says, Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will you Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him! (Luke 11:11-13) Jesus teaches us that when we pray we can expect God to give us what is good for us. What is good for us? The Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit will lead us in prayer (as Paul says in Romans 8:26) to ask according to God’s will. Jesus teaches us to pray with expectant faith in his goodness.

What is missing here? Jesus says nothing about how much time a godly person will spend in prayer! The conclusion is obvious. The length of time one spends in prayer is not the point! Some may be led to pray for lengthy periods of time, others not. But how foolish it is to measure people according to the amount of time they spend in prayer. How foolish to measure myself against others! Someone says, “But if Jesus prayed all night, then certainly we need to pray at least that long!” At least that long? How much longer can one pray than all night anyway? And to assume that I need to pray as long as Jesus did doesn’t make sense either. I may have a lot of things to pray about but there is no way I face the kinds of trials and troubles Jesus faced! The fact that he prayed all night on some occasions shows me how human our Lord was and how heavy his burdens were! No way I compare myself to Jesus or measure myself against him!

So Paul tells us, Pray continually (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Someone will certainly say that Paul measures our spirituality by the amount of time we spend in prayer. We are to be in constant prayer. Is that what he means? Or might he mean that we are to pray and not give up? (Luke 18:1. By the way, that’s another teaching of Jesus about persevering in prayer!)

In short, I can’t find anything in scripture that says anything about how much time we should spend in prayer. Rather, I see a lot of teaching on the quality of prayer. And surely we should never engage in measuring ourselves or others based on the amount of time we pray.