“And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” Mark 11:25
Is this an afterthought of the Lord? Coming immediately after that promise of answered prayer in the preceding verse, it appears that Jesus has suddenly made prayer conditional upon the state of your heart. If we extend our reading further we actually discover yet another rehearsal of the Shema of Jesus; Love God with all your heart, mind and soul and love your neighbor likewise. In verse 22, Jesus emphasizes the faith requirements of prayer and a right relationship with God and here He imparts a reminder that this love is to also extend to our fellow man.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus brought up a similar theme. In Matthew verses 23-24, the Lord spoke to the impropriety of worship while holding a grudge toward another. Love for your neighbors is a measure of the love and obedience that you have for God. Has His grace so permeated your soul that it is regularly visited upon your neighbors? If not a return to the altar of the gospel is in order.
Prayer holds the same requirements. God knows your heart and prayer that attempts to cloud the issues that swirl there is useless. Until we are able to know grace that transforms our attitudes toward others, God will continue to work out that aspect of our lives instead of moving us to a more mature relationship. Today is the day to seek out your brother.
“Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone. Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him!” (Matthew 7:9-11)
How much more indeed! Often we are willing to settle for simple material gifts when the Father wants to give us so much more. The cursory handling of the verses from the Sermon on the Mount leads to the idea that our material needs—food, clothing, shelter—are to be the core of our prayers as we see the human father gives sustenance rather than danger and damage. The Saints are further led astray by reading into this passage a ‘blank check’ from Heaven in the implicit promise of good gifts. The best gift, Murray points out, is nothing material. It is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and His control over our life and living in this world. This is the gift we should earnestly be seeking, trusting in God to take care of all of the things He already knows we need.
Jesus teaches in our lesson today to lift our eyes and hearts above our immediate circumstances to see how much more life the Father has for us when we open our connection to the Vine. The Spirit is our connection and the gift we receive upon belief that enables the life-giving nectar of the Vine to flow into our empty souls.
John Wesley comments on what it means to be pure of heart from one of his sermons on the Sermon on the Mount.
“The pure in heart” are they whose hearts God hath “purified even as he is pure;” who are purified, through faith in the blood of Jesus, from every unholy affection; who, being “cleansed from all filthiness of flesh and spirit, perfect holiness in the” loving “fear of God.” They are, through the power of his grace, purified from pride, by the deepest poverty of spirit; from anger, from every unkind or turbulent passion, by meekness and gentleness; from every desire but to please and enjoy God, to know and love him more and more, by that hunger and thirst after righteousness which now engrosses their whole soul: So that now they love the Lord their God with all their heart, and with all their soul, and mind, and strength.
Peace comes to the Christian when we allow the Holy Spirit to transform our innate desire for judgment and retribution into a Spirit-driven act of forgiveness. As we forgive we are released from the bondage of rage that threatens our hearts and keeps us tied to past actions and injuries. Reflect this midweek day on Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount:
Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:1-5)
The horror visited on YWAM and New Life that has broken the peace of our Advent causes us ask ourselves whether or not we can forgive the young man who brought the violence to life. The Lord calls us to repent of our desire to judge others while avoiding our own judgement. As Glen Stassen eloquently posits, “Grace teaches peacemaking, not putting all the blame on others and building up hostility against them but acknowledging our own contribution to the problem.” It can be difficult for us to associate ourselves with the violent but we can find in our lives many opportunities to put this ideal into practice. Why not now?