This week we’re thinking about covenant, which is about God’s providing partnership with man together with man’s honouring partnership with God. It is a solemn agreement which has ancient roots, back to Abraham, and Moses with his second set of stones tablets hearing God name Himself:
“I AM Yahweh! The LORD! The God of compassion and mercy! I am slow to anger and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness. I lavish unfailing love to a thousand generations… Listen, I am making a covenant with you in the presence of all your people.”
Exodus 34:6-7,10 excerpted
All of us pray to God for things, especially at times of great anxiety. As the old saying goes, ‘There are no atheists in the trenches’.
Stay with us to the end, to understand from the Bible about God’s partnership with us and how it works. This will transform your reading of the Bible, your prayer life, how you handle crises — and especially your confidence in God and sharing your concerns for Him to hear and respond.
The form of prayer that Jesus taught His disciples, which we commonly called the Lord’s Prayer, is founded on this understanding. The first disciples were all Jewish and they had that Jewish deep-rooted sense of being God’s covenant people. But the new thing that they were learning from Jesus was how to know and talk to God intimately as a Father, rather than the remote and impersonal way of approaching Almighty God through priests and sacrifices. Little did they know, that that whole system was about to be superseded.
This story is closely related to the Bible Study for Groups and Individuals for July 24
See also the video Spiritual Confidence is Yours with a Little Practice
Which makes it a bit strange when some branches of the church have leaders called priests who assume the intermediary role and its rituals. Why is that? It’s all comes down to how we relate to God — whether it is a personal, intimate relationship with Father, or a more formal relationship relying on the institution of the church to make the holy connection.
This will help you make up your own mind about that, as we join the first disciples with Jesus learning the whole new way of knowing God’s guidance in life by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Back in the day, the Israelites often got that relationship wrong. They were following the rules and obedience kind of relationship without that personal and intimate sense of knowing God and His guidance.
Some more formal and traditional churches today follow that way — more OT than NT. The dividing line is whether the expectation is of pleasing God through rules, or knowing God through a joyful relationship. My advice is to find the joyful ones, and learn from them!
Our story starts more than 700 years before Christ, when everything was going seriously wrong with the Israelites especially in the Northern Kingdom. Hosea was a prophet called to be God’s voice of truth to them. God actually told him to give his children names of the judgments that were coming.
It was a dark time. Hosea’s warnings came true with conquest and exile – but we are reminded that God’s plan was always to restore them and bring them back into His blessing. These words from Psalm 85 set the scene for us:
Restore us again, God our Saviour, and put away Your displeasure toward us.
Will You be angry with us forever? Will you prolong Your anger through all generations? Will You not revive us again, that Your people may rejoice in You?
Show us Your unfailing love, Lord, and grant us Your salvation.
I will listen to what God the Lord says; He promises peace to His people, His faithful servants — but let them not turn to folly. Surely His salvation is near those who fear Him, that His glory may dwell in our land.
Righteousness goes before Him and prepares the way for His steps.
Psalm 85 excerpted vv. 4-9, 13
Hosea was a prophet of remarkable obedience to God. God actually told him to marry an unfaithful woman and live out a difficult relationship with her. We don’t know whether all her children were Hosea’s or not — but God used the pain of that relationship to convey the pain He felt about another infidelity situation. He had long suffered from the spiritual waywardness of the ruling dynasty of the northern kingdom that had broken away from Judah. Let’s hear about that from the beginning of Hosea’s book in the Bible:
[God told Hosea to marry] Gomer…and she… bore him a son. Then the Lord said to Hosea, “Call him Jezreel, because I will soon punish the house of Jehu for the massacre at Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of Israel…I will break Israel’s bow in the Valley of Jezreel.”
Gomer conceived again and gave birth to a daughter. Then the Lord said to Hosea, “Call her Lo-Ruhamah (which means “not loved”), for I will no longer show love to Israel, that I should at all forgive them…
[Later] Gomer had another son. Then the Lord said, “Call him Lo-Ammi (which means “not my people”), for you are not My people, and I am not your God.
“Yet [in time] the Israelites will be like the sand on the seashore… In the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not My people,’ they will be called ‘children of the living God.’”
Hosea 1:2-10 NIV excerpted
God always wanted a close relationship with His people. And a few of them achieved it — probably the names that are most familiar to you from the Old Testament. But it was not generally achievable until Jesus came and showed us the perfect representation of God in human form.
He was fully God, but He was also fully man — and so (just like us) He needed time in prayer to catch up with His Father and to know what His Father’s immediate purposes were, so that he could closely follow them. His disciples observed His prayer habits — and it wasn’t a few minutes of reciting well-known phrases, that kind they were used to. And so on more than one occasion, they asked Him to give them a coaching lesson on how to pray like He did. Let’s hear this from Luke’s gospel chapter 11:
One day… when [Jesus] had finished [praying], one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray…”
He said to them, “When you pray, say: ‘Father, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. ‘”
Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you… go to [a friend] at midnight and say, ‘…Lend me [some] bread; a friend of mine [has come] on a journey… and I have no food to offer him.’
“And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me… my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’
“I tell you, even though he will not…give you…bread because of friendship, yet… your shameless audacity will…get [him] up and [giving] you as much as you need.
“So I say to you: ask and it will be given…seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, or an egg, will give him a snake or scorpion?
“If you… know how to give good [things] to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”
Luke 11:1-13 NIV excerpted
And when it’s expressed in faith, Jesus’ Kingdom Prayer is a very good and powerful prayer. But that was not really what Jesus intended.
Jesus was setting out some kingdom values. He was also giving them some useful practical headings to guide their prayer time in a much more personal and intimate way, talking with God as a loving Father.
And this all comes back to that sense of partnership or covenant which is where we started. Believe it or not, this is something that our Father wants with us, more than we are seeking it with Him! It really matters to Him – and it is transforming and powerful for us to live this way with His guidance, not to mention His provision.
But there’s more! Jesus reinforced His prayer teaching with the illustration of someone who had arrived late on a journey. Jews had an assurance of hospitality with each other — that was part of the covenant, too. But Jesus takes this further. The host who receives his late night guest has nothing in the bread basket, so he goes to his friend next door. And his friend’s initial response is not covenant, but criticism. We have all been there. “What are you doing waking me up at this time of night!”
Just as not giving someone a place to sleep for the night would have brought shame on the community, so would not sharing food for somebody who needed it. So, of course when his friend had woken up properly, he would willingly come out with all his bread and more, and give him what he needs.
God doesn’t need waking up. And he’s not busy serving another customer or on His break. Nor will He make excuses — God is generous and He has plenty of everything. The point is that we must persist, knowing that we are making a legitimate request that He wants to hear… but there will always be spiritual opposition.
It’s not explicit in the story but it is right there in the prayer headings Jesus gave earlier. “Lead us not into temptation” and the earlier teaching recorded by Matthew adds, “deliver us from evil”. Jesus made this one of His headings and it’s expressed in the imperative. This is not asking, but asserting, for the hearing of all who are in the heavenly realms, both good and evil. We belong to Jesus!
The problem is we have an enemy, the devil, who is a spoiler intent on confusing and delaying and obstructing our righteous prayer (and God’s answer) in any way he can.
We’re hearing a lot in the news about military operations using radio control and GPS — and the strategy of jamming them. The devil and his minions are at work listening out for our prayers and trying to jam them in any way they can. So we need to make sure we are in right standing with God — “Forgive us our trespasses, we forgive those who trespass against us” — our unforgiveness of others is a common sin and it gives the enemy grounds with which to oppressor us. Then we can call on Jesus to deal with the oppressor, but we need to go on asking, seeking, and knocking until we are heard without spiritual confusion.
This is learning a more proactive and more spiritually confident way of living which the Holy Spirit enables us to do. And that’s the assumption behind Paul’s teaching to the church in Colossae, Colossians chapter 2. He is speaking here to people of faith — who have taken the step of faith to invite Jesus into their hearts as their Saviour, willingly submitting to Him as Lord. Which is his starting place:
[Having] accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow Him. Let your roots grow down into Him, and… your lives be built on Him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.
Don’t let anyone capture you with… high-sounding nonsense that comes from human thinking… rather than from Christ. For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body. So you also are complete through your union with Christ, who is the head over every ruler and authority.
When you came to Christ…[He] performed a spiritual ‘circumcision’ — cutting away… your sinful nature. [The old you was] buried with Christ when you were baptized. And with Him, you were raised to new life because you trusted the mighty power of God, who raised Christ from the dead.
You were dead because of your sins. Your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ. He forgave all our sins… [And] cancelled the record of the charges against us… by nailing it to the Cross.
In this way, He disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by His victory over them on the Cross. So don’t let anyone condemn you for what you eat or drink, or for not celebrating certain holy days… For these rules are only shadows of the reality… And Christ Himself is that reality.
Don’t let anyone [put on you the need for] pious self-denial… their sinful minds have made them proud, and they are not connected to Christ, the Head of the body. For He holds the whole body together… and it grows as God nourishes it.
Colossians 2:6-19 NLT excerpted
This is not creating a tidy moral philosophy that is more about church tradition than what the Bible says. This is living in the New Covenant that is every believer’s gift through Jesus. It is about God with us, and us with God, and it is as close and intimate as we care to make it. This is how the words of the Bible come alive to us as practical, reliable, everyday guidance as the Holy Spirit uses them as the basis to lead us. It’s difficult to explain with any kind of intellectual rigour and it doesn’t fit well with our ideas of logic.
That is because God is Spirit, and that’s how we relate to Him. He has given us Jesus, who gave us that relationship. He shows us exactly what God is like — and He is someone we can talk to, who has lived our kind of life and knows all about it.
And we also have the Spirit of Jesus, the presence of Jesus with us wherever we are. Playing His part in what is a truly wonderful and fulfilling partnership with Him.
Lord, we are so grateful we don’t have to go it alone!
When we get into rough places, You have been there!
When we get it wrong, You have made a way back.
When we’re not sure which way is forward, we hear You saying, “With Me!”.
And when we ask, we are reminded you are more than ready to hear us… but sometimes we have to deal with the noise and keep asking.
Above all we praise You for Your Father heart and generosity to us, not least in Jesus through whom we pray.