Tuesday, March 13, 2012

One Minute Devotion: Matthew 5:23&24

Matthew 5:23&24

Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath something against thee.  Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way;  first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.

Contextually, prior to Christ's incarnation, the people of Israel would offer sacrifices to God for the cleansing of their sins. The process is explained in detail in the books of Deuteronomy and Leviticus under the Mosiac covenant. Here, Matthew references this act of consecration in order to explain real and selfless forgiveness. Undoubtably, one of the toughest elements of our Christian walk is the act of true forgiveness. We may say someone is forgiven, but  words may not support inner motives or truth. Pain outweighs mercy, hurt outmatches compassion, and vengeance overcomes grace. The wounds of injustice, abuse, both verbal and physical, hypocrisy, racism, gossip, personal attacks, betrayal, and deceit are deep and burning. Those injuries can torment, and many times the scars last a lifetime. It is hard to surrender that suffering to God, possibly never knowing what the outcome may be. To able to forgive without an apology from the offender and witness God's mercy instead of retaliation as He may grant forgiveness, not revenge to pay the debt owed are difficult ideas to consider. In examining the verse, Matthew clearly explains before you leave your request of forgiveness before the altar of God, there is definitive requirement to forgive those who need a pardon from you. These are especially poignant verses for me and an important devotion for my own consideration considering my past pain. Let's analyze this passage from three distinct points; the core of our prayers, heart, and complete forgiveness. First, what is the core of our prayers? When we pray, what are we praying for? Can prayer be laden with vanity? Absolutely, if our words to God do not match the intentions of our hearts, than  prayer is in vain. Do we think we can deceive God? If we are asking God's forgiveness for sin and yet we hold grudges against someone else, how can we expect God to honor our supplication? If that is the case then we have to ask ourselves some hard questions about our prayer life.  When we pray are we seeking our desires or God's? Are we praying for His will to be done or our agenda to be fulfilled? Is God Santa Claus or the Almighty Lord of all to us? Without going into a deeper definition of all aspects and purposes of prayer, we will simply define the core of true prayer as sincerity. It must be the understanding that God knows our requests before we speak them, before we consider them. There has to be integrity when we speak to God, a transparent honesty and purity.  If not, our prayer is a gift equivalent to a nicely wrapped empty box. Matthew says before you leave your gift for God at His altar, stop and esnure you have made things right with those who require it. If you don't, your gift, your appeal, is valueless. Second, what is at the core of our hearts when we pray? Intention is truly nine tenths the law, not possession or perception. What we intend to do exceeds any eloquence of words or mannerism. Real conversation with God begins with true intention. Bing.com dictionary defines intention as an aim or objective and a quality of purposefulness. Intention can be left mute without action, but action is nonexistence without intention, both good and bad. The effectiveness of our prayers matches our intention. If our prayers do not reflect our intentions, it as though we are peering through a shattered and dirty looking glass. God knows our intentions first, if we are genuinely walking with God He plants the seeds of those intentions in our hearts. If we seek forgiveness when our intention is to harbor hate, anger, and bitterness to others, then our prayers are as hollow as a rotted, insect infested, tree. Finally, what is at the core of forgiveness? That is the simplest to explain. The core of forgiveness is grace. Grace is not bestowed because it is earned or deserved but because of the unconditional and boundless love of Jesus Christ. If we are forgiven simply because God's love chooses to do so, then how can we hold anyone who errs against us to any other account ( Matthew 6:14&15)? God forgiveness us because it glorifies Him, when we forgive others the same is true. To forgive without hesitation, grimace, or grudge is to demonstrate God's love. I recently had to forgive someone who took a great deal from me. A person who injured me in such a way that it affected almost every aspect of my life. It took me years to overcome these wounds with no acceptance of responsibility or apology offered from this individual. So why forgive them? This person deserved all my ire and indignation. Wasn't I justified in my feelings and my pain? Yes, but God showed me why I needed to forgive this person. Grace. How can I refuse mercy to anyone when it was bestowed to me without hesitation by God. I didn't warrant or deserve His grace, yet it was freely given to me. How do we expect God to forgive us every time we stumble, slip, and fail if we hold unforgiveness towards others in our hearts. This is the ultimate example of self righteousness and selfishness. Do we allow the person to continue their abuse and advantage? No. But we forgive and lift them up to God to deliver us and seek his peace and compassion towards them. Unforgiveness isn't a speed bump, its the grand canyon, a massive gulf affixed between us and God's providence. No matter how you dress it up, your prayers are judged on the condition of your heart. Unforgiveness is a burden that God does not intend for you to carry. He will provide you the means, strength, peace, and hope to forgive if you will allow Him too. The next time you appear before the altar, beside the gifts you bring God, how much baggage are you carrying with you too? Have you searched the intentions of your heart to see what the core of your prayers are? Is anyone beyond God's grace? If so, then why did He give it to you? What did you accomplish to obtain grace? Absolutely nothing.  It was delivered to you through God's love and desire to reconcile you to Him, for His glory and His alone.

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