Jesus: A Man of Prayer

As one reads the Gospels, it is readily apparent that Jesus was a man on the move who made a strong impression on people, both positive and negative. We see that he taught with great authority (Matt 7:28-29), he cast out demons (Matt 12:24-28), he healed the sick (Mark 6:56), he raised the dead (Luke 7:11-15), he miraculously multiplied food (John 6:1-15) just to name a few. However, the only thing any of the Gospel writers record the disciples asking him to teach them specifically is to pray (Luke 11:1-4).

We should see how striking this is. Perhaps the disciples knew that the other things Jesus did were connected to his time in prayer. Regardless, they were faithful Jews for whom prayer was a significant part of their lives. They grew up hearing the Psalms, a book of prayer, read every Sabbath. Prayers were developed for every aspect of life by this time in Judaism so that wasn’t lacking in their lives. Their primary motivation was they saw Jesus pray and how much time he spent in prayer. He would get up early to pray (Mark 1:35), he spent whole nights in prayer (Luke 6:12), other significant time in prayer (Luke 5:15-16), and before major events (e.g. Matt 26:36-46).

The teaching that Jesus gave was quite simple,

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.

And lead us not into temptation.”

Matthew has a slightly longer version, which Jesus most likely taught at another time (6:9-13) but it’s essentially the same teaching on prayer. I’m not going to unpack each of the parts of the prayer because I want to look at it on the whole and how it fits into Jesus’ life.

Jesus’ approach to who God is and how life is lived in light of that was profound. Jesus did a lot but was never in a rush. He had more than enough ministry opportunities (without creating any programs by the way) to keep him and his 12 disciples busy for a lifetime, yet he often withdrew away. All of this came out of his prayer life.

This prayer he taught his disciples shows what was most important to Jesus: honoring the Father’s name, the Kingdom of God, God’s life-sustaining provision, forgiveness of sins, and protection from temptation. Each of these parts played out in Jesus’ life and all of his other teaching. This is such a unique view of God up to this point in history. No one could conceive of a god like this and what Jesus said was this type of god does exist and Jesus knows him as his Father.

Jesus teaches us a prayer for the rest of us. This is a prayer that can be prayed in and of itself and it informs all parts of prayer. Prayer is the most important activity we can partake in. As Oswald Chambers said, “Prayer does not fit us for the greater work; prayer is the greater work.” Each of the other disciplines, as important as they are, should be practiced only with prayer.

Jesus did not need prayer but as the “pioneer and perfecter of faith” (Heb 12:2) he showed us that life lived in the presence of the Spirit and the Father will be filled with prayer. The amount of prayer the early believers practiced showed they knew it was necessary for being disciples of their Master, Jesus the Messiah. Prayer should cultivate a relationship with the Triune God and be the way we partner with God in what he is up to in the world.

The best teaching, outside of Jesus’, that I ever read was from a mother to her two daughters. One of the instructions she left while she and their dad were away for a week read, “Pray everyday because Jesus loves you and wants to hear from you.” That’s exactly right. He adores us and wants to hear from us. He also wants to say some things to us as well.

May we love to pray. We our hearts long to commune with our Heavenly Father. May the Spirit empower us to pray without growing weary or losing heart.

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HOW Do We Believe?

In any situation knowing what we believe and why we believe it is very important. It is not uncommon to have our what or why challenged, which leads to either a strengthening of that belief/viewpoint or the realization that we don’t actually believe something or we need to strengthen our belief. However, we spend little time on how we believe something. All three are essential to grow in maturity, whether as a follower of the Master Jesus or as a person (not that there should be much difference).

To illustrate, I believe I am married to my wife (the “what”) and I believe this because I remember it happening, I have pictures, and I have the testimony of at least 100 people who celebrated that day with us (the “why”). That “why” could be proven should I suffer brain trauma and for some reason forget who my wife is. To my knowledge I have never suffered brain trauma so the what and why don’t need constant reinforcement, which allows me to focus on the “how.” How am I married to my wife? I could affirm the what and why with zero difficulty and be orthodox in my belief that I am married, however what if I am unfaithful to my wife and our wedding vows? Should someone strongly question my belief? Absolutely! No matter what I say about the “what” and “why” of my marriage, I am not acting like a married man.

A growth area for the Church is to think through teaching the “how” of our beliefs. It doesn’t matter if someone can pass the creedal (what) and apologetic (why) aspects of historic Christianity if it doesn’t affect how we live. The short answer of our “how” is: Jesus. He is the perfect revelation of God and the perfect revelation of how humans should be too.

To expand the how a little bit more, it’s found the in the oft-quoted words of “The Great Commission,” “Then Jesus came up and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age’” (Matthew 28:18–20 NET). I’ve come under the conviction that we’ve down-played baptism too much in most areas of the American Church. This was a highly significant practice for a disciple (apprentice) to do when coming under the yoke (teaching, lifestyle) of his master.

The questions we need to wrestle with are how do we teaching people to obey? Are we teaching everything Jesus commanded? For those who know the spiritual disciplines matter and time with our Heavenly Father matters, do we know why? To borrow from Dallas Willard, it is one thing to know we need to love others and another to become the type of person for whom loving our enemies is easier than hating them.

How do we pray? How do we read the Scriptures? How do we tell others about our hope and the Kingdom of God and Jesus as the King of the world? How do we obey?

I don’t have all of the answers but I know this is too vital to take lightly.

Mountaintops and Deserts

Exercising at a certain level for long enough produces a “high.” Couples in a dating relationship experience feelings of being “in love.” Embarking on new adventures (like a new job) for some people brings a new excitement to life. Each of these “highs” are real and feelings that accompany them can be traced to chemicals released in the brain. The same is true in a person’s spiritual life.

Conferences, mission trips, starting a new group or ministry, baptism, recent conversion, Sunday mornings (usually only a few times a year), etc. can also produce a “spiritual high” for people. We often call this a mountaintop experience. The Lord’s presence is felt more than usual (or ever) and we want to stay in that moment. Nothing is too great to sacrifice in these moments. We can and will conquer the world or at least a major area of brokenness in the world.

For any who have been through these times we know it is impossible to stay there; we are not meant to stay there. It is not a sign of immaturity to have these moments, but it is incorrect to think we’re meant to stay in these moments. The hardest part of the mountaintop is that it’s inevitably followed by a valley; and the higher the mountaintop, the lower the valley. We go from reading the Bible as God’s word to us to wondering why anyone would bother reading it. Our prayers go from whispers directly into God’s ear to falling to the ground as soon as they leave our lips.

Another season entirely is the desert. The desert is an extended valley, which D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones called Spiritual Depression and St. John of the Cross called it The Dark Night of the Soul. Nothing, absolutely nothing gives one joy. This is a wall that some people never penetrate. The authors of The Critical Journey say the wall cannot be avoided; if one desires to get past the wall the only way is through it. The valley is different from the desert in length of time and intensity of loneliness.

Both images are found in the Bible and necessary for any who desire Christlikeness. The mountaintop is necessary for learning about and fanning the flame of our heart for God. Here are some mountaintop experiences in the Bible: Abraham’s near sacrifice of Isaac (Genesis 22), Moses receiving the 10 Commandments and experiencing God’s glory (Exodus 20 and 33-34), Elijah after running from Ahab and Jezebel (1Kings 19:9-18), and Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) to name a few. The purpose of the mountaintop experience is a new revelation about God that should open the way into the mysterium tremendumThis raises our intellectual understanding of who God is and increases our affections.

As exciting and exhilarating as the mountaintop is, the desert is equally difficult, if not more so. Again, this has biblical support not by way of explicit teaching but the example of lives. Abraham was a nomad wandering the desert, Moses fled to the desert after killing an Egyptian (Exodus 2:11-22), Israel wandered the desert for 40 years (Exodus-Deuteronomy), David wandered the wilderness twice: fleeing from Saul and then his son Absalom, John the Baptist had his whole ministry there (Matthew 3:1), and Jesus went to the wilderness before beginning his ministry (Matthew 4).

I would agree with those who suggest that the Lord is the God of wilderness wandering. The wilderness strips away all else that we could seek for solace. The wilderness knits our hearts with God’s heart so that it beats in unison with his. The mountaintop opens the way into the mysterium tremendum but the wilderness is where we experience it.

The wilderness time is hard and we shouldn’t seek it. What we should seek is intimacy with the Father and know that the wilderness will come. The biggest challenge is to seek the face and hand of our God but that is all that will bring us through this time. If it feels like fog or darkness you are not alone, Immanuel is with you. This is not punishment but a trial to see if we will hold out for the greatest reward. The best thing to do is hold on. Ask for wisdom and discernment as to who God is. Ask him to use this for your benefit.

Integrity: 3 Voices and 1 Solution

wallenda-grand-canyonThe past 9 months I’ve been working for a bank as a way to provide for our family, take a break from ministry, and figure out what we should do next.  It’s been a challenging but very good time for me personally and for our family.  What I do is not the most mentally taxing job I’ve ever had and I don’t interact with customers (I don’t even have to interact with co-workers in order to perform my job) so I listen to music, the Bible, and podcasts on a regular basis.  Recently I’ve been listening to The Phil Vischer Podcast (with Skye Jethani and Christian Taylor), which is quite entertaining as they bring different perspectives on current events.  One week they talked about “Christian movies” and they had a guest on who talked about the ideal for Christians when watching or making a movie is to be safe instead of tell a good story.  This hits the nail on the head for not only entertainment but the lifestyle many Christians pursue.  Safe is not an intriguing story yet it has such allure for almost all of us.

When I was a seminary student a pastor from Kansas City came to speak about vocational ministry.  One of the students asked this experienced pastor, “How do you achieve a work-life balance?”  This is not something only pastors struggle with, it’s what many thoughtful people (Christians and non-Christians alike) struggle to achieve.  I thought this particular pastor’s response was profound he said (to paraphrase), “Don’t try to achieve balance.  Strive for tension because that’s where we find balance.”  I think “work-life balance” is actually code for “safety.”  My current situation has helped me think about this idea again and I’ve had some insights that I want to pass along.

Original Intent

Over the past few years I’ve been thinking more seriously about Genesis 1-2 as a way to understand God’s original intent and how we are able to begin to recover that when we are in Christ.  Humans were designed to rule under God’s reign (1:26-30), which is accomplished only by being with God.  When God creates the man, God gives the man a specific vocation: to care for the Garden of Eden and maintain it (2:15), which meant to spread the Garden and name the animals.  What I never noticed was that the man received a vocation before he received a wife.  God showed the man that none of the other creatures could fulfill him in a companion role so he created a woman (2:20-25).  The two of them then worked together with God’s help.

At this point the man’s world was a perfect unity of God, vocation, and family.  The man knew how to relate to each, he was a fully integrated being.  When something has integrity it is strong and whole.  But…

The Three Voices

The man and the woman disobeyed God (Genesis 3) and their whole world fell apart.  Where there was integrity, there is now fragility.  Even those who try to live a righteous life still feel the effects of this fragility.  We feel the pull of three voices and it looks like this:

Fragility

Each area: church, work, and family call a person, and often in different directions.  A constant pulling of something in multiple directions leads to further fragility and ultimately there will be a break.  Now I am just starting to work through what this means (and this is a blog post) so I’m not able to fully nuance all of this for what each means in different contexts.  None of these three things are bad, in fact they’re very good and gifts from God.  However, for most people they are three distinct, competing voices causing dis-integration.  This doesn’t have to be the case…

The Solution

Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection introduced new creation or the age/world to come into this present creation and age (2Corinthians 5:17; Colossians 3:9-10).  Relating to God (now through Christ and his Church), our Vocation, and Family all should fall under our discipleship to Jesus.  We take on his yoke (i.e. his way of life through studying his teachings, obeying his commanding, and imitating his practices) and he brings harmony to these areas, which looks more like this:

Integrity

These three over-lapping circles show that our relating to God, vocation, and family are not synonymous but they do not have to be competing areas in our life.  Our work and family can, and should, overlap as should our family and Church, and even our Church and work.  The more we see this, the more integrated we’ll feel.

It’s vital to remember that Jesus worked 18 years as a manual laborer then he started his teaching and healing ministry.  He was born into and grew up with a family.  I mention this because we should trust he would have something to say about each of those areas and that should influence how we live within our family and vocation.

This is something I hope to spend more time with and, hopefully, develop more helpful thoughts and practices.

A Simple Step

In the meantime, one way to help us move into a more integrated lifestyle would be to be intentional about being a person of integrity.  A person of integrity is one who does what he/she says they are going to do.  Try it for a day.  I suspect by lunch we’ll be throwing ourselves before the throne of grace.  Take an integrity inventory: what things have you said you’re going to do that are still undone?  What is your completion percentage during a typical week?  This isn’t for merit or to think of ourselves as failures to be see where we are and to ask the Lord to give us grace to grow.  I like how Dallas Willard would say, “Grace is not opposed to effort, it’s opposed to earning.  Effort is an action, earning is an attitude.”  Trust in God’s grace and work in our lives requires actions on our part.  Grace be with you!

 

God Doesn’t Want to Use You

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Common rhetoric from well-intentioned pastors and teachers is some form of, “Don’t you want God to use you?”  To any Christian who wants to live a God-honoring, biblically-faithful life it’s like asking anyone, “Do you want to make more money?”  The only appropriate response is, “Sure!  We all do!”  I’m going to give anyone who has used this, present company included, the benefit of the doubt and know what is intended is, “Do you want to join with God in what he is doing?”  However, I do not think this is how the question is received.

In order to join with God in what he is doing around us, we have to know who he is and what he is up to.  I have never heard a Sunday morning sermon and, apart from intentionally seeking out recordings of certain teachers, I have never heard a conference speaker ask, “Do you want to be with God?”  I hear many appeals to getting saved and going to heaven when we die.  I hear almost zero appeals to living that eternal reality here and now.  When we ask people if they want to go to heaven, we never ask what they think heaven is.  How do we know if they’ll be able to stand it?

Heaven is the eternal, unmediated presence of God where humans and angelic beings (and I have to think there will be animals in some way, if not Fido, Fluffy, Bessie, etc. then representatives of the different kinds of animals) willingly and easily do what God intends.  It is the fullness of the Kingdom of God.  If we do not desire to do what God desires now, what makes us think we, or anyone for that matter, would want to do it forever?

What our loving Heavenly Father desires more than anyone could possibly realize is to be with us; he doesn’t want to use us as though we’re some inanimate object.  The creation of humans was to rule and subdue with God.  When God moved powerfully through Moses it was so that he could be with his people.  Jesus came as Immanuel–God with us.  As Jesus commissioned the disciples he told them, among some other very important things, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20 NET).  The message of the early church in Acts and the letters was that God is forming a people that includes all of the nations to be with him.  At the culmination of all things in the New Heavens and New Earth when God comes to Earth:

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying: “Look! The residence of God is among human beings. He will live among them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death will not exist any more—or mourning, or crying, or pain, for the former things have ceased to exist.” (Revelation 21:3–4 NET)

(All of this is just a small sample set of what the Scriptures teach and reveal on this idea.)

Yes, the Father does want us to participate with him in what he is doing, he just doesn’t want to use us.  Jesus, our perfect example of being in relationship with the Father, said, “So Jesus answered them, ‘I tell you the solemn truth, the Son can do nothing on his own initiative, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son and shows him everything he does, and will show him greater deeds than these, so that you will be amazed’” (John 5:19–20 NET).  Later Jesus said that the abiding life with God (cf. John 13-17) will be marked by doing greater things than what Jesus did (14:12).

How do we focus on this aspect of being with God?  I will offer two thoughts:

1) This is more of an exercise: sit in a comfortable but attentive position and think about God.  What image comes to mind?  Is it sheer blackness, emptiness or feelings of distance?  Is there a disapproving or disappointed father figure?  A chummy, wink-at-your-sins grandfather?  A judge ready to “throw the book at you?”  Indifferent Thought?

Or do you see Jesus?  Jesus is the perfect and fullest revelation of God (cf. John 14:9).  Do you see ineffable light that elicits a reality of nearness, life, and love?

2) Memorize Scripture.  Focusing our thoughts on who God is helps us see him and know that he is with us and wants us to be with him.  There are many places to look but 1 Timothy 6:16, “He alone possesses immortality and lives in unapproachable light, whom no human has ever seen or is able to see. To him be honor and eternal power! Amen,” and Exodus 34:6-7, “The LORD passed by before him and proclaimed: ‘The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, and abounding in loyal love and faithfulness, keeping loyal love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin. But he by no means leaves the guilty unpunished, responding to the transgression of fathers by dealing with children and children’s children, to the third and fourth generation,’” are good places to start.  This is part of renewing our mind to be more like Christ.

God does want us to participate with him but, again, not use us; whatever we do should be an overflow of our time with him.  He wants us to be about the family business and the family business is a reflection of his character.  We won’t know his character if we are not with him.  We may think of the passages where humans are described as clay and vessels but those have to do with God’s prerogative as Creator and our role as setting ourselves apart, which I contend happens by being with God.

May you know that the Creator-Redeemer God of the Universe doesn’t want to use you, he wants to be with you.  May you find that rest of knowing you are loved and have been set free from the power of sin and death.  May you see him as he truly is and delight in that reality.  Amen.

Learning to Pray and Play: A Sabbath Experience

I’m incredibly excited for this summer because it’s time again for the World Cup finals.  That is my single most favorite sporting event to watch.  I could watch every single game if my schedule and family allowed it.  I really enjoy playing and watching sports so I enjoy the Olympics, March Madness, college bowl season, play-offs for professional sports, and European soccer (which is very rare for me to watch much of these days).  I enjoy sports because I was able to compete for a long time and my dad did a great job of using different things that happened to teach me life lessons.  These abstract ideas became concrete because an experience and emotions were tied to them.

One of the things he saw, and tried to raise my awareness to, was that I was at my best when I was just playing, just having fun.  My best season of soccer was as a high school senior because I just played, I just had fun.  I had the privilege of playing in college but my personal performance did not live up to my expectations.  In retrospect, it is because I did not have fun; it was no one’s fault but my own.

This awareness came back to me a few months ago while in the midst of trying to plant a church that was struggling and we ultimately decided to close down a couple of weeks ago.  What the Lord brought to mind a few months ago was my experience with soccer and that my time in ministry was not going well in large part because I wasn’t having fun; I wasn’t playing.  To nuance this slightly, I realize that matters of knowing God, knowing ourselves, knowing the Scriptures, and seeking the Kingdom of God above all else are very serious matters.  I would contend they are way too serious for us to not play.

By way of analogy, let’s say we gathered together a group of highly gifted and highly accomplished musicians.  We walk into a room where they’re sitting with their respective instrument of choice and tell them, “You’ve been gathered together to just play.  This is not going to be recorded or advertised, just play.”  This group would have way too much respect for music and their instrument to make noise or for each to only play his or her own song.  I venture to guess some of the most beautiful music the world has ever known would be made.  Going back to sports, if we were able to get the 10 greatest basketball players of all time together (suspend reality and imagine that they’re all in their prime) in a gym and roll out a ball, we would watch the greatest game ever played.  It wouldn’t be just because of their talent but how serious they are about the game and their craft would lead them to play.

While in seminary I read one of Eugene Peterson’s books (I cannot recall which one but if you read anything by him you won’t be disappointed) and he talked about realizing his need for a day of rest.  He and his wife took their day of rest on Mondays and the only agenda was to pray and to play.  I think he actually captures what the Sabbath is all about.  At the end of God’s creating work, we are told, “By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done” (Genesis 2:2–3 NIV11). The Hebrew word translated “rest” is shabbat, which is often just transliterated as Sabbath.  I’m not sure why translators have done this because I think the word “rest” is far more helpful.  What if we read in the Ten Commandments, “Remember the Rest day by keeping it holy”?  A common Hebrew blessing/salutation is shabbat shalom, which is probably something like “rest of wholeness.”  Wholeness comes from rest and we are able to rest as we are made whole.

The actions of playing and praying bring rest and require rest.  They defiantly tell ourselves and the world, “The world does not revolve around me.”  Our ability to pray and play is intimately woven into our understanding of who God is and what Jesus has accomplished through the cross and resurrection.  Tim Keller has two great sermons on this, one is titled “Work” and the other “Work and Rest.”  When we pray, we acknowledge there is Another who is in charge.  This one is the Triune Godhead who has eternally been and will eternally be Father, Son, and Spirit.  God is community and is the basis for our play and prayer.

What steals our ability to pray and play?  I think it is fear, anxiety, and worry.  I have read and heard others say the number one command in the Bible is, “Do not fear/worry/be anxious.”  If we are in a state of fear, worry, or anxiety we are unable to pray or play.  Those three things steal joy more than anything else.  Now there are numerous things we can fear, worry about or be anxious about and, unfortunately, I cannot deal with those now; they require their own post(s) and I need more time to marinate in this subject.

I wanted to post these thoughts because it is so pressing for me right now.  Here are some one-off thoughts and resources to look into if you’re interested:

A brief article (with a link to a research article) on how children learn better through play.

A great talk by Bob Goff on “Rediscovering Whimsy.”  He has a book on the subject, Love Does.

A friend of mine suggested this TEDx talk by Brene Brown, which is a great way to spend 20 minutes.

The Tabernacle/Temple sacrifices were largely about sharing a meal with God; the Lord’s Supper carries that same idea.  This is a massive idea and needs a lot more time and thought but I think it’s imperative we see this and that they’re not just about dealing with sin;  they are that but they’re more than that.

What God is most concerned with is that we are with him (cf. Luke 10:38-42).

I wrote a letter to the elders of our sending church very briefly explaining to them that the church plant was finished.  I told them I need to learn to play and pray.  I am going to be very serious about learning to do these two things.  Shabbat Shalom!

Rethinking the Parable of the Talents

It is difficult to dispute that Jesus loved to teach in parables; it was probably his primary teaching method especially to the masses.  For at least 1500 years, scholars have debated and changed how we should understand the parables.  Currently, there appears to be consensus that we not dissect every detail in a parable unless Jesus does after telling the parable (e.g. Matthew 13:1-23).  It also appears that we should use the intro to a parable and its last line as the interpretive lens for us, e.g. “The kingdom of heaven is like…” and “…in the same way…”

One parable I’ve been thinking about and realizing that how it is usually taught misses what Jesus is talking about is “The Parable of the Talents.”  Jesus didn’t name any of his parables, they’re just the names they’ve received throughout the years.  Here is the parable, which is a long one and needs to be quoted in full (I’m only going to use Matthew’s account):

For [the kingdom of heaven at the end of the age] is like a man going on a journey, who summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them. To one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. The one who had received five talents went off right away and put his money to work and gained five more. In the same way, the one who had two gained two more. But the one who had received one talent went out and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money in it. After a long time, the master of those slaves came and settled his accounts with them. The one who had received the five talents came and brought five more, saying, “Sir, you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.” His master answered, “Well done, good and faithful slave! You have been faithful in a few things. I will put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your master.” The one with the two talents also came and said, “Sir, you entrusted two talents to me. See, I have gained two more.” His master answered, “Well done, good and faithful slave! You have been faithful with a few things. I will put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your master.” Then the one who had received the one talent came and said, “Sir, I knew that you were a hard man, harvesting where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. See, you have what is yours.” But his master answered, “Evil and lazy slave! So you knew that I harvest where I didn’t sow and gather where I didn’t scatter? Then you should have deposited my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received my money back with interest! Therefore take the talent from him and give it to the one who has ten. For the one who has will be given more, and he will have more than enough. But the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.And throw that worthless slave into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” – (Matthew 25:14–30 NET)

I’ve heard this parable taught many times and often with the same driving point, “You want to be one who hears ‘Well done, good and faithful slave,’ don’t you?  Well then, invest your talents.”  “Invest your talents” often has the connotation of doing ministry in some capacity.  While I believe “doing ministry” (which needs a series of blog posts in its own right) is an application it is most definitely not the main thrust of Jesus’ message.  I am arguing that the “evil and lazy slave” is actually the interpretative individual not the good and faithful slaves.  The Greek word translated “slave” here is actually bondservant.  So it’s even likely that the master here has delivered these three from un-payable debts.

What was the differentiating factor between these three slaves?  How they viewed their master.  Let’s say for a moment that what the evil and lazy slave said about the master is true, that he is, “a hard man, harvesting where [he] did not sow, and gathering where [he] did not scatter seed.”  The first two slaves still wanted to see their master’s wealth grow (a “talent” was roughly 6,000 days’ wages or $348,000 today at just the minimum wage standard!  Now multiply that by 2, 4, 5, and 10 to see what kind of money we’re talking about here.), the third one clearly did not.  He didn’t even want the money to gain interest.  He essentially handed the master’s money back to him telling him to stick it where the sun don’t shine.

The first two slaves are at the bare minimum grateful toward their master while the third despised him.  This is the reason they are more than willing to double a portion of their master’s wealth.  Jesus says of the first two, “The one who had received five talents went off right away and put his money to work and gained five more. In the same way, the one who had two gained two more.”  They were hard-working, industrious, and wise if not also smart.  I don’t think it’s going too far outside the story to say they probably saw how the master acquired his wealth and they’ve now jumped at the chance to put some of it into practice.

What does it all mean?  I think if we want to hear “well done, good and faithful slave” then we need to know our master.  The master here is Jesus, (cf. Matthew 24:1-4) and we are the slaves.  Those who understand we’ve been set free by the master will respond to that in love and with a desire to see the master’s wealth grow regardless of how many talents we’ve been entrusted.  If we remain distant to the master he will appear to be a hard and driving man.  The reality is he is just the opposite (cf. Matthew 11:28-30; 12:18-21); he also tells the first two, “Enter into the joy of your master”!  In addition to this, he is wise and will not give us what we’re not ready for because he gives “each according to his ability.”  When we spend time with the master, we see him for who he is and our gratitude turns to love, and love turns to desire–a desire to see his influence increase.  All the while we learn how he did things and think, “I’ll try that” or “I think the master may respond in this way.”  We become like him doing what he did (cf. John 14:12).

Two simple ways (simple not necessarily easy) are 1) to read the gospels straight through over and over again, which helps us get accustomed to his voice and “watch” him work; and 2) enter into his presence through prayer.  Using the model of prayer he gave in Matthew 6:9-15 is a great starting point.  It is also helpful to know he’s already there waiting, “But whenever you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you,” (Matthew 6:6 NET).

May you see and know the master as he is and your life simply be an overflow of your time with him.