How do we spend our time? What is it in life that consistently, daily, occupies our minds and hearts? The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics asked such questions in a 2021 survey of Americans. In that survey, the statistics of an average Americans were also compared against the average for those who actually participate in a particular activity. For example, when it comes something like sleeping, the average American sleeps 8 hours out of every 24 hours. The participation rate in sleeping is 100%. Everyone in America sleeps at some point, even if it is less than the average of 8 hours. Let’s look at another example, when it comes to working, the average American works about 3½ hours per day. But not every American works. In fact, only 43% of all Americans participate in work. We all participate in sleep but only 43% participate in work. Now, of those Americans who do work, the average workday is not surprisingly 8 hours long.
Let’s consider how time Americans spend on religious and spiritual activities per day. The statistics there suggest that the average American spend 0.11 hours per day on religious activities. That is about 6½ minutes per day. But only 8% of all Americans participate in religious or spiritual activities every day. Eight percent (8%) of Americans have a daily practice of participating in the continuation or development their religious or spiritual life. A great many more people attend a weekly church service and then do not participate in any religious or spiritual development after the service concludes.
Here is the good news. Since you are here or you are listening online to this sermon, you on this day can become part of the 8%. It does not matter if you have not been in church for a long time or not. The past is the past. Today you are part of the 8%. The hope for each of us is that tomorrow and each subsequent day, we will remain part of the 8% who daily participate in our faith journey by praying, reading the Bible, reading devotions, listening to Christian music, playing Christian music, singing Christian music, reaching out in the name of Christ, writing cards of encouragement, and the list goes on. Faith is a daily exercise. Faith has never been about convenience or occasion. A few minutes ago, we prayed the Lord’s Prayer and we said, “Give us this day our daily bread.” We are praying for and seeking God’s provision daily. We did not pray, “Give us this day our weekly bread.” Faith is daily.
Faith is a continual step by step lifestyle. And through that daily faith journey we are fortunate people who get to enjoy and experience the presence of God daily. We know that faith is a daily exercise and that we are fortunate people through Jesus’ words on the Sermon on the Mount. We have been studying these words for a few weeks now. The core of the message from Jesus’ sermon was coming to understand what it means to live a life based upon living daily through the righteousness of God. Jesus said when we empty ourselves and make ourselves hungry and thirsty for righteousness, God will fill us. Here is the thing though. We know our bodies hunger and thirst for food and water. And so we eat and drink to satisfy that physical hunger and thirst. Then, some time later we are hungry and thirst again for food and water. The same is true for living in the righteousness of God. When we hunger and thirst for righteousness, God fills us but as we live out our life, we are depleted. We need to be refreshed and refilled by God on continuous basis. While we are saved once we need a constant refreshment of righteousness.
Because we need to be continually refilled, Jesus said we need to do some very specific practical things. Jesus began with praying.
Matthew recorded Jesus’ words on prayer beginning this way. 5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:5-8). Jesus told his listeners to pray for their needs but to do so in a private, non-showy way, and with sincerity, simplicity, and brevity. Jesus was telling his listeners make your petition direct to God and ask him for what you need the most. In righteousness, express to God what you need from him.
Jesus was challenging listeners to avoid appearing like the pagans or those who are insincere in their prayers. Insincerity and rote repetition in prayer had been a problem in Israel and it remains one today in our own Christian circles. In the book of Isaiah, we would read a critique of the Hebrew prayer life and religious practices centuries before Jesus. God said to Isaiah, 1“Shout it aloud, do not hold back. Raise your voice like a trumpet. Declare to my people their rebellion and to the descendants of Jacob their sins” (Isaiah 58:1). That is not a good opening line for Isaiah’s listeners to hear God express. God was upset and wanted all of Israel to know it. But what was God upset about? God, through Isaiah said, “2 For day after day they [Israel] seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God. They [Israel] ask me [God] for just decisions and seem eager for God to come near them” (Isaiah 58:2). God was expressing here that the prayers life of Israel was formal but insincere. There were the motions of prayer and the appearance of wanting God but in their hearts, they had no real desire for God, on God’s terms, to come near. Jesus said don’t be like the hypocrites who act formally in public like they want God but do not live as though they want God. Instead, Jesus was saying, in desiring righteousness, seek God privately with sincerity, simplicity, and brevity and seek him like you really want him.
To show his listeners how to speak to God, Jesus gave an example, a model of how we should pray. 9 “This, then, is how you should pray:
“‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, 10 your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us today our daily bread. 12 And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one’” (Matthew 5:9-13).
The prayer Jesus offered was sincere, simple, and brief. It was interesting that Jesus began with the word, “Our,” and not the word, “My.” If I prayed, “My Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,” that might be just fine, but it suggests that I am on my own with God. But when I pray, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,” whether I say it with other people or I say it alone, the word “Our” reminds me that I am not alone. I am part of the body of believers. And that together, we can all enjoy the presence of God. That is one of the great things about being part of the 8%. We are reminded daily that we are not alone and that together we can enjoy the presence of God.
Beginning with the words, “Our Father in heaven,” Jesus encouraged his listeners to acknowledge God is over all things and that God’s name, everything God stood for, is holy and set apart. God is hallowed, meaning God is incorruptible and unblemished. Secondly, the prayer sincerely asks that God to draw near, so near, that all the kingdoms of earth would be conformed to the likeness of the kingdom on heaven in which God’s word is absolute. But until that happens, we give thanks for God’s daily provision for our life. Until the day all earthly life and heavenly life is indistinguishable, we pray that God refreshes us in righteousness by forgiving, by treating others, as God has treated us, with forgiveness and mercy. Until we are no longer tempted by sin, we pray that God keeps us from sin and shows us the way out of sin so that we are never found to be corrupted.
The Lord’s Prayer is a model of prayer. We can use the exact words Jesus used or we could say similar words if we wanted to do so. But whatever we do, we want our words of prayer to reflect sincerity, simplicity, and brevity and a genuine desire to be in the presence of God. This is the idea of prayer.
Coupled closely with the words of prayer is the act of fasting. Fasting is the voluntary abstinence of food for a period to be humble before God and to seek God’s presence. Fasting, like prayer, had been a problem in Israel. From Isaiah Chapter 58 again, we see the fasting scene in Israel played out from God’s perspective.
Isaiah began with God’s view of the voice of Israel, 3 ‘Why have we [the Israelites] fasted,’ they say, ‘and you [God] have not seen it? Why have we [the Israelites] humbled ourselves, and you [God] have not noticed?’” (Isaiah 58:3a). The Israelites were complaining, “God we fasted as an expression of our religious practices but you, God, don’t seem to notice. God, if you are not going to notice, why should we fast?”
God offered his response to Israel’s lament this way. “Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. 4 Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. [They were hangry]. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high” (Isaiah 58:3-4). The Jews were forgoing food and saying, “God, why haven’t you done what we wanted?” But the truth was the day of fast was not spent with God, it was spent at work. The day of fast was not spent being refreshed in righteousness, it was spent in fist fights and bitter words.
God said, “6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? 7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?” (Isaiah 58:6-7). Fasting was supposed to break down the formation of barriers, refill people with God’s righteousness, develop a sense of joy in being in the presence of God, and to help people become more merciful, like God, not more warlike.
Apparently, fasting among Jesus’ disciples and the crowd behind them had become problematic, rote, and insincere. Jesus said to them, “16 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 5:16-18). Fasting, like prayer, Jesus said must be a positive experience done to improve the relationship between the individual and God. It was not to be done for theatrical purposes or notice and the applause of others. The fast, the voluntary creation of hunger, was to serve as a reminder to be filled with the righteousness of God.
In two different and related ways, prayer and fasting, Jesus had addressed to his disciples and the crowd behind them that a continuous filling and renewal of God’s righteousness was available and necessary. But the behaviors to have such renewal must be genuine and sincere.
What can we learn from Jesus words here? Today, we are part of the 8% of Americans who are enjoying the presence of God daily. We are active and alive in worship, song, and hearing the word the God. We are acknowledging that God is over all things and that we desire his forgiveness, and we desire the grace to forgive others. We are part of the body of believers. All these things make for a wonderful day. All of these things make us want to come back next Sunday and do it again.
But…what about Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday? Jesus was saying, “Do not give up these days as well to enjoy the presence of God. Do not give up these days to be refilled and refreshed in and with the righteousness of God. Pray. Fast. Read the Bible. Engage in Bible study with someone or some group. Worship. Work through a devotional. Journal about how you are experiencing God. Serve in and through the body of Christ to others who are struggling. Sing songs of praise to God. Meditate on God’s Word. Be fed daily by the presence of God.
Everyone here is on the right road and the right path to be part of that 8% who enjoy the presence of God daily. We all have a perfect track record for this week. Let’s keep it up. Amen and Amen.