What God can do: Matt. 6:1-18

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It's not what we do but what God does

By Tim Geddert

“Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” Matt. 6:8

A moving song played frequently on Christian radio says: “I’ve seen miracles just happen, silent prayers get answers, broken hearts become brand new: That’s what faith can do!” (Kutless) The lyrics speak about new beginnings after falling, about mountains moving, hope never ending, broken hearts becoming brand new.

It is beautifully Christian if the singer and songwriter are implying that God does miracles, gives the new beginnings, moves mountains, restores hope and mends broken hearts. But that needs to be assumed. The lyrics say none of these things, never mention God or Jesus, never credit the miracles to God.

The lyrics actually talk about what we do. We find the strength to rise; we make a new beginning; we are stronger than we think. The lyrics say that dreams move mountains; that if we need to try harder, we overcome the odds and miracles just happen!

But music is poetry; it’s evocative; it doesn’t have to say everything. So I will make lots of assumptions about the author’s meaning—that the “silent prayers” are prayers to the God of the universe, through Jesus Christ—that the miracles do not “just happen” but are God’s gifts that we gladly receive but cannot presume upon or conjure up ourselves—that God is the one who mends hearts and lifts the fallen.

And the biggest assumption I will make is that the song got the wrong title. It is not about what faith can do, but about what God can do! We sometimes imagine the key unlocking divine power is the quality of our faith or the eloquence or persistence of our prayers. And when no miracle happens, we diagnose the problem: Our faith wavered. We stopped praying too soon. There was sin in our lives. We failed to act as if the prayer were already answered. Soon we are competing to be the best pray-ers around.

How different the teaching of Matthew 6:1-18. We do not give alms, nor pray, nor fast so as to impress other people—that is the main lesson. And then the part often missed: We don’t pray to impress God either. God already knows our needs. God does not need to hear us babble on like pagans do.

The Lord’s Prayer is the model—direct, succinct, honoring God first, expressing dependence on God for everything in life (daily provision; forgiveness of sin, spiritual strength). Prayer neither manipulates God nor measures our spirituality. Prayer is laying our needs before a loving Father who knows and cares. We trust God; we do not trust in our strength or our faith or our prayer techniques.

I want to make all the right assumptions so that when I again hear that moving song by Kutless, I hear not what the poetic words of the song say but what the Bible actually says about how miracles happen.

 

Tim Geddert is professor of New Testament at Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary, Fresno, Calif.

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