Practicing The Commands Of Jesus Can Be A Natural Thing To Do

17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

Being two thousand years removed from the time that Jesus spoke these words and having never been to Galilee, I have little as far as context to work with. Still, I try my best to place myself in the audience the day Jesus delivered his Sermon on the Mount.

Jesus’ words may appear in black and white (maybe red) but they were not delivered in a vacuum. He was speaking to an audience that represented many walks of life and were reacting to his words either favorably or negatively. So, he says the words above because this was what many people in the crowd were thinking. He even says, “do not think” because he knew what they were thinking.

The law was the most important thing to the Jewish people and there must have been a rumor going around that Jesus was out to do away with them. He had to address this thought because it was out there and he addresses it with very pointed language. He assures his listeners that the law is not going away but is to be fulfilled to the letter but then he astonishes the crowd with this statement, “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Everything that Jesus teaches beyond this point hinges on this statement.  Jesus describes something that is beyond even the most devout among them. The Pharisees were all about trying to fulfill the law through their effort, Jesus is all about fulfilling the law through himself. Only with a heart inhabited by Jesus and transformed from the inside out can truly fulfill the law. Our efforts only lead to legalism. Legalism was the practice of the Pharisees and it was destructive, damaging, and disruptive.

Jesus, with the help of the Holy Spirit, creates a new heart within us so that fulfilling the commandments of scripture is the most natural thing for us to do and is a life giving and transformative experience. We have work to do for sure but it is work that helps Jesus do his work (prayer, study, silence, fasting, and other disciplines,) we are not earning anything.

Quit trying so hard to become a better person. You can’t do it. Only Christ can change you. With this approach, the next set of commands will seem more like a promise rather than a drudgery.

Removing Yourself From The Center Of The Universe

The biggest obstacle to God’s kingdom is not Satan but the kingdom that I inhabit and try to rule. We all have a kingdom and the best place to be is placing our kingdom inside God’s kingdom and let him rule.

When I am the center of the universe then only my needs are important but the catch is that my needs can never fully be met without God inhabiting me first through his son Jesus Christ.

Are you putting God in the center of your universe or yourself? Is the only thing that matters to you come from you?

We may struggle to completely place God at the center but at least we can start by removing our selves from the center, at least occasionally. Service allows us brief moments of putting others needs in front of our own. We need reminders that our needs are mostly secondary and that others could use some help.

When I worked with the homeless and the poor, I could tell when I had been absent from the ministry for too long because I would become increasingly insular and self-absorbed. Through service, I jolted my selfish nature into a more appropriate position under God and with people.

Making All Things New – Hacked

Henri Nouwen, for all of his scholarship and academic pedigree, was a master at taking aspects of the spiritual life and making them accessible and appealing. I have read his book, The Way of the Heart, many times and his Return of the Prodigal Son is one of my all time favorite books. I have recently completed reading Making All Things New and would highly recommend it as an introduction to the spiritual life and to the use of two important disciplines – solitude and community. I have provided my summary notes below so that you also can draw key insights from this book.

Our Present State

– We all share the same human condition

– Resignation of our spiritual state keeps us from growing

– Our occupations and preoccupations fill our external and internal lives to the brim and leave no room for God

Setting Our Hearts On the Kingdom of God

– A heart set on the Kingdom of God is a heart set on the spiritual life

– Jesus was concerned with one thing: to do the will of his father

– Everything that belongs to Jesus is given for us to receive. John 15:15

– Kingdom of God = rich variety of ways in which God makes his presence known to us

– In the Kingdom, everything is a gift or challenge that strengthens and deepens our new life.

– Hearts set on the kingdom = worries will slowly move to the background

Spiritual Disciplines

– Spiritual Disciplines allow us to become attentive to the voice of God and respond to it

– God constantly speaks but we seldom hear it.

Solitude

– If God is who he says he is then he deserves our undivided attention

– We often use our outer distractions to shield us from interior noises

– We do not take the spiritual life seriously if we do not set aside time to be with God and listen to him.

– A day without solitude is less spiritual than a day with it.

– To fight distractions, use scripture as a way to focus.

– Solitude= living active lives in the world while remaining always in the presence of God

Community

– True community – always reveals to us who we are before God.

– Community is obedience practiced together

Conclusion

– Through solitude and community we try to remove the many obstacles which prevent us from listening to God’s voice.

– Spiritual Life – active presence of God’s Spirit in the midst of a worry filled existence

– If we are faithful to our disciplines, a new hunger will make itself known. First, we will start to recognize God’s presence. Then we will be led deeper into the Kingdom of God. Finally, all thing will begin to be made new.