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04.30.17 Giving God our Day through Prayer 2 Corinthians 8:1-7 Sermon Summary

by on May 1, 2017

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We can all be grateful to the Reformation for the discovery that one doesn’t have to be a monk to live each day in God’s presence.

Summary Points

  • A formula of joy from Psalm 1 and the churches of Macedonia
  • The concept of “percentage giving”
  • The SOAP method of praying with the Bible
  • Three more forms of prayers for the day

This is the first of four messages around the theme: Giving of Ourselves, Growing our Faith. Our faith grows as we give of ourselves, in accordance with one of Jesus’ fundamental teachings that the way we find our lives is by losing them first.

Jesus depicted this truth in the mini-parable about the seed which must die before it can bear fruit. (John 12:24) Paul picks up this image and expands it to the resurrection, reminding us that the tree which results looks nothing like the seed which produced it. As counter-intuitive and counter-cultural as it is, the spiritual truth of Easter is that as we give of ourselves, our faith grows.

The churches of Macedonia understood this, and Paul lifts up their example to the rest of the churches. He writes that while they were enduring a “severe ordeal of affliction,” they nevertheless showed “overflowing generosity” with “abundant joy”—and this despite the fact that they were “extremely poor.”

What was the reason for their joyful generosity? Paul’s explanation is that they “gave themselves first to the Lord.” He is describing in practice what Psalm 1 calls us to. Psalm 1 gives us the metaphor of a tree which extends its roots to nearby water and is able to bear much fruit. The water is God’s Word and we are that tree. The Psalm promises that as we meditate on God’s Word, we will avoid a spiritual drought and instead enjoy more abundant life.

There is something of a formula for joy in Paul’s explanation of the Macedonians’ example and the metaphor of the tree in Psalm 1. It is that when we experience a trial, we can surrender ourselves to God’s Word, show generosity to others, and experience joy despite the trial. Trial + surrender + generosity = joy.

After giving themselves first to the Lord, Paul says the Macedonians gave themselves to him. He’s referring to the relief effort for the Jerusalem churches to which the Macedonians contributed. Paul says they gave “according to their means.” Here is another key to the Macedonians’ spiritual vitality called “percentage giving.”

Throughout the Bible we are taught that God deserves all of our lives. This comes through clearly especially after someone has been delivered from a terrible fate. But how do we do this practically, when there are so many other demands upon us? Is faithful living possible only in monastic communities? Were the Macedonians less faithful for only giving according to their means instead of giving everything?

The idea of percentage giving is faithful because of the intention and the timing. The Macedonians gave themselves first to God—that’s the intention part. Then they gave to Paul according to their means. This implies that they determined what they needed, and were generous with the rest. By contrast, many of us give of ourselves only after our needs and our wants are satisfied. This is the timing part.

Paul praises the Macedonians’ generosity because it arose from their “God-first” intention and from their “others-first” timing. They didn’t give 100%, but they gave according to their means. Still, that lower percentage gift made them holy nonetheless.

We can apply these lessons from Psalm 1 and the Macedonians to our own spiritual lives by offering to God a percentage of our day through prayer. When we give ourselves first to God in prayer, that offering of a small percentage of our day will carry us through whatever trials might come and allow us to be joyful and generous towards others.

One way of giving God our day through prayer is by praying the scriptures through the acronym SOAP. Start by reading a portion of scripture, only a paragraph or two. Listen for the verse or phrase that speaks to you particularly and write it down (S). Then record your observations (O) about it—why this particular verse; what is it saying to you personally? Then identify an action or application (A) that you can take in response to this. Finally, offer a prayer (P) in accordance with the scripture and your intention to respond.

Another way of giving God our day through prayer is by praying at various times of the day. The Christian tradition has developed several ways to organize our day around prayer. The three most common are morning and evening prayers, prayers before meals, and moments of silent meditation.

In morning and evening prayer, the typical pattern is one that flows from thanksgiving to intercession. In the morning we thank God for delivering us through the night, for our restoration, and for the opportunity to live with God another day. We thank God for the good things we can anticipate in the day ahead, and we ask God’s blessing upon our cares and concerns and those of the world.

In the evening we thank God for delivering us through the day and for the opportunity to rest in God’s care through the night. We thank God for the surprising ways he blessed us through the day, and we entrust into God’s care our concerns and those of the world.

Before meals, we thank God for his providence, including the animal and plant lives that were sacrificed for our nourishment. We thank God for those whose labors made the meal possible, including growers, harvesters, transporters, and preparers. We also pray for those who do not have enough food, and for just societies that would provide for them more adequately. And we can offer a prayer for those with whom we are sharing the meal.

Throughout the day we can pause for silent meditation. We may take a short walk, find a quiet place to sit, or simply stop what we’re doing for a moment. In these moments we take deep breaths, listen for sounds of life around us, enjoy peaceful quiet, or recite a passage, a poem, or a song in our heads.

In truth there are countless ways to offer God our day through prayer. The point is to follow the example of the Macedonians and Psalm 1: give ourselves first to God, and give according to our means. When we do this, the whole day is consecrated to God.

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