Starting Upstream

Starting Upstream

By: Philip Yancey

Matthew 6:5-10

Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

Matthew 6:8

My home sits along a creek in a canyon in the shadow of a large mountain. During the spring snowmelt and after heavy rains this stream swells and acts more like a river than a creek. People have drowned in it. One day I traced the origin of the creek to its very source, a snowfield atop the mountain. From there the melted snow begins the long journey down the mountain, joining other rivulets to take shape as the creek below my house. It occurs to me, thinking about prayer, that most of the time I get the direction wrong. I start downstream with my own concerns and bring them to God. I inform God, as if God did not already know. I plead with God, as if hoping to change God’s mind and overcome divine reluctance. Instead, I should start upstream where the flow begins. When we shift direction, we realize that God already cares about our concerns—a loved one’s cancer, a broken family, a rebellious teenager—more than we do. Our Father knows what we need (Matt. 6:8). Grace, like water, descends to the lowest part. Streams of mercy flow. We begin with God and ask what part we can play in His work on earth. With this new starting point for prayer, our perceptions change. We look at nature and see the signature of the grand Artist. We look at human beings and see individuals of eternal destiny made in God’s image. Thanksgiving and praise surge up to Him as a natural response.

Dear Lord, I praise You for loving and caring for me so much. What would I ever do without You?

Prayer channels God’s supply to our needs.

In Matthew 5:21–48, Jesus deals with the burdensome teachings of the Pharisees and in 6:1–18 with their hypocritical practices. They were showcasing how spiritually pious they were through an ostensible display of their religious duties: charitable giving (vv. 2–4), praying (vv. 5–15), and fasting (vv. 16–18). Jesus calls them to move away from such showmanship and to pray in the privacy of their homes (v. 6). Desiring the praise of others, they forfeited their reward from God (v. 5). Elsewhere, Jesus warned that those who “for a show make lengthy prayers . . . will be punished most severely” (Mark 12:40). Instead of babbling with pretentious empty words (Matt. 6:7), we are to pray with simplicity and sincerity (vv. 9–13).

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