The Power of Prayer

man standing on rocks near beach during golden hour

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Reading the Word

Matthew 21:20–22 (ESV)

20 When the disciples saw it, they marveled, saying, “How did the fig tree wither at once?” 21 And Jesus answered them, “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. 22 And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.”

Parallel Text: Mark 11:20-26; John 14:12-14

Understanding and Applying the Word

When the disciples saw the fig tree wither, they were amazed. They were not focused on the meaning of Jesus’ sign, but on its power. How could Jesus do this? Jesus answered by telling the disciples if they “have faith and do not doubt” they could tell the mountains to be thrown into the sea and it would be done. In fact, they could ask for anything in prayer and receive it, as long as they had faith.

This is a passage that has been abused and misused by many. Jesus is not telling the disciples that they can hold God hostage to give them whatever they desire as long as they use the correct magic formula (i.e. faith). In the Bible, true faith is not one’s ability to believe in a particular outcome. True faith is the exercise of trust in God, whether the circumstances or outcomes are what is desired or not. So, to exercise faith is to trust in the plans and purposes of God, even in the midst of difficulty. Jesus is not teaching “name it, claim it” theology. John 14:12-14 says that whatever you ask “in my name” will be done. The phrase “in my name” tells us that what we ask for has to be consistent with the plans and purposes of Christ.

Jesus’ words to his disciples are to encourage them. They will have great power and authority of their own and it will be exercised through prayer. The Lord stands behind them and what may seem impossible to them, like throwing a mountain into the sea, will be possible through the power of God working in and through them. This is a truth that the disciples would need to remember in the days ahead as Jesus departs from the world and they are left to bear witness to the world. It is also a message that Jesus’ followers today need to remember as we proclaim the gospel in a world that stands in opposition to Christ. Incredible things can happen through prayer and the power of God working in and through us. Let us pray and let us have faith!

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A Man Willing To Give It All Back

Luke 1910 [widescreen]

Reading the Word

Luke 19:1–10 (ESV)

1 He entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. 3 And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. 4 So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. 5 And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. 7 And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” 8 And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” 9 And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Understanding and Applying the Word

If you grew up going to church, you are probably familiar with this story. You may have even learned a catchy little song about this incident. Zacchaeus was a tax collector. They were despised by the Jewish people and thought of as traitors and thieves. They both worked for the Romans and cheated their own people out of money to line their own pockets. This is why we often read of the “tax collectors and sinners” listed together. They were thought of as the lowest of the low.

Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus, but he was too short to see over the crowds. To get a better view, he climbed a tree. While he was in his tree, Jesus passed by and called up to Zacchaeus to climb down because he desired to go to his house with him. Zacchaeus immediately got down and welcomed Jesus. Of course, many grumbled that Jesus would spend time with someone so unworthy!

When Zacchaeus came to face to face with Jesus, he promised to give back all of the money he had cheated from people and to give back four times what he had taken! In response to Zacchaeus’ words and willingness to do what was right, Jesus declared, “Today salvation has come to this house.”

This account comes after a series of passages where Jesus addresses money, possessions, and coveting. In the previous chapter (cf. Luke 18:18-30), we read of the rich young ruler who was unwilling to give up his possessions to gain eternal life. Zacchaeus serves as the contrast to that mindset. Zacchaeus was willing to give up all that he had to receive what truly mattered: salvation and eternal life. Through his words and actions, Zacchaeus showed where his heart was and what he truly valued. He desired Jesus and the things of God. He wanted to do what was right and turn from what was wrong. In short, he was repentant and trusting in the words of Jesus and it changed his life.

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Your Faith Has Made You Well

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Thank you for reading Shaped by the Word. This is a daily, Bible-reading devotional to encourage personal reading and reflection on the word of God. I do not publish devotional material on Sundays, but do include a suggested Scripture reading. Please be sure to subscribe to this page so you can read along every day.

Reading the Word

Luke 18:35–43 (ESV)

35 As he drew near to Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. 36 And hearing a crowd going by, he inquired what this meant. 37 They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” 38 And he cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 39 And those who were in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 40 And Jesus stopped and commanded him to be brought to him. And when he came near, he asked him, 41 “What do you want me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, let me recover my sight.” 42 And Jesus said to him, “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.” 43 And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God.

Like a Child

Luke 1817 [widescreen]

Reading the Word

Luke 18:15–17 (ESV)

15 Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. 16 But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. 17 Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”

Understanding and Applying the Word

People were bringing their children to Jesus “that he might touch them.” Such a touch would have been to bless the children. At first, the disciples sought to stop this from happening. They shared the cultural mindset that thought of children as a burden until they were physically capable of helping the family. Jesus, however, welcomed the children.

Jesus’ words “to such belongs the kingdom of God” should not be misunderstood. Jesus was not addressing the status of children in relation to the kingdom, but using children as an example. The emphasis of Jesus’ words falls on “for to such.” It is those who are like children that belong to the kingdom. Those who have a simple, childlike trust in Jesus and his teaching are those who belong to the kingdom. It becomes more clear in the last verse. There, Jesus tells the disciples that the kingdom of God must be received “like a child.”

We must be careful no to over-complicate the gospel. Jesus does not require us to have extensive knowledge or the answers to every complex question. All we need is childlike faith. If we know we are sinners and trust that Jesus saves us from our sins through his death and resurrection, we belong to him. It then becomes our delight to continue to learn, grow, and mature in our faith.

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The Kingdom through Jesus

The Pharisees Question Jesus

The Pharisees Question Jesus (Public Domain)

Reading the Word

Luke 17:20–21 (ESV)

20 Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, 21 nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.”

Understanding and Applying the Word

The Pharisees asked Jesus when the kingdom would come. His response was that the kingdom was not coming in a visual way, as they were expecting. The were likely expecting some type of apocalyptic events surrounding the kingdom’s arrival. Instead, Jesus said, “[T]he kingdom of God is in the midst of you.”

The phrase “the kingdom of God is in the midst of you” can also be translated “is within you.” If you compare the most popular Bible translations you will find both translations represented. What did Jesus mean by this statement? Some take the phrase “is within you” to mean that the kingdom is within your heart. However, that makes no sense since Jesus is speaking to the Pharisees who have rejected him. They do not have the kingdom within their hearts. Also, nowhere in the rest of Scripture is the kingdom spoken of as something that is internalized. It seems better to translate the phrase as “in the midst of you.” In this sense, Jesus is saying that the kingdom has come and is present in his teaching and works. Jesus made the same point in Luke 11:20.

By telling the Pharisees that the kingdom had arrived with his coming, Jesus was emphasizing that belonging to the kingdom would be dependent on how one responded to him. Would the Pharisees accept Jesus or would they continue to reject and resist him? We have the same choice before us today. Jesus presents the kingdom to all who will repent and believe. What will we do?

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Increase Our Faith

King of the hill in Arizona sunset

Reading the Word

Luke 17:5–6 (ESV)

5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 6 And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.

Understanding and Applying the Word

Jesus’ disciples, after hearing him teach asked him to increase their faith. They wanted the amount of faith necessary to live according to Jesus’ words. Jesus’ response shows us that the apostles were thinking wrongly about faith. Jesus does not tell them how to increase in faith, but tells them that the faith of a mustard seed is sufficient. A mustard seed was often used in proverbial illustrations to speak of the smallest measure. In saying that mustard seed faith was sufficient, Jesus made the point that it is not the amount of faith, but the object of faith that is important. Faith must be in God and his word. When one trusts in God, even what seems impossible becomes possible.

When we place our faith in God, we understand that he is the all-powerful, all-knowing Creator of all things. Nothing is too difficult for him. This does not mean that he will do whatever we ask him as “name-it-claim-it” prosperity theology teaches. It does mean that when we seek to live our lives for the Lord and do his will, he enables us to do so, even in the most difficult of circumstances. Who or what are you trusting in?

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Family Ties

Luke 1128 [widescreen]

Reading the Word

Luke 11:27–28 (ESV)

27 As he said these things, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” 28 But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”

Understanding and Applying the Word

A woman commented that Jesus’ mother was surely blessed because she had Jesus as a son. We must be careful not to misunderstand what this woman was saying. Of course, children are a blessing to their parents. Mary was blessed in that way. However, the woman meant something more. In Jesus’ day, there was a great emphasis placed on family lineage and women found a great deal of value in the sons that they bore. For Mary to have a son like Jesus, she was surely blessed!

Jesus’ response was that biological connections are not what is important. The one who hears the word of God and does it is the one who is truly blessed. Our relationship with God does not come through our family tree, it comes from each individual’s response to the word of God. We must not think that our relationship with God is based on anything our parents, grandparents, or children have done. Each and every one of us must decide what we will do with the word of God that tells us of our sin and the salvation that is available through Jesus Christ. Those who are blessed will hear the word, repent of their sins, and trust in Jesus Christ.

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You Will Die in Your Sin

photography of graveyard under cloudy sky

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Reading the Word

John 8:21–30 (ESV)

21 So he said to them again, “I am going away, and you will seek me, and you will die in your sin. Where I am going, you cannot come.” 22 So the Jews said, “Will he kill himself, since he says, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come’?” 23 He said to them, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. 24 I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.” 25 So they said to him, “Who are you?” Jesus said to them, “Just what I have been telling you from the beginning. 26 I have much to say about you and much to judge, but he who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him.” 27 They did not understand that he had been speaking to them about the Father. 28 So Jesus said to them, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me. 29 And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.” 30 As he was saying these things, many believed in him.

Understanding and Applying the Word

In this dialogue with the Jewish leaders (cf. John 8:13), Jesus got right to the point with the Pharisees. If they did not believe in him, they would die in their sins. The Pharisees had continually sparred with Jesus and refused to accept him as the Messiah. Now Jesus warns them that if they continue to reject him, they would not be able to go where he was going (i.e. to the Father). As a result of Jesus’ pointed warning, some did respond in belief (cf. John 8:30).

Jesus and the entire New Testament teach us that we are all condemned because we are all sinners. Jesus came into the word to save us from our sin and the punishment we deserve, which is eternal separation from the holy God who created us. Jesus died as a perfect sacrifice for our sins and all who trust in Jesus’ sacrificial work on their behalf will be saved. However, those who do not trust in Jesus will die in their sins and will not be saved. Those people will not spend eternity in the presence of God.

Take this as a strong warning. Trust in Jesus Christ today and find forgiveness and salvation in his name.

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The Faith of a Gentile Woman

Abstract Heart Quote

Shaped by the Word is a daily, Bible-reading devotional. I do not publish supplemental material on Sundays, but do include a suggested Scripture reading. Please be sure to subscribe to this page so you can read along each day. We are currently reading through the life of Christ as recorded in the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). Thanks for reading!

Reading the Word

Matthew 15:21–28 (ESV)

21 And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22 And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” 23 But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” 24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26 And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” 27 She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28 Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

Parallel Text: Mark 7:24-30

Do Not Fear the Future

Matthew 628–29 [widescreen]

Reading the Word

Matthew 6:25–34 (ESV)

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

Parallel Text: Luke 12:22-32

Understanding and Applying the Word

God will take care of you. Do you believe that? If so, how does it change how you live? Do you spend a great deal of your time and efforts worrying about the future and figuring our how you will get by? Or, is serving the Lord right now with your entire life your top priority? If we are overly concerned about managing our future, we will not have time to serve the Lord.

We can trust that God will take care of us. Look at how he takes care of the rest of his creation, like the birds and the lilies. He gives them what they need. If God cares so much for them, how much more will he care for his people? We do not have to worry. Instead, we can concentrate our time and energy into serving Christ today and glorifying God in our lives.

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