Editor's note:

Richard Foster joins us again today to invite us to think anew on the Sermon on the Mount and, with the help of Dallas Willard, asks us to engage in some practices to live these startling, wise, and important words of Christ more deeply into our lives. Even Simon and Garfunkel lend a hand!

—Renovaré Team

We are here looking at ways to practice the Sermon on the Mount. What is given below is merely my way of jump-starting your thinking with the hope that you will take it from there, discovering ever new ways to apply the Sermon on the Mount to your daily life. One warning: space allows me to use only isolated sayings, and to truly understand the height and the depth and the breadth of the teaching we must see it in its full context. But then, that is the task of our study for the months and years to come.

1. In the “beatitudes” Jesus takes up various kinds and classes of people that in his day were thought to be unblessed and unblessable, and he shows how the Kingdom of God is available to them and how they too can be blessed. No wonder the poor heard him gladly! As the Simon and Garfunkel song goes, “Blessed are the sat upon, spat upon, ratted on.” In The Divine Conspiracy Dallas Willard gives contemporary expression to these “unblessed and unblessable-–the physically repulsive … the bald, the fat, and the old … the flunk-outs and drop-outs and burned outs. The broke and the broken. The drug heads and the divorced. The HIV-positive and herpes-ridden. The brain-damaged, the incurable ill. The barren and the pregnant too-many-times or the wrong time. The overemployed, the underemployed, the unemployed. The unemployable. The swindled, the shoved aside, the replaced… .” (pp. 123-124). Ask yourself: How can I make the kingdom of God available to individuals who are humanly hopeless? Then as you go about your days, learn to take time to point out the natural beauty of every human being.

2. Take an afternoon to travel through your town on public transportation. Observe those who use this service. If you are not normally dependent on public transportation, consider how you would have to rearrange your life if you were always dependent on a bus schedule. As you ride, pray about being open to someone you meet on the bus. “Being open” might mean striking up a friendly conversation, showing concern, offering help of some kind, praying for someone or sharing the “good news” with them. (Adapted from Dallas Willard’s Study Guide to the Divine Conspiracy, p. 47.)

3. Jesus had some very strong words to say about human anger (Matt. 5:21-26). Ask yourself: What situations in my life set off recurring angry impulses? After you have identified several situations, take the most pressing one and consider how you might respond differently in light of the reality that your well-being, your blessedness, comes from God and your life in the Kingdom of God. Then, for the next few weeks focus on this single situation and seek in the power of the Spirit to react to it in new ways. Watch this develop a new response pattern in you. Do all you can to nurture this new “holy habit”.

4. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says, “Let your yes be yes and your no be no. Anything more than this comes from evil” (Matt. 5:37). This teaching urges us to state what is actually the case without embellishing or distorting things in any way. Jesus knows that all our little embellishments are attempts to manipulate situations or coerce others. In fact, many today get handsome salaries by learning ever more clever and attractive ways to say yeses that are not yeses and noes that are not noes—we call them spin-doctors.

In your place of work, perhaps from now until Christmas, try out Jesus’ counsel to simply state what is without embellishment or distortion. Keep a journal record of the time. See what you learn about yourself, about others, about your workplace, and more. Especially note your growing ease with telling the truth. It is one of those habits of the heart that we take to like a duck takes to water, for, indeed, we are created to tell the truth! To be sure, it is hard at first for we are so accustomed to relying upon deception, but watch and see how much freer and alive you feel telling the truth.

5. In Matthew 6:9-13 we are given the Lord’s Prayer, the grandest prayer of all. Try what C. S. Lewis called “festooning” as you pray through this Prayer. To understand festooning think of decorating a Christmas tree: the Lord’s Prayer is like the tree itself; the various ornaments and tinsel is your festooning.

So now, pray the Lord’s Prayer allowing each phrase of the Prayer to move you into prayers particular to your personal world. For example, praying, “Your kingdom come” might move you into taking up the needs of neighbors and friends and work associates, praying that God’s kingdom will come in them and in the circumstances of their lives. And the festooning will change from day to day, matching the changing particulars of your world. 

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