The words haunt me. Ever since my name showed up on the Sunday announcements as someone “struggling and in need of prayers”, the words are a shower of bitterness to me. I realized this week such feelings are valid because “praying for you to change” is not a healthy prayer and has little if anything to do with Christ. How do you know the way I should act or think or feel or change? After MJ’s articles this week about right being wrong and overcoming the “I’m sorry syndrome”, I stumbled across a rather striking contradiction: When can prayer be wrong?
In light of the public prayer topic for our ubfriends in Mexico, I would like to share some news so that you can pray more clearly about the situation. The recent public prayer topic was announced this way on ubf.org: “Pray for M. Timothy, Mexico and his sock factory closed since last 3 weeks. Now he earnestly requests our sincere prayers that by next Tuesday (Feb. 24), he may submit all the necessary documents the labor department required after doing what they requested in the factory, and the factory may be allowed to reopen!”
I understand that I just asked a big question, and one that will certainly not be answered in this short article or on this forum. But it is a question that I think is worth discussing, and highly relevant to our discussions here lately about community. I’ve started to realize something rather amazing. The way I communicate with God has a lot to do with the way I communicate with other people. And thus my communicating with God affects my role in the communities I am participating in. I don’t have any great theological truth to dictate to you today. Nor do I have any grand answers to what some might rightly call an unanswerable question. I do however want to present a framework for a dicussion about a topic I feel is a relevant and highly exciting part of my journey recently. In Christian terms, the primary word for communicating with God is of course prayer.
For the Church
Gracious Father, we pray for the holy Catholic Church. Fill it with with all truth, in all truth with all peace. Where it is corrupt, purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where in any thing it is amiss, reform it. Where it is right, strengthen it.; where it is in want, provide for it; where it is divided, reunite it, for the sake of Jesus Christ your Son our Savior. Amen.
Yesterday, I visited a former Bible student in jail. Last weekend, he was arrested and charged with aggravated criminal sexual assault and attempted robbery. On Sun night, while on my PC, I heard his name mentioned on the local news. I turned to watch and heard an eyewitness account and the charges against him. I was shocked and stunned. A Google search provided the painful details and allegations. His bail was set at $700,000. I write this to share the emotional turmoil I experienced when I visited him in jail and to pray for him.
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I recently participated in an encouraging and delightful bible study where we studied the famous story of Daniel in the lion’s den (Daniel 6). In particular, the fact that Daniel prayed three times a day was very intriguing to most of us. To pray three times a day is not a biblical command or a doctrine. But the New Testament tells me: “Be unceasing in prayer.” Thus, a very straightforward application from Daniel’s story could have been: “Go and do like-wise.”
But I have to admit that something in my heart went against it. Continue reading →
I would like to direct you to a good talk by Sinclair Ferguson (1948 – ). He is a Scottish preacher from Glasgow, but now serves in South Carolina. He’s a very good preacher. I have listened to his series on Ephesians, James and 2 Timothy numerous times (they’re available at firstprescolumbia.org and sermonaudio.com). John Piper, when asked who is the preacher he’d sit under, if he were not a church pastor himself, mentioned Sinclair Ferguson at once. And Hughes Oliphant Old in his monumental 7-volume work wrote the following about Sinclair Ferguson:
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When I asked older shepherds this question, I got different answers every time. Of course, I wholeheartedly shouted this prayer slogan every time Pastor Ron asked the congregation to do so. But in the back of my mind, there was a lingering question about what I was actually praying for.
The other day I walked into the elevator at work and pushed the button for Floor 3. The doors began to close, but then immediately opened back up. So I pushed the Floor 3 button again. And again the doors immediately opened back up. I walked out of the elevator and back in. That’s when I realized something. I was already on Floor 3! I had been thinking deeply about a database script I needed to write and was distracted.
After having a good laugh, I thought: Isn’t this how we sometimes react to God’s answers to prayer? We pray and pray for something or someone, but don’t realize that God already gave us an answer. Sometimes I think God must be thinking, “What are these people doing? I answered them already!”. It is amazing that our God is a patient God.
This is also something I experienced in my practical life the past several months. Since coming to Detroit six years ago, I’ve been praying to find a stable job. A few months ago, I realized that God already gave me the means to find a stable job. There is a specific skillset I have that is quite rare among technology people. When I re-organized my jobsearch based on that skillset, my phone and email inbox were suddenly swamped with job possibilities. God had already answered my prayer; I just needed to take action with what I had. This is a major life lesson I’ve been learning in recent years. Be thankful for what I have and look to what God has already given me for answers.