Prayers change things

2 Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. 3 And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. 4 Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. 5 Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. 6 Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. (Colossians 4:2-6, NIV)

One of the spiritual disciplines a Christian should cultivate is prayers. Prayer enables us to build a relationship with our Father in Heaven who loves us.

When Apostle Paul wrote this letter, it was meant for the church at Colossae. It seemed that the Christians at Colossae were on the verge of losing their understanding of the power by which the Christian life is lived. Paul wrote this letter to encourage them as well as to remind them that there is power and joy as Christians.

Paul’s prayer for the Christians is that they might be strengthened according to God’s glorious might. Paul was in the prison when he was writing this. Being in the prison did not discourage him. He was still joyful because he himself had been strengthened by God.

“Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.” (verse 2)

Devote ourselves to prayer means we priority prayers regardless of the circumstances. The situation around us does not dictate our joy. Regardless of whatever the circumstances, there is something that we can be thankful for. Make a commitment to pray because prayer connects us to God, our the source of joy and strength.

(1) Prayers Change Things

One of the comments we often hear is this: why do we pray when God is in control? Why do we still need to pray if God already knows everything?

God is not a robot that will do what He is programmed. God is a compassionate God, Who is slow to anger and abounding in love (Exodus 34:6; Psalm 103:8, Psalm 145:8). In various accounts in the Bible, we see that God will change His mind when His people prayed.

For example, Exodus 32 tells us Moses was up in the mountain to be with the Lord. That was when he received the tablet of the 10 Commandments from the Lord. The Israelites saw that Moses had not return to them so they gathered around Aaron and demanded Aaron to make a golden calf from the gold jewellery they had so they could worship it and said this golden calf brought them out of Egypt. They worshipped it and offered sacrifices to it. God was so angry with them that He wanted to destroy these rebellious people. But Moses found favour with God and so, Moses talked to God and asked for His mercy upon the Israelites. Then, God changed His mind and not destroy the people. Verse 14 of Exodus 32 tells us, “Then the LORD relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.”

Another example is found in Jonah. God sent Jonah to the great city of Nineveh. It was a very large city and the people were wicked. God wanted to destroy the city and so He sent Jonah to warn the people there. The king and the people of Nineveh heard God’s warning and they repented. The people fasted and prayed and repented.  “When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.” (Jonah 3:10)

Prayers will change the course of events. God will change His mind when His people come to Him in prayers. Apostle Paul reminds us that we are partners with God.

“For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.” (1 Cor 3:9) We partner with God. He is not a task master that orders us to do His assignments but He is merciful and compassionate.

As God’s co-workers, it is our responsibility to pray. May God have mercy and hear our prayers for our nation.

(2) Prayer transforms us

When we pray, we move closer to the heart of God. We will see clearly what God loves and know what God hates. We will then begin to care about the things He care about, to love the things He loves and to hate the things He hates. It is not about me anymore but we will think about our action and consequences whether they are they pleasing to God.

Prayer is life changing. It changes our lives. Prayer allows God to transform us. James 4:3, we ask but we do not received because we ask with the wrong motives. Prayer is also a way God is shaping us and molding our character to be more like His Son, Jesus and to live a life that is pleasing to Him.  

Apostle Paul urged the Christians that there should be transformation in our lives as followers of Christ.

5 Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. 6 Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. (Colossians 4:5-6, NIV)

Prayers change our behaviour. We also pray so that we will be wise when we live our lives in the society so that we can give glory to God. Prayer helps us to seize opportunity to be good witnesses for the Lord. Prayer changes the language we use towards others and towards ourselves. We don’t use language or words that accused and condemn others but our conversation will be full of grace, edifying, uplifting and encouraging wherever we are: at home, in school, at the workplace or in the society. 

Prayers let us know the heart of God so that we can answer people about the God Whom we love and serve.

(3) Prayer is a journey

My dad loves to watch boxing matches. The boxers did not jump into the ring to fight without training. They did not just train for a day and then compete in the championship. They trained for a long time. Singers do not record music without musical training. They too had been undergoing training for a long time before recording music in the studio.

Same goes with prayer. It is a journey. It is a learning process. We will not be able to pray immediately. We need time to learn to pray. The more we pray, the more we will know how to pray. The more we pray, the more we will know the character of God. Don’t be discouraged if you think you don’t know how to pray yet. Think about your own children. When they first learn how to speak, you don’t get upset because they can not talk to you well yet. You will be overjoyed if they speak the first vowel because they are learning to communicate with you. Because they can’t talk very well yet, that does not mean you love them less. You know it will take time for them to learn words. You know it will take time for them to have a conversation with you which you can understand. 

God is our Father in Heaven. He is delighted that you, His beloved child, come to Him in prayer. Prayer is heart to heart conversation with God.

Let us devote ourselves to prayer. Prayer is communion with God. Prayer is to know the heartbeat of God. Prayer changes things. Prayer transforms us. Prayer is a journey. Let us go deeper into prayer and experience more of His grace, love, provision and strength.  

Hope in God

How can we have hope when our circumstances are unpredictable and seemingly hopeless? How can we have hope when we are in the midst of the pandemic?

Hope is one of the greatest virtues, together with love and faith (1 Corinthians 13:13). As Raniero Cantalamessa writes, ‘They are like three sisters. Two of them are grown and the other is a small child. They go forward together hand in hand with the child hope in the middle. Looking at them it would seem that the bigger ones are pulling the child, but it is the other way around; it is the little girl who is pulling the two bigger ones. It is hope that pulls faith and love. Without hope everything would stop.’

Hope helps us to move forward. Hope helps us to face impossible challenges. Hope is like the light at the end of a dark tunnel. We can move forward even in the darkness because of the hope we have.

During this pandemic, we often heard preachers and pastors telling us not to “waste this pandemic”, meaning that we are to use this time of the lockdown to reflect about our lives, be intentional about spending time with God and letting God shape us and transform us from the inside out so that we will be better people than before. In order to do so, we need to know the hope that we have in God.

Let’s look at Psalm 89, a maskil of Ethan the Ezrahite and let us learn to put our hope in Him.

 

Hope in God in our sufferings and despair

The psalmist cries out to the Lord “How long, O Lord? Will you hide yourself forever?” (verse 46, NIV). When the psalmist was writing this, he had his own challenges to deal with. His circumstances were different. But this verse expresses what we are feeling now. We feel that God is hiding Himself as the peoples of this world are suffering.

God is always there. We can not see Him with our eyes but He is with us. He is faithful. He loves us with a great love. The psalmist says, “1 I will sing of the Lord’s great love forever; with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known through all generations. 2 I will declare that your love stands firm forever, that you have established your faithfulness in heaven itself” (verses 1-2).
There is hope in our sufferings because of who God is. He is love. He is faithful. He will carry us through.

Psalm 89: 1-2

 

Hope in spite of our short life span and the inevitability of death

Life is short—“your life is like the morning fog- it’s here a little while, then it’s gone” (James 4:14. NLT). The psalmist also prays to God, “47 Remember how fleeting is my life. For what futility you have created all humanity! Who can live and not see death, or who can escape the power of the grave?” (verse 24, NIV)  

The psalmist says despite our life being short and that we will face death someday, yet, he holds on to the promise of God’s love. He prays, “Lord, where is your former great love, which in your faithfulness you swore to David?” (verse 49). We will pass away; it is inevitable. But, as the story unfolds in the New Testament, believers will have eternal life through Jesus Christ, who took our sins upon Himself and died on the Cross for us. We have eternal life through Jesus Christ. Our life is more than life on earth. We have hope that we will have eternal life with God in Heaven forever.

Hope in God’s righteousness and justness  

The world is unjust. The evil and power-hungry people seem to be crushing the innocent. But the psalmist puts his hope in God who is righteous and just. “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; love and faithfulness go before you.” (verse 14-15, NIV)

Even when what is going on does not make sense to you, trust in God’s righteousness, love and faithfulness.

Psalm 89:14-15

 

Hope in the presence of God

Those who walk with God (following His ways and commandments) will be blessed. They are walking in the light of the presence of God (verse 15). They will rejoice in God and celebrate God’s righteousness because God is their glory and strength (verses 16-17).

When all else fail, by walking with God, we will taste His presence and we even rejoice in the midst of difficulties because God is with us.

We have hope because God is with us.

 

Hope in God’s purpose

It seems funny and even a little rude for me to tell you about finding the good in our present situation. I don’t know what you are going through. You may be grieving over the loss of a loved one, you may be facing stressful times at home, you may be out of a job or you may be struggling financially. But let us lift up our eyes from the current situations to God.

This psalm reminds us that God is faithful. He loves us with a faithful love (verse 24). There is no powers or authority higher than that of God’s (vv 5-13). He alone is in control. He created the heavens and the earth (v 11) and everything belongs to Him. There is a purpose for everything He does. We can trust in His timing to work things out for the best according to His infinite love and wisdom.

Ezra, the psalmist, ends this psalm by asking God to remember him. The psalmist clings onto the hope he has in God. Ezra then praises God, “praise be to the Lord forever! Amen and Amen!” (verse 52, NIV). There are always reasons to praise Him. He is sovereign, He is in control, His wisdom is beyond our comprehension and He loves us with a faithful love.

Let us put our hope in God.

Watchmen of Our Nation

On 13-15 June 2016, under the leadership of the Methodist Bishop, the Methodist Church in Malaysia gathered at the first Methodist School of Intercessors. That was the birth of the “Issachar Watchmen Movement”.

The theme for that year was, “To know Malaysia is to bless Malaysia”. This movement is called the “Issachar Watchmen Movement” because this is a call to us as Methodists in Malaysia to take after the tribe of Issachar “who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do, 200 chiefs, and all their kinsmen under their command” (1 Chronicles 12:32).

In the Bible, out of the 12 tribes of Israel, the tribe Issachar was not a big tribe. However, God had given them wisdom to assess the current times and discern the necessary actions to follow especially during the turbulent times of political turmoil and war.

In the ancient days, a wall was erected around the city to protect the city. On the wall were watchtowers. The watchmen in the watchtowers would stay awake at night and keep watch. If the watchmen saw enemies moving towards the city, they would send out a signal to the citizens, asking them to take cover or to fight back. Therefore, the watchmen played very important roles to safeguard the city and its people.

Our country needs spiritual watchmen too —people who would keep watch on our nation and intercede for it. For some of us, God may have placed a special burden in you to “understand the times and seasons” and to discern how to pray for the nation at different seasons and times. For the majority of us, it is still our responsibility to pray.

Below are just a few of the Bible verses which talk about the importance to pray for our national leaders:

  • “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” (1 Tim 2:1-2, NIV)
  • “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” (Romans 13:1, NIV)
  • “Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” (Jeremiah 29:7, NIV)
  • “Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.” (1 Peter 2:17, NIV)
  • “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14, NIV)

Would you want to commit as a watchman and pray for the nation? You can set aside a time each day to pray for the national leaders and current issues. I personally think that keeping up to date with the news is important — to know our land is to bless our land. We want to know what is happening in the society so that we can pray accordingly and so that the church can be a blessing and a help to those in need.

More importantly, what is God telling you through the things happening around us? What is your response? How can you bear God’s light in wherever you are?

Let’s stand and watch on behalf of the land—yours and mine.

“For as the waters, fill the sea, the earth will be filled with an awareness of the glory of the Lord” (Habakkuk 2:14, NLT)