The one when Prayer doesn’t work

Have you ever wondered if prayer actually works?

You pray and pray and see no fruit, no results. You’re still sick, you still don’t have a job, your child still isn’t married, you’re still single, still infertile, your friend still died…

You pray and pray and pray. You keep a prayer journal. You try striking deals. You fast. You beg, you cry, you are earnest.

Nothing.

Does it matter? I mean this world is full of trouble everywhere. And it seems to be getting worse.

Perhaps God is angry with us. Maybe He is too busy with other things to worry about my meager needs. Or maybe I am not doing enough, not praying hard enough, long enough.

Or maybe, maybe prayer just doesn’t work.

 

That may be right. Maybe prayer doesn’t work. I prayed for my sister to get better, and she still died from cancer. I pray for support to come in, and we still need a lot more. We pray for Josiah’s allergies, and he still can’t eat anything. We’ve been praying about health issues and it seems like God can’t do anything about it- the only solution is more drugs. We pray for laborers, and we get a few people, but not many. We pray for people to come to Christ, but only a few believe. Does prayer work?

Look at story of Elijah.

23 Let two bulls be given to us, and let them choose one bull for themselves and cut it in pieces and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it. And I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood and put no fire to it. 24 And you call upon the name of your god, and I will call upon the name of the Lord, and the God who answers by fire, he is God.” And all the people answered, “It is well spoken.” 25 Then Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose for yourselves one bull and prepare it first, for you are many, and call upon the name of your god, but put no fire to it.”26 And they took the bull that was given them, and they prepared it and called upon the name of Baal from morning until noon, saying, “O Baal, answer us!” But there was no voice, and no one answered. And they limped around the altar that they had made. 27 And at noon Elijah mocked them, saying, “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.” 28 And they cried aloud and cut themselves after their custom with swords and lances, until the blood gushed out upon them. 29 And as midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice. No one answered; no one paid attention (I Kings 18:23-29).

They pray, they plead, they cut themselves. And nothing happens.

Still like this today. In Tibet they spin wheels- big wheels, and small wheels in efforts to pray, to earn favor. They bow and prostrate themselves in effort to beg & plead.

Some places people dance, and scream and make huge gestures towards the sky.

And in corners of rooms, in churches across America- people offer penance.

Some think by their many words they will be heard- if they make it glamerous, say the right phrase- prayers will be answered.

Prayer doesn’t work.

IT is not our efforts, not our words that change things.
In fact is not even our sincerity and good intentions. It is God who changes things. It is God who works.
Prayer is a tool. God is the one who works.

I use a phone to talk to someone. But it is not the phone I connect with, it is the person on the other side. The walkie talkie allows me to communicate to my commander to someone who can help me. But it is not the walkie talkie that saved me- it is the person on the other side who delivers.
We are thankful for phones & walkie talkies, but careful not to love it.

The important thing is who we pray to. Not what we pray about or how we pray.
Prayer doesn’t work. God does. Perhaps it seems like semantics, but I think it can have tremendous impact on our heart, our faith, and on the world.

If we are praying to a false god, or praying to a god we make up, or to/for ourselves- nothing will happen. It is not about our intentions or sincerity. It is not our effort in prayer. It is about God.

God is not a genie who must act according to our whims. He is free. He is sovereign.
So prayer is not a magic formula or incantation. It’s not like we have to pray first or our meeting/planning is not blessed. Perhaps we can & should pray- but we still need to rely on God, not ourselves, not our prayers. Let us rely not on prayer, but on God.
Since it is God who works, then we can not and do not need to rely on our efforts in prayer, but simply plead with God. I don’t need to fear if I am too sinful, or not praying right. I don’t need to work harder in prayer.

When we pray then – we beg; we plead. God is the one who works. We communicate with Him as with a person. And we wait on Him.

Yet, since it is God who works- we can have confidence.

God knows what He is doing.
God is wise.
God is powerful
God has a plan.
God is faithful.

We pray trusting God. Trusting He will do what is best. Trusting He can do something about a problem. God will work all things for good, for His purposes, for His glory.

 

And so when we ask something and it doesn’t happen- what do we do?

  1. We thank God for His wisdom and goodness
  2. We seek to know God, seek His glory.
  3. We ask for understanding and direction.
  4. We keep praying, until we can’t anymore

 

Elijah prayed- and God answered

James tells us He prayed and it did not rain, he prayed again and it did.

Who was Elijah?
Bible describes him as Elijah the tishbite.
Not Elijah the prophet, the great man, the holy man, the spiritual giant.
Elijah was a man like us.
And the effective prayer of a rightesous man availeth much.
God works thru prayer.
He has designed us to pray

  • To show His faithfulness, power, glory
  • To build dependence on Him
  • To build our relationship with Him

And because of Jesus, we can come into His presence.

See,  in some ways it makes sense all the things the Baal worshippers did, that the Tibetans do now. I mean, how can we come into the presence of an Almighty God? How can we ask God to intervene?

Jesus paid the price with His blood, so we can enter His presence. Jesus intercedes on our behalf. And the Holy Spirit teaches us how to pray now.

What should our response be?

To pray

… even when we doubt or unsure
… even if we don’t know how
… even if we have prayed a long time already

We pray to a God

… who is all-powerful
… who exists outside of time
… who is sovereign over everything
… who hears our prayers
… who delights in us
… who is faithful
… who is good and loves us

Let’s Pray for

… for forgiveness
… for healing and help
… for laborers
… for God’s glory
… for God’s will|
… for the miraculous

  • Not just what we have seen
  • Not just for what we can do ourselves
  • Not just what we think possible
  • Not just what we can imagine

Pray for God to move & God to act.

This world needs help. I need help. You need help. God can help, so let’s pray, and ask him to work!

If God is Sovereign & Jesus is King, then what should we have to do with politics?

Back when I started walking with God I read a book called the Jesus I Never Knew. The author Philip Yancy noted how Jesus never seemed to care much about politics but about people knowing Him. He was not interested in an earthly kingdom but a heavenly one.

And with that,  I never cared about politics.
…Not that I cared for it much before that.

This year more than any other – perhaps because of social media, perhaps because of my age- politics seems to be more center stage.

Much is made about the religious right and then how you don’t need to be republican to follow Jesus… politics seems to be a big issue.

At other points many Christians have called upon others to vote – that is until the Christians voted for a candidate or policy they didn’t like…

And perhaps when things don’t seem to go right you hear people say,  Jesus is King. Or God is sovereign.

And that’s true. No matter who the president is, Jesus is still King. And no matter what happens- God is sovereign.

So if God is sovereign- does that mean it doesn’t matter? We don’t need to vote or we don’t need to care?

If Jesus is King, does it matter who president is?

What are we to do?

I don’t pretend to have all the answers or to have researched this topic extensively, but here are some thoughts

 

  1. Place hope in God
  2. People are more important than policies (or opinions)
  3. Pray
  4. Prepare yourself to make wise decisions
  5. Personally work to bring about change

Place your Hope in God

Jesus is King and God is sovereign. He is our Savior, our shield, our shelter, our strong tower. He is our help, our hope.

He really is the only one we can trust – in the sense of His trustworthiness, honesty & faithfulness – as well as in his ability to deliver.

Peter, addressing a group of exiles – people who were facing opposition because of the government and living in a culture that was not helping them writes this

set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

Set your hope FULLY on the Coming King, on the Kingdom HE is going to establish.

If we’re honest we hope in many other things. We hope for many other things. We hope for relief from our trials. We hope in money or policies or our plans or ideas. We need to hope in Jesus and for Jesus.

He is the one we need to rely on, and look to.
This means we need to find our peace in Him and joy in Him.
And this means the thing we should be talking about most, pointing others to most, campaigning for is Christ.

There is Good News for us living in a broken world – Jesus.

This may seem like mere words, or at worst can lead to ignorance & uninvolvement. However, it is important for us to remember and constantly fix our eyes on Jesus. We need this to be foundational to who we are and how we live and act amongst others.

People are more important than policies and our opinions

We may think we know the answers, the solutions to our problems- but when we allow policies to be more important than people, we are neglecting God’s command to love others.

I’m not saying not to have opinions, but watch how we think of others or treat others.
If someone has a different opinion than you, do you seek to convince them they are wrong or to understand them?

Someone’s view on politics is a great opportunity to ask questions, to seek to understand. Why do they feel that way? Why do they want that policy?

As we consider policies, we must consider why do I want this policy? Is it to benefit simply myself or am I thinking of others?

We naturally will think about ourselves, and think what benefits me benefits others- but we are quick to assume often.

What assumptions are we making about others who hold a different opinion than myself?
Do we assume young people are lazy? Do we assume some people are greedy? Do we assume people are judgmental?

How can we love people?
I never want my opinions to become an obstacle to the Gospel or a hindrance to loving someone.
This helps also as we consider our values and our vote.

 

Pray

We are commanded to pray for kings and rulers. How often do we do that? We are more apt to complain about our government leaders than pray for them- even the ones we like.

Now there may be some we didn’t vote for. We may even consider them enemies of the Gospel – still we should pray for them. Jesus said to pray for our enemies. Even if we consider them enemies we need to pray for them. Pray for Christ to work in their heart, pray for them to turn to God.

More so we should pray for them as they lead our country. Since God is sovereign, they are there by His choice. They could not be in power if God did not allow it. So we should pray for them, that they have wisdom.

We should pray for wisdom ourselves as we vote as well.

God truly is sovereign, so that allows us to pray for our government. He has the power to change things. He is working things out for good beyond what we can see or understand. He may do things in our time that will utterly astound us- like He told Habakkuk or many of the other OT prophets. That does not mean God is not sovereign, that God is not good.

God truly is our only hope- so we should pray to Him to work for His glory.

Jesus said to pray Thy Kingdom come, they will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. Pray for God’s Kingdom. Pray for God’s glory.

Prepare yourself to make wise decisions

I once wrote that I not only have the right to vote but also the right to not vote. And I do think if I am not prepared, then I am not sure if I should be voting.

While I don’t think politics is the most important thing in the world, it does influence our world- so we would be wise to consider the effects of politics. We would be wise to consider different policies and different candidates.

We don’t want to just vote how someone else told us to vote. Or based on a couple sound bites. Or our upbringing. Or even just one policy.

We may not make the perfect decision, but since God is sovereign (and we hope in Him) and has given us a mind, we can use that mind to make a wise decision and trust He will do the right thing.

In the end, since we hope in Him, even if what we wanted does not come to pass, we can be content in Him. We can care for people and live in peacable ways. And we can pray for those in authority over us.

Personally work to produce change

Be the person who brings change.

We can talk a big game, but do we follow up our talk? Do we walk the walk?

We say we are pro-life- how do we demonstrate that? How do we show we value human life?

We say we love others & care for the poor- how do we demonstrate kindness? What are we giving to? How are we helping and serving others?

James says

 If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, [o]be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? (James 2:16)

And John tells us

We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. 17 But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his [g]heart[h]against him, how does the love of God abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth. (I John 3:16-18)

We say we are for traditional marriage – but what is our marriage like? How are we promoting healthy marriages?

The church used to be known as a place that took care of the poor. The Romans were astonished by how Christians took care of the needy. Christians founded places like the Red Cross of the YMCA.

The church should be a place where people feel loved and cared for and come to for advice or help, for sympathy, compassion and empathy. Is it?

Some say they don’t want government interfering with us or the church – but what are we doing? Perhaps if we were doing more to help others- the government wouldn’t need to.

Then others want the government to interfere to prevent abortion- but what are we doing to build relationships with people to care for pregnant moms? To care for abandoned kids? To love single moms? To shepherd teenagers?

Ultimately our hope is in God. Jesus is our King and our Savior. People need Jesus, then we should make it our aim to help people know Jesus by loving them, caring for them and talking much about Jesus.

 

 

The one with fools

Happy April!

I’ve been reflecting on thoughts about foolishness this Aprils fool’s day.

Isobel Kuehn a missionary to China reflected on I Corinthians 4 and wrote a book called in the arena. Her reflection as Christians we are on display for the world and look like fools has long stuck with me.

Sometimes it may appear foolish to follow Christ as we give up things that seem valuable to the world or not in line with the world’s thinking and we face much resistance and rejection. In fact, we may feel like fools.

Shadow of the Almighty is collection of Jim Elliot journal entries where he wrote “He is no fool to give up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

Jim Elliot would lose his life, martyred by those he came to serve, but his gain is far greater.
He was simply following the example of Moses who gave up the riches of Egypt for the reproach of the people of Israel for he is looking to a reward (Hebrews 11).

In fact what the bible calls a fool is one who trusts himself, looks to this world for gain- rather than trust God and seek reward in Him.

Jesus tells a parable (recorded in Luke 11) about a rich man who builds buildings for all his stuff ans says

But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’21 “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

According to Jesus the fool lives for this world. The fool stores up treasure on earth, instead of in heaven.

He also gives a parable of a wise man and foolish man- the wise man build his house on the rock and the foolish man builds his house on the sand.

Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.

But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.

We can be wise or fool-  we can practice God’s Word or not.
Notice it is not enough to hear – or read- God’s Word, we must do it.

i feel like many see that and think i reading God’s Word makes me wise- well it is the information to make one wise, but only the one who does what God’s Word says is actually wise. In fact one who reads God’s Word and doesn’t do may be the most unwise. Like James says – he is like a man who looks in the mirror and forgets what he looks like  (which is me by the way- if you seen me, you know that).

If we want to be a fool- then…
… don’t listen to God
… don’t obey God’s Word
… live for this world
… live for temporal things

God’s Word is filled with verses about foolishness and wisdom. just take a gander

And over and over again it tells us the beginning of wisdom is to fear the Lord, obey His word, turn from sin. We are instructed to be humble. The fool does not heed God’s Word or instruction from others. The fool is wise in his own eyes.

  • Those who trust in themselves are fools, but those who walk in wisdom are kept safe. Prov 28:26
  • The way of fools seems right to them, but the wise listen to advice. Prov 12:15
  • The foolsays in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good. Psalm 14:1

One thing for sure- God is not a fool, not foolish. He is wise. (The foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of man!).

His ways may seem foolish to us- but He has a plan, and it is a good plan – a great plan.

The pinacle of this is seen in the Cross.

But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. I Cor 1;18

So, though others may look down on us, or think we are fools – or we may feel like fools from time to time – certainly there cold be an easier way – we decide to continue to follow God. The reward is great.

These days that means we continue to raise support, continue to make phone calls, continue to reach out to others, and continue to pray.

The other day, I read somewhere – what do you do when you pray and God doesn’t answer? You keep praying.

Prayer may seem foolish when some may say just do something- but we want to continue to trust the lord and seek His provisions, depend on Him as we take steps of faith – and ask Him to do big things! Even if it seems foolish or feels foolish- we pray.

And even though we could try to pursue riches of this world, recognition from others – we seek instead reward in Christ.

So, don’t be a fool. Follow Jesus. Give up the things of this world and pursue a greater reward.

The one with Hope for Muncie

A couple years ago, our good friends the Holowells announced they were leaving staff with Cru to plant a church in Muncie.
Though they left staff earlier than we thought, we were glad to know they were staying in town. But it left us torn as well.
We love the Holowells, but we love our church here at Ball State. The Gospel is preached every week. The teaching is great, the liturgy edifying and the doctrine sound (even though i don’t agree with everything they hold to).There is a good mix of young and old, contemporary worship and old hymns.
The community is solid. And our kids love it. A big part were the Holowell kids who are the same age and bestest of friends, but they were developing other friends…

Then they said they were going to plant a multi-cultural church, and that made it EASY – we would not be going with them.

Multi-cultural churches are hard to get going and even harder to maintain. There would be awkwardness and difficulty. Worship styles, teaching styles, personalities… too much work, too inconvenient, too uncomfortable…

But as we continued to hear about it and pray about it, the more Lord laid it on our heart to go.
It was a vision on my heart when i initially joined staff. God in making me Indian and making my wife korean, has given us plartform to connect with people; There are less barriers for us than many others face; we are given more grace. And we have experience working in other culturals – America being one of them, as well as living overseas and working with internationals.

We have bought into the Vision- Hope for Muncie.
In some ways it feels like there is a church on every corner- why another church?
But a multi-cultural church? One that is trying to bring people together from different social, economic, cultural backgrounds?
We are excited to be part of a dream that is an extension of a dream we celebrate today on MLK.
Surely there are many good churches in the area that are effective in reaching out to the community. We are not opposed to them or in competition with them. We want to work alongside them, and create attention for Christ in a community that has mostly forgotten Him.

We don’t all of a sudden think it will be easy.
People in churches where people are very much alike have conflicts- how about one where the people are very different?

But we are not choosing the easiest thing for us, but the best for us- the best for God’s Kingdom purposes.
We will have to leave a comfortable environment, a familiar one – to help plant a church and make a difference in a community.
Church is a place to worship, but also to serve. A Community that provides an environment for others to worship – not by taking people from other churches, but gathering families that are not worshipping, or not worshipping fully.

And by being part of a multi-cultural church, we are committing not just to a comfortable community, but to the kingdom. God’s kingdom is about all peoples. People who are not like us. Bringing together people who are not naturally friends- and making them family!

In Ephesians, Paul writes that Christ has done thru His flesh what nothing else could- He has broken down the dividing wall of hostility. HE Unites Jews and Gentiles. HE is our peace who makes us one.  He brings the far near.
HE reconciles us all – to God, and to each other!
And James tells us that God shows no partiality – be it rich or poor.
Heaven will be a beautiful place of many colors.

They don’t let kids sing this anymore – but – Jesus loves the little children- all the children of the world: Red, Yellow, (Brown), Black, White – they are precious in His sight!

We feel by taking this step of faith, we will see God’s heart, see God’s power, and our faith will be stretched. We will gain a greater vision for eternity. We will be blessed beyond measure as we gain new friends, and exposed to the beauty of diversity.
And we trust God will take care of us along the way.
Yet, ultimately, it is not about us- but the Glory of God.

As we consider our involvement, we are now praying about moving into downtown Muncie.
Downtown Muncie may not be like downtown Chicago or downtown LA, but it is not the suburbs either. At first I thoght it doesn’t matter.
But, there is crime, there are drugs. Muncie may be the highest producers of meth in the country. There are certain risks.
And because of that. Lord-willing, I want to move there.
Soo grew up in an environment like that- and she is walking with Jesus now.
But if it is dark place, well then it needs light, it needs hope.
We want to be there to provide it.

Long ago, i went to Chicago on a Spring Break trip. They gave us “With Justice for all” by John Perkins, and shared his model for ministry. If we want change for communities, we need to go there and live there. We need people to live in these communities to be the light, to show the love, to be like Christ and go live among them.
Reading Tim Keller’s Generous Justice concreted that in my mind.
The goal isn’t just a church, but restoration.

We’ve committed to going (Lord-willing of course), we would love for you to join us and bring hope for Muncie.

11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ,alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken downin his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself onenew man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens,[d] but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by[e] the Spirit.

My prayer for 2016 (a reflection on I Peter 1)

Though you do not see Him, you love Him.
Though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and rejoice
with joy inexpressible and filled with glory
obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your soul

May this be the year I see the Lord every day:  see His hand upon me in all that happens, see His goodness in all His actions towards me, experience His love & kindness, dwell on His grace & goodness, see the beauty of His glory, be wowed by Him, stand in awe of Him, sit in silence before Him, bow down in reverence, submit in fear & trust, and grow grow grow in love and desire and delight.

Lord, be my joy, be my pleasure, be my comfort, be my delight, be my treasure, be my love!

Lord, may I adore You, treasure You, seek You – seek Your presence, seek Your reward, seek Your glory, seek You!

God, I want to submit to You and trust You in everything!

You are glorious.
You are wonderful.
You are beautiful.
You love me!

Your love is great
Your love is deep
Your love is wide
Your love is long
Your love is high.

There is nothing greater.
Nothing greater than You.
Nothing more wonderful
Nothing more beautiful
Nothing greater

God, You are good.
Worthy of all affection and praise and adoration.
You are worthy of my complete, utter trust.
You are worthy of my whole life, of all of who I am.

You love me deeply.
You love me wholly.
You love me fully.
And You love me unconditionally, unfailing, unending.

Someday soon I will see Your face, I will be in Your physical presence
But in the meantime, may I rejoice, rejoice exceedingly in who You are.
May I treasure You and be in wonder of You.
May I sing Your praises
And Rejoice in YOU!

May I love You
… and not the things of this world
Not the worthless idols
Not the passing pleasures of sin
Not anything this world offers and says is all I need

  • Wealth
  • Pleasure
  • Comfort
  • Food
  • Ease
  • Comfortable relationships
  • Financial security
  • Safety

May I love You more than myself
And serve others, bless others
Rejoice in trials
Give thanks always
Be selfless, and not selfish

All things work toward good- and what is that good?

  • Knowing You more, knowing You deeply
  • A stronger faith
  • Growth
  • Sanctification, becoming more like Christ
  • The ability to bless and serve and love others

Oh, may this be my attitude – all sacrifice, all effort, all difficulty, all trial- all is worth it to know Christ, to be with Christ, to enjoy Christ.

May my love for Him be ultimate and supreme in my heart.

Not that I put pressure on myself to love, but may I love in response as I enjoy His love, know His love and experience His love.

What is life all about?

Is it to accomplish all I want, and get things done?

Is it to please myself and feel good?

Is it be comfortable and to have an easy life?

Is it to be good husband, a good father, a good person?

Or is it about You? About Your glory? About blessing others so they may see You?

God, I want to see You. I want others to see You.
May I experience Your presence and glory and love YOU always.

 

God, may this be a year where I know Your love
That I know I am loved.
Where I enjoy You, and seek to enjoy You above all things.
You are my ultimate.

May I not care about myself, lose my self, b/c I am enthralled with You, wrapped up in You… so that I can bless others and glorify You and enjoy You… forever

Amen

Help me to see You
See Your hand
Experience Your presence
Enjoy Your glory
Know You intimately
And point others to Jesus as well.

Your Gospel is good, it is glorious.
You have reconciled me to Yourself
You have made a way for me to know You
You have poured out Your love.
You have given me all I need for life & godliness
You have forgiven me completely
Given me eternal life
And given Your Holy Spirit, Your holy Word, and Your body to help me grow and know You more
You are glorious and wonderful and beautiful – be glorified in & thru me.
Amen.

May I enjoy You always and love You fully. Amen