Go ye, therefore, and baptize all nations in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you; and lo, I will be with you always, even unto the end of the world (Matthew 28:19, 20).
Years ago I heard a church leader make this statement about his life, “I just stood at the corner, and when the trolley car came along I got on and took the ride.” To me he was saying to just let God work through you. Be humble enough to admit you need God’s help, trust His promises, and then obey His will. I wanted to get on this trolley, take the ride, and live full of obedience. This became apparent to me in Nigeria.
What happened in November of 1986 was no coincidence - God again put all this together. I came to Nigeria to serve my year of vicarage that the Lutheran Church requires. However, my assignment was for two years. At Concordia Seminary I had been allowed to take a delayed vicarage. The ordinary path to a Master of Divinity degree was to complete two years on campus, take a year of vicarage, and then return to the campus for the fourth year. A program for delayed vicarage meant that a student could complete three years on campus and then go on vicarage the fourth year. For family reasons, I chose the program for a delayed vicarage. After a year of supervision under Reverend Wally Rasch, I was ready to be officially ordained as a Lutheran pastor. My question to my superiors in the Lutheran Church was, “When and where was I to be ordained?” Their answer came back that the Lutheran Church of Nigeria would do it at the 50th anniversary celebration of the first LCMS missionaries coming to Africa in 1936.
My ordination became a historical event beyond anything I could have dreamed. It was the climax of the final worship service for the entire commemoration. The president of the Nigerian Church, Reverend Nelson Uweine, presided at the service attended by over fifty native pastors, over twenty LCMS missionary pastors and families, mission board representatives from the USA, the governor of Cross River State, and about ten thousand of us members. Seven video cameras recorded the event from every angle. The service started early Sunday morning at about 8:00 and lasted until 2:30 that afternoon. Seven choirs sang and danced, including me. I will never forget the representative pastors laying on their hands and giving their blessings. One Nigerian pastor spoke the Great Commission from the King James Version. Fifty years prior to this Jonathon Ekong had come to America and found a conservative Christian church. He eventually was ordained in the USA. Now the Nigerian Lutheran Church was ordaining an American pastor. It was an extraordinary day for them as well as for my family and me.
The timing of these special events was supernatural, as only God’s wisdom could bring together. I believe three characteristics are needed to have prayers answered and work like this in lives: humility, trust and obedience. I have learned to pray in humility asking for God’s help, then continue praying with trust, and conclude my prayers with obedience. What happened at that ordination, I believe, was totally by God’s direction and blessing. Surely God answers our prayers beyond our expectations. Just let God work it out. I don’t need to tell God how to solve my problems. I present them to Him and let Him provide the solutions.
Samuel Zwemer said, “The history of missions is the history of answered prayer.”
Our Lord Jesus Christ has commissioned us to share the good news of the Gospel everywhere. Often we are content to see accomplished in the name of Christ only what we are capable of accomplishing through our own intellect, eloquence, and organizational skills, instead of calling upon the mighty God of the universe and believing in Him for the supernatural.
The disciples knew and prayed to the omnipotent Creator God. In response to their prayers and dedicated lives, He used them as ambassadors of Christ to turn a wicked Roman Empire upside down.
We talk and believe that God can answer prayer. Yet there is a big gap between what we say and do. It is a challenge to revive the spiritual passion and fervor of the Christians to speak boldly as the early Christians. Without a doubt, God wants us to increase, deepen and accelerate now more than ever our witness to the world. We need to be challenged to break the status quo and to break through the barriers of unbelief to a new level of being on fire with prayer. We need to be driven to our knees and into prayer closets, as well as to group prayer. Together we could usher in a widespread awakening for prayer. How many people are praying for the unsaved? Most Christians are praying for the sick which is good. However, have you ever notice that we are more interested in keeping the saints out of heaven than we are the lost out of hell.
We need to grow in the art of praying. We need to pray together like man has never done before in the history of mankind. I believe we need to stir the embers of faith deep in our souls and ignite a fire of vision for what our Lord can do if we simply make ourselves available to be answers to our own prayers. God weeps and grieves over our obsession with busyness, muchness, and manyness. He longs for our presence in prayer. The Lord is searching for people who will yield to Him and will go to Him for help before taking a step into the traffic of the world. Too many of us need to slow the pace of our lives and adjust our priorities and put communication with God as our top priority. Beginning the quest for a wider spiritual awakening in this world begins in the closet of our own hearts. He is waiting for us to say, “Lord, I don’t know how we are going to reach the world but I want to go deeper in your presence.”
C. H. Spurgeon said, “Whenever God determines to do a great work, He first sets his people to pray.”
Personal Reflection Time
1. It has been said by someone: “More people pray to keep people out of heaven than pray to get them in.” Is this true? What is your opinion?
2. What promise is given in the Great Commission?
3. How often and specific do you pray for the unreached non-believers of the world?
Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective (James 5:16).
Dr. John Fajen was sent to the Concordia Seminary campus from the St. Louis international office each year. His purpose was to recruit future pastor candidates to serve in the mission field. During a visit I told Dr. Fajen the Smith family would be happy to serve overseas, as long as they didn’t send us to the bush. He asked, “What do you mean by the bush?” I quickly responded, “I personally don’t want to learn another language. Send me somewhere I can use English.”
During May 1985 a special worship service was held for distributing assignments to vicars. As candidates, we were called forward alphabetically by last name. The location vicarage assignment was announced. There were the usual oohs and aahs as the men received their placement at various locations in the United States. Then, toward the end of the alphabet came the announcement; “Robert Smith, Hillcrest School, Jos, Nigeria, West Africa.” The entire congregation was in total silence for what seemed to me like a very long time, but in reality it was only a few seconds. Then a sudden simultaneous burst of applause cut through the crowd! I knew again that the Lord was orchestrating another answer to “Send me, send me!” And, oh yes, I was to be the school’s chaplain and speak English!
As one might surmise, we tried to learn everything we could about Nigeria before leaving the U.S. It never seemed to be enough preparation, even though we spent three additional weeks at Link Care Center in Fresno, California, for missionary orientation. Finally we had to “GO!”
It was fascinating to watch the Nigerians carry heavy loads or burdens on their heads. We were told an individual could carry up to about seventy pounds. The ‘tricky’ part was getting the load off and on without breaking one’s neck or dropping the load. The Nigerians built triangle-like wood structures along the roads. These load bearing structures were designed so people can walk into them. The sides support the load and they can get out from under them easily. This was the place where they could leave their burden.
Hindsight is an eye opener. I had burdens. I could see all the mistakes I made that first year. I often felt the need to be forgiven. To be the chaplain of Hillcrest, a missionary kids’ school of over five hundred students, was an awesome responsibility. Much preparation was necessary for teaching my classes, as well as for the morning and evening worship services on Sunday. Then, there were also the blunders I made as a teacher, coach, husband and father. I never could reach the excellence I desired. Credit goes to my brother in Christ, Reverend Rich Carter, for taking me aside and teaching me how to lift the burdens of sins from my life. He lived about six hundred miles south of Jos at the Lutheran headquarters in Obot Idim. He and his wife Miriam came to visit their two children, Nathan and Jeanette, at Hillcrest School. On these occasions Rich and I made an effort to take a long walk together. During these hours we confessed our shortcomings or sins and went through a confessional service. Just as the local Nigerians could lighten their burdens, Rich taught me how to leave my baggage of sin at the foot of the cross through prayer. Rich also assured me of forgiveness during our private confessional services.
It has taken me a number of years to fully understand repentance. It is opening me to the fact that I am a sinner. God’s law is so perfect and absolute that no one can achieve righteousness. Yet, God’s grace is so great that we do not have to accomplish it. Forgiveness is a gift from God to people like me who don’t deserve it. My God is holy, and therefore I stand condemned. This very awareness provides me with God’s forgiveness. I am forgiven totally because of the merits of Jesus Christ, who suffered and died for me on the cross. The payment is completely finished and done. His grace is the cure for my sins. Understanding what it means to confess my sins becomes the doorway for approaching my God in prayer.
I first studied about confession when I took confirmation classes in eighth grade. It was also emphasized that before communion or the Lord’s Supper a believer should confess his sins. My pastor told me it was important so I did it. However, for many years I did not realize how significant and beneficial it was for my relationship with my God.
Martin Luther in the Small Catechism gives the answer to “What is confession?”
“Confession has two parts.
First that we confess our sins, and second, that we receive absolution, that is, forgiveness, from the pastor as from God Himself, not doubting, but firmly believing that by it our sins are forgiven before God in heaven.”
Personal Reflection Time
1. What do you remember in your life about the role of confessing sins?
2. With what person can you purposely and openly share your sins?
3. Is there anyone you personally need to ask for forgiveness of sins?
Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up (Luke 18:1).
The three years at Concordia Seminary in Ft. Wayne were generally enjoyed by the Smith family. We persevered for these years living a simple life on Alice’s low salary. After the first year of adjustment to our new situation, and persevering Greek, we took a short holiday trip to visit our family. Upon return we found that someone had broken into our home through an unlocked window. After investigating we found that only a few things were missing from the boys’ rooms. A boom box and a collection of baseball cards were the main items gone. The only person we could think of who knew we were gone was our paper-boy. We decided to go over to his home and ask him if he knew or saw anything suspicious. Before doing this we prayed that the Lord would turn this problem into a blessing.
When we arrived at his family’s apartment the father invited us in to talk. His son was not at home. After investigating the situation the father eventually told us that the paper-boy had stolen the items. As a result his son ran away from home for several days. The father asked Kurtis and Eric if they would take over his son’s paper route. It became our family project seven mornings a week. The problem turned into an unexpected financial blessing just as God promises in Romans. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (Rom.8:28).
The boys were so honest and consistent that one route turned into two routes, and finally we were delivering three neighborhood areas with over 250 papers. However, those were the days when paper boys, still had to go door- to- door to collect the payment for the newspaper. This took a huge amount of time but they weren’t quitters. They never joined the Quitters’ Club.
You say you have never heard of one of the largest organizations in America? It is quickly becoming known. The reason you’ve never heard of the Quitters’ Club is because they never meet–the members quit coming. There are no dues–the members quit paying them. The Quitters’ Club is comprised of people who faced a tough job, a tough marriage, a tough sickness, or a tough failure–and they quit.
God has always honored persistence. Troubles come with God’s consent. The Lord is interested in how we respond when the obstacles press and bruise us. It doesn’t matter what the causes of our problems. We are to take them to God in prayer. We need to get the greatest spiritual benefits out of them. Troubles can prove a blessing or a curse. It either draws us to prayer and to God or it drives us from God. He can turn all of these obstacles into blessings.
Life can throw nothing at you that God can’t use for your benefit. If you totally trust Him, He won’t let your life end short of finishing.
Look at the life of Christ and consider what He faced. Jesus had all kinds of difficulties with people who tried their best to make his life miserable. They listen to His every word. They dogged His every step. They opposed Him at every turn. They hated Him. They were constantly looking for a way to do away with Him. One thing that Mel Gibson’s movie on the passion of the Christ did for us was to get us in touch with the horrendous suffering Jesus endured at the hand of others.
I’ve known people who have quit praying because they didn’t seem to get an answer. If I walk into a room and flip the light switch, I expect the light to come on. If it doesn’t, I don’t curse Thomas Edison and say electricity is a lie. I start looking for the problem. Maybe the light bulb is burned out, or a breaker has been thrown, or the power is out. If it seems your prayers aren’t answered, don’t quit praying–start looking for the reason. It may be the wrong request, or you may have unconfessed sin in your life, or the timing may not be right. God always answers prayer.
Perseverance is also the mark of true believers. Don’t give up, look up! Christ never gave up for you. He endured to the end on the cross. Don’t quit–keep on praying persistently! Every time you walk through a door that says PUSH–let God remind you to
Pray Until Something Happens!
Personal Reflection Time
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God (Philippians 4:6-7).
As much as the whole visit to Israel provided insights into the life of Jesus, another incident with prayer stands out in my memory. It happened at St. George’s Cathedral and hostel where we were staying outside the old city of Jerusalem. Alice and I were visiting with a new acquaintance after tea one afternoon. He was a pastor, who was also spending time in Jerusalem. After sharing details of my plans to become a pastor, I told him of my feelings of fear and apprehension about the future. We did not have the money, a job for Alice, a car, and maybe even the wisdom to succeed. He encouraged us and said the Lord would provide the means. For closure to the conversation he prayed for the Lord’s blessing on our family situation. His prayer and our family’s prayers were soon to be answered.
On our arrival back to friendly Frankenmuth, arrangements had been made to stay at Marilyn and Roy Bernthal’s home. When we entered the door Alice was told to call a former college friend, Chuck Daenzer. He wanted to offer her a teaching job in a Fort Wayne Indiana Lutheran school. A quick trip south to Fort Wayne was planned. While visiting with Chuck another contact was made, and Alice was finally hired at Unity Lutheran School as a first-grade teacher. We crossed the street to an apartment complex and made a deposit for a place to live. We had driven to Fort Wayne in a car that was given to us by our good friend and financial advisor, Bob Trinklein. Praise God again for meeting our basic needs immediately. Now all that remained was for me to pass Greek and the rest of the courses.
In a previous devotion I mentioned missionary Hudson Taylor. His son Howard noticed that his father, “prayed about things as if everything depended on the praying … but worked also, as if everything depended on his working.” For many years I understood the part about working, much more than the praying part. In many ways I could have been called a workaholic. My interest and ability in sports taught me that I could overcome my lack of natural skill by putting in hours of effort. This was not always good for my family. As I think back, this mental approach to living created worry. I was basically afraid of failure and didn’t know how to depend on the work of the Holy Spirit. Therefore I over prepared for whatever I was trying to accomplish.
I knew that God was still in control, I knew that He still kept the world spinning, I knew of His great love displayed through Christ, I knew that He would have the final victory. But I thought Bob Smith could impress God, the world, and avoid failure with working overtime. My effort, not my prayer time, was my priority. I needed better balance between the two. I finally woke up somewhere along this journey of life to realize prayer and helplessness are inseparable.
What do I mean by this? In the end my significance and success depends on God not me. Modern western culture believes effort is enough. A relationship with God is not needed. So many depend on human strength and wisdom, how silly this is. The devil laughs at us in our faces. Our efforts alone are futile.
Someone once wrote this about worry: “Worry is faith in the negative, trust in the unpleasant, assurance of disaster, and belief in defeat...Worry is a magnet that attracts negative circumstances... Worry is like rocking in a rocking chair–it gives you something to do, but you never go anywhere with it.”
My recommendation is to go running back to Him in prayer. It’s the only way to a more fulfilling life. It is the only way to bearing more fruit. It’s the only way that our non-Christian friends are going to see our Christian worldview of peace and composure.
Author O. Hallesby has helped me to understand the role of helplessness. In summary he said: “Prayer and helplessness are inseparable. He is saying a person needs to cry to God for help? Yes. Prayer is for the helpless. A person’s helplessness is the very thing which opens wide the door unto Him and gives Him access to all needs. Helplessness can be the secret of powerful prayer. Recall the words of Jesus, ‘Without Me you can do nothing’” (John 15:5).
There is a need for balance between my effort, my work, and my cry for help from God. “His strength is made perfect in our weakness...” (2 Corinthians 12:9). God ultimately controls all. It is up to us if we want to be His partner. Open the door when He knocks.
Personal Reflection Time
If anyone turns a deaf ear to my instruction, even their prayers are detestable (Proverbs 28:9).
A visit to the Holy Land of Israel was one of our once-in-a-lifetime experiences that the Lord allowed our family to experience while traveling home from Hong Kong. After walking in the ancient footsteps of Jesus, people asked me what the trip did for my spiritual life. My answer was, “Being there helped me to accept the humanity of Christ.” Yes, Jesus was a real man. Walking Michael, our local tourist guide, said that Jesus stood here or Jesus walked down this path. I thought, “Why was it not here or there? It must have been somewhere in the area.” Jesus became an actual genuine human being to me.
We also spent two days with another man named Zarmir. We hired him to drive us south and north of Jerusalem. One day we went swimming in the Sea of Galilee. Here I found out why Jesus walked on top of the water. It is because the bottom is so rocky! At least the part was where we went swimming. On the day we left Israel Zarmir took us to the airport. I asked him this question, “What would you like me to tell Americans when I have a chance to preach?” His response was this, “Tell them to know the Bible. They come here to Israel and don’t know the stories.”
It has been important for me to follow the suggestions and examples of these two men. Walking Michael taught me the importance of memorizing scripture. He quoted verses as we walked around inside and outside of old Jerusalem. (In appendix “A” of my book are the passages I have memorized concerning prayer. I put them in an ABC order to make it easier to remember them.)
God has commanded us to memorize His word:
He declared, These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts (Deut.6:6).
Then He taught me, and He said to me, “Take hold of my words with all your heart; keep my commands, and you will live (Prov. 4:4).
I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you (Ps. 119:11).
Of all of the methods of learning, none has been more rewarding nor more difficult for me than memorizing verses. They have become so valuable to me personally when trying to get through difficult situations. More than one night I’ve fallen asleep trying to say them. I have been able to remind myself of God’s promises. On many occasions I have had the opportunity to share them with others. They seemed to have appreciated God’s message to them. Too often memory work has been thought of as an end in itself. The importance of a memory verse learned by heart has been the ability to apply it to my life and others.
Years later I was teaching a Christian ethics class at Valley Lutheran High School. Picking up on the suggestion of Zarmir I decided to ask ten questions on a quiz the first day of class with the seniors. I don’t recall all of the questions. They were something like: “How can a person make good decisions for their life?” “How can a person become wise?” “How can a person have good relationships with other people?” “How can a person have a conversation with God?” I do remember the answer I wanted to all ten questions. Each one was to be the same. “Know the Bible!” “Know the Bible!” “Know the Bible!” “Know the Bible!” I’m convinced that many believers know many of the facts of the basic stories of Scripture but there is a gap in applying them to Jesus and even a bigger discrepancy in how to apply them to their own lives.
The Bible tells the story of God’s acts and words as well as human obedience and disobedience. It begins with creation, and the conflict begins with the fall into sin. The overall story shows how God acted to save and restore this people to a right relationship with Him and with the world they inhabit. The story climaxes with Christ’s death and resurrection and ends with a preview of the new heaven and the new earth. The people of the Bible were people like us. Our lives now are also part of God’s story.
The more we study and know the Bible, the more we know the commands and promises of God, especially in building a relationship with Him through prayer. If we approach the Bible primarily with our own minds, without the Holy Spirit’s guidance, it’s really not going to mean that much to us or to anyone else whom we might want to approach with it.
This fellow disciple doesn’t have all the answers. I have made plenty of mistakes during my journey of life. However, I do want to know and converse with my Lord and Savior better. I hope you can catch my enthusiasm for learning what God has revealed about Himself in Scripture. Also my book and this website are a call to you to experience a life of healthy, significant prayer.
A young Chinese was once asked how his Bible study was and he replied; “I am now reading the Bible and behaving it.” This sounds like something I would like to do. Build your life on the authority of the written word of God.
Personal Reflection Time
And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it (John 14:13-14).
Some people called it “Rock Fever.” This meant to stay on the island of Hong Kong too long. Our family wanted to prevent this by going somewhere outside of Hong Kong after being there two and a half years. We made arrangements to go to the island of Boracy in the Philippines. We went in the days before it became famous to the rest of the world, during Christmas holidays of 1981. This is where God provided our most memorable family vacation. Two incidents that affected my prayer life took place on that island paradise. The first was at a church service where the local people asked me to preach. After I provided a New Year’s message the person in charge shared a personal blessing that was received during the past year. Then the lady turned and gave the mike to me to do the same. I communicated my blessing and quickly gave the microphone to my wife. This continued throughout the entire congregation of about eighty people in attendance. These people didn’t have much materially, but there was great thankfulness that permeated the bamboo church shelter. It was a powerful example for me to remember to always count my blessings.
As midnight approached we were talking to Roger, the owner of the resort where we were staying. As soon as it was twelve o’clock, Roger quickly disappeared. He gathered his family and went with them into a time of prayer. It was an example for me to follow for each New Year’s Eve since then.
During the previous October of 1981 it was time to inform David Rittman, the HKIS Headmaster, whether we would be returning the following year to teach at the international school. I asked David if I could have another month to decide. I figured I had three positive choices: 1) Continue to stay in Hong Kong and teach there, as many colleagues hoped we would. 2) Go back to the USA and teach in a Lutheran School system as done previously. 3) Go back to a seminary for pastoral training. The third option was still buried in the back of my mind. During the next three weeks, we prayed as a family something like this:
“Lord, this is a very important decision to make. We want to know, without any doubt, YOUR will for our lives. Please send us a BOLT OF LIGHTNING so we can be absolutely sure of what You want us to do. In Jesus name we pray.”
This idea, a bolt of lightning, was repeated often in our prayers during the first two weeks of October. Then it happened! Suddenly I received a letter from the United States. My knees shook when I read and reread it. It was my bolt of lightning from God. Reverend Luther Werth had never written a letter to me before. In it he told me that he had been thinking of me and thought that now was the time for me to become a pastor. The interesting point to this is that the letter was written in August, before I even thought about the future. Mysteriously, it did not arrive until the middle of October. This was the prod I wanted and needed to go back to school to become a pastor. My wife offered encouragement and the boys agreed. They were up to the challenge more than I was. This was another answer to prayer coming at just the right time.
For years as a coach I have believed in the principle that success motivates. This answer to prayer became an incentive for praying. Also I believe the reason God gave me a bolt of lightning, the letter, was to impress on me that I could be absolutely sure He wanted me to be a pastor. I would face difficult and rigorous times. Looking back at that answer helped me to get through those challenging times.
To get unquestioned answers to my prayers was not only important as to the satisfying of my desires, but was also evidence of my abiding in Christ. The mere act of my praying was no test of God’s relationship to me. But to pray and receive clear answers, not just once or twice, but daily, is the sure test that by His grace I have a connection to Jesus Christ my Savior and Lord.
Faith teaches it is God’s will to answer prayer. How well assured the answer to prayer is, when that answer will glorify God the Father! John tells us: “so that the Father may be glorified…” And Jesus Christ is eager to glorify his Father in heaven.
I am reminded of a woodpecker story often told by Johnathan Goforth, missionary to China from 1888 to 1934. A certain woodpecker flew up to the top of a high pine tree and gave three hard pecks on the side of the tree as woodpeckers do. At the instant of the third peck a bolt of lightning struck the tree leaving on the ground a pile of splinters. The woodpecker had quickly flown to a nearby tree where it clung in terror and amazement at what had taken place. It all remained quiet and the woodpecker said to itself: “Well, well, well! Who would have imagined that just three pecks of my beak could have such power as that!”
My talents, abilities, successes all are to praise God. Also to Him be the glory for every answer to prayer.
Personal Reflection Time
If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you (John 15:7).
The reception at the airport was magnificent. We were an exhausted couple guiding two young boys down the ramp, but our tired spirits quickly rose to new levels. A welcoming crowd of more than fifty people waved signs and colorful flowers to greet us! This unforgettable memory is an example of how God provides at times when we least expect it.
Over the next three years west did meet east and often with tension broken by laughter. Learning to eat with chopsticks, riding double decker buses, typhoons, coaching and playing Little League Baseball, Cub Scouts and Beavers programs, teaching, and traveling carried challenges filled with memories. The Lord kept us mindful of who we were and why we were there. It was to share His love with those lives we touched.
The second year we were in Hong Kong I was asked to lead the adult education program for Church of All Nations (CAN). After struggling with the invitation and not wanting to accept it, I prayerfully consented. I knew I was going to need God’s direction and help for this task. The result influenced my life for years to come. I prayed for guidance as to what topics to study and who should teach them. It was good timing to talk about “The Church in China.” The doors had just opened in 1979 after thirty years of silence to outsiders to come into China. The stories were plentiful. I decided to bring in “China Watchers” to CAN Sunday morning “Mission Life Hour.” These were Christian experts living in Hong Kong who knew what was happening in the mainland Chinese churches. Ten different watchers were invited to come ten weeks in a row and share their understanding. At the end of the series we were probably the fifty most informed people in the world on the topic of the “Church in China.” It was similar to hearing the “Second Book of Acts.” How did the church grow from approximately a half million to over thirty million in thirty years? These Christians survived persecution and the church grew through prayer. Repeatedly, we heard stories of how God answered prayers. A year later we followed this up with five more sessions. Since that time I have shared this fantastic story around the world in speaking engagements to whoever would listen. God helped me to meet the challenge of the CAN Mission Life Hour that I thought should be in the hands of another person. I admit I have underestimated the impact of the church in China story on my personal prayer life.
It was at this time I first heard about missionary Hudson Taylor. He was a British Protestant Christian missionary to China, and founder of the China Inland Mission (CIM) (now OMF - Overseas Mission Fellowship International). He lived from 1832 to 1905. Taylor spent 51 years in China. The society that he began was responsible for bringing over 800 missionaries to the country. CIM began 125 schools and this directly resulted in over 18,000 Christian conversions. They also established more than 300 stations of work with more than 500 local helpers in all eighteen provinces.
Taylor was known for his sensitivity to Chinese culture and zeal for evangelism. He adopted wearing native Chinese clothing even though this was rare among missionaries of that time. Under his leadership, the CIM was singularly non-denominational in practice and accepted members from all Protestant groups, including individuals from the working class and single women as well as multinational recruits. Primarily because of the CIM’s campaign against the Opium trade, Taylor has been referred to as one of the most significant Europeans to visit China in the 19th Century. Historian Ruth Tucker summarizes the theme of his life:
“No other missionary in the nineteen centuries since the Apostle Paul has had a wider vision and has carried out a more systematized plan of evangelizing a broad geographical area than Hudson Taylor.”
At one period Hudson Taylor’s morale became very low in China. He began to question himself and he thought he was dogged with failure. He had constant conflict and failure instead of victory. How could he preach with sincerity to others when it was not in his own experience? His life was on an emotional roller coaster ride between joy over being a saved sinner and sad over his sinning and failures. He was strong and yet weak. He prayed for faith but it seemed not to come. How could his barren branch become a portion of the fruitful stem? This is when he encountered the scripture where Jesus calls Himself the vine and believers the branch. Hudson Taylor finally understood that One life reigns throughout the whole vine and branch to bear fruit. It was and is Christ’s life; not his faith but God’s faithfulness that would make him significant. He was to abide, remain, and stay connected to Jesus. Hudson Taylor was to trust Him for the power to bear fruit.
It was not striving to have faith, or to increase our faith but a looking to the Faithful One for time and for eternity. Jesus has promised never to leave us and to remain in us and never to fail us.
Think through the vine and branch one more time. Read John 15:1-8 in its entirety. We do not have to make ourselves branches; the Lord Jesus tells us we are branches. We are part of Him. We are just to believe it. We are bonded to Him. It is resting in Jesus now, and letting Him do the work through us – which makes all the difference! Hudson Taylor realized if you are clinging to Christ, the vine, you are guaranteed to bear His fruit.
This can be a new found peace. Troubles do not have to worry you anymore. You come to realize your total dependence is upon His strength. STOP AND REST AND RELAX RIGHT NOW.
Read again John 15:7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.
Wow! What a promise this is for your prayer life.
Personal Reflection Time
Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16).
“Where are you from?” It is a common question when you are in a different culture. We have always answered, “Frankenmuth, Michigan”. As a young married couple we lived in Frankenmuth, for 14 years. I personally had two more years of teaching here when I was single. Both our sons, Kurtis and Eric, were born while living here. The impact on us by the people and the church history can’t be overstated. God often used Frankenmuth friends as answers to our prayers for help. It was here, I matured as a responsible Christian and my prayer life moved forward. Many incidents happened as they did where only God could have been involved. We were helped just when the struggles were the greatest as we jumped in and out of lives as we came back to Frankenmuth from overseas. God’s timing has always been perfect. He knew our wants and desires before we had a chance to bring them to His throne. When I move around a room full of people we know in Frankenmuth, I can remind each one how they were used by God as a blessing to us. The foundation for the rest of our lives was set in this place. Below are three examples I would like to share that brought me more confidence in prayer.
I remember Louie Armbrecht, an 8th grade teacher at St. Lorenz and one of my mentors, giving a talk on prayer to our Parent Teachers’ League in about 1965. He went through all parts of life and kept repeating, “Have you prayed about it?” “Have you prayed about it?” Several years later, just before he died of leukemia, I asked him after a Bible class held in the basement of our home, “What would you have done differently in your life, if you could live it over?” He answered, “I would pray more.” Here was a man who prayed honestly and consistently, but still knew he could have prayed more. I’ll never forget his words. “I would pray more.” I didn’t want to make the same mistake.
Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them (Matthew 18:19-20).
The exact year is hard to remember but sometime in the 1970’s a weekly men’s prayer and Bible study group was started. Wally Bronner, Ray Bauer, and I were the initiators. We met at each other’s homes for a continental breakfast. It was a high privilege for a young man like me to be mentored by these faithful men of God. Little did we realize how God would help this group to grow. Today, St. Lorenz Men’s Bible breakfast held in the church basement can have more than seventy men in attendance. It is faithfully taught by Pastor Mark Brandt. God’s Word gave us direction for praying and keeping each other accountable to being the Christian men we were meant to be.
One night in October 1978 Alice and I finished reading a book. We had taken turns reading aloud each night before we fell asleep. That night, we didn’t realize our prayer would become a significant turning point in our lives. The name of the book was GOD’S SMUGGLER. It was written by Brother Andrew. He wrote about his is experiences of taking Bibles into the Iron Curtain countries. His book basically inspired us to pray together:
“Lord, we love it very much here in Frankenmuth, but we need some new goals in serving you. They could be right here, but we want you to know we are willing to serve you anywhere in the universe. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.”
During the following Christmas holidays we received a letter from Bill Driskill. He was a close friend from days at Concordia College, who was then serving as an educational missionary at Hong Kong International School (HKIS), a Christian school owned and operated by the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. His letter reminded us of our prayer. It led to a call to serve as an educational missionary. My position was to be Elementary Sportsmaster. Were we up to the challenge of living in another culture? Were we sure we wanted to leave God’s comfortable Frankenmuth? The next summer we were on our way to opening new doors on the other side of the world. The answer to that October prayer came quicker than we expected. Because of answered prayer we had the confidence that God would be with us.
Confidence is more than thinking you can. It knows you can do something. Confidence is a belief and an attitude. An attitude can be enhanced. Who controls your attitude? With the help of the Holy Spirit, you do. You control how you react to the situation around you and remember; confidence develops from having positive experiences given to us by God. Therefore we went to Hong Kong with confidence. We knew God would be with us on the other side of the world. Also we had a team of positive people praying for us on both sides of the world. The more difficult the times, the more positive a person must be. We saw the obstacles as an opportunity to improve. We quickly learned to live in the present tense, free from the failures of the past and the difficulties of the future. God was in control. He was the driver and we were along for the ride.
While living in another culture we took our lumps and kept on going. My family refused to give up. This does not mean being overconfident and not needing assistance. Often there were times of helplessness. We could only turn to God to provide. I think that is exactly where God wanted us to be. We found that worry looks at God through the circumstances but prayer looks at the circumstances through God. We were and are never separated from the love of God. Confidence is balanced with true humility. I am not in this life alone.
Personal Reflection Time
Direct your prayers to the Triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We should not pray to idols, saints or anything God has created.
But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you (Matthew 6:6).
To be the manager of the Concordia College Canteen in St. Paul, Minnesota was a special privilege. It was an answer to my prayer. The Lord knew I needed the money to help pay college costs. This was a major challenge, because I had to put myself through without any financial support. However, this position did more for me than give me money; it encouraged my growth in prayer.
After I closed the canteen at night I found myself alone in the larger administration building. Down the hallway under a staircase was a very small prayer chapel. It became my regular habit to stop in and spend some time kneeling in prayer. Here was the secret place where I communicated to my God the struggles of surviving as a college student. Here the Lord and I carried on a conversation about my needs and desires.
Money always seemed to be on my prayer list, especially when I transferred to Concordia Teachers College in River Forest, Illinois. There were always tuition costs, books, and room and food bills coming due. Finally, during my third year I couldn’t stall the accounting office any longer. They insisted that I come up with the money the first Monday in May. God brought several situations together before that date to provide the answer to my money problems. I was paid by the YMCA where I was working on Saturday nights from 6:00 to 12:00. Also, Concordia College paid me for working on their gym crew on special occasions. Finally on Sunday afternoon my parents brought a special Catholic friend of our family to visit me. Her name was Etta Lamb. During the visit she told me to close my eyes and open my hands. She placed four fifty-dollar bills into my hands. It was a great blessing to see God at work. After paying off my college debt I discovered about one dollar and fifty cents was left. Cheers!
One common desire for a young man was to find a wonderful young Christian girl who would eventually be his lifetime bride. Now this wasn’t always at the top of my prayer list, but I thought about it in my prayer closet. Surely the Lord was preparing someone for me, but who could she be? No one seemed to “click” during the early college years. Finally, after an intern-teaching experience in Frankenmuth, Michigan, I returned to Concordia for my senior year. Mike Bauer, the “Joe College” type, was another senior friend who was also scouting the same field. He and I made a pact with one another. We decided we would take a different girl out every weekend. Also, we concluded it wasn’t good to take a date to a movie. A movie did not give us enough time to get to know the person. So we had two objectives: find a girl and do something creative. Being in the Chicago area provided the variety of activities: car shows, sporting events, flower shows and plays. There was always something to do. To find girls that would go out with us was the challenging part. We continued on our adventure from September into March. Then after one Saturday night I went to Mike and told him I could no longer keep this up. I had to take last week’s date out again. She was a beautiful young lady whom I had met three years previously but did not have sense enough to date her earlier. A year and a half later on August 7, 1965 Alice Evangeline Kratt became the Lord’s answer to being my lifetime partner. God knew that I needed a farmer’s daughter from Minnesota just like her. Alice had the Christian faith, background, talents, gifts, interests, beauty and personality to meet the challenges of the years to come. I can never praise Him enough for this answer to prayer. Not only was she a great choice, but also, Alice brought the prayerful support of Christian parents. I am especially confident that God heard the hours of prayer concerns conveyed to His throne by Clara Kratt, Alice’s mother, our faithful prayer partner for so many years.
Clara was an outstanding example of a lady who used her prayer closet faithfully. She lived out her 101 years witnessing and praying for others. The Rev. Eugene Chase, her pastor, told us this story at her funeral: When he walked into her room at the senior home to give communion the last time, he attempted to shut the door. She said, “No, keep the door open. I want the resident across the hall to hear your message. I’ve been praying for her.” I will not forget finding among her things the student and teacher manuals she had used as a teacher for 50 years of Sunday school classes. Reading God’s word and praying was a way of life for Clara Kratt.
A story comes from Africa about an entire village of people who became believers. They were told to learn to pray individually in their own privacy. Since they had no closet doors to close, they each selected their own location in the jungle near their village. As they daily walked back and forth on their own footpath, the grass disappeared. Eventually others could recognize whether or not a person was spending time in prayer. It became a habit when they saw another’s footpath fill with grass to say to that individual: “Grass is growing on your path.” It was a gentle reminder. They wanted that person to be spending time in conversation with God.
Personal Reflection Time
But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do (James 1:6-8).
Coach Stan Patrick said, “Smith, I hope someday you become a coach, so you will realize how difficult it is to put a team together.” It was the week before the first game of our basketball season at Belvidere High School, Belvidere, Illinois. In no way did he want me to miss practice time on the court. I had just asked if he would permit me, a junior player, to be absent a couple of practices that Friday and Saturday. I wanted to go to a Christian retreat for all Lutheran high school youth in the area. I’m glad I chose to go. It was a life-changing experience.
The theme of the weekend was: “Here am I. Send me!” It came from the verse Isaiah 6:8. Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”
The more I understood Isaiah’s vision, the more I heard a call and saw a vision being directed to me. As I looked around I saw and knew many others with far more talents and abilities than I had. I was just an ordinary guy with an ordinary name of Bob Smith. I think God looked over the crowd to find a young man weak enough to do his work. “His strength is made perfect in our weakness...” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
By the end of the weekend I saw the vision of a mighty God asking me to become a full-time partner in some unknown way. I proceeded to pray that the Lord would use me for his work. In my mind I was waving my hand like a windshield wiper so God could find me. “Here am I, Bob Smith, send me!” Little did I know how far I would be sent. Yet, it was a beginning of a lifelong journey around the world. This was a prayer that continues to be answered today. I saw the vision. I kept the vision and tried to obey the vision since experiencing that special weekend.
Before attending the conference there were those who asked what my plans were after high school. My response was “I’m not sure.” I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. From that point on when people asked what I was going to be, there was no doubt. I told them I was going to be a pastor. However, the closer I came to those college days the more I “chickened out.” I was afraid to even try since, at that time, the Lutheran church required pre-seminary and seminary students to learn Latin, German, Greek, and Hebrew. I was having trouble speaking English and had failed my first year of Latin in high school. It was good that the church had other avenues to serve. I decided to become a Lutheran School teacher instead.
Over the years there was never too much doubt that I was led by the Holy Spirit to serve as a teacher and pastor. I’ve learned that doubt means being double-minded or saying yes and no at the same time. Doubt can be both positive and negative. However, doubting can hold God at arm’s length. Doubt does happen but it should never be so great that it could cause you to abandon your faith.
Faith and trust are the foundation of prayer. “Have faith in God.” “Trust in the Lord.” They are the keys to a strong prayer life. I believe doubt comes from undernourished faith and trust. How then is a believer to grow and trust the promises of God?
The first thing John the Baptist did when he or his disciples were in doubt was to send two disciples straight to Jesus to talk to Him. The conversation they had with Him pointed them to the facts of Jesus’ actions on earth. Christianity is grounded in the fact of God’s entrance into human history in the person of Christ. Christ’s entrance into the human sphere is open to examination by non-Christian and Christian alike, and the doubter will find compelling evidence in support of Christ’s claims. We have solid reasons for making a total commitment to Him. His entrance is verifiable by way of His resurrection. Remember, He showed Himself alive after His passion by many infallible proofs (Acts 1:3) - eye witness proof.
When in doubt go to God in prayer. The greater the challenge the greater the trust needed. Ask Him to fill you up with his Holy Spirit. He will give you the mighty power that comes from heaven. He will fill your soul up to the point that there will be no way to doubt God.
The center of faith and trust is God. Faith and trust perfected, is prayer perfected. Faith and trust is not a belief that God can bless, that He will bless, but that He does bless, here and now. Trust always operates in the present tense. What prayer needs at all times, is abiding and abundant faith and trust.
Without a doubt show others that Jesus is the answer to all:
Personal Reflection Time
Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear (Isaiah 65:24).
As a young person, I didn’t know when and how to pray. Prayers were not specific. “Bless the world.” Help missionaries. “Bless Mom and Dad.” This was stage one for me. By high school I was praying a little more, especially when I had a crisis situation. Stage two had arrived. I was progressing in my prayer life. A youth Bible class teacher suggested that we begin each day with prayer. I respected him, so I tried to do it, but usually I forgot. During my adolescent years I received a prayer book as a gift, called Teenagers Pray. It was on my shelf, but very seldom read. However, the summer before college I was convinced I should use it. To remind myself to pray in the morning, I put the prayer book on the one pair of shoes I consistently wore. The deal I made with myself was to pray before I put on my shoes. It worked!
Stage three began and continued as I studied God's Word and became surrounded by other strong praying Christians. Sports no longer were my number one priority in life; it was my relationship with Jesus. I now knew He was my personal Lord and Savior, God’s Son. Therefore, I watched and listened to my mentors who supported and encouraged me. Yes, I wanted to be a man of prayer, while providing for a wife and sons, teaching school, directing youth programs, coaching sports, shepherding a congregation, and administering a Christian day school. There were quality times of prayer and then there were just prayer times, because it seemed to be the thing to do. There is no doubt in my mind that God has blessed my life with answers to my prayers despite my feeble efforts. But I remained in stage three, playing on God's team, learning to pray.
One day in Nigeria, I prayed one of my shortest prayers. I cried, "Help!" This was when our car caught fire in the city of Kano after we had taken another missionary to the airport. We were in the middle of the busiest intersection in this huge city right at 12:00 noon. Hundreds of Nigerians were on lunch break. Our car stopped running and I had my head down turning the key when my wife said, "I think the car is on fire." When I looked up I discovered she was right. “Yikes!” Smoke was coming out from under the hood. I told my wife to steer the car from her passenger's seat, and I would push it to the side of the road.
Finally after fumbling around, I opened the hood and found a small fire. Since I’m not a mechanic or fireman, I thought maybe the best thing to do was to run. By this time we were the center attraction for what seemed like the whole city. One very smart young man went over to a dirt pile, picked some up, returned and threw it on the right place. It was put out. With the excitement gone, everyone started to walk away. At that moment I silently bowed my head and said a prayer, "Help!" I didn't have a clue what I was going to do next in this strange city where I did not know the language. Immediately, a Nigerian man said, "Do you need help?" It was in English. My affirmative answer came back quickly. He said, "I'll be right back." He walked to a parked taxi and borrowed some tools. Within ten minutes he had us back on the road. God provided an answer to my prayer before I could pray it specifically.
There are innumerable stories of how great God is at answering prayers as we have traveled and lived around the world. Yet it was not until our move to Korea that I think I moved into stage four. When I was at that stage in my athletic career, I felt I was reaching my peak performance. Although there is always room for improvement, this is how I presently feel about my prayer life. It has been a combination of experiences that has influenced me. The list starts with a prayer chapel, and continues with Bible study, Jesus Abbey, Moms In Touch, reading many prayer books, a Promise Keepers accountability group, prayer partners, Habitat for Humanity, Missionaries of Charity India trips, a Papua trip, the Afghanistan experience, and the list goes on. All have helped to lift me to stage four. The most important responsibility I have as a Christian pastor is to pray for my family, parishioners, students, friends, world leaders, the spread of the Gospel message, workers for the harvest, and personal concerns. It is not a problem, but a privilege. There is no way I can help this world more than to spend time in prayer.
Sadly, many Christians pray, but they really don’t expect an answer. I heard this story from Adrian Rogers. A Sunday school teacher who had her children write letters to a missionary they had been praying for. The teacher explained that missionary was very busy and wouldn’t have time to send a reply to every child, so they should not expect to hear back from him. One little girl wrote this letter: “Dear Mr. Smith, I am praying for you. But I really don’t expect an answer.” Are you like that? You pray, but you aren’t really expecting an answer?
God answers all prayers and every prayer of his true children who truly pray. God is waiting to be put to the test by his people in prayer.
Personal Reflection Time
He said to them, ‘When you pray, say: ‘Our Father,…’ (Luke 11: 1-4).
The seed was planted when he was a boy of 8 or 9 living in Rock Island, Illinois. He would run across the street to visit the Manglesdorf family, who had three boys, Bob, Ken and Dan. It was great to enter their home. This little boy knew there was something special about them. Their family was filled with love. He found out it was the love of Jesus Christ that permeated the Manglesdorf family. In many ways they treated him as part of their family, except he didn’t kiss Marie, the mother, ‘good-bye’ when they went out to play, as Danny did. There were the times when he knocked on the door and a big tall man, Herman Manglesdorf, the father, would come to open it. With his good sense of humor he would ask, “Who are you?” The lad would quickly respond, “I’m the little boy from across the street.” He would point in the direction of his home. That was the cue to enter the house. From then on a good time was had by all.
The little guy came from across the street from a loving family of six. Mom and Dad and three children named Albert, Mary, and Kathryn. Later the little boy came along as an afterthought. He believed he had the greatest childhood of all. However, at this point in his parents’ lives, attending church was not a priority on Sunday mornings. His parents did go on special occasions, but not regularly. Nevertheless, they did believe it was important for him to go to Sunday school. It was not the highlight of his week. The Sunday morning ritual was to receive ten cents from his mother for the bus to Sunday school, five or ten cents for the Sunday school offering and ten cents to return by public transportation. He would go a block and a half down to Seventh Avenue to the bus stop. Sometimes when it finally came he would purposely take two steps back and refuse to get on the bus. Then he would go home and tell his mother that there was no bus. He knew it wasn’t honest, but there were two reasons why he didn’t want to go. One was to keep the money that was given to him for transportation and the offering. His mother would forget to ask for it back. He would use it later for special treats.
The other reason was even sadder. He deeply disliked the Sunday school class. His classmates were very knowledgeable about who Jesus was and knew other common stories of the Bible, because during the week they attended the Christian day school that was connected to the church. Because they understood so much, he was laughed at when the teacher asked him, “Who was Mary? Who was Joseph? Who was Jesus?” He had no clue. As a result, the rest of the class quietly chuckled at his answers. The only bright spot was that the Manglesdorf family would usually give him a ride home in their black Ford car.
One summer Danny and his parents made a special effort to invite the little neighbor kid to their church’s weekday parochial school. He refused after asking about their sports program. It was non-existent. Playing sports was his number one priority in life, so he resisted with vigor. The “little boy from across the street” was to learn later in life that victories in sports were not as important as the victory that Christ won for him on the cross. If by now you haven’t figured it out, that little boy was me, Robert (Bob) Wayne Smith.
I began playing softball the summer after my third grade at Longfellow Grade School. Every time our school's fifth and sixth grade softball team had a game at Lincoln Park, I was there to watch. During one game, the team was short one player and I was asked to fill-in. Of course, I was placed in right field. Throughout the game I hoped that the ball wouldn't be hit in my direction. My teammates probably thought the same. "Let's hope they don't hit it to Bobby Smith; he’s sure to make an error." That was stage number one of my baseball career. I was fearful of making a mistake.
Stage two began the next year. Since I had filled in for one game the year before, I was allowed to play on the team again, even though I wasn't old enough. Now I knew that I would get a few balls hit my way in center field. This time I thought, "I hope I don't make too many errors." I had a little less fear of making a fool of myself.
As I advanced in my baseball playing days, I went through two more stages. I enjoyed playing and knew I could be successful. This third stage was positive, but still I wasn't at my peak performance. It was not until I played as a catcher that I realized how much I wanted to play baseball. I wanted to catch and hit both on high school and college teams. In my mind I challenged them, “Just try to keep me off the field!” I looked forward to every opportunity with passion. As I look back, I realize that my problem was that I didn't go through these stages fast enough as an athlete. I missed out being a better athlete in all my playing of baseball, basketball, and football, because I didn't have enough confidence in my ability. God had given me the tools to use, but I didn't reach my potential as soon as was hoped.
Now how do these athletic experiences relate to my prayer life? I think there have been similar stages in learning to pray with power. At stage one, I was taught that I could pray by my Sunday school teacher in about third grade. I was given the prayer referred to in the introduction of this book as a Christmas present. I made sure to attend when Christmas came to receive the present of the year. Once it was a plaque that glowed at night and could be hung on a wall. It said this prayer:
Bless, Savior dear
Be always near.
Keep me (and keep all)
From evil, harm, and fear.
At that time, I was a very poor reader and was not sure what the words meant and to whom I was praying. All I knew was that the Sunday school teacher said it was good to pray. So I did it.
I needed to learn to follow Jesus’ example. He not only was a model but He also told His disciples what to pray. In Luke 11:2 He said to them, "When you pray, say: ‘Our Father… (Luke 11: 1-4),’" and proceeded to give them the Lord's Prayer.
Oswald Hoffmann once said this: “The Lord’s Prayer is the beginning of prayer, not the end. It is for people who want to learn how to pray… The first gesture has to be a hand reached out to God, as to a father. The hand is not a fist; it is open, ready to receive.”
I don’t know about you but I’ve learned many years ago to keep my hand open and be a lifetime learner when it comes to prayer.
Personal Reflection Time
After He had dismissed them, He went up on a mountainside by Himself to pray. Later that night, He was there alone (Matthew 14:23).
Even though we sat in front of our television on the opposite side of the world on September 11, 2001, in Lippo Karawaci, a suburb of Jakarta, Indonesia, my wife and I saw the second plane hit the World Trade Center building. Etched into our minds are pictures no one could ever expect or imagine: a jet liner plowing into a skyscraper. There were clouds of smoke and fire billowing into the sky. Millions of tons of concrete collapsed like a house of cards and turned into dust and rubble. American citizens ran through the streets of New York City in terror. Firemen, policemen and others were coated in ash and soot. It seemed like a movie, but it wasn’t; it was real life.
I'm sure that many passengers in the four jets that crashed on that day were terrified in those last few minutes. It was one of those “I-can't-believe-this-is-happening-to-me” experiences. There were, no doubt, screams of fright and despair. I wonder how many were calling on God in prayer. Perhaps nearly all were.
I wonder how many of the victims knew how to pray to God. I once heard that the true test of a Christian is how they act when something unexpected happens. Those who have a close relationship with the Lord before surprises will be ready to turn to Him in emergencies. They will be prepared. Sincere Christians will have identified with the same request made by the disciples, "Lord, teach us to pray." Jesus, of course, is our best model to follow for knowing how and when to pray. He often went to quiet places to communicate with His Father. In fact, He built his entire life and ministry on prayer. The Bible tells us Jesus prayed:
When He was busy. Jesus got up "a great while" before daybreak to pray. (Mark 1:35) He knew that time with the Father should come before time with people.
When He was tired. Once after a full day of work Jesus asked His disciples to go to the other side of the sea. Then He sent the people away and went up on a mountain to pray (Matt. 14:23). At a time when we might have said we were too tired to pray, Jesus prayed.
When He had decisions to make. Before He chose His apostles, Jesus spent the whole night in prayer. (Luke 6:12)
When He prepared to start his new ministry. After His baptism Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to spend forty days fasting and praying. (Luke 4:1-2)
When He faced the cross. Jesus prayed for three hours in Gethsemane before He went to His trial and crucifixion (Matt. 26.). A long time of prayer can prepare us for facing trials and sacrificial service.
Prayer has power. “What is the source of that power”, you might ask, “so I can tap into it?” A person walks into a dark room, flips a light switch, and presto - the room is bathed in light! Is the person who is flipping the switch the power source of that light? People say there is power in prayer. Does this mean that our prayer words, by themselves, can make things happen? There is power in prayer because God, for Jesus' sake, promises to hear and answer the fervent prayers of a righteous person, a person made righteous by Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection.
Following Jesus’ example will help us to keep the power turned on. He not only set an example, but He also told His disciples what to pray. In Luke 11:2 He said to them, "When you pray, say: ‘Our Father… (Luke 11: 1-4),’" and proceeded to give them the Lord's Prayer.
Let me remind you of what Matt. 6:7 says, too. "And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words."
The power of prayer is available only through the Word of God and the work of the Holy Spirit. For just as putting water into an automobile’s gas tank cannot propel it, so also watered down man-made plans and goals cannot fuel us. We need first and foremost the power of God's living Word for us to reach our peak potential.
Let's be honest. Why is it, that we are not more active in sincere prayer? Christians struggle with periods of stagnant prayer. The dullness may be due to sin in our life – in that case we need to repent and pray. Business, discouraged by grief, no answers, and out of the habit, are common excuses. I also believe prayerlessness exists simply because we do not believe that it will make a difference. If we actually believed that prayer would make a change in our lives, in our families, in our marriages, schools, and the churches, then we would pray regularly, urgently and persistently. Join me in asking God to lead us to be prayer warriors in His mighty army of servants, moving ahead to conquer giants of fear and evil, boldly proclaiming His love and forgiveness.
Jesus used prayer to its full potential. My continuing prayer is: "Lord, teach me to use prayer to its potential in my life."
Personal Reflection Time
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11).
The Swiss theologian, Karl Barth (1868-1968) once said, “You can never have a new beginning, but you can start today to make a new ending.”
Hillcrest School was located in Jos, Nigeria, West Africa. When Alice and I were teachers there, over 40 countries were represented in the student body. This gave us the opportunity to teach a variety of students from all over the world. One of the topics at the end of the year for my senior class in religion was centered on forgiving others. It was important for the seniors not to leave the high school while carrying the extra baggage of unforgiveness the rest of their lives. Most of them were leaving Nigeria to return to their parent’s home country and to attend a university somewhere to further their education. The majority of them would never see their classmates again. Part of making closure to this episode of their life was to be sure that any hurt or abuse previously suffered was properly forgiven. Departing students were encouraged to mend relationship problems with classmates, teachers, or others before leaving for new adventures.
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you (Ephesians 4:32).
Below are some of the highlights on forgiving others from those lessons:
The late Dave Pollock, founder of Interaction International, became a personal friend and introduced the concept of RAFT to me. It is an acrostic denoting a pre-departure process that I have added to the lesson on forgiveness:
R- RECONCILIATION - Begin building your raft by asking yourself if you have any relationships that need mending. This is the time to give and receive forgiveness. Mend your fences!
A- AFFIRMATION - This is the time to thank the people who have been involved in your life. Affirm the relationships you have made and what they have meant to you.
F- FAREWELLS - Say good-byes to people, places, pets and possessions that have mattered to you. Take lots of pictures.
T- THINK DESTINATION - Think and dream about where you are going and what it will be like. Be honest with yourself about how you feel about this transition. Put concrete plans in place.
When a trapeze artist jumps to catch the next trapeze bar he doesn’t hold on to one bar while grabbing the next one. This would result with one hand on each bar. It would cause him to hang and be stranded in the middle. Instead, he lets go with both hands and flies through the air to catch the other swinging bar with both hands. In the same manner we can’t jump into the future by holding too much to the past. One thing we learned from moving so many times is to let go of the past. We tried to live to the fullest wherever we found ourselves in this world to God’s glory.
The fear factor often comes up when thinking about the future. Jesus talked about fear more than any other topic. Fear is the perception that life is out of control. However, Jesus is the one who controls life. God does not give me a spirit of fear to face the future. I face the future by keeping my eyes on Jesus.
As I walk the last steps of my life’s journey with prayer, I am asking God to help me to do it with courage, excellence, poise, and perseverance. What do I mean?
Courage: Living with courage is resistance to fear. Overcoming fear has been one of the most difficult hurdles to overcome in my lifetime. Courage recognizes fear but I proceed in the face of it with calmness and firmness. My security is in God. The result can be a total performance that reaches ones’ potential with excellence.
Excellence: I want to have the self-discipline to reach my full God-given potential by using all of my abilities of body, mind and spirit to the ultimate, for his glory and honor. I want the quality of my character to be one of excellence no matter what the situation.
Poise: I want my life to demonstrate confidence, self-esteem, composure, and self-control under any situation. Poise keeps me true to God and to myself. I won’t try to be someone I am not. I choose to be authentic as I project coolness, calmness and stability. Poise is a choice. I want to choose to be poised in every situation.
Perseverance: My baptism gives me hope and my Christian hope fuels the strength to bear the pressures of daily living, resulting in a life of significance.
Courage + Excellence + Poise + Perseverance = Significant Godly Life
God has demonstrated in my life’s journey that He truly answers prayer. It would be foolish for me not to pray. There have been many principles He has taught me over the years about prayer. The key now is to act on them. I envision a radical way of living and a radical way of praying. My job as God’s child is to be a mirror of Jesus. Each time I fail or sin the mirror gets cloudier and God’s reflection grows dimmer. My heart’s desire is for my life to reflect Jesus and His love to all I meet. My life is a gift from God to you who come after me, especially my family. I have had and you also still do have His promise:
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11).
Personal Reflection Time
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have Significance peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1).
My father looked forward to retiring from his job at the age of 65. However, he had a stroke and died less than a month before his sixty-fifth birthday. My mother passed away before my father at the age of sixty, before Alice and I were married. Neither of my parents had the opportunity to experience retirement. It has been different for their sons and daughters.
After tearful goodbyes, closure came to serving in Indonesia in 2006. It was time to mark the new season of life’s journey into our retirement or as some call it: repositioning. Alice and I were repositioning ourselves back into the Saginaw Valley of Michigan. We eventually purchased a home only a short distance from where we bought our first one in Frankenmuth in 1968.
We were aware of possible reverse culture shock with this move. Making a major move can be one of the most insecure times we face in life. Pulling up roots in one place and trying to put them down in another can be depressing. After living in two foreign countries for the previous ten years our anticipation of returning to the USA created mixed feelings. On one hand, we were looking forward to being with family and friends. On the other hand, we would miss our friends we had grown so close to in Indonesia. We had two major challenges: To re-establish our personal identity and to re-enter the culture. For many, this is the most difficult hurdle in the cycle of international life.
Purchasing and furnishing a home, baby sitting for grandchildren, coaching football, preaching, speaking, and attending Bible classes kept us busy. Not every day flowed smoothly but the love, care, compassion and friendly welcome of family, old, and new friends helped for an easier transition. Yet, when coming back from overseas I saw America as a foreigner might see it. I had to be careful not to say too much which might cause misunderstandings
As I walk this path of retirement I think it could be simple for me to experience the fear of not being a significant person. It is easy for a Christian missionary to develop feelings of self-importance. Often missionaries are put on pedestals by other Christians. Yet, they are no better in God’s eyes, just different. No longer am I in a location where I am one of a few American Christian pastors. Now, being back in the United States, I am just one of many pastors. I have needed to re-examine the foundational truths that motivate me to live out my life for Christ rather than for the approval of other people. This requires prayer, meditation, self-examination, and Bible reading. I believe the emphasis shifts for many believers who are retired from doing to being.
While living in Korea, our son, Kurtis suggested I use the word significance in place of success. I began to use significance in my daily prayers at that time. “Help me, Lord, to become a significant witness to someone today.” Retirement has become a time to search for how to be significant. Below is my short summary on how I, as a Christian, can remember to have a lifetime of significance:
I need to remember:
My true value is not based on my behavior or the approval of others but on what God’s Word says is true about me. Separated from God and His Word, I have only my abilities and the opinions of others on which to base my worth. My worth has been given to me by God. I’m still loved and accepted by Him even if I am not approved by others. Christ is the source of my significance. As I grasp this unconditional love of God, then serving Him becomes more and more my passion. Gradually in my life I have learned to take attention off of myself and place it on Him.
Since retiring, my attitude or outlook has become even more important to me than before retirement. It defines who I am and who I will be. It shapes my actions and reactions to the events that are happening in my life. There are always two ways for me to look at everything that happens to me – the positive way or the negative way. A problem can be looked at as a privilege God has permitted me to go through. I can treat the situation as a process of learning and as a challenge. The end of the condition hasn’t arrived until God is glorified.
Don’t let yourself be dragged down by negative thoughts, words, and actions of other people. Negative attitudes are contagious. So, too, are positive attitudes. Have a positive attitude! Look for the best in other people and the best in every situation. Let others catch your attitude of enthusiasm for life. Then you will know you have had a significant day.
Personal Reflection Time
If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him (James 1:5).
Living in other countries so far away from loved ones has prevented us from closer daily contact with our family in the United States. This circumstance has presented opportunities for me to offer some advice from a father to his sons in several letters. In the process of writing to them I was reminded of a continuous prayer I have asked God to answer: “Lord, I need wisdom.”
God has answered this repeated request. I have to give credit to several Christian authors whose books God guided me to read and study in addition to the Bible. They include E.M. Bounds, Oz Guinness, Charles Swindoll, John Maxwell, Jeff Meyer, John Wooden, Walter Wangerin, Jr., and especially missionaries whose writings have personally touched me and have helped to shape my thoughts. They have put into words what I have experienced trying to live intentionally and with a purpose. It has taken time to consolidate my thoughts. Additionally, some ideas have faded with time.
In 1965 I enrolled full time at Central Michigan University to get my masters degree in physical education. At that time I decided to begin a study of the book of Proverbs. This began a search for what is wisdom, how I could obtain it, and apply it to my life. At that time I had very little confidence in my talents and abilities. I concluded if I were to become successful or significant in this life I was going to need all of God’s help I could get.
In many ways I was similar to Moses or Jeremiah or Gideon who each gave excuses why they couldn’t achieve the vision that God placed before them. I, too, put a lid on my abilities. Moses and others, I think, were acting like humanists, trying to define themselves. Their self-assessment caused them to say "no" to the God of the universe. I think God was extremely displeased with them and me, not because they had a wrong view of the world, but because they had a wrong view of themselves. I, too, have given a lot of excuses why I couldn’t do some things in my life. My self-imposed barriers prevented me from achieving God's highest purposes for my life.
It was the encouragement of God, primarily given through my wife, Alice, that I eventually changed my focus to Christ IN me and not on my talents, abilities and effort. Or saying it another way, God intervened, showing me that my identity was in HIM, not in what I perceived that I could or could not do. I eventually learned that I need God to help me in every way every day!
My opinion is that it takes time to become wise. It is a combination of knowledge, faith (trust) and righteousness (obedience). But how does the word WISDOM lead to purpose, confidence, honor and all the other good things we desire? Proverbs taught me that it begins with the fear of the Lord. Wisdom expresses God's delight as I thoughtfully and skillfully live out His design.
It is possible for a person to gain clarity about direction in life. With Godly wisdom a Christian can live the life God intended. Wisdom for me is the supernatural knowledge and understanding of life given through Scripture to guide me to know what is right and wrong. This discernment gives me a definite line for separating good and evil. It acts as an umpire in my life and blows the whistle on that which is false.Wisdom comes not from trying to do great things for God but more from being faithful in the small, obscure tasks few people ever see. Wisdom comes with right decisions, Godly reactions, and the application of scriptural principles to daily circumstances. The concept of learning to be wise is a lifelong task. It is not like a one-time conversion experience that has become so popular.
Some assume that anything a person needs to know can be put into the content of a university course or two, or even a self-help book. The progression toward wisdom is a function of on–going maturity. How long does it take a person to learn all the things the Lord has taught? I, as a Christian, assume that there is always more to learn. It is going to take me a lifetime, no less.
Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom (Ps. 90:12). As I enter the autumn years of my life, I am beginning to understand WHO I AM IN CHRIST. I am His child. I am His light to a dark world. I am an heir with Christ. I am united with Christ in one spirit with Him. I have been bought with a price and He lives in me. I am a new man. I am firmly rooted in Him. I am special to God. He has designed me, thought about me, and planned a mission for my life. I have been made complete in Him. I have been given a spirit of power, love and good judgment. Now THAT'S a God-given identity! I didn’t realize this soon enough in my life. The wise person knows where to find wisdom. It is in a relationship with God. This is the wisdom I searched for since the springtime in my life. The more I understand this, the more I want to carry on a conversation with Him.
God has blessed me with wonderful ability and will use it until the day I die. I think the most important thing in my life was and is my baptism, and because of it my attitude can be positive. Therefore, I try to remember my baptism every day. It seals me to Jesus. With this wisdom I can
do the next thing I have to do with my whole heart, and find delight in doing it.
It is so important that each Christian takes his or her passion for fulfilling God’s will to the Lord. Then, walk forward without fear. Try to meet the obstacles with courage, enthusiasm and His strength. Move into each day of abundant living, growing, and maturing in conversations with God. Expect to find weak areas where you can improve. The goal is not prayer itself. The goal is to reach a better relationship with God. Prayer is where one begins to achieve the understanding on how to be a Godly servant leader. Incidentally, the next time we meet, share with me what new insights you have learned about prayer. I look forward to hearing your wisdom.
Personal Reflection Time
1. What excuses have you given for not using your talents?
2. How do you define wisdom?
3. What passions are you taking to the Lord in prayer?
Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken (Ecclesiastes 4:12).
Figure this out: my wife, Alice, and I were married on 8 - 7 - 65. How many years have we kept our marriage vow of commitment to each other?
One of UPH’s students asked me in a coaching - counseling session; “Can old people who are married still have romance?” I was quick to reply with a positive answer because I have personally experienced it. My wife and I have creatively spent time and effort at trying to keep our marriage romantic and loving. Have we been perfect in showing our love to each other? No, of course not, there have been times of failure for both of us. Yet, we have been quick to ask for forgiveness and to give it. Also, we have had a lifetime commitment to pray for, serve and love each other.
Most couples walk into this unity with very little understanding, guidance and help. One thing I found out for certain: a successful marriage takes work with good communication. Permit me to share a few views and thoughts of what I think my wife and I believe it takes to have a romantic and happy marriage union.
Let us count the ways using the Bible passages from Philippians 2:2-3, our wedding text: Then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.
Finally a word is given on the importance of sex. It is positive but over rated in today’s society. A good marriage does not rest upon sex but upon friendship, respect, love, communication and a commitment to sexual purity. These are what make a happy lifelong marriage possible. Yes, there can be romance after years together. I can’t imagine a better friend or closer partner. Divorce is not in our vocabulary. We have made a commitment for a lifetime to surrender to God and each other..
Without prayer the success of marriage becomes our own effort. Praying invites God to do great things in our lives. God wants marriage partners to join together in prayer and experience the joy, the satisfaction, and the dynamic power that comes from such a union. Praying together as a couple can improve and strengthen every marriage, and at the same time deepen the couple’s relationship to God. “A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”
As the years have passed we were blessed with two sons for whom Alice and I asked God to intercede into their lives. Eventually God brought brides into their lives who have common commitments to Christ. From these two families have come eight wonderful grandchildren, four girls and four boys. We have made a commitment to praying for their world. We are daily inviting God to come into their situations and give them the gifts of the Holy Spirit; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. I am confident God hears and answers these prayers.
Personal Reflection Times
1. When was the last meaningful prayer time you have had with your family?
2. What are the common obstacles that keep your family from praying together?
3. What specific prayers have the Lord answered for your family over the last several months?
Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you (1 Peter 5:7).
While I was chaplain at Seoul Foreign School (SFS) in Korea, I was given the privilege to teach a course called: “Peer Counseling.” This instruction was to provide beginning counseling skills that would enable students to be the initial caregivers to classmates who had a variety of problems. We studied listening, caring and confrontation skills, and a body of knowledge designed to inform us about some of the key issues commonly faced by students. In particular, I was committed to providing a caring Christian environment consistent with the highest Christian values of compassion, tolerance, forgiveness, and reconciliation at SFS.
We tried to identify the causes, effects, the Biblical perspective, and responses to many issues such as suicide, self-esteem, stress, depression, rape, drugs, alcohol, racism, abuse and others.
Each class member was asked to do a research paper on one of the topics and present it to class. The abortion topic seemed to make a lasting impression on me. This topic carried over from teaching Christian Ethics in the United States. It had become a prayer concern from years previous. Now I was hearing Korean statistics on abortion from more than one of my students. The Korean Times reported on November 23, 2000 the following information:
· “As many as 1.5 million abortions were carried out throughout the nation in 1994, 4,500 a day, according to data from Gallup.”
· “The figure is more than twice that of total annual births which number about 700,000. This means that one is aborted every 20 seconds.”
· “Unofficial figures show that over 2 million fetuses are aborted in Korea annually.”
· “The enormous number of pregnancy terminations is attributed to a variety of factors such as the failure of contraceptives, governmental policies to control population size and the deep-rooted preference for boys.”
When I moved to Indonesia and became the head of the counseling department at Universitas Pelita Harapan (UPH) I became even more aware of the world statistics on the number of abortions. My colleague, Miss Suriani Arifin, shared information from the Indonesian National Family Planning Bureau. It indicated that over two million babies were aborted in Indonesia each year. Teenagers were behind the rate climb with about one third of the abortions, 750,000, involving teenage mothers.
Not long after my arrival at Universitas Pelita Harapan I met one of the most enthusiastic young Christian male students on campus. We became great friends and he felt comfortable visiting my office. One day he asked if he could bring a female friend with him. They were not dating and were just friends. She had confided in him that she was pregnant and was planning to abort the baby. He had tried to convince her otherwise but had no success. Now it was my turn to try.
She said she was a Christian so I began with prayer that the Holy Spirit would be present and guide our discussion. I continued with the counseling techniques I taught in Korea, such as listening, understanding, questioning, and summarizing what she was really saying, feeling, and meaning. I attempted to inform her of the Biblical perspectives of abortion. They were interspersed over the hour and a half session. The statements below summarize my thoughts of six biblical arguments against abortion:
1. A child in the womb is referred to as a child.
2. The unborn child in the womb is always a human person.
3. God values the life of the unborn as highly as the adult.
4. God is involved in the creation and the development of the unborn child.
5. Jesus was both God and man from the point of conception, not birth.
6. Anyone who willfully destroys human life commits murder.
My heart breaks and tears come to my eyes to tell you that not many days after I had this counseling session, the young lady had an abortion. After all was said and done I realized I could have been much bolder and followed up better. If I had to do it all over again, I would have tried harder.
Fortunately there is spiritual healing for all women who have had abortions. Also for the men who have promoted the evil of abortion. As with any other sin we can come back to the reality of what God says about our lost and hopeless condition. God tells us there is salvation and that redemption is found in His Son. It was Jesus who took all the wrath of God meant for you and for me. All of that was taken on Himself. He cared and will always care for each one of us.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us (Psalm 103:11-12).
I don’t know of anything else that can bring relief and freedom to a woman who is torn and burdened, heavy laden with the reality, and guilt of what she has done in having had an abortion. Nothing can solve that problem except what Jesus offers.
“Thank you, God, for the healing care of Jesus and God the Spirit, who ministers comfort, restoration, hope, trust, and rest.”
Personal Reflection Time
1. Worldwide abortion is the main cause of death. So what can you do to effectively fight this battle? The first thing is to pray for God's mercy on America and the rest of the world. How often do you include this pro-life issue in your prayers?
2. Do you know anyone who is considering an abortion? Be ready to share your Christian worldview.
3. We all can do many other practical things locally to express our love and to advance a pro-life ethic in our city, state and nation. What will you do?
Fasting Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly (Matthew 6:16-18).
We don’t hear too much about fasting in Christian churches here in North America. For the first half of my life fasting was foreign to me. Those strong Christians I knew never talked about any fasting they did or suggested the practice. It was not until I moved to another continent that I became acquainted with Christians who fasted. They understood the focus the Scripture placed on fasting. Also, while living in predominately Islamic countries, I observed and read much about fasting. Of course, their motivation was different than what Christians would hold. Let me share a story that our son returned to tell after going to Africa for a filming project:
“When we were working on the video for the 100th Anniversary of LCMS World Mission, we were interviewing Liberian refugees about the growing church in West Africa. After several other interviews, we met with Kenety Gee. He told an incredible story of hardship in his personal story of fleeing from rebel forces when members of his extended family were massacred. He then proceeded to witness his faith in his answers with Scripture as if he were the Apostle Paul himself. It was our best interview by far and became the central story of our production.
“Later I asked missionary John Duitsman how come this particular interview went so well and he told this story: Kenety heard that our video crew was coming and had decided to fast and pray about his answers for the ten days before our arrival. He wanted to speak wisely in his answers and glorify God as he shared his story with the American audience. He gave up food in order to focus on Jesus and his message to be told across the world.”
Christians around the globe are practicing fasting, and not only in the season of Lent. When I preached in Huånuco, Peru, the church members, particularly among leaders, had been fasting for several days before a planning ministry meeting for the coming year.
Fasting isn't normally done with intent to change God. Instead, it is largely done in order to bring oneself into closer communion with God and His will in one's life. As a replacement for focusing upon the bodily needs of nourishment, fasters are able to spend extra time upon their spiritual lives and listening to God. Physical hunger reminds fasters of their focus during their time with God. It prioritizes the relationship with God, and strengthens the bond of commitment.
Fasting is a spiritual discipline that is very closely related to prayer. Fasting is not commanded but seems assumed in Scripture. Jesus, in His sermon on the mount, taught with the assumption that God’s people are people who fast. “When you fast…” (Matthew 6:16-18). He did not say “If you fast,” but “when.” There’s an expectation implied in His Words… perhaps even an invitation.
I might have been more inclined to practice this spiritual discipline early in my own life if I had understood Scripture. Perhaps you have heard about the church bulletin that ran the following announcement: “The cost for the National Conference on Prayer and Fasting includes meals.”
This space won’t be taken to exhaust the subject, but I do hope to spur us on to a lifestyle of fasting. So let me start by giving the definition of fasting.
Fasting can be defined as going without food, drink or certain other pleasures voluntarily in order to give oneself more attentively to God and to prayer. A person can fast by skipping one meal and spending that time in prayer, or he can fast for an entire day, or, in some serious cases of need, several days.
Fasting is not simply a state of the stomach, but a state of mind and a state of heart that quietly pursues God in a way that enlarges one’s capacity to hear from Him and to receive from Him all that He desires for us. God delights to respond to His people when His people humble themselves and seek His face, His person, His kingdom, His righteousness. So whenever God’s people encounter a gap between what is and what ought to be, that encounter is God’s special invitation to fast and pray… to lay aside something natural in order to lay hold of something supernatural.
I guess my bottom line is to challenge each person to embrace a lifestyle of fasting. How a person fasts, when he fasts, from what he fasts, the regularity with which he fasts, is really between that individual and the Lord. So as believers talk about living out God’s kingdom priorities - loving God, loving one another, and reaching out to the world with the Gospel fasting can be part of Christian discipline. Consider seriously taking the next step by embracing a lifestyle of fasting in some manner. Just be sure the motivation is correct. A follower of Christ can’t buy blessings from God.
Personal Reflection Time
Where there is no vision, the people perish (Pro. 29:18a).
Praise God for Pak (Mr.) Bul Penyami. He was one of the most visionary men I have ever met. On my arrival in 2001 at UPH, a university with over 6,000 students, Pak Bul asked me to help with teaching a new course, which was eventually called “Becoming a Leader.” It amazed me that the course was started after the semester was in progress. We just put up a couple of signs and 24 students started coming to class. We kept preparing creative lessons one week ahead of the students’ arrival. It turned out to be magnificent. Each semester thereafter it improved and became one of the most popular courses on campus. Pak Bul was the leader of teaching the art of successful leadership. I was assigned to provide consistency and direction as to what and how it was to be taught. We had the vision that this course would be the most valuable course of each student’s life. It would be the foundation for the attendees to become “Great Godly Servant Leaders” with a Christian World view. This class was to become a prime national resource for empowering students to develop good character and attitude and to glorify God.
About a year before Pak Bul died he was asked to do a leadership seminar at Petra University, another Christian university in Indonesia. He was too ill to do it and asked Pak Roy and me to take his place. I asked him to share ten thoughts on becoming a great leader that he wanted me to present to those students. Believe me they came from the heart of a great Christian visionary leader. Pak Bul sincerely wanted students to become not only leaders of Indonesia but also of the world. His enthusiasm for creativity and leadership was contagious. Pak Bul said that if he were young again and became a leader today, he would do these 10 things:
Oh, one more saying, from Pak Bul that he placed on the walls of UPH: “Responsibility begins with me.”
As I reflect on my life I humbly realize I have been a dreamer or visionary person. By the time I reached the point of teaching leadership at the university level I realize I had been putting my dreams into words and actions. Let me give you two examples from St. Lorenz days.
Many years ago I was given the responsibility of directing St. Lorenz Spartan Day Camp in Frankenmuth. Terry Laubsch was the camp’s assistant director. Beginning in the early part of January, Terry and I would unveil an elaborate vision for the coming summer day camp. Each year there was a new special theme: “Treasures of the Sea,” “Rendezvous in Space,” “Paul Bunyan,” or another. Together we set a mental/spiritual image of what we thought God wanted the camp to be the next season. It was way above what many others thought to be too ambitious. Yet, it was our understanding of what God wanted to do through us. We understood that in order to be successful God would have to be trusted to guide and direct the results.
At the same time the St. Lorenz Physical Education program was becoming well known for its superior quality of instruction. God opened the door for me to become St. Lorenz’s first full time physical education instructor. During the 1970’s we were able to have over 700 students in the school from grades one through eight be instructed in physical education every school day. The President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports recognized the program as the first parochial demonstration center school in the country. This opened up a flood of visitors. There were as many as sixty college students and teachers per day who came to observe how we were applying the Christian worldview to the teaching of physical education.
Those visions were bigger than our abilities and pulled us out of our comfort zones. Hours of prayer and work went into the preparations. Our visions had amazing results. Hundreds of volunteers bought into the visions and contributed to making the day camp weeks and physical education program successful. It was well worth the effort. God blew us away with His blessings!
My personal vision is to be the best servant leader I can possibly be in the time and place where God has called me to His glory. I want to be a person who views the world from God’s perspective, who exercises His gifts and talents with excellence and perseverance, and who strategically plans to serve others. My mission then, is to confirm the dignity of every human being that my life touches by providing openness, acceptance, trust, understanding, encouragement, service, hope and prayer.
To be this significant person stretches me beyond what I believe are my limits. Because I need God’s help and guidance, my desire to be significant has become a daily prayer petition.
Personal Reflection Time
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 Timothy 2:1-4).
Living, working, volunteering, and visiting a variety of countries has been a unique privilege. This has provided some opportunity for me to compare the way countries are governed. Think about the differences in freedom and the ability to witness between United States, China, Russia, Afghanistan, Israel, France, Nigeria, Guatemala, South Korea, India, Indonesia, and Peru. I can draw on these examples from personal encounters. Here are some of my snapshot opinions of the present world:
We are living in an age of religious pluralism, especially here in the USA. What do I mean by that? People all over are having ethical disputes. This is an age with a variety of views. What comes along with pluralism? It is individualism or widespread self-interest. Now we need to ask ourselves what implications this has for us as Christians. Is this positive or negative and is it a challenge or an opportunity?
Christians have the opportunity to be “the salt of the earth.” Therefore, our position on earth is to be God’s ambassadors representing heaven’s government. It is through prayer and intercession we begin administering the authority that is ours in the name of Jesus. In the face of all the waves of sorrow mentioned above it is our responsibility to witness and demonstrate that Christ is Lord of lords. We need leaders who say what they mean and stay with it. For one, I try to vote for the person who has the greatest “character.” I mean honesty and integrity. Consistency is important. Issues will change over time. Therefore the character of the person is imperative.
Paul gives us directions for a ministry of prayer:
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 Timothy 2:1-4).
God is concerned that we pray for “all people.” Also He expects us to pray for “all those in authority.” This may be summed up in the single word, the government. Unfortunately, I am convinced that many who claim to be committed Christians never pray seriously for the government of their nation.
Why do we want to pray for our government? Paul says: “that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” Let me share an example of the contrast between the two governments of North and South Korea. The growth and vibrancy of the government and church in South Korea is well recognized around the world. The largest churches in membership in the world are found in Seoul. Their members are famous for the amount of time spent praying. But there is also a church in North Korea under cruel dictatorship and no freedom of worship. The group Open Doors says there could be 400,000 Christians in the North, with possibly 40,000-60,000 in prison labor camps. For the 9th year running, the “Hermit Kingdom” of North Korea has once again topped the Open Door World Watch List. This is an annual ranking of the world’s worst persecuting of Christians countries. It is reported in 2010 one small house church in Pyungsung province was raided by the police. Three members were immediately sentenced to death. The other twenty were sent to prison. Let us pray that the Lord would encourage and shine through all of those disciples, those who are free and those who are in camps. Christians in the United States and other free countries should forever be thankful “that we may still live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”
The will of God is good government. Why does He want good government? It is easier to preach the Gospel effectively. Bad government hinders it. God has made it possible for Christians by their prayers to insure good government. Today many citizens criticize their government. Pointing fingers and blaming individuals are not the answers. The answers lie in God’s people praying for His will to be accomplished. So long as believers fail to pray, they have no right to criticize.
There is a nondenominational Christian ministry called The Presidential Prayer Team. They believe that the prayers of its members can transform the nation. The materials that they produce are up to date and very beneficial.
This group believes that one of the most important missions to be accomplished today is the prayer for those in leadership. They have faith that God influences leaders and that prayer to God impacts what happens. Therefore, the mission for The Presidential Prayer Team is to encourage and motivate people to pray for the President and other leaders of the United States.
Even though there are a lot of negative things about the USA I still believe that America is the greatest country in the world. We are blessed to have been born and raised in a country with the freedoms the constitution provides.
Personal Reflection Time
For I am the LORD, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, do not fear; I will help you (Isaiah 41:13).
We gathered around the car, held hands, and prayed for safety for those who were traveling on the Nigerian highways. This was a common practice for Nigerian Christian missionaries before extended trips in cars. We all knew the dangers on Nigerian roads.
Players, coaches, parents, and fans prayed for safety of both teams before football games. We all knew the possibilities of injuries that could take place.
Safety has been one of my most common prayer petitions for myself and others during my entire life. Maybe it has been the same for other Christians. Here are a few prayer requests that Kurtis, our son and his wife, Teresa, posted on their blogs from Huanuco, Peru during 2010 – 2011:
If anyone causes one of these little ones…to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea (Matthew 18:6 NIV).
Colleen Beebe Purisaca, Co-International Director, of Peace and Hope shared this sad commentary on the verse above through their website:
“Most Christians are familiar with Jesus’ warning to people who mistreat children – it would be better for them to drown in the depths of the sea. Based on the prevalence of child abuse around the world, one can only conclude that we don’t really take this warning very seriously. Perhaps, if Christians knew more about the problem of child abuse, the profound damage it causes, and that we are commanded by God to stop injustice, we would be compelled to do more to stop it…
“While exact statistics are difficult to obtain, studies suggest that Latin America and the Caribbean have some of the highest rates of violence against women and children in the world—manifesting itself in physical punishment, sexual abuse, neglect and economic exploitation (a form of human trafficking). Further, much child abuse is unreported and more widespread than it appears in the region. Child abuse in Latin America and elsewhere cuts across social classes, race, ethnicities and gender.”
Safety was the most frequent prayer request we heard from those we talked with while on our trip to Huanuco, Peru. Pastor Adjon, chaplain for “The House of Good Treatment,” a shelter for abused women and children administered by Paz y Esperanza was asked, “What is your biggest prayer concern?” His answer, “Safety is the biggest concern for the abused women and children staying in the shelter. Also the workers of Paz y Esperanza have been threatened by those who are being prosecuted. We need prayer for their safety as well.”
The Paz y Esperanza lawyers are attempting to handle 250 to 300 cases of abuse presently on the books in Huanuco. This is a city of around of more than 500,000 residents. It is reported that 50 cases of abuse are happening per week in this area. Over 70% of the families communicate violence towards women and children.
A handful of Christian lawyers, psychologists and pastors decided to respond to the growing numbers of people affected by the extreme violence in Peru. They established Paz y Esperanza a biblically based independent non-profit organization in 1996. Since then, Paz y Esperanza, has grown from five people in one Lima office to over 125 people in 10 offices in five countries. Paz y Esperanza in Peru is one of the largest and one of the most important human rights organizations in Peru. Their work is base on this scripture mandate:
And what do I require of you? To do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with me (Micah 6:8).
From all the evidence I saw this very professional organization of Paz y Esperanza is reaching their vision. It is going beyond what they had hoped would happen. They are seeking to transform society by eradicating injustice wherever it is found. Psychological, social, economic, and spiritual rehabilitation, legal representation, education and training are occurring like never before in the history of Peru.
As we place our feet on the floor each morning we pray that God would provide the physical protection for others we love and ourselves. In everyday formal and casual conversations with God we ask for protection and safety. Missionaries who are on the front line of fighting the devil especially request and need the protection of angels to accomplish their tasks. We don’t have to live in fear as God does answer prayers to provide the safety we pray for everyday. I do believe safety is not the absence of danger but the presence of the Lord. Every missionary I had the opportunity of personally knowing can provide a story or two how they have had God’s arms protecting them at some time in their lives.
Personal Reflection Time
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
What does “trouble” or “failure” teach us? Should we avoid it at all costs? Does failure chip away at our fragile ego, causing feelings of insecurity, isolation or humiliation? Most people try to avoid failure as though it were a bad disease. They cringe at the prospect of failure and may choose to stay in a safe but unchallenging position. Is there a better way?
I remember while teaching physical education in St. Lorenz gym picturing an audience of one sitting on top of the bleachers watching me. It was God. He was always watching my every instruction and move. In my whole life He walked with me around the world. God is always with each of us. He is the one who understands a person’s motivation. God tests us to see if we look to Him for daily and future help. We are to commit our works to the Lord. God permits affliction so God’s works may be displayed! He has a plan that is far different from anything you or I could dream. He has a way to accomplish His purpose in this world. He frequently permits uncomfortable situations and events to occur in our lives. He is constantly training us to understand and cope with life. He offers comfort in our troubles so that we can lead others to understand His mercy and encouragement.
Could God use a failure in your life as a transformative experience and an opportunity for His majestic light to clearly shine through you? Only the Lord sees in advance the whole picture of your life. The illustration of the pearl fits well with the study of adversity in our lives.
Again the kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it (Matt. 13: 45-46).
Do you know how a pearl is formed? It is truly fascinating. A foreign object, often a grain of sand, somehow makes its way into the tightly sealed oyster. Instead of spitting out this irritating object, the oyster absorbs it and covers it with layer upon layer of a substance secreted from its own body. After months or even years, a beautiful pearl is formed. The longer the pearl remains in the oyster, the more valuable it becomes, due to the continuing layers of secretion.
How do we as Christians handle irritating obstacles in our lives? Remember, the greater the irritant, the thicker and more beautiful the pearl becomes as a result of continual washing. Like the oyster, we want to surround the irritating troubles in our lives with layers of prayer and recall of Scripture. It is our faithful response of poise, patience, and grace that develops over time with the help of the Holy Spirit. Cultured with these attributes, we can witness the love of Christ to those who may not know the story of His love.
Cultured pearls are known for their virtue of luster. Luster is the beauty of light reflected from the surface of the pearl. The ability to reflect light determines its value. You can become a pearl of great value! How will you reflect His light today, tonight, tomorrow, next week and for a lifetime?
What has been the most difficult experience of your life? How will you face troubles in the future? Your determination to carry through and accomplish a task regardless of opposition is a lifelong challenge.
The world will poke fun at us. The world never sees tribulations and afflictions as helpful. Even some Christians may say, “God is love. Why is He doing this?”
We are being used by God to influence the lives of many, some of whom do not understand how to live with trials and tribulations. Life is tough. When we feel discouraged, take it to the Lord in prayer. We can be assured that God is with us, even as He was with faithful men and women of the Bible. God is exercising our faith. We cannot understand this through the power of reason. This is a matter of faith. The joy of the Lord becomes and is our strength.
Personal Reflection Time
1. Remember a time in your life when you failed. What lessons did you learn?
2. What would you share with a person who is going through a time of trouble and tribulation?
3. What troubles, trails, and tribulations are you taking to the Lord in prayer today?
Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise; give thanks to Him and praise His name (Psalm 100:4).
Traveling outside of my comfort zone has given me a thankful perspective on blessings I have received. My family has had protection and safety in so many situations around the world. I am humbled and amazed as I look back through my life’s calendar. As the opportunities unfolded for us to travel the world, we realized what amazing things God has done. He has showered us with His spiritual and material riches. The older I grow the more thankful I become.
Thanksgiving differs from praise. Remember praise recognizes God for who He is, while thanksgiving recognizes God for specific things He has done. Giving thanks turns our hearts and heads upward. Every experience one encounters is a reason to give thanks. So start counting your blessings. You will run out of time before you exhaust the list of blessings. Someone once said “Giving thanks is like swimming in the ocean. There is no end.”
"I have reason to thank God," a man once said to a friend. "As I was crossing a narrow open bridge on horseback, my horse stumbled. I fell from the horse and almost drowned." The friend answered, "I have a greater reason to thank God. As I traveled on horseback, my horse did not stumble at all."
This story reminded me of Cecil Blanck and his wife, Lily. They were members of St. John's congregation which I shepherded in Buckley, Illinois years ago. They were in a serious car accident. After the event I talked to them and they were praising and thanking God for His protection and few injuries. This was certainly appropriate. If I remember correctly, however, Cecil especially was thanking God for the fact that his new glasses weren't broken on the first day he received them. For four years I traveled the same road every day and I didn't thank the Lord enough for His safety and protection.
The presence of danger causes us to appreciate God's providence and protection, but we fail to notice the daily absence of danger. We can easily start thinking: "A gift regularly and freely given soon becomes a demanded right."
Giving thanks is a style of living. Saying thank you is easy. We teach our children and grandchildren from the beginning to say "Thank you." When a person says thank you it says two things. It first says: "I know you are there." And the second thing thank you says is: "I know goodness comes from you."
Now think what your heart is saying when you turn to God and say, "Thank you." Your heart is saying: “I know you are there. I know goodness comes from you.”
God has always been there. He is here now and He will be there in the future for me. "Thank you, Lord."
Thanksliving is a whole style of living with an attitude of giving thanks. My attitudes, values, hopes, dreams, and commitments - all of these focus back to my relationship with Jesus. I can stand tall in my thankfulness to God for I am His child and He is my Father. Yielding my life to the baby born in Bethlehem is positive. He grew up and won the victory I needed. Thanksliving is truly understanding that we are significant to Jesus Christ. I am humbly thankful for His blessings and our relationship.
The ancient Greeks used to say "Whatever good you do, record it on sand. But the good others do to you, carve it on marble." Our sinful nature, however, urges us to reverse the procedure. We remember our kindnesses to others, but we forget their kindnesses to us. We forget the harm we do to others, but we remember the harm others do to us.
This attitude shows up not only in our interpersonal relationships with others, but also in our relationship with God. His kindnesses toward us are countless. They are so numerous, varying, and constant, that we fail to identify them. They escape our attention. But we never seem to fail to notice any lack we may experience, no matter how small.
I have so much to be thankful for, yet find myself being irritated and dissatisfied. I don't like the direction things are moving politically, socially, culturally or economically. Left unchecked, though, my attitude dissolves into anger and even fear. A thankful person is a joyful person.
When you awoke this morning, what was the first thing you did? Did you pause to thank God for the sleep you enjoyed, your health, and the privilege of life for another day? Or have these become so common place that you are not impressed by them? Beware of ingratitude in the midst of plenty which is taken for granted.
Personal Reflection Time
1. What have you been taking for granted lately?
2. Do you remember the ancient Greek saying I quoted? Permit me to change it. Whatever good you do, record it on sand. But whatever good God does for you, carve it on marble, and then say: "Thank you, Lord."
3. What in your prayers can you thank God for today?
Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
In a Bible class I once attended, a Liberian who recently moved to the United States was asked to share his personal story. With many others, he lived through war and bloodshed in his homeland. He suffered greatly as a young person. He found great hope and comfort when the Gospel of Jesus Christ was shared with him by Christian missionaries. As a new Christian, he studied the scriptures and memorized Bible verses to carry in his mind and heart, giving him strength for each day and courage to face the future. He spoke about his faith with conviction and confidence.
He was asked if he noticed any differences between Christians from Liberia and Christians in America. “Yes, he said, African Christians pray and know that God will supply their daily needs. The American Christians believe that God and their credit cards will supply their daily needs.”
My wife and I represented the World Mission Prayer League at the “World Prayer Assembly 2012.” It was held in Jakarta, Indonesia and co-hosted by the Indonesian and South Korean prayer movements during May 2012. We personally observed the enthusiasm for prayer by over 9,000 Christians from 86 different countries. It was contagious! I’ve never experienced anywhere such intentional and deliberate prayer. Hearts and tongues joined together in concert. It was a little a taste of what I expect in heaven.
Membership in Christian churches is growing on several continents. It is interesting to me that two continents on the planet where church growth does not seem to be taking place are North America and Europe. Could this have any connection to prayer? I think there is a link to the priority placed on prayer. We are experiencing a prayer crisis today in the western church. In general, prayer is not a priority. How many prayer mountains or prayer retreats or prayer vigils have you heard about lately in the USA? How often have you been getting up at 4:30 or 5:00 a.m. to spend an hour or two in prayer?
All over the world men, women and children have proven the power of prayer. God calls us to partner with Him through prayer. He wants to transform our own circumstances and our world through prayer. God does shape the world through prayer.
It is time to connect more intentionally to God with prayer. We do not want to wait till there is a crisis in our lives or the world, but to pray with passion now. I will say this again, there is nothing greater we can do for our family, our church, our land, our world, and ourselves than to pray.
Often we have a gap between what we know is right and good, and what we do. Our challenge is to close the gap. We want the presence of God to move beyond theory to living reality.
Paul doesn’t just encourage us to act in certain ways, to rejoice, to pray, to give thanks – no, he wants more, he wants these believers and us to do these things “always,” “without ceasing,” “in all circumstances.”
Maybe this sounds impossible, even undesirable, to some believers. Nobody can think of God all the time. Who would even want to? Life is complicated enough.
Look at the world and see the need for prayer. Martin Luther is given credit for the following quote: “He who does not see the need for prayer evidently goes through life with closed eyes.”
What is such a life of prayer that never ceases? The attitude of the person praying is what counts. It is your whole relationship with God – It is never losing contact with God. It is an open conversation that never really stops with a period.
Prayer is the conversational part of a loving relationship with God. Faith gives birth to prayer. Faith and prayer are the two sides of a coin. One is not without the other.
Finally it comes down to a heart attitude. The relationship is in the heart and is put there by the Holy Spirit. The key to all successful prayer is the presence of the Holy Spirit. It is undoubtedly an entire sacrifice of one's life to God's Kingdom and glory. If a believer tries to pray without ceasing, because he wants to be very pious and good, he will never succeed. Yielding ourselves to live for God and his honor, enlarges the heart and teaches us to regard everything in the light of God and his will. We instinctively recognize the need for God's help and blessing in everything around us, and an opportunity to glorify Him.
What is meant by requiring us to make every aspect of our lives a prayer? Often for us, prayer is defined as an occasional activity, like eating and sleeping. These are things we must do sometimes, but that by definition we cannot do all the time. This is not wrong, it is just inadequate. Pray always? Again, it is never losing contact with God. Therefore it becomes a heart attitude. It is an attitude that informs all we do. Everything becomes a response to what God has done and is doing. Unceasing prayer is an attitude in which a believer views the world and all that is going on in life, all that occurs, and all of it translates into prayer. Something good is seen, and, immediately, praise rises from the heart. Something negative is seen and, immediately, goes forth a prayer for help with the situation. Everything is weighed and tested by the one thing that fills the heart: the glory of God. To forget about self and to live for God and His Kingdom among men is the way to learn to pray without ceasing.
Jesus is the key to prayer because He removed the sin barrier between God and humanity. By His blood, Jesus leads us into the immediate presence of God. By the Holy Spirit’s power we live there. Living so close to God and knowing we have been taken there to bless those who are far away, we cannot help but pray.
Christ said, “I have set you an example.” Christ teaches us to pray by showing us how He does it, by example, by doing it in us, and by leading us to do it in Him and like Him. Christ is everything. He is the life and the strength for a never-ceasing prayer life. Because His life is our life, praying without ceasing can become the joy of heaven here on earth.
We need to be reminded that unceasing prayer is hidden prayer, the prayer of the closet. Others may not know we are engaged in it. We know the only source of help is God. It becomes a way of life. We start our day with prayer. We pray through the day. We end the day by praying as we fall asleep. Very often these petitions rise silently from our hearts to the throne of God.
Prayer, an ongoing conversation with God, is not a work or a burden, but a joy and a triumph. It becomes a necessity and a second nature. It can become a way of life.
Personal Reflection Time
1. Do you believe this statement is true? “The American Christians believe that God and their credit cards will supply their daily needs.”
2. Why do you believe church membership and attendance is dropping in the United States?
3. Can you explain to someone else how to pray without ceasing?
“But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).
While living in Indonesia, a family from Jakarta attended our house church. The father was from Afghanistan. He shared his life story with us. As a young boy, he lived with his Muslim family. Eventually, he was accepted to study at a university in England. A Christian group at the university asked him to join their Bible study group. His father found out and immediately called him back to Afghanistan. Upon return he was given an ultimatum to make a choice: Muslim? Christian? Which was it going to be? Later that night he walked out of his home in Kabul and for three days walked through the Khyber Pass into Pakistan. There he found a Christian church and pastor, who offered him a room to rest and recuperate. After a few days he walked into the community and saw a newspaper in a news stand. On the front page was his picture. Under it was the inscription: Wanted Dead or Alive! His father had asked the newspaper to print the announcement. Our friend never returned to his home town nor did he ever see his father again. In God’s timing, he became a Christian pastor.
Unfortunately, his story is more common than we would like to believe. Worldwide, Islam uses fear and threats to discourage those, who might have an interest in Christianity or any other religion, from openly pursuing it.
Because my wife and I lived in Muslim majority nations, it provided us opportunities to know and become friends with many Muslims and former Muslims. Therefore, upon our return to Michigan, we were invited to share our experiences, knowledge, and understanding of Islam.
Islam is a very hot topic for the speaking circuit. Just what is the Muslim faith all about, and what can the average Christian do to reach out and share the Gospel with a Muslim?
This is a time of great suspicion between Muslims and Christians. We need to increase our understanding of Islam and extend genuine love and servanthood, so we can reach out to our Muslim neighbors. We need to bridge the gap between Muslims and the Gospel.
The twenty-first century wholelistic approach to witnessing includes the Gospel, fulfilling a need, and building a relationship with those being served. The principles of deep friendship, God’s Word, and mercy are all needed. The task the Lord Jesus has given to us is to testify to ALL people. Muslims are included in the Gospel of God’s grace.
First, in my Muslim encounters, I try not to see a Muslim. I try to see another human being. Second, I see a potential friend. Then I see one whom I can serve and share God’s love. Muslims hope that Christians can respect them. Karl Menninger, a famous psychiatrist, says, “Love is the medicine of the world.” As a Christian I try to resist the temptation to be caught up in generalization, anger, hate or fear toward anyone.
My experience has found that most Muslims are kind, peaceable people. A few Muslims are not. Our attitude should be built on the former, but we also have to deal with the latter. Not all Muslims are terrorists. Most Muslims are moderate and conservative and are not extremists.
In the Muslim mind, Christianity is directly associated with something called the West. We must insist on the distinction between westerner and Christian. The government is to protect the country. The Church or Christians are to witness God’s grace, love and compassion.
Our outreach to Muslims will take far more patience, time, and focus than outreach to other religious blocs and ethnic groups. While some principles do overlap with Christianity, a Muslim will need to hear the Gospel many times before he or she will even begin to consider it. We must reach out and go to Muslims. This requires a relational approach. Once a relationship is built, Muslims need to have many discussions with a Christian. Both sides need to spend plenty of time listening. We, as Christians, have to take the first step in our relationship with Muslims. We must cultivate genuine friendships. To love Muslims is not just a strong feeling – it is a decision.
Here is the challenge: Muslims, who are no longer simply “over there”, but are now “right here.” The growth of numbers of Muslims in the West means that Christians who live where Muslims live now have witnessing opportunities they never had before. Muslims are coming to faith in Christ because they rub elbows with Christians. More Muslims are converting now than ever before, because God has given Christians a new opportunity. The October issue of Christianity Today 2007 reported a study of 750 Muslims surveyed, who became Christians between 1991 -2007. Its title was “Why Muslims Follow Jesus.”
First, the lifestyle of Christians is the most important influence in their decision to follow Christ. 1. Love of Christians 2. Treatment of women 3. Adaptation of simple lifestyle – local customs.
Second, the power of God in answered prayers and healing. Closely related was the finding, that some noted deliverance from demonic power.
Today Christians in the West have an opportunity to learn about Islam and pray for Muslims in ways that we never did in the past.
Let us not fall asleep or be naive on this issue. This is going to be more important for our children and grandchildren than it ever was for my generation. The last full day we were in Nigeria in 1987 we had lunch with the head of the “Great Commission Movement of Nigeria.” I asked him what he wanted me to tell Christians in America. Tell them this: “I just saw the list of six steps on how Islam is going to take over every nation in the world. They have already started in Nigeria. Get prepared.” Be ready to listen, listen, listen; pray, pray, pray; and love, love, love!
Personal Reflection Time
1. It has been said that for every million Muslims in the world there are about two Christian evangelists. True? False? What do you think? Are you one of them?
2. Are you praying for strength and protection of missionaries who work in Muslim nations?
3. Are you praying for a better understanding how to witness to Muslim neighbors?
“Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men” (Mark 1:17).
What do you wish to accomplish through your prayer life? How do you see God working in your life through prayer? I believe setting goals, objectives, or having a vision serves to inform and inspire. Vision clarifies purpose and gives direction. It helps to reflect the uniqueness of a person, to serve as a guide to strategy and action for improving your prayer life. I would hope that your vision for prayer is so powerful that it would shape your prayer life each day. For example, what are your most critical prayer concerns? Does it include prayer for opportunities to witness? Does it include particular people whom you would like to share the Gospel? Once a person has an understanding that witnessing is a priority for the future then a plan can be made, possible obstacles predicted, and prayer supporters recruited. I believe the most important time I can spend for all people and situations in my life are to spend time in prayer. A strong approach to praying for open doors to witnessing can be achieved. Envision yourself praying in the future and God accomplishing a difference through you. Picture the impact! Be in tune with the power of God through prayer.
In 2009 Rev. Roland Wells personally introduced a small group of which I was part to the “Mission Shift” Video series produced by the School of Urban Ministry in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The series focuses on the emphasis the new international immigrants pose to the Twin Cities and Minnesota churches. It presents the challenge of reaching new international neighbors in the midst of the greatest human migration in the world. Six sessions are included in the total program. Permit me to share just a little bit from the first video class entitled: “The Whole World Has Changed and the Church is Asleep.”
Rev. Wells explained that the coming change in society will be greater than the fall of the Roman Empire, the Black Death, World War II and the Nuclear Age. He continues to point out a “Perfect Storm of Change” is coming to the world. The first condition of that change is urbanization. What did he mean? He says that over 70% of the world will be living in huge mega cities by the year 2025. This in itself will cause huge relationship problems. The second condition is migration. We are witnessing a complete mixture of cultures in every part of the world. This will create many needs. Third condition is fluidity of capital, labor, and information. What can and will the church be doing to heal the hurt and anger this storm of perfect change is creating?
Here are some other observations to add to Rev. Wells opinions. Other subtle shifts have taken place that face Christians today. One involves secularization or specifically the belief system that denies the reality of God. Another shift in Western culture comes in the form of community to individualism. It is a shift from the “We” mentality to the “Me” mentality. Another change has been a severing in the connection from our beliefs to how we behave. Christians do not behave according to Christian beliefs.
The task at hand is to take the changeless Gospel and communicate it in a relevant and meaningful way to an ever-changing world – to take the first-century message and communicate it to the 21st-century citizen.
As I continue my journey up the King’s highway, I have witnessed some eye-opening situations in the church today. The Lord has allowed me to observe some troubling and positive signs of the times. The church cannot be lukewarm or fall asleep. We need to be in a revival mode not a survival mode. The responsibility begins with me.
J. Hudson Taylor is credited with saying the following: “I used to ask God if He would come and help me. Then I asked if I could come and help Him. Finally I ended by asking God to do his own work through me.” This sounds like a pretty good idea to me.
Below is one of my favorite poems that is based upon the biblical story of the feeding of the five thousand. I rewrote the poem into a prayer and now connect it to my witnessing. Could this be helpful to you and others?
Personal Reflection Time
1. Are you praying for open doors to witness?
2. A new word being used is G L O C A L-Think globally act locally. How do you and your local church work glocally?
3. Go back and use Five Loaves and Two Fish Prayer as a prayer right now.
…The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7).
During my junior year at Concordia College I started coaching basketball for a local recreational league. Since then, I have had the opportunity to build relationships through coaching a variety of sports. In the mid seventies one of St. Lorenz girls’ basketball players asked me this question: “What is success?” I don’t remember having a very clear answer for her. At that same time Coach John Wooden of UCLA became famous during the 1960’s and early 1970’s. He designed what was called the Pyramid of Success. Basically, it was a moral guideline by which he thought everyone was to live. Along with it he had a definition of success that he penned way back in 1934:
“Success is peace of mind that is the direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.”
From this beginning Bob Smith’s definition evolved over the next thirty years:
In Hong Kong I included “in the time and the place God has called me.” In Nigeria, I tacked on “to God’s glory.” At the Calcutta airport after my fourth service learning trip, I added the word “servant” to the definition. Later in Indonesia, while teaching a leadership course at the university, I added the word “leader.” This resulted:
“Success is the peace of mind knowing I did my best to be the best servant leader I could possibly be, in the time and the place God called me, to His glory.”
This definition was used extensively during the years with the Valley Lutheran High School football team. Our son, Eric – the head coach at that time – gave me the privilege to be the chaplain for the team. It was special to be his assistant and to minister to the spiritual needs of coaches and players. The challenge was not easy since society looks at the win column as to success. Here is the definition I gave the team:
“Success is the peace of mind that you did your best to be the best VLHS football player you could possibly be in the time and place where God called you, to His glory.”
In the 2007 season VLHS football team suffered a heartbreaking loss of a football game in a double overtime 40-34. It was a tremendous effort by every player and coach. Could we have done things differently? Yes. Hindsight is always more clear for us. Emotionally it was not easy to accept that final score. We all wanted desperately to win but it wasn’t to be. As their spiritual leader I shared these few thoughts:
“It is important for us at these times to remind ourselves of our Christian perspective of winning and losing. It helps to answer this question again: ‘What do we consider is the total athlete or coach?’”
Forty years ago, I learned this definition from Athletes in Action organization: “A total athlete is one who uses all of his God-given abilities of body, mind and spirit to the ultimate, for the glory and honor of God.”
Throughout our preparation for every football season we worked for excellence. Coaches and players of VLHS football team knew they were going to honor God whether we won or lost. We were going to give God the glory. We left our ultimate effort on the field and honored Him in doing so. The “winning-is-the–only-thing” phrase wasn’t true on this team. What was most important was going into a contest and giving maximum effort. Could our play selection, execution, and actions have been better? Sure, we never wanted to stop learning and improving.
God already knew our desire to win. We wanted our players to be “winners” in God’s sight and secondly in the world’s view. The fans couldn’t see our attitude. Only God can view our hearts. We encouraged players to play to win, but first and foremost we wanted our team to honor God by doing our best and controlling our emotions in positive ways. We prayed for the fullness of God’s blessing, presence, influence, and protection. Those were good requests for football players and for our lives in general.
Some of VLHS players or parents might have been asking, “Does it really help to pray?” Without any doubt it helps to talk to our Father who loves us. “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (James 5:16). A righteous man is one who has a relationship with Jesus and has been made righteous by Him. We have found that a tenacious endurance is often the key to a successful prayer.
Another major point of concern might be valid. We didn’t want prayer to become viewed as a good work that merits God’s favor. Just because we prayed, didn’t mean we were going to win. We knew for sure some other teams’ players, coaches and parents would also be praying before and after games. This is very positive for all.
We did encourage everyone involved with this team to begin their prayers with humility. Continue their prayers with trust. Conclude their prayers with obedience. Jesus has invited everyone to ask Him for wisdom, and He says He will give it to you. In one way or another God will answer. There are times when He answers in different ways than what we are expecting. No one person really knows why sometimes God doesn’t answer prayers the way we think they should be answered. We have to trust that what He does is best for us.
Mother Teresa was motivated by God’s love and sacrifice for her through Jesus Christ. That relationship helped her pick up the first poor person in need. It is interesting what Mother Teresa once said when asked, “How do you measure the success of your work?” She looked puzzled for a moment and then replied, “I don’t remember that the Lord ever spoke of success. He spoke only of faithfulness in love. This is the only success that really counts.”
Personal Reflection Time
1. How do you define success in your personal life?
2. How could you be more successful in your prayer life?
3. What role does humility, trust, and obedience play in your prayer life?
However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace (Acts 20:24).
A man on his ninetieth birthday was quoted as saying that he didn’t think he became valuable until he was sixty. Could that be true? At the time of this writing I have celebrated my 72nd birthday. Maybe I’ll never celebrate my ninetieth birthday. Maybe the other saying is also true: “Old too soon, smart too late.” At this point in my life I realize that my opinions can provide spiritual guidance to my family, especially to our grandchildren, and other brothers and sisters in Christ. This is why I’m spending time writing this devotion. By the way, I’ve discovered it is easy to write. All you have to do is sit in front of a blank computer screen until you sweat blood.
My responsibility to mentor or coach others increases with age while Christians and non-Christians look to me for answers as I pastor, counsel, teach, coach and just chat about life. One discovery I’ve made is, others can not argue with me about my personal experiences. Therefore, I share how God has answered prayers in my life. Perhaps my passion and strong desire for spending time in prayer will be understood and caught by those who listen or read my spiritual autobiography.
The purpose for sharing my stories is to glorify God. In my opinion, one of the most important ingredients to my significance or success is not just natural talent and hard work. It is due to the men and women God put into my life to help me in my journey. God provided mentors for our family wherever we lived.
Now it is my turn to be in the right place at the right time for others. My experience as a pastor and head of Universitas Pelita Harapan Coaching and Counseling department in Indonesia opened up opportunities for me to do one-on-one counseling, coaching, mentoring and discipling. These terms, to me, are often used interchangeably and overlap. I prefer to use the term coaching since I was called Coach everywhere we lived in the world. From somewhere I have adopted this definition of “coach:”
“Coaching for life is the art and practice of guiding a person from where they are toward greater competence and fulfillment that they desire.”
Coaching helps people expand their vision, build their confidence, unlock their potential, increase their skills, and take practical steps toward their goals. Coaching is about the future, about asking questions, about clarifying values, about encouraging, and discovering the new. Coaching for life is what I want to do with our sons, their wives, our grandchildren and anyone who touches my life. It is an impossible mission made possible only with the Holy Spirit’s guidance and direction.
It is discouraging to hear and read research that some Christian youth are giving up their faith. Some of it has to do with the older generation. Do they see us demonstrate the kind of mature, passionate faith we would like for them to have? How shall we witness successfully? Become a life coach or mentor. Build a relationship with a younger person. They need to know they are personally, absolutely and unconditionally loved by and reconciled to God in Jesus Christ.
It is our task to show others that Jesus is the Messiah in the way we confidently live and speak. We want them to look at our lives to see what Christ does for people by hearing our conversation and by seeing our conduct. The way we live and speak should conform to our beliefs. God can and will work powerfully through us.
The Apostle Paul prayed for those he coached:
I believe young people are searching for adult relationships they can trust. We can help them to get a grip on the changeless truths of the Bible, God’s word. Otherwise they are at risk to be blown away by other worldly beliefs. They need to understand what they believe and why they believe what they believe. My commitment is to be an “enabler, encourager, a can do” Christian coach. In all cases, I want to convey clearly the saving message of Jesus Christ as the Lord and Savior. The key to coaching wisdom is to identify someone and reach out to him or her. In each of our lives, another person is waiting for our approach no matter how young or old you are.
Personal Reflection Time
1. The secret to effectively sharing God’s word and living His will is privately feeding on it. You are to be the best model and reflection of Christ that you can possibly be. Are you willing to meet the challenge?
2. God has reached down with the “walking stick” of His Gospel and has snatched us old antiques (my generation) out of the trash heap while we were still dead in our trespasses and sins. In His grace and mercy we all need to TELL OUR STORY!
3. What impossible mission do you have right now that is only possible with the Holy Spirit?
Be still, and know that I am God (Psalm 46:10).
A man was observed driving a large truck through a crowded city. At each stoplight he got out and began to beat on the truck with a big stick. He had done this several times when someone became interested and followed him. The observer noticed him beat on the truck several more times before he finally stopped in a parking lot. The now very curious observer got out of his car and asked about the strange behavior. He wondered what could be in the truck he was beating upon so often. The answer surprised him!
“I’ve got a whole load of canaries,” was his quick reply. “In fact, I have four tons of canaries, but the truck is only a two-ton capacity. So I have to make sure that half of them stay in the air at all times otherwise I’d be over my weight limit!”
Isn’t life sometimes like that for many of us? At times we’ve got many more activities, commitments, and/or problems than we can possibly handle. So, like the truck driver or a juggler, we try to keep some of them up in the air at all times. Actually we aren’t handling the problems. We are just putting them off. Eventually we will have to do something about them. They are in the back of our minds causing us stress and can result in burnout.
We enjoyed every moment of being in Indonesia, but the last six months were hectic for us. We needed a break and a time to reflect, refocus, and relax, before heading into the challenges that faced us, as we were about to relocate in the USA.
Therefore, during July, 2006, we spent one week at a health and wellness center and the following week at a Catholic Retreat Center in Chaing Mai, Thailand. After that, we traveled to Bangkok to attend the wedding of our longtime friend, Dennis Denow and his new bride, Monta. Finally on July 17, we flew to the USA to begin a new chapter in our lives called retirement.
The two weeks in Chaing Mai were certainly new experiences. The first week was for the physical body and the second week was for the spiritual. The pace of life the previous six months was one of running at 90 mph. We needed some down time to recuperate and set the proper perspective for our future. The physical exercise and organically-grown vegetarian food of the first week was good but the second week of silence was a new and rewarding experience. It gave us time to meditate and center our thoughts on God. We knew the transition in our lives was positive but change still caused stress.
For many people, the pace of life has picked up speed so radically, that it demands we take a solid look at our life-style. We need to learn how to give ourselves permission to relax, to play, to enjoy life, and enjoy God for who He is. A time for silence can be included.
The most frequently overlooked dimension in the professional literature on stress is the spiritual. It is not surprising that many stress management programs fail. They do not address the spiritual component of stress. When we deny our spirituality we deaden ourselves to the reality that there is a God who created us and calls us to live in personal relationship with Him.
People often have difficulty trusting that God will supply for their needs. They become victims of countless fears, insecurities, and guilt. We may have difficulty “letting go” and “letting God.” We want to be in control, rather than letting God be the supreme ruler of our lives. When we “let go,” we admit our powerlessness – we admit that the outcome is not in our hands. All we need to do is admit that we need God’s help and trust that God will equip us.
When we surrender our stressors to Christ, He uses them for our growth and His glory. Christ has reconciled us by setting us free from sin, fear, and the need to justify ourselves. He has done enough. Jesus said that He came to give us both abundant and eternal lives. Christ came to set us free from the stress syndrome.
The scriptures are full of promises to reassure a believer of help from God. Below are several passages from Scripture to use when facing stress.
· Come to me, all you that are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest (Matt.11:28).
· Call on me in time of trouble. I will rescue you, and you will honor me (Ps. 50:15).
· Cast all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you (1 Peter 5:7).
Meditating on His attributes is one way I found to face the future. Focusing on the strengths of his character can give one comfort and strength. Reviewing who God is provides reassurance to get through stressful circumstances. God is: all powerful… all knowing… everywhere… Maybe we have a lot of stress in our lives, because we do not really believe in the sovereignty of God. Perhaps we are placing too much importance on ourselves and what we are doing.
We have the resource of prayer. Prayer has power. Does this mean that our prayer words, by themselves, can make things happen? No, there is power in prayer because God, for Jesus' sake, promises to hear and answer the fervent prayers of a righteous person, a person made righteous by Jesus Christ. The power of prayer is available to overcome stress.
The key question is: “In what do I place my confidence?” Place God at the center of your stressful life. He is your best Guide in finding ways to reduce stress.
Our aim for the silent week was to enjoy God more than ever before. Our silent prayer retreat offered just that. We had plenty of time to meditate, read, contemplate, walk and relax in a peaceful atmosphere. The silence of the retreat was a gift we gave ourselves. We had come to slow down, to be still, and to get serious about our conversations with God. It was exactly what we needed to refocus, be refreshed, and to recharge before our next leg of life’s journey.
Personal Reflection Time
1. What is causing you stress?
2. How do you refocus, be refreshed, and recharge?
3. Where could you go for a silent retreat with God? When do you plan to do it?
Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer (Romans 12:12).
On a Monday night Yuni, a wonderful Christian Indonesian lady who worked with me in the Student Service Department at UPH, talked to her husband on his cell phone around 7:00 p.m. All was going well when they said good night. Dr. Hanafi was leading a US group on a tour of the islands in the Indian Ocean that had suffered from the Tsunami of December 26, 2004. The boat they were on was between Nias and Siberut islands. The good Dr. Hanafi led the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod’s (LCMS) Tsunami Team visit to Nias in January. This man was probably one of the most knowledgeable Christian individuals in all of Indonesia about what needs the people had on those islands. Dennis Denow, the LCMS leader for the redevelopment projects, would work with Hanafi in the future. These islands are inhabited by many Christians.
Tuesday morning Yuni woke up to the announcement that there had been another earthquake right on the spot where her husband was traveling. She desperately tried to contact him. No communication could be made. She did the next best thing a Christian can do. She prayed and started phoning others to pray for Hanafi and the group. With trembling hearts, many joined her in her prayer vigil.
Well, fortunately, when a person is on a boat during an earthquake it may be a safer place to be than on land. Not long after the earthquake their boat safely arrived at the island of Nias. Our prayers for his safety had been answered.
I talked with him that morning on the phone. He told me the island was paralyzed. The worst conditions were in Gunung Sitoli, one of the big cities on Nias. The deaths were probably over 1000. Many people were caught under buildings. He said damage was all over the island. There were only a few doctors available. The hospitals were almost completely destroyed. Food was lacking and medical supplies were in short supply.
C.S. Lewis once said: "Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world." I tried to hear and understand what God was saying to us all through these disasters.
We wanted to find how best to help these suffering people and to share the hope of the Gospel. Before the Tsunami occurred, Concordia University at Seward , Nebraska, U.S.A. (CUNE) and Universitas Pelita Harapan (UPH) had been in discussion about a joint service project. Bruce Creed, Director of International Education at Concordia and I had been trying to plan an activity with students from both universities. Eventually, after a huge amount of planning, students from both universities executed a joint service-learning project from May 26, 2006 to June 10, 2006.
Several positive reasons directed us to help the people of Nias instead of Banda Aceh:
· The needs of the people were great before and after the tsunami and earthquake.
· Lentura Pelita Harapan Foundation, a part of the same foundation as UPH, was starting a Christian school on the island of Nias.
· More opportunities to witness verbally as Christians were available in Nias than in Banda Aceh. Nias is primarily a Christian island, with some estimates at 80%. However, their knowledge and understanding of Scripture was weak.
Our activities of service included painting churches during the day, teaching classes at an orphanage, and holding prayer meetings with children during the evenings. We also distributed children’s Arch Books (Bible stories) that had been translated into Indonesian for children. Finally the group had the privilege to participate in a ground breaking celebration for a Lentura Pelita Harapan Christian school.
Personally, I also held a seminar on prayer with over 60 church leaders attending from across Nias. The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod Project Director, Dennis Denow, was there to provide support and guidance. Vionetta Tong did much of the detailed planning. Family friends who were visiting us from the USA, David Grueber and his sister, Ginny Jesberg, also joined the team. The group of eighteen was “Ablaze” with God’s love and hope for those going through a crisis.
In Scripture we are told Moses had crises. God used those crises to act in grace and love. Jacob had troubles. God used those troubles to demonstrate His grace and love. Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha, died. God provided a miracle to show His grace and love.
The massive, two-mile-wide tornado that has recently caused horrific devastation in Moore, Oklahoma is one of many present day crises. The May 20, 2013 tornadoes devastated parts of the Midwest and especially Moore, Okla., killing at least 24 people – some of them school children. This tornado swept dozens of homes and buildings off their foundations, shredded cars and trucks, littered streets with debris and power lines, injured at least 145 people in the Oklahoma City suburb.
Stories of crisis and sorrow are never over, but neither is the grace and mercy of God, as He continues to do miraculous things! He allows hardships, difficulties and crises to come into the arena of His grace and mercy to bring good out of the situation. Every crisis is an opportunity to act in grace and love. Words of Jesus Christ bring comfort and hope.
The crucifixion of Jesus Christ was a crisis. Through His suffering and death, He brought us His mercy and grace. He calls you and me to take the crises of humanity to Him and return to them the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ!
Personal Reflection Time
1. What crises situation have you experienced in your life?
2. Sometimes life’s upsets can make people more open to the gospel. Do you know anyone in a crisis situation right now? How do you plan to serve them?
3. How often do you pray for self-control and patience in your prayers?
Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart (Psalm 37:4).
After Missionary Ted Engelbrecht came back from visiting the destruction in Banda Aceh, he invited me to attend a meeting in Jakarta with Rev. Nelson Siregar, Human Care Director of the Huria Kristen Batak Protesten (HKBP) (Lutheran Church in Indonesia). He was in Jakarta to raise money from the HKBP congregations there to rebuild the Banda Aceh church. He came with the president of one of the three districts. Of all the people we met, he was the most optimistic about the prospect of rebuilding and even growing the church as a result of the tsunami. He called it a ‘strategic event.’ Upon hearing that I worked at a Christian university in Jakarta, the district president immediately invited me to run seminars on prayer and leadership at the HKBP seminary and college.
For me the desire was there but not the time and means to do it. In the early fall of 2005 Rev. Dr. Richard Carter from Concordia University in St. Paul, Minnesota was taking a sabbatical in India. He contacted us about coming to Indonesia with his wife for two weeks. Through Dennis Denow’s assistance and the financial support from LCMS we made plans for Rich and me to lead a one day seminar at Abdi Sabda Seminary with approximately 300 seminary students. Additionally, a Church Worker’s Retreat with twenty-four church workers from various institutions and congregations in Northern Sumatra was conducted for three more days at a resort on Lake Toba. Topics included Luther’s catechism and prayer. The Lutheran Heritage Foundation had already translated Luther’s Catechism into Indonesian. Three thousand copies were being stored in our garage. My book on prayer had also been translated into Indonesian. Both books could be distributed to those in attendance. Praise God for wonderful coordination of all these events. We were impressed with their desire for education. The training and books were well received and today there is an open invitation for Lutheran pastors to help with professional growth in Sumatra. Dr. Carter was excellent in presenting Luther’s material. We all agreed the money spent for the week was well worth the expense. It was my privilege to present a Christian view of prayer.
I received a special note from Rev. Jaharianson Saragih, head and chairman of Abdi Sabda Seminary:
“Sincerely, speaking your book on prayer and your experience in praying
touched me to pray more and more. You know that your book really inspired
our faculty and students to pray more for those who received the books.
Actually this is our longing to have a praying seminary.
“Frankly speaking, due to the lack of your books our faculty and students
really would like to ask your favor to send more of your books to Abdi
Sabda. We are so glad if you can send us 50 books more so that we can
share to representatives of each class and to all faculties.”
During those days, Rich’s wife, Miriam, and Alice, visited several landmarks where a German Lutheran missionary worked to establish Lutheran churches in the latter part of the 19th century. They came back well informed about the fascinating story of the “Apostle to the Bataks.”
Ludwig Ingwer Nommensen traveled as a German Christian Lutheran missionary to Sumatra in 1862. He worked in the interior among the Bataks, a people previously untouched by either Islam or Christianity. He stood on a mountain, looked out as far as he could see, and prayerfully claimed the magnificent country for Christ. He wrote in his diary with prophetic vision: “In my spirit I can already see Christian churches and schools all over the place… Young and old alike I see walking to the church and hear the church bell ringing everywhere.”
After some initial troubles, the mission work began to succeed, with the conversion of several tribal chiefs and their followers. By 1876 there were 2000 Batak Christians. Nommensen translated the New Testament into Batak by 1878. He undertook to preach the Gospel without replacing the native culture by a European one, to develop native Church leaders, and a native order of worship. He died in 1918 at the age of 84. The Christian community he had planted grew and prospered. With the coming of World War II, the missionaries were driven out or imprisoned, and the Batak people took over completely the management of their own church. Today HKBP is the largest Protestant denomination in Indonesia, with a baptized membership of over two and a half million. Nommensen University was established in 1954 and now has over 8,000 students. Also HKBP has over 500 churches in Indonesia.
This combined experience in Medan and Lake Toba was one of the highlights of our stay in Indonesia. The experience of meeting the Batak Christian people was a delight. We would have had a more complete understanding of Indonesia during our five years, had these acquaintances taken place earlier in our ministry.
It is amazing to me that our great God, whose power guides the heavens and the earth, also has time to love and be concerned about ordinary individuals like me. Never is He so busy that He does not have time to listen to me and my desires. Think of what that can mean. This whole trip to Sumatra was begun with a desire to share the Gospel with church workers.
No human heart is outside the reach of God’s love. We know God is always with us. How daring are you when it comes to sharing your desires with God? As we come to Him with our requests, we can be sure that He will hear our petitions and help us. He is never too busy to stop and listen and then answer the prayers of those who delight in Him. When we prioritize God and his values; He will reward and satisfy us in the end.
Personal Refection Time
1. How do you prioritize God in your life?
2. Recall a desire that God has helped you make into a reality.
3. What are three desires you presently have that would glorify God and model Jesus?
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).
After attending the International Academy of Apologetics, Evangelism, and Human Rights n France, Alice and I flew on to Indonesia and Kurtis returned to Slidell, Louisiana, a suburb of New Orleans. This is where Kurtis, his wife and four children were living. It was not long after that Hurricane Katrina on August 29, 2005 arrived on the scene. It was not until the Christmas holidays when I went there did I fully understand the destruction. (Alice had stayed in Indonesia.)
Winds had flattened the Mississippi coastline and driven a wall of water through the levees of New Orleans. Eighty percent of the city, home to more than 450,000 people, had flooded. By the time the damage had been tallied, Hurricane Katrina ranked as the costliest natural disaster in American history. While visiting Kurtis and family they took me on a tour of Slidell, New Orleans and the Mississippi coastline. Even after several months of recovery time it still took my breath away when I saw Slidell and New Orleans. I thought the devastation in Mississippi was similar to the tsunami in Banda Aceh. For miles and miles along this shore, every standing structure had been crushed.
Let me give you some excerpts from Kurtis’ following Easter letter and other correspondences. They recounted some of the events and reactions to those first few days and the months of recovery that followed:
“Jesus' resurrection means a bit more to us this year as our region takes part in a resurrection of sorts itself. Many thanks to the thousands of people who have given their time, energy and finances to help in the vast clean-up and rebuilding efforts along the Gulf Coast.
“Our family fully returned home to Slidell three months after hurricane Katrina's eye wall hit our community. It had 176 mile/hr sustained winds, 190 mile/hr gusts and a storm surge that came nearly five miles inland. We were able to return home because of the generous prayers, financial aid and help of various family, friends and other ‘angels in our midst’. Again, thank you if you were one of those angels.
“To bring you up to speed, Kurtis was hired the same week we returned to Louisiana by Lutheran Disaster Response--an arm of Lutheran Social Services. At that point, the plan was somewhat unclear, but after much prayer and hard work organizing hundreds of volunteers, a tent city was developed that can now facilitate 100-150 volunteers per day in clean-up and rebuilding work along the northern and eastern sides of Lake Pontchartrain… By April 1, over 1500 volunteers had served through the Slidell camp, totaling approximately 70,000 hours of service valued at $1.26 million.
“Because of the positive impact of the volunteers upon our community, LDR received the Slidell Chamber of Commerce organization of the month award this past week...an excellent opportunity for us to witness Jesus' love and the reasons for our service to the community. It has been a tremendous opportunity for our whole family to be involved in some awesome ministries. God has not forsaken us down here. He is alive and flourishing in ways we could never have imagined!
“On the home front, we have the house better than ever. We are now enjoying all the little fix ups that have been done to the house after the damage, and we are getting back to somewhat of a ‘normal’ life.
“The biggest change is that we have converted the small living room area of our home into a ‘bunk house’. A handy man from the camp built us two bunk beds from two-by-fours. So, often we have been hosting up to six people at a time. It’s like running our own little “bed and breakfast”. It is a lot of hard work, but the blessings these people have been in our lives far outweigh the work…
“For all the stress and strain of the last eight months, our family has never been better. We are able to see more clearly how every single thing, and even each breath we take, belongs to God. He gave it to us, and at any moment, He can take it away. We are able to share each Sunday evening with the volunteers from the camp our experiences through Hurricane Katrina. Teresa shares what it is like for a family to go through evacuation and life after the storm. Sophia stands up, as well, and shares. We started out mentioning negative things and then realized that there were actually more positive than negative items. The best thing was that out of the storm people came to share Jesus with other people. Some people are now Christian because of the storm…it’s just like the Bible says ‘…all things work for the good of those who love God!’ (Rom.8:28)
“Prayerfully addressing disasters brings God’s good work into the midst of difficulties. Keeping God as our focus--praying for victims of disasters even if we aren’t victims ourselves--allows us to care for people who are in dire need and more often than not, we and they receive blessings from God.”
“Ten years ago I interviewed refugees from a civil war in Liberia, West Africa for a LCMS World Mission video project. I remember distinctly how, despite the total destruction of their belongings and the loss of life around them, they still found joy. When I asked them where they found joy they simply stated, ‘Jesus.’”
The more a believer knows Jesus, the more he will love Jesus. The more the believer loves Jesus, the more he will trust Jesus to turn disasters into good.
Personal Reflection Time
1. Recall a disaster you have experienced. How did God help you turn it into good?
2. On what can a believer focus when he has the privilege of going through a disaster?
3. What lessons have you learned about praying when suffering a disaster?
But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15).
During the years (1991-1996) at Valley Lutheran High School I taught a senior course called Christian Ethics. I knew I needed guidance of the Holy Spirit to fulfill my responsibilities as an instructor. It was an awesome challenge. I spent time praying for health, strength, safety and five other areas that God would help me. I wanted to learn to:
· Witness Law and Gospel to those who touched my life.
· Lift the dignity of others so they could have hope and glorify God.
· Accept others and build relationships.
· Increase my knowledge, faith, and trust to conform to His will.
· Discern and understand what is right and wrong according to God’s will.
Long hours were spent in class preparation. God molded and blessed my efforts. I slowly began to learn about what it meant to have a Christian worldview in a pluralistic society.
Ten years later God was still answering those prayers when another unexpected opportunity unfolded for Alice and me. God had blessed our son Kurtis with friends, Dr. David and Ingrid Kutsch, in Lincoln, Nebraska. Dr. Kutsch had invited Kurtis to travel to France to attend the Ninth Annual European Summer Study Session of the International Academy of Apologetics, Evangelism & Human Rights. It was held at Trinity Theological Seminary in Strasbourg, France. Each year twenty students from around the world are invited to attend the academy. Actually, it was the second unique chance for Kurtis to learn to defend historic Biblical faith. Two years previously, Dr. Kutsch had attended the academy with Kurtis. As the plans were made for them to attend a second time, Dr. Kutsch decided to back out and told Kurtis to try to find a replacement for him. Can you guess whom Kurtis asked? Right, his parents! The Kutsch family covered the cost for both Alice and me to attend.
The two weeks of classes tested our mental abilities to the fullest. Dr. John Warwick Montgomery served as the director and primary instructor. He is chiefly noted for his major contributions as a writer, lecturer and public debater in the field of Christian apologetics. He holds earned doctorates in philosophy, theology and law. He has authored over 100 scholarly journal articles and more than fifty books. He is often compared to C.S. Lewis and Francis Schaefer. He is considered by many to be the foremost living apologist for biblical Christianity. We thanked God for such an opportunity, the support, and asked for supernatural knowledge for us to learn all that was possible. Let me try to summarize various thoughts that were learned from him on apologetics.
The Greek word at the root of apologetics means defense. In this case it means the rational defense of the Christian faith. It is the attempt to remove barriers to faith by responding to critical attacks. It offers a defense for the doctrinal and ethical content of biblical religion. Christians need to know how to defend Christian truths.
Apologetics deals with the hurdles, difficulties or intellectual side of coming to Christ. Think of the road of salvation as a road that has holes in it. The believer’s task is to move non-believers toward the house of salvation. The obstructions along the way are of various kinds. Apologetics deals with the intellectual obstructions. Christians are to keep people moving. We must not let an unbeliever sit down along the side of the road on the basis that there are legitimate objections to continuing or holes in the road. They shouldn’t refuse to believe something until they have investigated it. Non-believers owe it to themselves to check out Christianity.
If non-Christians focus attention on Christians’ lives they may be disappointed. Christians need to be able to give the reason for the hope and faith within us. We need to give evidence that doesn’t depend on us. As Christians we need to shift the attention from ourselves to Christ. Do you remember John the Baptist? “He must become greater; I must become less” (John 3:30). We need to be careful that in giving our testimony we don’t keep increasing but Christ decreases.
Personal testimony is often the easiest and best beginning point, but it is not the proper stopping place. When witnessing we need to go beyond to the actual facts of the Gospel message.
Let’s look at Paul in Athens (Acts 17:16ff). Paul doesn’t go on Mars hill and tell the philosophers: “What a great experience I’ve had.” He starts where his listeners are. He quotes the Stoic philosophers’ poets. He goes on to share that what is missing in their position is the objective information of Jesus and his resurrection from the dead.
The apologist learns to show that Christ is the answer to the problems of the day. It is a spiritual task to do extra study and reading on what others believe. There should be discipline and perseverance to study and improve our defense of the Gospel. It takes hard work to prepare how to witness to non-believers.
Apologetics is never the starting point. The starting point is evangelism with the Gospel. There is no tension between the work of the Holy Spirit and the apologetics’ task. According to Scripture the Holy Spirit is constantly working to convince the world of sin, righteousness and judgment. Wherever the apologetics’ task is carried out, the Holy Spirit is working in it. Anytime obstacles are removed from traveling to the foot of the cross it is attributed to the work of the Holy Spirit. It becomes so important for us to include in our prayers the understanding of scripture so we are able to witness with gentleness and respect.
Personal Reflection Time
1. Believers do not have the choice of witnessing or not. We are called to witness. Believers only choose whether to witness better or less effectively. How effective are you?
2. What steps could you take to expand your knowledge of various belief systems with people with whom you come into contact? (Ex: Muslims or those of a different generation or culture than your own).
3. Are you including in your prayers the ability to understand why you believe what you believe?
No man has power over the wind to contain it; so no one has power over the day of his death (Ecclesiastes 8:8).
In my office at Univeristas Pelita Harapan (UPH) was a framed batik picture. It is an artist's viewpoint of the story taken from the Biblical parable of the Good Samaritan. It was an excellent reminder for me to meet the needs of others every day. Alice and I were given a real life experience to become Good Samaritans. We accompanied a small group to Banda Aceh. The trip gave us a view of the magnitude of the earthquake and tsunami disaster on December 26, 2004. More than 200,000 people lost their lives in this province in minutes.
The provinces of Aceh and North Sumatra, Indonesia were devastated by an earthquake measuring 8.9 on the Richter Scale and a tsunami (tidal waves) that struck the coastline shortly thereafter. Most of the survivors describe three huge walls of water or waves being at least fifty feet high. Experts say they were traveling at least 500 miles per hour.
A disaster aid team was quickly organized by the Lutheran church to go to Banda Aceh. They were Rev. Ted Engelbrecht, Dr. Steve and Julie Lutz, Dr. Keith Harvey and Dennis Denow. They were assisted by their co-workers in Indonesia, the Van Luchenes and Smiths. Even before everyone arrived in Jakarta, I had set up a number of meetings with special people in order to prepare them for what they would face. Below are a few of their first impressions in Banda Aceh.
“We then went towards the beach and ‘ground zero.’ The destruction here defies words. Three weeks after the earthquake and tsunamis, some villages in Aceh province still had not been reached by relief aid workers. Food and some basic supplies had been dropped from small airplanes or helicopters, but no organized cleanup or distribution of supplies had yet begun. The enormity of the destruction of the environment, personal property, infrastructure, families, and individual lives will never be fathomed by anyone except those who experienced it personally. Many survivors still walk around in a daze, unable to comprehend what happened to them. Terror lurks in the minds of thousands who can’t sleep at night, who desperately try to erase the vivid images of chaos sweeping over them, who endlessly relive the feelings of total helplessness and excruciating panic… How does it feel to lose seven, fifteen, or fifty-three family members in just a few terrifying minutes? How does it feel to survive when they didn’t? And what do you do now?”
After the team returned, Alice and I were told we had to go see this if we were going to try to explain it to others. So we went to Banda Aceh in March. Let me give you my reactions.
Whatever you can imagine in your mind as to the scale of the catastrophe, it was worse. Pictures and cameras did not capture the extent of damage or do it justice. Expressions of grief were profound, lonely, and overwhelming. I was told about one man who lost his entire family. He could not find words to express his grief. He said the sadness was so great. His eyes could not shed tears. Also Alice and I sat and listened to a group of teachers give further details about their experiences. One man told us he had over fifty relatives die. The most touching story came from Armin, a school security guard. Our small group listened in amazement as he shared his detailed description of his survival. He lost his wife and two children as the waves caught up with them while they tried to outrun it on his motorcycle. I will remember his final words. "It is healthy for me to tell my story. The pain goes out when I share it. Before this, I never have told anyone."
Missionary Dennis Denow was eventually asked to move from Papua closer to Aceh province and Nias Island, so that he could help plan and oversee several middle and long term development projects in the hardest hit areas. Dennis shares this information.
“It is the most fundamental Muslim area in all of Indonesia. Three years before the tsunami the provincial leaders were given permission by the central government to begin introducing Islamic law in the province. For two years the Indonesian military had been making a concerted effort to neutralize a very strong rebel faction that wanted Aceh to separate from Indonesia and become an independent Islamic state. The fundamental Muslim leaders didn’t want any Westerner, because they assume that all Westerners are Christian and will cause problems by trying to evangelize their people. The government leaders didn’t want any foreigners in Aceh, because they were afraid that they’ll be in danger due to the civil war.
“The earthquake and tsunami burst open the doors to Aceh province, much to the chagrin of the religious and governmental leaders. They had no choice but to allow foreign relief and aid workers in to assist with the overwhelming task of cleaning up, taking care of tens of thousands of refugees, and starting the task of rebuilding. Particularly, the religious leaders abhorred the current situation and were determined to get back to normal as quickly as possible. In the interim they were keeping a very watchful eye on the activities of the foreigners, especially those with connections to Christian or other religious organizations. Concepts such as ‘short term’ and ‘long term’ have different definitions in regard to Aceh…and the definitions may be adjusted without notice.”
After six years of helping to train Muslim teachers the Lutheran Church was finally refused permission to continue in 2011.
Life is short. Death is certain. Yet we know that God is stronger than every wave of sorrow in this life. He wants to help us through difficult times. There is hope for the future. He can take sorrow and tragedy and turn it into a positive future. Alice and I had an overwhelming conviction that God could use this event to unite people around the globe.
Our daily prayers are needed for divine guidance, hope, comfort, and renewal in the lives of those so deeply devastated by any horrific disaster. Many survivors have no knowledge or assurance of eternal salvation through faith in Christ Jesus, our Lord and Savior. Pray that our proclamation of the Good News of Christ will touch lives that have been shattered by devastating events wherever in the world they come.
Personal Reflection Time
1. “The good were taken. Only the bad are left. I must be one of the bad. I am left here to suffer.” How would you respond to the lady that said this in Banda Aceh?
2. Statistics on death are impressive. One out of one people die. Are you prepared for it?
3. Form a prayer in your mind you would say to a person who is dying next to you?
I sought the Lord, and He answered me; He delivered me from all my fears (Psalm 34:4).
Compassion is a hallmark of Christian discipleship and the sign of God’s care for us. I see human beings with the same struggles, concerns and worries. Compassion is reaching out to people in trouble and being with people who are in need. This is exactly what God did. He is “with us” in Jesus Christ. God’s message is that He sent His Son to be with us and showed us His compassion. Jesus had great compassion! He had enough compassion to sacrifice his life for man’s salvation. It provides hope for all human beings. We want to spread this hope.
Do you remember the story of Paul’s vision of the man of Macedonia? During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us” (Acts 16:9). Paul, with his traveling companions Silas, Luke and Timothy, was on the second missionary journey. They were at Troas. The door was closed by the Holy Spirit in one direction and opened in another direction for missionary work. Paul, in a vision that was more than a dream, was communicated to in a supernatural way. The message was exceedingly simple. A man, a Macedonian, was standing before Paul and asking him to come across into Macedonia. In effect, he kept standing and yelling, “Help us!” The help desired was plainly spiritual help such as Paul was called to bring by means of the gospel. The Lord was assigning him this Gentile field for his labors.
Amazingly, I believe I personally heard two Macedonian-like calls for help within a period of two months. After traveling to Papua I was asked to go to Afghanistan. Both were to help the Lutheran Church to evaluate possible missionary and humanitarian work for the future. The Papua trip helped to crystallize plans for moving missionary, Dennis Denow, to the province. The Afghanistan trip provided information on what humanitarian work could be done.
I heard the leader of the Christian organizations in Afghanistan say, “Help us!” I heard the local people living in Kabul and refugees living in the Khyber Pass also say, “Help us!”
I was not aware of any other person in the world who experienced a privilege entirely like these two. These calls for help still lay heavy on my heart. How could I personally respond? How could I motivate others to respond to the information that God gave me? After visiting Papua, I thought it alone was enough to think about and digest. Yet, only two months later, in May 2002, I was completely immersed in Afghanistan. In addition to this, I had a clear and challenging opportunity to serve right at Universitas Pelita Harapan.
Let me repeat, the purpose of this team going to Afghanistan in May of 2002 was to identify facts necessary to make wise, informed decisions for establishing humanitarian mission work in Afghanistan and Pakistan. A team of three members, consisting of missionary Rev. John Duitsman “The Team Leader,” from Nairobi, Kenya; Afghanistan born Nazifa Atmar “The Undercover Agent,” living in Nashville, Tennessee; and me, “The Encourager,” from Indonesia were brought together for the task. We were to make specific contacts with those already working there and evaluate other possible projects that could be recommended for the groups we represented. The report was disseminated to various mission organizations. Pakistan was included because it is so vital to the success of anything done in Afghanistan. People of the Book Lutheran Outreach, Lutheran World Relief and Lutheran Church Missouri Synod Missions were the main sponsors. There are so many stories to share that I have decided to record here my top four significant answers to prayer.
1. Living with and learning from Zebi, a Nooristani people group tribal leader, in his private old mansion in Kabul was a blessing. Two months prior to the trip Nazifa had a dream for three nights in a row to contact him. She was led by God to get in touch with him in a refugee camp in Pakistan. He met us at the Kabul airport and provided for our needs while in Afghanistan. John and I ended up staying with him in the Nooristani mansion in Kabul. Zebi was well known in Kabul and even by the Taliban.
2. The visit to Rechmon Mena School and hearing the struggles of the dedicated women teachers was a contact provided by Nazifa. The school had been closed for over seven years. Their response is remembered: “Your visit brings us so much hope.”
3. The traveling experience through Khyber Pass and visit to Shalman Ar’s Refugee Camp provided a historical perspective. The significance of that area was so very much to try to absorb. Safety was a huge concern, and we were provided an armed guard.
4. Devotional times with John each morning and evening during the trip became a daily highlight. It was experiencing the sense of God’s continued peace and presence throughout the entire trip that made available an unexplainable mountaintop experience.
The results were fantastic. Nobody but the Lord could have woven the events together.
As a result of the trip Martin Luther Computer Center (primarily for women) was organized in Kabul. My visits from hearing these two calls for help may not make much difference for the millions of people that live in these two places, but I have been moved and must act. Therefore, my prayers continue for both Papua and Afghanistan.
I have been asked to speak about Papua, and especially about Afghanistan, many times since my visits. One question I continue to be asked is: “Were you ever scared?” The answer returns to my childhood prayer I started with at the beginning of this book.
Bless, Savior dear,
Be always near.
Keep me (and keep all)
From evil, harm, and fear.
I believe after sixty years of repeating this prayer, almost daily, the Lord answered it again. God kept me “From evil, harm, and fear.” My answer is “Yes and no.” In several situations I did feel in danger but I was given courage by knowing that Jesus was with me every step of the way. Over the years I have learned this truth. Jesus never will let anything happen to me that He and I can’t handle. He knows it all and I know the rest. Ultimately, He is in control. This gives me courage to take risks and do my best in all circumstances. No, I wasn’t really afraid. Fear did not keep me from going to Papua and Afghanistan. Faith moved in and fear moved out.
As you develop this attitude of courage you’ll be more willing to work hard moment by moment. And you’ll be one giant step closer to the use of all your talents for the glory of God.
Personal Reflection Time
1. Many times God tells us in Scripture not to be afraid. What are you afraid of?
2. (Put your name in the blanks) “Don’t be afraid of what other people think of you, _________. I am with you, __________; I will rescue you, _________” (Jeremiah 1:8).
3. Have you ever had any experiences where Jesus gave you peace during fearful situations?