In our monthly Prayer Guide we include an editorial from our National Director, Johannes. We also sometimes have guest editorials. Although we do not post the entire Prayer Guide online, we post these editorials in the hope that it will encourage you to keep these nations and issues in prayer.
Read archived editorials from 2011 and 2012...
December 2013 - January 2014
Recently I have thought a lot about children and their place in families, and not only because my tenth grandchild was born in recent months. As we approach Christmas, I think about Jesus as a child in a family and what that means for us today.
Babies are supposed to be anticipated, prepared for, welcomed with cries of delight, tended with baths, clothes, cradle, and blankets. We congratulate a new mother, care for her, and help her care for her baby. Grandmothers, aunties and the men of the family belong on the scene, offering their welcome and commitment. Commitment – that’s an important word. A family that commits to care for a child gives a genuine welcome.
Did Mary and Joseph have things for their new baby? No. No bath, no baby clothes, no cradle, perhaps some covers – so spartan. No grandparents, aunties or uncles about – so lonely. That’s not how a baby should come. Perhaps some shame and hiding too by Mary? Yet, Jesus did have heaven’s welcome as angels sang, and shepherds worshiped. Small wonder that Mary pondered.
In many traditional cultures people consider a child to be a much-longed-for possession, born for parents. “We need a child for our old age,” they say. They plan a child so that he will look after them – it’s a boy they want. Some want to live on in a child, and feel desolate if they have none. By contrast, some sociologists have analysed that in the modern popular culture a child is born just to be itself and follow its own individualistic goals with little commitment from parents. Both extremes leave a child at risk – the risk of exploitation (the child is for our benefit) or neglect (the child lacks value).
Of course, neither extreme is biblical. “Turn the hearts of the parents to their children” (Luke 1:17), speaks for sympathy and against exploitation. “The kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14), speaks for valuing. How many babies born in December and January will be exposed to one of these risks? Where our people serve in Asia and the Middle East, how can they help these little ones? Certainly a question to ‘ponder’.
Herod ‘despised’ the little ones – let them die. Jesus said, “Take heed that you do not despise one of these little ones” (Matthew 18:10). While we, too, ponder these things in our hearts, shall we pray especially for children in these two months?
Beulah Wood (IS NZ Partner)
In the space of two days the New Zealand media has been filled with headline stories of the Auckland mayor confessing to a two year extra-marital affair, a champion equestrian horse and rider being under suspicion of drugs cheating, and a parliamentary minister in court for potential election contribution fraud.
It is fascinating to watch not only the key character’s response to the public knowledge of their sin, but also to see the wider debate about whether one’s ‘personal life’ should affect one’s ability to hold public office, among other questions. How should we respond to leaders and heroes who sin? Should it be any different from anyone else who sins?
While this editorial is not the time or space to go into all these questions, it is a reminder for me that we are all sinners (Romans 3:23-24) and that the whole world needs to acknowledge our sin and to embrace the forgiveness that God offers through His son Jesus.
It has also been a real reminder to me that Christians continue to sin, even though we usually know better, and to assume that anyone will be without sin is neither biblical nor helpful for anyone. What Christianity encourages is not a sinless life after ‘conversion’, but a framework to know when we have sinned and the gift of grace and forgiveness when we acknowledge that sin before God. The Bible also gives us numerous accounts of sinful people and sinful choices that have not stopped the gospel being shared or God’s ability to work through us, despite our continued sinfulness. Perhaps this month we can pray for our mission Partners, our Christian communities and ourselves, that we will not present a false front of perfection but a truthful example of individuals and communities that are daily redeemed by God’s grace.
Finally, I am saddened by the reminder that we are not the only ones that are affected by our sinful choices: our families and communities and all those around us also bear the impact of our sinfulness. This month, as we pray for our mission Partners, let us also challenge ourselves to walk alongside those who are hurting as a result of sin, and be willing to offer the same hand of grace to them that Jesus offers to us. And may we pray with hopeful knowledge that there will come a day when sin will no longer mar our world and our communities. As the final words of the Scriptures remind us, He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen. (Revelation 22:20-21).
Val Goold (IS Council)
We recently started something different in our church. Once a month we have a period in our Sunday morning programme when we can share answers to prayer and celebrate God’s activity together.
A month ago we were challenged to pray for one person (for whatever reason) for one minute per day for one month. Last Sunday several people shared stories of what had been happening in the context of this challenge. As each person briefly outlined how they had been applying this challenge, and the effect, if any, on the object of their attention, a pattern emerged. Rather than focusing on the impact of their prayer on others, each person spent much more time describing the effect this focused prayer experience was having on them. Every one of them was being impacted in some very exciting and dramatic ways, and they were experiencing more of God in some special way.
As I listened to these stories the Holy Spirit reminded me of what is written in James 4:6-10:
“That is why Scripture says: ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and He will come near to you... Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up.”
Most of the story-tellers ended by saying something like: “I’m going to keep praying for others, regardless of whether the Lord impacts them. I’ll do it because of what it does to me!”
Like you, I really want to be blessed and transformed by the Lord. I want to be more like Jesus. And so I spend time reading and meditating on His Word and I try to realign my way of life accordingly. I try to be aware of God’s peace which guides our hearts and minds so that I live within His will. All of these things have a subtle, transformative effect on me.
But the stories I heard on Sunday illustrated the truth that more is done in a believing soul by surrendering our wills to His will through prayer than by anything else. What I knew in theory, on Sunday I relearned in practice: as we draw near to Him, He does indeed draw near to us. And when God draws near, we are unavoidably changed to become more like Jesus.
The Psalmist wrote: It is good for me to draw near to God: I have put my trust in the Lord God, that I may declare all His works (Psalm 73:28).
Ross Wilson (IS Council)
Recently I travelled to France for a special occasion: the marriage of our niece to her charming Frenchman. It was a lovely time, with our extended family mixing with his extended family, and the sunshine and setting (in the beautiful village where his family vineyard is based) made it all the more special.
Yet we were about the business of connecting: us with them, them with us. This connection cut across the differences of lifestyle and language. For both sides it was important to be there to bless the couple’s commitment to join together, and to show our intention to be part of the journey for them as a couple, and maybe one day as a family. We showed we care by being there.
How do we show we care within our extended Interserve community? In April I was privileged to go to Holland for the Interserve Personnel gathering. Just like the wedding in France, it was a bunch of people with a shared commitment coming together to connect (and reconnect), to show our intention to be part of the onward journey. It was a real opportunity to explore the who and how we are as a missional community centred on Jesus Christ. Working in small groups, we had time to talk about what was important to us, and to develop our own understanding by creating group definitions (not complete or official statements) about Interserve. The most important part was voicing our thoughts and realising that we believe in the same values and same hopes.
Interserve is made up of many wondrous parts, all key in God’s working with us. We have our pray-ers, office colleagues, council, volunteers, supporters and Partners. Whatever your part, if you receive this prayer guide, you are ‘being there’ with us... taking time to share and learn what’s happening and where there are special needs, catching up and connecting. This is how we care.
I invite you to take some time today to think about how you would describe Interserve as a missional community. This isn’t about the function of moving people from here to there, it’s about who we are and how we all participate together to grow and empower the church. We all serve God with the goal of growing disciples, servants of Christ, seeking transformation in a broken world.
As you take time to find your words to describe this community you are a part of, rejoice in knowing that we journey together with God who hears our prayers, knows our hearts and grows our work.
Mongolia is where our family’s connection with Interserve started, as we spent 16 months in the capital city, Ulaanbaatar, working with a veterinary development agency overseen by Christian Veterinary Mission.
One of the most enduring memories is that of being drawn back in history to the days of the early church. Mongolia had only opened to the outside world (and to the gospel) fifteen years before we arrived, so our Mongolian Christian friends and colleagues were grappling with all the same kind of questions the early believers wrestled with two thousand years ago... What is it to be Christian in this or that situation? What is the work of the Holy Spirit? How do you pray?
The religious history of Mongolia is such that prayer could easily become an appeal to “the spirits” or an attempt to accumulate merit that would warrant divine intervention. But, by and large, it seemed to me that (as much as we in the “Christian West” do) they got it – that prayer is a conversation with our loving God, with all the mystery (and unpredictability) of tiny us, relating to the eternal, indescribable, unfathomable, but intimately close God we meet in the person of Jesus.
So join us this month as we continue conversation with Him, together with Interserve people around the globe…
Matt Gumbrell (IS Council)
In Leviticus 25, God talks to Moses about a year of rest (a Sabbath year), and also a year of Jubilee the Israelites were to practice and celebrate on a regular basis. Those were to be special and holy times, seasons in which these agrarian people were to step outside their regular rhythms of productivity, allow the land to rest, and focus on God. In the following chapter God actually tells them that if they didn’t follow this ordinance, then they would be scattered amongst the nations, and their land left desolate to take the rest they never allowed it to have! And we know that eventually this became reality with a 70-year exile to Babylon.
Last year God started to speak to me about a sabbatical season. This came out of left-field, as it was something I had not at all anticipated or looked for. But as I pondered, prayed, consulted with others, and sought advice from my leadership and the NZ Council I became increasingly convinced that the Lord wanted me to pursue it. So I am writing this with only a few weeks left before beginning a sabbatical that will take up the second half of this year. Jan and I will spend some time away from NZ, travelling, resting, time with family and friends, allowing productivity to ebb out of our systems, and entering a series of retreats that seem to have aligned around a common theme of contemplation, prayer, Celtic and monastic Christianity, and how this relates to the Mission of God today. Returning to NZ we will then spend time at a friend’s bach in the South Island, a ‘bounded open space’ where our only agenda will be to listen to God and engage with Him and His word. Finally we will have a season of reflection to seek to interpret all we hear and see, and understand its relevance to the journey ahead, both personally and for Interserve NZ.
As I consider what is ahead – the invitation to focus on and hang out so intimately with triune God – I am both excited and a bit apprehensive: excited because I so want to grow deeper and closer in my relationship with Him; apprehensive because I realise that we have re-fashioned God quite a bit in our own image and have lost some of the awe, wonder and ‘reverence’ when considering the Almighty God who created the heavens and the earth. Meeting with Him is not a Sunday afternoon stroll but demands our all: it will challenge us deeply and to the core. It is a journey for lovers – only by falling deeper and more fully in love can we draw closer to such a holy God without being destroyed. Please pray for Jan and I as we journey with God over the next months... and perhaps consider taking a mini-sabbatical of your own – a day, a weekend, a few days out and away with the Lover of your soul.
John shares with us the story of an official whose son was very sick and on the verge of dying (John 4:43ff). He comes to Jesus and pleads for the little boy’s life – and Jesus answers, “Your son will live!” Encouraged, the father makes his way back home and is met by his servants with the good news that, indeed, his son is well – and was made well at the time that Jesus spoke those life-giving words.
This story aligns so well with what we are told in the previous chapter. There Jesus is meeting with Nicodemus, the religious leader, and makes some of the most quoted statements of His career: “For God loved the world so much that He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent His Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through Him” (John 3:16,17).
This world will live! Jesus, we are told, came into the world to express this deep and baseline truth that our God is still in love with His creation, is committed and wholly given – through His very own Son whom He loves – to bring life and not judgment, to bring healing, reconciliation and salvation, not destruction.
What struck me is that so often our words betray a different sentiment – we so easily speak ‘death’, judge, criticise, blame and get negative when Jesus’ words were prophesying life! Yes, He was very clear about the consequences of sin, of disobedience and a life modelled in the ways of the ‘Father of Lies’. Yet despite knowing humankind’s depravity and brokenness better than any one of us, He was very clear that His mission was to speak and bring life, hope, and a future!
And that is our task, too, as we pray. Prophetically speaking life into individuals, communities, even nations, is sometimes like what the prophet Ezekiel was commanded to do when faced with a valley of dry bones (Ezekiel 37). Can this world live? Is there hope for nations like Syria, breakthrough for groups like radical Islamists or Hindus, life-change for the women trapped in prostitution in Sonagachi? Yes! In Jesus there is... and we need to speak this truth time and again until we see it realised. Let us pray life into this world of ours!
In a book I am currently reading the author shares how the Lord challenged him and his wife about becoming a ‘house of prayer’... not just establishing a prayer room or location where people can go and spend a bit of time in prayer (as has become increasingly ‘fashionable’ in churches and communities), but rather to exemplify prayer in every aspect and facet of their own lives.
As this author spent time with God praying over his own nation he felt moved to write down what since has become known as the ‘Caleb Prayer’: O High King of Heaven, have mercy on our land. Revive Your church; send the Holy Spirit, for the sake of the children. May Your kingdom come to our nation. In Jesus’ mighty name. Amen.
He goes on to say that, “you could pray this through in fifteen seconds – or you could find yourself caught by a word, phrase or sentence and spend longer praying about what God was saying through that word or line.” As he and a small group began to pray this prayer daily it spread like wildfire, and soon thousands were praying for their land, with tangible results.
Tonight, as I write, the images of wild, excited parties and scenes full of exuberant ‘couples’ flash across the TV screen – the redefinition of the Marriage Act has just been passed in our nation’s parliament. Here is not the place to debate such issues: we have already had much and often divisive and hurtful argument. But while some celebrate my heart is heavy, as I believe this to be a huge step in a wrong direction, something that will hurt our nation and future generations in ways we cannot begin to comprehend.
O High King of Heaven, have mercy on our land! There are so many places where humankind has stepped away from the ways of God, resulting in unspeakable pain and suffering in our lands. We need to pray, and we need to bless and prophesy God’s good and wholesome purposes – not because we deserve God’s blessing and grace but simply because we need it, and because He desires, despite all our waywardness, to bring good out of evil, healing out of pain, freedom out of bondage, wholeness out of brokenness, joy out of sadness. We, and the nations of Asia and the Arab world, need all the blessing and prayer we can get... so let us pray without ceasing!
Why does prayer seem to have become such a neglected practice in our personal discipleship, our church life and – despite all the protestations to the opposite – even in mission? As I keep wrestling with this issue, I wonder what the underlying reason may be for this neglect.
What is it that drives us to pray? Surely the disciples were on to something of key importance when they asked Jesus to teach them how to pray!
As I was talking with a friend today we got onto this topic, and started to identify some key ‘drivers’ that seem to get people to pray. There is need, for one… someone once said that possibly the most often prayed request was for a parking spot in the inner city! Sound familiar? Then there is guilt: we all know that we should be praying, and most of us feel a sense of guilt that we don’t pray ‘enough’! However, surely that wasn’t what Jesus had in mind, either. Another driver is sheer determination or will-power (or, conversely, the ‘I won’t’)… commitment that is commendable but not really satisfying, and in the end leads to exhaustion and meaningless ritual.
In Matthew 6 Jesus begins the prayer with, “Our Father in heaven, may Your name be honoured.” Surely, then, this is where all prayer needs to begin, and be centred on: worship and adoration, a deep sense of awe and reverence for this God who invites us to commune with Him. My mind went back to many times when, out of both personal and corporate worship, prayer and intercession just simply erupted and flowed, seemingly effortlessly.
Then there is also intimacy of relationship with our ‘Abba, dear Father’... prayer as a love response - a joyful communion - with the One we adore. That seems to me to be the key to all that follows, not only in Jesus’ teaching but also in His modelling of life with the Father. May love also be the driver for you and for me as we pray and intercede this month.
God is good - all the time. How easy it is to throw that statement, glibly and religiously, at situations and people. Yes, it is theologically correct... but how deep is the truth of it planted in our own lives, how sure are we that it is unshakable reality?
As I write we are at a conference where a young women has shared, amid deep sobs, how the precious child she conceived was underdeveloped, deformed, and in the end had to be painfully removed from her uterus – an agonising and deeply scarring procedure. A young man shared how in his inexperience and zeal to reach an unreached people he almost destroyed his marriage, being more focused on his call (and how he thought that should be outworked) than on his loved ones. And an older lady talked about the day when her husband was tragically killed after only six years of marriage, leaving her alone in a foreign country, pregnant and with three little children. All three are mission partners, people who had risked much to be witnesses of God’s goodness, followers of Christ who trusted Him deeply to care for and look after them.
Most of us have our own stories of how life has turned out very differently to how it was supposed to, when trust was shattered, hope was disappointed, and promises ended up broken. When everything went to pieces and we were left reeling, wondering why, and unable to see God in it all.
In the storms of life it is easy to begin questioning whether God has indeed been good, and for us. Am I really deeply, unshakably convinced that He is ever-faithful and His goodness is able to turn all things for good and bring redemption – even those where there simply is no answer, no explanation, and we have to leave it in the realm of the mysterious God?
It is at the cross where God has settled the question. And it is only there that each of us can find the answer, time and again. That was certainly the testimony of each of those mission partners, deeply wrestled with and certainly not glibly reached. God indeed has been – and is – good, reliable and faithful to the end.
After witnessing the darkness, brokenness, sin and evil amongst both his own people and throughout the surrounding nations, Isaiah cried out to God. “Where is the passion and the might You used to show on our behalf? Where are Your mercy and compassion now? Surely You are still our Father?” (Isaiah 63:15-16). And towards the end of his amazing prophetic utterances, Isaiah calls on God to, “burst from the heavens and come down!” (Isaiah 64:1).
God heard, and responded to, Isaiah’s plea... but it took a good 700 years for Him to do so. However, when the time was ready, the Lord (whom Isaiah and so many others before and after him had been seeking) burst forth and ‘suddenly’ came to His temple and people (Malachi 3:1). He tore open the heavens at Jesus’ baptism (Luke 3:21-22) and the curtain of separation in the temple at His human death (Luke 23:45). Now, we know, God lives amongst His people, and has given all who believe and accept Him the right to become children of God, and to call Him ‘Abba, dear Father’ (John 1). Wow! What a privilege and joy to live in that reality and know such life.
There are a couple of observations for us to ponder as we move into 2013. The first is that God does hear us, but He responds in His own time and ways... sometimes even centuries later. No prayer is wasted, no outburst forgotten. On the contrary, God loves it when we passionately call out for Him to move, and has promised that He will hear and answer. So pray without ceasing as Paul urges us (1 Thessalonians 5:17) – never give up!
The second observation is that there are still so many people who don’t yet understand that privilege of being able to call God our Abba, or the amazing life we all are called to live. May we renew our resolve this year to intercede and pray for our families, our neighbours, our nation – and, indeed, for all the peoples of the earth. Pray for the Lord of the universe, our God who is full of grace and compassion and shalom, to “burst from the heavens” into their lives, and liberate them from their brokenness and darkness. If we all passionately call out for Him to move, what a year this will be!