Below are the Prayer Guide editorials from 2011. Follow the link to read the 2012 Prayer Guide editorials, or return to the editorials from 2013.
December 2011 & January 2012
“I will sing of your love and justice…” is how David starts Psalm 101. When you think about it that seems like quite a strange lot of ideas bundled together. We all know about love and songs – after all, that’s the staple theme of our pop-culture, even music throughout the ages. But justice? Who would sing about justice… and in combination with love?
Love and justice seem to be concepts that don’t really fit with each other. Love is about caring, about feeling and warmth, about going the extra mile and embracing each other. Justice, on the other hand, is about situations where trust has been broken, where hurt and disruption have taken their toll, and where someone, somehow, somewhere, has been disadvantaged and aggrieved, and things need to be righted. How can you sing about that? Isn’t it enough to know that we have to cope with evil and brokenness all around? Isn’t it better that we only sing about love – and look after the justice issues elsewhere? Maybe that’s why our hymnals and especially our modern song sheets just don’t feature many songs about justice.
However, David knew his God better than that. He understood that love doesn’t exist independently of justice. He recognised that real love isn’t just a mushy feel-good proposition, but a costly reclaiming of relational ground taken by evil. God’s blueprint for community between Himself and humanity includes both love and justice – with the twist that God Himself, loving and full of gracious care, also works out the justice issues and restores the basis for trust even though He Himself is the aggrieved party.
Such genuine love is deeply costly for God, demanding nothing less than all; it gives itself totally to provide resolution for all things wrong and broken. Such true love doesn’t exist without justice that names, and then deals with the root causes of evil. Likewise we, if we truly love, cannot bring healing and restoration to a hurting and disenfranchised world without naming and dealing with evil, be that structural, societal, or individual acts of sin and destructiveness. Singing of God’s love needs to include singing about His justice. It’s because of His love and justice that we can sing! And as we prophetically allow our lives to join the angels’ chorus of peace and goodwill to all of mankind this Advent and Christmas – and over into 2012 – we shall see a greater measure of His Shalom take a hold of the communities we serve.
I was reading in Colossians earlier this week, and was struck by what Paul had to tell the local church there. “We always pray for you,” was his starting premise.
Wow, that alone deserves some good reflection; the busy super-apostle who knew most of the then-known world from his travels, carrying the concerns and needs, as well as the joys, of the congregations he had helped to pioneer constantly on his heart! I easily admit – by such measurement I fall well short!
However, on he goes, talking about the fact that, “this same Good News that came to the [Colossians] is [now] going out all over the world. It is changing lives everywhere, just as it changed YOURS!” (my emphasis). As I reflected on this I thought about some of the folk I met during my recent travels, but especially one of the young orphans who I encountered: a young lady whose life just radiated joy and inquisitiveness and hope, who had turned from hopelessness, being confined and seen as useless, to coming well and truly alive. She encountered Christ through one of our Interserve Partners, who is part of a small and dedicated team. She saw the model, was challenged, was slowly transformed and changed. The Good News lived out and breathed 24/7. Care and love invested, often at great personal cost and in imperfection – but prayerfully, committedly, and without reservation. Lives are being changed everywhere – that is reality, and important to remember when the daily grind wants to overwhelm and distract us. God is at work, and with some of these lives you and I have a significant part to play, we are on the team!
Paul continues as he began: “So we have continued praying for you…” Prayer is work that never finishes. We may grow weary, may forget or struggle, and God may have to remind someone else to step into the gap for a while, but the encouragement is with us to continually pray, to make it a lifestyle, a part of our personal and daily walk with Jesus. There are many ways of praying that different folk find helpful and sustaining – whatever works for you, more power to you! – but the key is to be open to the Holy Spirit, to His prompting and subtle nudges, His reminders, and His ways. When it’s the Spirit praying in and with us we are sure to make an impact – and lives changed forever, well investing into!
I have been sitting all morning on a sunny balcony overlooking a suburb of a bustling Turkish mega-city. A co-worker and friend and I have been talking for hours about this nation, about its peoples, cultures, history, social and political and business environment.
And we have been talking about what God is doing here through ordinary people with extraordinary vision and purpose – both local and expatriate. Honestly, I am stoked – what could be better than being invited to partner with Creator God in accomplishing some of His dreams and purposes for such a place and time?!
The words of David in Psalm 24 come to mind as I reflect. “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it. The world and all its people belong to Him.” And then: “Open up, ancient gates! Open up, ancient doors, and let the King of glory enter. Who is this King of glory? The Lord Almighty – He is the King of glory.”
This nation and its people, like every other nation and population centre on earth, belong to our amazing, creative, compassionate and concerned God and Saviour. His plans, His aspirations and purposes for them may, or may not, be reflected in their midst – varied and rich as their background and cultures so often are. The reality we see, though, is that God longs for the ‘ancient gates’ of a nation such as Turkey to be lifted up, to open and give way to a deep and full, life-giving understanding of Jesus Christ our Saviour and Lord. And this is exactly where we as His people have a role to play – not the least in prayer.
In the same way that David addresses the ancient gates and calls on them to open, so we, too, can intercede and call for that which for so long has burdened and closed of access to Christ to be lifted. We know He is already at work – that He has never been far off or distant – yet intercession has a special way to partner with God in reasserting His claim of ownership, and to express on earth what the heavens have always known: that He indeed is the Lord Almighty, ruler of heaven and earth, of time and space. I love praying from that perspective. May you find it a blessing as well as you intercede this month.
When it comes to prayer, the Scriptures are full of accounts of how God’s people prayed, and of how He responded to them. The other morning I found one that made me smile…
In Ezra chapter eight we read about the Jewish exiles who were gathering to fast and pray for their return trip to Jerusalem. Ezra, obviously a man of faith as well as highly connected in the royal palace, found himself in a peculiar position. He had bragged to the King about his God and His ability to look after him and his people. He had simply stated what he, from his studies, knew to be true. But now, with everyone ready to move he had to walk the talk, and felt a bit wobbly. Was God REALLY going to be true to His word, could they REALLY rely on Him for protection as so boldly stated before the King? After all, the bandits and evil people along the way were very real… And so, ashamed to ask the King for extra help, Ezra and his fellow Jews humbled themselves in desperation to seek God’s breakthrough. And we are told that God heard their prayers.
It made me think of some of my prayers over the years. Not all of them were tame, predictable, and easily fulfilled prayers... we were, after all, young and radical in our passion for Jesus and His mission to the least reached. Praying for the peoples of the high Central Asian mountains we had stepped out a bit – like Ezra – stating what we thought we knew to be true of God. But then came the time when we needed to walk the talk. How we humbled ourselves, fasted and sought God earnestly, as there was simply no way to move forward without His intervention. And intervene He did: amazingly, powerfully, and convincingly.
We are never too young or too old to push the boundaries with our God. I actually think He quite delights if we do so. Chris Tomlin calls Him ‘untameable’ – if we want amazing results to our prayers we need to take risks, step out of the boat, and engage with Him outside of our so-often tame and confined expectations. It’s a walk that seriously challenges us – but it is also extremely rewarding. As we pray this month, let’s push those boundaries a bit further, and expect great things from our untameable God!
Ma Ihowa koe e manaaki, mana koe e tiaki. May the Lord bless you and keep you.
Gloria Dei vivens homo - the glory of God is man fully alive. Reading Psalm 8 today I was reminded of this quote, which I understand originates from Saint Irenaeus in the 2nd century.
‘Oh Lord our Lord, the majesty of Your name fills the earth!’ writes David, and a little later, ‘What are mortals that You should think of us, mere humans that You should care for us? For You made us only a little lower than God, and You crowned us with glory and honour.’ Some translations put it as ‘a little lower than the angels’ but the Hebrew actually reads ‘Elohim’, God! Amazing!
Think about it. We are made in the image of God, and purposed by Him for relationship and community with Him. He has invested Himself so fully into Project Humanity that His own majesty and glory is reflected in and through our lives. As we fill the earth, God’s glory can be seen in and through us. That is indeed amazing.
We also know that in our waywardness and sin and brokenness we are often less than fully and gloriously alive. Yet despite, and even in, this brokenness God’s presence in us still radiates out and touches others around us.
But then we see other brokenness – the destitution and hopelessness in the eyes of the Somali children currently converging in refugee camps across Eastern Africa. We see the horror of schoolchildren used by cynical jihadist warriors, sent into crowded bazaars with suicide vests strapped to their bodies. We see North Koreans roaming the countryside for grass and roots, bodies ravaged by hunger and deprivation. We see the trafficked, the exploited, the oppressed and the marginalised. God’s glory seems no longer there, that is what we call ‘hell on earth’.
Into the midst of such horrible darkness God longs to bring hope and new life. How often does His Word state that He hears the cry of the needy, sees their oppression and want, and aches to restore and redeem?! May our prayers never cease to affirm Him in this, may we seek Him day and night for His intervention; and may we pray diligently for each other involved in God’s mission, to see ‘mankind fully alive’ so that Jesus will be glorified.
Shalom to you all.
Acts 10 starts with a fascinating scenario. It describes a foreigner, an outsider – and one part of the cruel, occupying power – but describes him in a light we don’t often get when seeing foreigners in our own midst. Here is a devout man, God-fearing, generous towards charitable causes, and regular in prayer.
Then the plot thickens, a turn sure to anger every good Israelite of that day. God dispatches an angel to this foreigner, this oppressor… weren’t there enough good local people around who had first claim to such divine interaction? Why him and not them?
The message the angel brings doesn’t answer the above, but addresses a different theme. It communicates that God is serious about those who fear and seek to serve Him regardless of where they are found. So important is this to God that He calls in His biggest gun, Peter the lead apostle… ‘ask him to come and visit!’ (NLT). In this He sends a beautiful, encouraging message.
Amongst the communities we serve we can find many such God-fearers – men, women, even children – seeking hearts and lives devoted in service. They may lack revelation and truth. And they most likely do not know much, if anything, of Jesus, the Truth personified. The beautiful and compelling, rich community represented in the Godhead would be foreign to them, even blasphemous. And likely they would not seek out a Christian to learn more.
Yet God knows their heart. He sees their service. He hears their prayers and cries for deliverance. God-fearers do not go unnoticed with Him, and He longs to reveal Himself to them and their households. Visions, dreams, supernatural revelation and angelic appearances are often part of such a process, circumventing both human limitation and prejudice, but also the shortage of missional labourers. At some point, however, it becomes crucial for someone like Peter to ‘come and visit’ – incarnational encounter. Faith sooner or later needs the context of relationship, of community, of another person to share and fellowship and be accountable with. That’s why we need more workers for the vast regions where Christ isn’t yet known. And that’s why we treasure your prayers, both for those workers to come forward, but also for God to answer the cry of such seekers.
[GUEST EDITORIAL] One Small Candle
In my quiet time the other day, I read this quote: “It is better to light one small candle than to curse the darkness”. As I read I was challenged by the implications of this regarding prayer.
In our time in Central Asia, we saw two revolutions that overthrew the government, and the trauma of ethnic violence and hatred that shocked the nation. We also saw a deepening sense of hopelessness in the people’s hearts as they saw little change, and certainly no change for good. The question many asked was, “What can we do?” As we look at the world today, and see the upheavals around the Middle East and other areas, are we also tempted to say: “What can we do?”
In 1 Timothy, we are urged to, “pray for those in authority, for kings and rulers...” Prayer is perhaps the most undervalued and underrated gift that God has given to His people: the gift of being able to come to the very throne room of God with our requests, knowing that He hears and acts when we pray in line with His will. We can believe that our prayers release the power of the Holy Spirit to bring hope and light into any situation or person. And, when we pray intelligently and specifically for His people working in these dark places, God moves to release His light into that darkness, to enable His people to be a channel of His hope and healing .
Perseverance in prayer is a key foundation stone of our faith: believing that God is working even if we don’t see anything physically. God works when His people pray. We can certainly testify to the power of prayer though our time in Central Asia.
May you be encouraged to persevere in prayer, to keep praying and keep believing that your little candle of prayer will make a huge difference to the darkness.
Seeing Easter ‘marketed’ in our shopping malls and supermarkets I struggle to recognise the radical and counter-cultural event that happened 2000 years ago.
Even in church we so easily sanitise the story into a child-friendly Sunday school version. Reflecting on Jesus entering Jerusalem in the run-up to His eventual crucifixion (Matthew 21) we are really talking about a ‘hikoi’, a demonstration-type march on the centre of power. It culminates in Jesus’ provocative cleansing of the temple and announcing a different order of things under God.
By the way, Jesus had no issue with money or business; His was not a dichotomised world view. But He had an issue with exclusion and injustice. One of the courtyards of the Herodian temple, particularly reserved for the Gentiles to pray, had been misappropriated, the foreigners disadvantaged… and that was inacceptable to God. His house was a house of prayer for all people, all nations.
Jesus links Himself to Malachi where the prophet states that ‘suddenly the Lord will appear in His temple’ to bring radical change (3:1ff). There the prophet also laments Israel’s inacceptable worship, going as far as to say that ‘I wish[ed] someone would shut the temple doors so that these worthless sacrifices could not be offered!’ (1:10). Malachi, in an offence to the Jewish leaders, talks about foreigners offering more acceptable worship all around the world (1:11), and he puts acceptable worship into the context of social justice and care for the stranger (3:5).
Another prophet, Isaiah, is quoted as well (56:3-7) where a similar theme comes through – Eunuchs and Gentiles, if committed to the Lord, should not be treated as second-class citizens but receive equal standing in God’s house. That overthrew established tradition. Jesus picks up that theme when He heals the blind and the lame right in the temple courts, ‘unclean’ people that shouldn’t have even been there. No wonder the religious leaders were furious... a response common to any good hikoi.
A house of prayer for all nations is God’s deep desire – a house of justice, equality, liberty and redemptive restoration. As we pray this month, let us pray in this way: May Your Kingdom come, and Your will be done, here on earth as it is in heaven.
What a month it has been, with daily news of catastrophes, civil wars and uprisings - from New Zealand’s own shores to places like Japan, Libya, Yemen, the Ivory Coast… to name just a few.
It is good to be reassured that God indeed holds our world in His capable hands. And that His purposes are for good, for salvation and restoration, for His Shalom to reign.
In this context I love to ponder the fourth chapter of Luke. Jesus announces at Nazareth that ‘the time of the Lord’s favour has come’! With heart-breaking pain and suffering all around, Jesus announces His own manifesto – the advent of Good News for the poor, freedom for the enslaved and captives, sight for the blind, release for the oppressed – what a powerful storyline that would be in our newscasts!
How can Jesus be so sure when all around Him reality says otherwise? Where does He take His inspiration and understanding from, what reality does He live by? He had actually just emerged from the desert, where led by and filled with the Spirit He had spent much time in prayer, fasting, and in reminding His adversary about the truths in God’s Word…
Here, I believe, are some basic clues. It was the fullness of the Spirit which made Jesus’ perspective different. People regularly were amazed at the authority and power with which He spoke and acted, He was so entirely unlike those they knew. The same Spirit longs to relate and work with us to offer ‘life to all who thirst – for free’ (Rev 22).
Then there was the power of prayer and, yes, fasting. It gave Jesus His redemptive, grace-filled outlook on the events of His day. Forty days… and not all glorious, all we are told is that at the end He was really hungry! Praying (and fasting) may not always be the wonderful times of communion with God we would like… but they surely shift our worldview!
Finally, the Word. Jesus was obviously immersed in it as He quotes it on the go – no Strong’s Concordance or study index required. We may wrestle with it, not get it, but God’s Word feeds our spirits, helps us understand Him, His plans, and how He wants to engage with His world. Reflection on it makes the simple wise.
The world needs to hear about God’s favour, even now. May we be people of such perspective!
The Middle East is dominating the newsrooms these days, and news junkie that I am, I must admit that, at times, I am glued to the news channels (especially the BBC) following the developments blow by blow.
The reports, debates, commentaries, insight pieces from various ‘experts’ and scholars, and the interviews at street level all paint a fascinating and bewildering picture of the longing of the people, their cry for deliverance, and of nations in the grip of historic change, right as it is happening.
There are many complex reasons (impossible to do justice to here) for why so many of these nations have been ruled by military-backed strong men for so long. However, outside support has certainly played a part as well. Amongst others, we in the West were sadly all too happy to financially, and otherwise, support such allies, who so often oppressed their own people, all for the ‘greater good’ of preserving stability in the region, keeping the influence of radical Islam at bay, and to keep the oil flowing. One particular analyst, commenting on a speech by Barack Obama, highlighted the moral dilemma where the nation that cherishes freedom above everything spent many billions over the past 50 years effectively denying Egyptians the equivalent. Our values get often lost in the face of Real-Politics.
That brings me to Genesis, which I have been reading over and over again these last months. It never ceases to amaze me that God, knowing how easily corruptible and disobedient we humans would be, still gave us the totally mind-boggling gift of free choice. Freedom to choose to respond to, or turn away from, God. Freedom to love, or to sinfully hate and become destructive and evil. Deep and meaningful relationship can only grow in the context of such freedom. Such choice by nature is unpredictable, dangerous, hazardous and incredibly risky. It can easily go wrong – as it did there in Genesis, with catastrophic effects on human history and painful consequences for the One who gifted freedom to us in the first place. Our human instinct finds it so more sensible – whether on an individual level in our personal relationships and homes, or on the plane of national and international politics – to control, to protect our own turf and sphere of interest by encroaching on the rights of others. But when we play such politics, then true peace, the ‘Shalom’ of God which our world so desperately needs will elude us. It’s that simple. Pray for such peace to come – to the many nations of the Middle East, and wherever the cry for deliverance is raised.
A group of Filipino followers of Christ invited me to reflect on the biblical mandate of mission. I told them I actually felt humbled to share with them, as roughly ten percent of adult Filipinos are living overseas, many of them radically involved in spreading the aroma of Christ in the hardest places on earth. Mission today is exciting to watch, as it is a truly global movement – from everywhere to everywhere.
Looking at scripture I always wonder how anyone can read this book without a missional perspective and unmoved by the mandate to take the Good News to the least, last and lost. As I see it, mission starts pre-Genesis 1, and culminates in Revelation 22, threading right through all the intervening stories, poems, revelations and teachings. True love can only happen in the context of relationship – and we see that context introduced in Genesis 1. The triune God whose entire being is Love so desires to spread this love inherent in Himself that He embarks on the creation enterprise, culminating in His most excellent masterpiece, a human being. What follows is both tragedy and triumph – man miserably disappoints, yet God proves time and again that love is stronger than death, more powerful than evil thought, and able to conquer selfish ambition and human strife. His commitment remains throughout; reconciliation and loving fellowship that will bring healing and life – the Shalom of God where every tear will be wiped away, and grief will turn to joy indescribable.
One aspect stuck out to me as I shared with these dear friends. We often think about Genesis 3 and the expulsion from the Garden as the punishment of an aggrieved God. Punishment for sin features high in our understanding of the Cross. And punishment for sin and crime became a major underlying driver in Christian societies – I remember growing up afraid that God would so easily find cause to punish me for doing wrong. However, what if God’s motive was not so much to punish but to protect us from ourselves (as is indicated by the reference to the tree of life – an eternity spent in irresolvable separation from the loving fellowship with Him who created)? Back to mission – is it this unquenchable desire for reconciliation, redemption and loving fellowship of all mankind with their Creator that drives our engagement with the hard places and marginalised peoples? If so, our prayers and sending in 2011 will offer a truly radical hope to the people who ‘sit in the dark places’…