Below are the Prayer Guide editorials from 2012. Follow the link to read the 2011 Prayer Guide editorials, or return to the editorials from 2013.
December 2012 / January 2013
While reading Psalm 68 I was intrigued by the seeming contrasts David ascribes to God. He calls on God to militantly go to bat for His people: “Arise, O God, and scatter Your enemies. Let those who hate God run for their lives!” Yet then he talks about God in very warm, compassionate terms: “a Father to the fatherless, defender of widows – this is God, whose dwelling is holy. He places the lonely in families; He sets the prisoners free and gives them joy…”
This contrast was underlined to me as I listened to the BBC while driving to a meeting. The breaking news was Israel’s emphatic response to weeks of recent rocket fire coming out of Gaza. They had just taken out one of Hamas’ top leaders, a military man long on their target list. But in doing so they also killed civilians, including two children... and the cycle of violence continues to spin fast and furious, out of control and with no end in sight.
What struck me was the contrast between God’s use of power, and the way we use ours. Over the ages competing armies have prayed this very prayer, and with sincerity, “God, scatter our enemies, come to our aid, and make them run for their lives – because we are Your people.” Thankfully, God takes into account that we often wear all sorts of cultural (and other) blinkers, distorting the way we see reality. And He keeps reminding us that the way He uses His power is different to how we would.
As I understand it, God wants to expend His power in fathering those who haven’t been fathered well... such as on the streetkids of Kurdistan, for example. He wants to use His power to defend the widows and those left defenceless in a world of powerful people... like the war widows of Afghanistan. He wants to use His power to create community and family where life has robbed folk of genuine relationship... in places like Kolkata’s red light district, where women are forced to sell their bodies and souls to survive. And He wants to use His power to bring hope, new life and freedom for anyone in bondage – be that under an unjust regime in North Korea, under persecution like in the Middle East, or stuck in addictive behaviours, violent relationships, or internal brokenness. He wants to bring us joy, joy to the world because a Saviour has come. A Saviour proclaiming the year of God’s favour. May we pray for such a year ahead in this broken world of ours.
November 2012Saul’s conversion was quite an extraordinary event. As he is en route to persecute and destroy God’s church he is arrested by a bright shaft of light out of the heavens. This hits him so powerfully he is blinded and thrown to the ground. Where he thought he was doing God’s business, indeed doing it for Him and being the one in control, he is suddenly stripped bare and vulnerable, confronted with his inadequacy, his wrongs, and his powerlessness. So he does the only sensible thing and surrenders to Jesus, who clarifies that He has a plan and purpose for his life. A complete turning…
Conversion and call (both of which constitute turnings) happen under an open heaven. That is the beauty of the Jesus story. The Old Testament prophet Isaiah, like most of humankind at one point or another, cried out to God: “Oh that you would burst from the heavens and come down!” (Is 64, NLT). A few hundred years later, God did exactly that, in the coming of Jesus – He burst open the heavens and came to His people who were walking in darkness and despair. Isaiah also points to the future where he says that the people will see a great light, shining on all who live in the land where death casts its shadow (Is 9, NLT). John witnesses the heavens open and the Holy Spirit descending at Jesus’ baptism (Luke 3, NLT). And at His crucifixion the thick veil in the temple, first hung there by Moses to indicate the sad separation of Holy God and His not-so-holy people, that very symbol of separation of heaven and earth, is torn from top to bottom, indicating a divine act (Luke 23, NLT). God once again walking with His people!
As I ponder these things I am struck again by the reality of a heaven wide open. The love, grace, and Shalom of God is, without doubt, readily available (and accessible) for a world still walking in the shadowlands, bravely (or foolishly) pretending there is no darkness yet all too often overwhelmed with despair and hopelessness. Our calling is to constantly turn towards that bright light of heaven, to surrender to its work of conversion, calling and purification, and then to reflect the same glory of Jesus that struck Saul and led to his conversion and call. Under an open heaven there is abundant hope for our world – if God for us, who indeed can be against us?
October 2012“May He give us the desire to do His will,” was part of the blessing King Solomon shouted out over his people as he was wrapping up the dedication of the new temple. Knowing, understanding and then doing God’s will is certainly one of those key areas that followers of Christ wrestle with on an ongoing basis. Could it be that we approach it from the wrong angle?
When we read in John 15 that Jesus told His disciples, “You are My friends if you do what I command,” we can easily think of that as a precondition for closeness to God: we follow Jesus’ commands, do the right thing, and then we can be God’s friends. A lot of well-meant and good Christian practice originates from this approach, which is, however, fatally flawed – as if anything we do could ever make us right and acceptable and close with the holy God we worship! That is ‘religion’, not relationship: hard-core slavery based around rules and regulations, man-made concepts and theologies, driven by fear and the sense of pride in our own ability to accomplish. How far from the liberating truth of the Gospel that is!
What Solomon realised, when blessing his people, was that no amount of religiosity would ever be sufficient. Here was his grandiose new temple, the focal place where the Israelites were to gather to express their worship to God. How easy it would be to rely on all those beautiful furnishings and utensils, the ceremonies and sacrifices, the ‘holy’ atmosphere of festivals and priestly worship. But Solomon knew that even the highest heavens could not contain this amazing God, let alone a mere temple. And it was that God-originated choice, His gift of the desire to do His will, that held the key for Solomon – and for us.
When we hunger for the desire to do His will, it begins to shift the focus from man-made rules – and the never-ending battle of trying to be ‘good’ – to a place of resting in His grace, in the knowledge that we are loved and can love Him back. We begin to comprehend the implications of sin on that trusting relationship with our lover, and want no more of it. And we enter into the freedom of being the sons and daughters of God, which empowers us to speak hope and relief to a broken and torn world. At the core this is what it means to be disciples and to make disciples. Friends. Lovers. Sent ones. May He give us the desire to do His will this month.
September 2012I have had an interesting few weeks. My back packed up on me, which meant cancelling a whole heap of engagements, enforced time-out, and of course the various visits to doctors, physio etc. Being always on the go (and loving it) this was certainly not my favourite space to be! I mean, who needs rest when they could be busy with God’s amazing mission?!
Interestingly my first wave of readings, when I was able to focus, all seemed to centre on Sabbath rest. How uncanny was that? But as I allowed God to speak I began to realize how proud I had been, thinking His order of things didn’t apply to people like myself. I understood afresh that He wasn’t after more and more ‘production’ but wanted me to enjoy those ‘rhythms of grace’ Eugene Peterson translates Jesus’ famous words in Matthew 11 (28-30) with.
Forced out of action and able to hang with Jesus I was blessed time and again to hear His Word resonate within. I was conscious that in times when things go wrong, when the battle rages, and when we could so easily start blaming and venting our frustration we have a choice – do that, lose focus, and begin to spiral into our miserable selves – or press into God, remember His character, worship His faithfulness, centre our thought-life on what we know to be true, and begin to really draw from the wells of life-giving water. God is good and good all the time! And while He wasn’t involved in my back packing up He is certainly part of bringing redemption.
As a result I am spending time re-thinking priorities, and ensuring Sabbath rest is there to create those needed margins – a work in progress! One by-product is that I now spend most of my days standing, with a stand-up workstation in the office and at home… a healthier way to work, with interesting documentation to be found online. However, the other day I was fascinated to read in Luke 21 three verses on standing. “By standing firm…” (18); “stand straight and look up…” (28); and “… stand before the Son of Man” (36). Those tie in with Ephesians 6:11, and others such as Exodus 14:13 and 2 Chronicles 20:17. Standing firm, still, expectant is a posture of rest, of trust in the God who promised He will fight battles on our behalf. How easily we miss out when WE are the busy ones. May you stand still, in rest, and see God do wonderful things on your and our behalf this month!
August 2012“Give to Caesar what belongs to him. But everything that belongs to God must be given to God.” This statement of Jesus forms the conclusion to a favourite passage in the NT (Matt 22), where Jesus really ‘socked it’ to the leaders and scripture experts who were trying to trap Him in His words.
Theirs was a long tradition of questioning the finest points of the law and the prophets, and indulging in hair-splitting arguments that filled volumes (literally). And this question was loaded – not just religion but also hot politics of the day. I can still remember the quiet satisfaction I derived from reading the story as a young boy – Jesus my super-wise hero had nailed His opponents well and true.
As I was pondering this verse today I realised, though, how we can so easily get trapped in ways similar to the legal experts of old, and miss the point Jesus is really making here. Yes, His handling of the situation and His amazingly brilliant answer are worth taking note of. But, surely the much more important question, and the challenge Jesus is throwing at not just the scripture experts but at all of us, is this: what is it that belongs to God?
Legalistic minds will go to extremes to develop systems and devise formulas and rules aimed at reassuring our human nature that we have been good, have done our bit, have fulfilled our obligations, are in the positive and therefore acceptable to God and others – and so we can get on with our lives feeling safe and good. It is obligation that so often drives us, one way or another; we please the ‘emperors’ or whatever type of over-lord we kowtow to in our lives; we pay our ‘taxes’ and fit into our worldly, cosy systems. But isn’t that where Jesus really stirs the pot and challenges us?
Is He not really saying, “What do I care about your political scheming, your Caesar and your taxes (there is that interesting parallel story a few chapters earlier, 17:24ff), all your man-made rules, ways and obligations. I have come to announce a radically different way of life, a reorganisation of your priorities: everything now belongs to God, and He is the only One worth living for!”? It is at this point we realise that all these man-made rules and measures are really defence systems to keep God out, to limit His rule and authority in our lives, to carve out spaces that we still may control ourselves. What is it that belongs to God? Jesus asks you and me. I am afraid the answer is more radical than I ever expected. And that, Jesus says, must be given to Him!
“Why are you so angry?” the Lord asked Cain in Genesis 4. It was just after God had rejected Cain’s offering and, understandably, Cain was not a happy camper. He felt that he had not been treated fairly by God, so - yes! - he was angry, and felt justifiably so!
The other day I was getting ready to preach on my current favourite story of the prodigal sons in Luke 15. As I cruised along through the Auckland traffic at a leisurely 50kph (not my usual speed, as a German!), I was thinking again about the older son and the stink attitudes he had. As I was searching my heart to repent for any of my own stink attitudes, out of nowhere this car suddenly squeezed past me just as the lanes merged, then pulled right into my path. It is the sort of thing that really gets to me, and I exploded in angry words.
That’s when the Lord spoke to me, a bit like He did to Cain: “Are we being a bit judgemental today…?” Even as the anger bubbled up from deep inside, I knew right away that I was. Because I’m the one who usually does this kind of stuff to other drivers: I squeeze past, I push hard. My anger at the driver who had beaten me was totally unjustifiable.
Recently my wife and I attended Sunday service at a tiny church on the East Cape, where a lady shared with us about her deceased husband. In his last few years, suffering from Alzheimer’s, he would sing loudly all day long – rude and crude songs that she had never heard from him before. He had been a nice, respectable man, a good Christian… but deep down there must have been a hidden darkness, a festering reservoir he had probably worked hard on but where it seems that God hadn’t yet finished the work. And when his self-control was removed by the debilitating illness, it all broke forth.
When God challenged Cain, it wasn’t to rub his nose into his failure, but to warn him of what could happen if he didn’t master his anger. Since that incident on the road I have been crying out to God to change my heart, and create His new heart in me. So often the deep and hidden reservoirs in our soul are laced with toxicity, and poison the attitudes and conversations we have – just enough to drive many a ‘younger brother’ away from home. As you pray this month please pray for me in this regard, and let us all search our hearts so God can do His work.
We had a tremendous Interserve Day on 28 April! We had asked you to pray for a good crowd but never expected what we got – about 230 adults crowded into Royal Oak Baptist, plus around 20 kids with their own programme. Fantastic! The church was bursting at the seams and thankfully the weather held, as we had to set up most of the lunch tables in the carpark – there was no other way to fit us all.
Our keynote speaker, Libby Little, was fascinating, challenging, and deeply moving as she recounted God’s faithfulness and care in the midst of 30 years of brutal civil war, daily rocket attacks, having to sleep in the basement for years on end, and oh so much more! Her life story struck a real chord with all of us there, as did the deep and raw pain of losing her husband and friend, and so many other young and promising co-workers, to an act of senseless and brutal murder. How deeply we all recognised God calling us to move closer, walk more humbly, and serve for the joy of being His! A big thanks also to the many other excellent contributors who helped make the day such a huge success.
I then had the privilege to travel with Libby most of the week. I was even able to add a small part to her story, when she asked me to recount how I had first met her and Tom in Kabul in the 70s (newly arrived in Afghanistan, they were serving on the hippie trail, and I was one of the hippies they reached out to!). At meeting after meeting (predominantly) young people were touched, and challenged to not waste their lives seeking what seems so reasonable and right to expect, but to trust God for His plans and purposes to be unveiled.
I am encountering quite a few people who tell me that what Libby shared really changed their perception of reality, and their direction in life. Please pray for the good missional seed to be protected and grow, and result in many of these lives being lived for the absolute glory of the King. And that quite a few will end up, sooner rather than later, in mission to the hard places!
This Prayer Guide comes to you with a new issue of GO magazine, entitled Building the Next Generation. We are a hundred and sixty years young this year: four biblical generations. A time to celebrate, yes (please join us 6 October, see the ad), but also a time to renew our fervour to see a new, passionate generation totally gripped by Jesus and His call to the least, the last, and the lost. Let’s pray as never before!
Easter Sunday I was invited to an ‘umu’, a Pacific Island ‘love-feast’ or potluck. Hundreds of Pacific Islanders, Maori, and Asian followers of Christ brought their families and unsaved friends along to church to enjoy a really good feed.
After a fabulous meal (what a spirit of generosity! A bit like when Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes), before too many could sneak away the church put on a tremendous time of worship, including Pacifica dances to honour Jesus. They then invited me to share about missions, then I handed over to an evangelist who called for folk to follow Jesus. Twelve first-time decisions and numerous re-commitments later we could only worship… and that we did.
What did I share with these precious followers of Jesus? Basically, I challenged them that missions needs the peoples of the Pacific to rise up and take their place. That in their dances they showed how much of a warrior people they are, uniquely placed to wrestle with the strongholds and principalities captivating some of the hardest places on earth. But that the weapons of their warfare are not the worldly weapons that have so often been used to create much carnage and destruction, but that being themselves, indigenous followers of Christ, they actually carry an authority that, without a word spoken, demolishes many of the arguments and pretences that are set up against an understanding of the Good News of Jesus. I shared of indigenous Christ-followers who seem to almost seamlessly fit into many of the cultural contexts of Asia and the Arab world, seen as relatives and friends, as fellow sojourners where Westerners are often not, or no longer welcome. I encouraged them to see their cultural expressions of faith and love for Jesus as powerful in demonstrating that Jesus is there for all peoples, all tribes and tongues. And I affirmed that they may be the ones needed to walk into those communities where no-one has ever met a follower of Christ.
I long for a rising up amongst the peoples of the Pacific – the Maori, the Tongans and Samoans, the Fijians and Cook Islanders and all those many other island nations. Please pray that as a mission we would learn what it takes to support such a movement, as it would radically change us. Ask the Lord of the Harvest for more labourers who are needed so His desire for all peoples will be fulfilled!
While praying about this year my heart latched on to the story of the prodigals. You know - Luke 15. It’s one of our best loved stories, and many of us identify readily with the son who was lost, and then found.
I see it in my own life – very, very lost in the wanderings of my hippy days, and found in a miraculous way by the Father. But there is a lot more to the story than the happy return of one so wayward.
Prodigal as per dictionary definition was certainly true of this son who was lost, wasting the hard earned inheritance of his father, exposing him to social shame and dishonour. While the prodigal son enjoyed his wild living, his older brother was left at home to pick up the pieces. And as he did, frustration and anger gnawed away at him, and festered. While living frugally in his father’s home he, in a sense, became a prodigal, too… wasting his father’s love and fellowship, lost right where he should have been so securely at home. And when his younger brother shows up again it all spilled out, and in his bitterness he, too, shames his father, by refusing to join the special celebration.
That refusal makes more sense when we realise that this celebration, arranged by yet another prodigal – the recklessly spendthrift father who brings out the special calf, the family ring, and makes a huge fuss about his son’s return – costs the older brother dearly. Not only does he foot the bill (after all, it is his share of the inheritance that gets ‘wasted’ on his wild-living sibling), but he also loses even more of his share of what is left when his younger brother gets restored into his place in the family. Grace is free for the sinner, but it costs the older brother dearly and doubly!
Jesus shares this story in a particular setting: His crowd are the taxpayers and sinners, and the Pharisees. Here are the younger and older brothers, gathered together, and it is no wonder that one segment of the crowd laps up this gospel story while the other is furious. Yet – this is the Father’s heart: He has always been longing for a true older brother willing to forsake all and go in search of His lost sibling(s), not stopping until He could re-unite the prodigal(s) with His Father. Jesus is the true older brother; He paid the ultimate price so we could have grace for free, and He modelled for us how we then should live in mission!
“When God promised Abraham that he would become the father of many nations, Abraham believed Him ... even though such a promise seemed utterly impossible! ... And Abraham’s faith did not weaken ... it never wavered.”
I love that passage in Romans 4, and the sense that our God is indeed able to turn around even the most impossible circumstances. I don’t know what your life looks like, but when I look at my year ahead there are many seemingly inaccessible mountain peaks that loom large. In the natural it all seems too much, too challenging, and whatever little seeds of faith I can muster are stomped underfoot. To make it worse, sometimes wise and experienced Christian friends add to the predicament, when they advocate for the ‘safe’ option.
We live in an extremely risk-averse, safety conscious environment that worships the predictable, where people prefer to settle in the fertile valleys rather than roam the desert and mountainous paths! It is an environment that hugely influences our attitude towards faith. Yet, as much as God wants us to rest in Him and know we are secure with Him, He is not a ‘safe’ God: He is not predictable, He is not risk-averse, and He is not confined to the peaceful settlements of the valley floor. A quick read of Hebrews 11 reveals that walking with God has always taken His people way out of their comfort zone and into high-risk territory. We cannot be His disciples yet play it entirely safe. That doesn’t mean we should throw all wisdom to the wind and act foolishly, but rather that we should seek to know Him deeper and discern what He would call us to believe for, then step out and expect the impossible. And when we do, to not waver and give up easily but develop a tenacious faith that stays the course, come what may.
I am sure Abraham had his days – as a matter of fact the Bible mentions a few where he was less than on-top-of-it-all. He and wife Sarah blew it a few times but they didn’t stay there in failure: they returned, time and again, to God’s promise. God really loved that spirit in Abraham, and He loves it in us as well. May your inaccessible mountains and impossibilities turn into God’s amazing stories of faith! And remember, much of that will only happen as we pray!
Blessings for the New Year 2012! Beginnings like January 1 seem somewhat arbitrary, but in God’s wisdom He has ordained times and seasons, and we all are part of the unending flow of events that come and go. Sometimes we may get overwhelmed, but at other times we may ride the crest of the wave, excited and full of the vibrancy, vision, and success we encounter. Our times are in God’s hands, and that is a good thing.
Reading a friend’s year-end newsletter I stumbled upon a little but significant note. My friend – who works with another mission – mentioned a training week where the aging founders of that movement took time to pass on their ‘DNA’ to emerging leaders. They shared with them the core values of the movement, and about the importance of the Word of God, worship, intercession, evangelism, generosity and world missions.
Organisations need to do this. When leading a growing team of young workers in the mountains of Central Asia there came a time when we realised that we were surrounded by colleagues who had not shared our early, foundational struggles and victories, and had missed out on some of the DNA that seemed so self-evident to us. We had neglected to mentor, to pass on the stories, experiences and lessons, the essence of what made us who we were – and were wondering why we were losing ground. Corporate memories need constant refreshing; if not, they will lose their values and their DNA, and with it the opportunity of shaping a future into and through the next generation.
This is also true for you and me. We are similarly charged and challenged to pass on our DNA to another generation. The experiences, the stories of our learning and growing, the victories and defeats are worth passing on – not to be hidden in false modesty or in hurt and rejection. A young generation is looking for mentors, fathers and mothers, older brothers and sisters, and friends. But they seek what is genuine and real, people they can trust and believe – not fake role models they already encounter en masse through the media and advertising. Mentoring for mission is a key goal for us to learn and grow in this year – will you join us and pass on your missional DNA so God’s mission will shape our future?