Praying with a purpose

Nehemiah 1-2

Nehemiah was cupbearer to the king. He was in exile serving a foreign king. Nehemiah and many of his countrymen were carried away from their homeland into captivity in Persia.  He learned that his countrymen back home were in distress and their land in ruins – their city walls broken and gates burned! Neh. 1:3 What a pitiful situation!

After mourning for several days, Nehemiah prayed to God:
1) Behind his prayers, he had God’s purpose 2:12: I did not tell anyone what my God was putting into my mind to do.

2) How did he pray: He acknowledged God’s character (1:5), he asked God to listen to his prayer (v.6,11). Twice, he said ‘I beseech you’ I beg you, O God, may your ear be attentive. Please Lord, pay attention to my request. He confessed their sins – the wrongs his people did- offending God. v.6-7 Then he asked God to remember His promise to them and how He helped them in the past. v.8-10

3) What did he pray for? v.11 He prayed that God would grant him favor before the king. That the king would have compassion on him and grant his request. What were his requests?
A) Purpose: He told the king he wanted to go home to rebuild his birthplace. (2:5)

B) Protection: He asked that the king provide him safe passage. (2:7)

C) Provision: Nehemiah also asked the king to give him materials for the rebuilding project. v.8a

He acknowledged that the king granted his requests because God answered his prayers. v.8b

Truths to learn:
When I seek after God’s purpose, God surely provides.
When He gives me a task, He enables.

What is my first instinct when there is a crisis to face or problem to solve? Do I squeeze my brain juice for the solutions? Do I call a friend? Ask an expert? Before I go around asking people for help, do I ask God first?

Nehemiah went to ‘beseech’ God. He did not tell anyone about what God wanted him to do. 2:12 He was alone yet not alone because God was behind him. In prayer, I acknowledge God’s character. I confess my shortcomings and declare my dependence on Him. I pray that God listen and grant me favor to achieve His purpose. Surely, He listens.

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A Defiant Faith – Fearlessly Firm

What do you do when the authority tells you to do what is against your faith? Pray that the rule will be changed? Pray that the authority will be kind to forgive? Pray that God intervene and protect?

In the Old Testament, the 3 friends of Daniel: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to bow down to the golden statue King Nebuchadnezzar set up and faced the consequences of being thrown into the furnace of fire. (Dan. 3:8-12) Their action made the king ‘furiously’ angry (v.13). When the king had them brought in for questioning, their verbal response made the king even more furious that his face became distorted! Imagine the rage that made him heat up the furnace 7x more – that even those guards that threw the 3 got killed! (v.19,22)

What exactly did they tell the king? What made him so ragingly furious?
16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to present a defense to you in this matter. 17 If our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire and out of your hand, O king, let him deliver us. 18 But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up.”

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Hey, Nebu, we don’t need to explain our faith to you. If our God whom we are loyal to, can save us from you, let him do so. But even if he does not, we will not serve your gods and worship your golden statue.

Fearless loyalty that needs no explanation… these 3 men follow through with actions, they were fearless in their faith. Actions that speak loudly it made the king very angry. It is faith that needs no defense, faith that is unmovable whatever the consequence, faith that is loyal to the end.

When our faith is challenged, are we just as sure, just as firm and just as fearless and loyal to the end? Yes, we believe and perhaps we want or need to defend our faith, perhaps our defense will change the course of our fate? Or perhaps we believe God will change it for us? But what if he does not?

‘But if not, be it known to you, o king, we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the statue you set up.’

Time to think… a faith that needs no defense, a faith that is fearless and loyal to the end – no matter how God respond and no matter the consequence!

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And God is still God!

From Bitter life… to Better than Best

Lamentations – a book written by Jeremiah, the weeping prophet in the darkest times of his land when he was down in the deep depressing state of his soul. In chapters 1 & 2, Jeremiah described the desolation of the land and people he loved. He spoke of God’s fierce anger (1:12) as He inflicted on him sorrow upon sorrow. Affliction, God’s wrath, darkness, God’s hand upon him… Jeremiah acknowledged that God caused all his sufferings (3:1-16). God filled him with bitterness (v.5,15,19). Wormwood (v.15,19) is the Artemisia absinthium of botanists. It is noted for its intense bitterness ( Deuteronomy 29:18 ; Proverbs 5:4 ; Jeremiah 9:15 ; Amos 5:7 ). It is a type of bitterness, affliction, remorse, punitive suffering.

Lamentations 3

 1 I am one who has seen affliction

    under the rod of God’s wrath;

2 he has driven and brought me

    into darkness without any light;

3 against me alone he turns his hand,

    again and again, all day long.

4 He has made my flesh and my skin waste away,

    and broken my bones;

5 he has besieged and enveloped me

    with bitterness and tribulation;

6 he has made me sit in darkness

    like the dead of long ago.

7 He has walled me about so that I cannot escape;

    he has put heavy chains on me;

8 though I call and cry for help,

    he shuts out my prayer;

9 he has blocked my ways with hewn stones,

    he has made my paths crooked.

10 He is a bear lying in wait for me,

    a lion in hiding;

11 he led me off my way and tore me to pieces;

    he has made me desolate;

12 he bent his bow and set me

    as a mark for his arrow.

13 He shot into my vitals

    the arrows of his quiver;

14 I have become the laughingstock of all my people,

    the object of their taunt-songs all day long.

15 He has filled me with bitterness,

    he has sated me with wormwood.

16 He has made my teeth grind on gravel,

    and made me cower in ashes;

(vv. 1-16 God is the one responsible for all the troubles, sorrows and bitterness in his life. Vv. 17-20, Jeremiah describes how he feels – the deepest pit of sorrow where peace and joy are missing.. the hopeless state of mind…)

17 my soul is bereft of peace;

    I have forgotten what happiness is;

18 so I say, “Gone is my glory,

    and all that I had hoped for from the Lord.”

19 The thought of my affliction and my homelessness

    is wormwood and gall!

20 My soul continually thinks of it

    and is bowed down within me.

V.21 is the turning point, BUT… in spite of the sad state of his soul, he chooses to remember… his memories bring forth hope.

21 But this I call to mind,

    and therefore I have hope:

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24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,

    “therefore I will hope in him.”

In the midst of suffering, we need to remember one unchangeable truth – the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. God’s love is steadfast – firm and tight – holding on to us and never letting go. His love and mercies do not stop even in the midst of troubles. His love and mercies are continually renewing – unchangeably transforming and refreshing us each morning… just according to our changing needs. God’s great faithfulness gives us hope. His promises stand – what he says, he always fulfills.

\27 It is good for one to bear

    the yoke in youth,

28 to sit alone in silence

    when the Lord has imposed it,

29 to put one’s mouth to the dust

    (there may yet be hope),

30 to give one’s cheek to the smiter,

    and be filled with insults.

Out of all the bad that is happening, good is mentioned 3x (vv.25-27).

First, the Lord is good. We need to remember that the person who causes all our troubles is the same Lord who is good. He is good to those who wait for him. To wait on the Lord is to actively seek the Lord with our soul – the deep yearning of the heart. The longing that David speaks of as the deer panteth for the waters so my soul longeth after thee. You alone are my heart’s desire.

Second, it is good to wait. How are we to wait? We are to wait quietly. To wait quietly is to yield all that is within us to him… to stop struggling, to let go. What are we waiting for? For the salvation of the Lord. To wait is to be still and let God do the saving. It is an actively quiet wait – waiting with hope and in hope. Hope is not a passive verb – it is an active one because it is expecting of something good – something new, a definite action to follow – the salvation of the Lord.

Third, it is good to bear the yoke. This is the active good based on the first two good. To bear the yoke in youth, to sit alone in silence ‘when the Lord imposed it.’ God is responsible for it. To bear and to sit are synonymous to waiting. To put one’s mouth to dust – how does one talk when there is dust in the mouth? Cannot.. so then it is to be quiet… to give one’s cheek to the smiter – to turn the other cheek and take it all in. There is power in bearing, sitting, being silent, turning the other cheek. It is power in actively waiting on the Lord to do something. Because…

31 For the Lord will not

    reject forever.

32 Although he causes grief, he will have compassion

    according to the abundance of his steadfast love;

33 for he does not willingly afflict

    or grieve anyone.

FOR the Lord does not turn his face away forever. There is an end to his punishment. Because of his abundant compassion and steadfast love – that is forever, his anger is not forever. He does not delight in afflicting or causing grief to anyone.

34 When all the prisoners of the land

    are crushed under foot,

35 when human rights are perverted

    in the presence of the Most High,

36 when one’s case is subverted

does the Lord not see it?

Bottom line: Even when times are dark and we seem like prisoners oppressed and crushed under the enemies, even when human dignity and rights are deprived – the Most High is present. Does the Lord not see it all? And the answer is a resounding ‘YES!’

My many faces

The many faces of me…
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Please excuse my self-musings.. I’ve been thinking that as I grow older, I seem to be evolving into a multi-complex person – the serious side, the funny side, the seemingly extrovert who’s really an introvert, someone who’s playing “Knock, knock, who’s there” with myself.. as I live in this complicated world.

And we are familiar with the FB culture that it is the natural thing to do – that we choose the best profile pic we can find, we post the pleasant inspiring thoughts we have, we share the happy events and smiling faces of our friends and loved ones. Yet behind all these ‘faces’ we show the world, there is a side of us, that we keep to ourselves, that our family members know, that only our helpers at home see. And even some blind spots of ourselves that only God sees.

One thing I know is that the Holy Spirit is my guide and teacher, constantly molding and transforming me into the person that God wants me to be.

As I look back, what a long way I’ve come from the child who would go hide in the bedroom whenever visitors came to our home – having my mom explained: Oh, please excuse her, she’s shy.

I also remember one comment in my report card where the teacher put: No initiative. 🙂 And how about the ‘snob’ image of an awkward adolescent, feeling sad and bad and even jealous of her more popular friends. Ironically, these friends were my security blanket. I was contented that I was their shadow or in their shadow. It’s good to be a follower to their programs and ideas. And in our ‘barkada’, I felt secure and accepted.

Indeed, God has a way of working all things for my good. One by one, members of this barkada, left me. But God led me to a group of ‘older’ church friends who are my models and mentors to this day. And God led me to hubby to continuously hammer and put me through fire so that I can be molded to be a better person. Not that I have arrived and become the best that I can be. I am a work-in-progress. Sometimes I go forward and many times I go backward or I slip and fall. But always God puts me back on my feet. It was painful but time heals and God’s grace is sufficient always.

When life is hard…

No pain, no gain… No rain, no growth..

This journal was written August 22, 2016. I want to remember how it was when I was lame and could not walk, when my father was gravely ill and dying, when life was difficult but God so gracious n mercifully faithful ..

Some thoughts kept recurring in my mind for the past few months. So many things have happened: my mom passed, I fell, my dad became ill.. still is…so much pain, so much grief, so many tests.. As I look back, as I am still in the middle of it.. what’s the point of it all?

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A song comes to mind: Little flowers never worry, when the rain begins to fall… If it never never rains, then they’ll never never grow.

2nd song: Trust His heart
God is too wise to be mistaken. God is too good to be unkind. When you don’t understand, when you can’t trace His hands, trust His heart. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XWk8DRwDYDc

Sufferings and challenges of life either draw people to God or turn them away from God. We, as children of God are not exempted from harsh realities of life: sickness, heartaches, evils of this world, and finally, death. What makes Christians different from the rest of the world is how they respond to sufferings and trials in life.

We are made aware of our dependence on God. We realise we are helpless needy souls who rely on God’s grace and mercy day by day, moment by moment. We seek comfort that we are not on this journey alone.

Through these past months, I experience steadfast love and mercies of God, they are new every morning. I am reminded that God’s ways are higher than my ways, His thoughts not mine. I learn that God does make a way when there seems to be no way. I confess that I’m such a fool to be anxious about petty things that God had to turn my focus from them to Him. I worry about domestic helpers. My cook got sick and went home. God provided a new one even before the old one left. I worry about food to put on the table. God taught me: Give us this ‘day’ our daily bread. I review and learn new dishes with the new helper one day at a time (on youtube). My sister and I pray for God’s mercy on my father. Many times I plead: Lord, take papa home to eternal rest or to his earthly home. After almost a month now, my father is still in the hospital. Marian and I wept on the phone. I cried alone, wept with friends.

What got us through.. what holds us together? Prayers… sufferings/trials get us on our knees. I know our family has many prayer warriors accompanying us in our difficult times. I learned and am learning how to pray like Jesus: Lord, have mercy.. Thy will be done. These two seem paradoxical… Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane sought God’s will even as He prayed for God to take the cup of suffering away from him. In prayer, God’s children get to experience together the amazing grace and mercy of God. Even as I pray with my friends in their need, I get to witness how God listens and answers to the calls of those who love him and are called for His purpose: to bring glory and honour to God – so that the world will know what an amazing God we have.

Fixer upper – shorts and long

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I like watching HGTV shows – the Property brothers – buy and sell; Vacation house for Free, Love it or List it and especially Chip & Joana’s Fixer Upper.  These shows turn houses from shabby to chic; from low-value to top value; from outdated to modern living. Towards the end of the show comes pictures of before and after.  Before transformation, rooms were small and dirty. After renovations, each space is opened up, shining bright and looking fantastic. Most of these shows include segments of how much work was done, the demolition and throwing away trash, the many problems they faced.  I most like the final segment of each show – where everything is nice and perfect and the homeowners are all happy and sometimes in tears for the transformation they see in their new homes.

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In life, we are often inspired by people who have amazing transformations from bad to good, from poor to rich, from handicapped to success. We are wowed by their inspiring stories of how they overcame their limitations and weaknesses. They amaze and encourage us with their journey from failures, adversities, struggles through long dark tunnels into success, achievements and victory.  We like the before and the after. What we can never fully appreciate are the experiences of the journey.  We can only imagine how hard it must have been to be handicapped or sick or be abused or orphaned or widowed.

My life journey with adversities is not as dramatic as handicapped people missing a limb or physically impaired. I was not born into a broken home. I never knew how it was to go hungry going to sleep or feel insecure or afraid of being abused at home or in school. But I have gone through periods of deep depression and near nervous breakdown. There was a time in my life, I felt so down and out, I could not even cry. It was awful. To be sad and have no zest in anything, even the things that I used to love doing, I no longer want to do, it was terrible. Making it worse is feeling guilty about it. I know in my mind, there are millions of people out in the world who are suffering from hunger, from abuse, from fear of terrorism and wars. Many are in prisons for their faith. Yet these Christians are living in joy triumphantly overcoming the adversities and sufferings of life.

Looking back to this dark time of my life, I am truly grateful to God for seeing me through. Today, even as I am no longer in shadow lands, even as I look forward with much excitement to the launching of my book: Standing Stones of Grace – Finding Light in the Shadows, I must always remember where I came from. I should not forget how God accompanied me through the long dark tunnel.

Life is about the before and the after and everything in between. What most inspire people in stories of adversities are not just pictures of the dark side before the transformation, not even glorious products of the bright side after the transformation. What encourage me most are stories of the transformation process – what happened in the journey from darkness to light, the process of change from bad to good, from weakness to strength, from failure to success.  And this is only just for the viewers, those who look into the mirror of other people’s lives. They gaze inside the windows of the transformed spaces. These viewers of the make-overs and listeners of the stories : they are passive participants.

The fiery process of transformation – the process of turning rough stones to diamonds brings most benefit to the stone itself. In the Old testament, Job was the epitome of a righteous person who went through so much sufferings. When Job lost his children, his wealth, even his health and everything that he had, as he sat in the mud in a state of utter torment and despair, Job said “But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.” Job knew that God knows what He’s doing. Job believed that God’s testing would refine him, transform him and turn him to gold.

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As children of God, living life in this broken world is a work-in-progress. It is a constant change – of being transformed from glory to glory. The Holy Spirit enables and guides us in the process of sanctification – to become holy and be holy as God is holy. Everyday, we are being fixed to be put up onto another level of living space for the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit indwells each Christian. Our body is the God’s temple. Everyday, we are being renewed to become better.

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Paul said to the Corinthians: Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Cor. 4:16-18)

Are you suffering, dear friend? Are you in the midst of heavy renovation in the Master’s plan? Do you know you are being fixed to be better? Do not lose heart. Though outwardly, things are a mess. Perhaps, the demolition and renovations are not pleasant, they are back-breaking and soul-wrenching. Inwardly, there is renewal everyday. Our ‘momentary’ troubles are refining us and shaping us – achieving for us an ‘eternal’ glory that far outweighs all the sufferings we are facing now. In the midst of troubles and life’s adversities, let us fix our eyes not on the external but on the internal. Why? Because what is external will soon end, because what is internal is eternal – it is forever. Sufferings of this world will end. It is momentary. Christians are assured that the Refiner’s hands hold them through the fire so that when they are refined and for eternity – now and forever, they will shine forth as gold!

 

 

The Prayer

How does a king respond when his country is threatened by war? What does he do when the invaders seem so much stronger and more powerful? Plan war strategies with his officials? Call on more powerful allies to help? Make peace with the enemy?

How about you? What would you do when trouble comes knocking? How would you feel? Afraid? Worried? Start thinking what to do: steps 1,2,3? Call a friend?

King Hezekiah tore his clothes and put on sackcloth to mourn. Where? In the temple of the Lord. More than just crying and grieving, he prayed.

Isaiah 37
15 And Hezekiah prayed to the Lord: 16 “Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. 17 Give ear, Lord, and hear; open your eyes, Lord, and see; listen to all the words Sennacherib has sent to ridicule the living God.

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Hezekiah looked beyond the circumstances to the Lord Almighty. Who is he? He is the God of Israel. Where is he? He is sitting on his heavenly throne, flanked on both sides by angels. What is his status? He alone is God over all the nations on earth. Why so? Because he made the heaven and the earth. He is Creator of all life.

After he acknowledged God, who He is, Hezekiah asked God to listen to him. Based on his knowledge of who God is, on this basis, Hezekiah called on God to do something. What? He asked God to open his ear and listen, open his eyes and see. See how the Assyrian king has insulted the living God.

18 “It is true, Lord, that the Assyrian kings have laid waste all these peoples and their lands. 19 They have thrown their gods into the fire and destroyed them, for they were not gods but only wood and stone, fashioned by human hands.

Next, Hezekiah looked realistically at the circumstances around him. He knew the reality of the power of the Assyrian empire. He also knew how worthless their gods were even though Sennacherib tried to deceive and convince them that God could not deliver them from their troubles.

20 Now, Lord our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, Lord, are the only God.”

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Finally, Hezekiah called on God to help them – to save them from the hand of the enemy. For what? SO THAT all the kingdoms of the earth may Know that you, Lord are the only God.

This is the essence of true prayer – to acknowledge who God is, that God is greater than all the circumstances of life, more powerful than all the powers on earth. To pray is to ask God to listen and to see the wrongs done to Him. To pray to God is to ask Him to do something so that people will know… that the Lord alone is God. Surely, God answers this kind of prayer.

Let us learn to be like King Hezekiah… to pray when we are afraid, to acknowledge both the reality of God and the reality of the problem at hand. Let us learn to pray like Hezekiah – a prayer that is all about God, who God is, what He does and will do for His sake alone.