Prosperity plans: before and after…

 

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Many Christians like to quote and claim the promises of Jeremiah 29:11-13. These verses bring assurance of prosperity and a bright future. They are words of hope and security. God said: Come tell me and I will answer. Come find me and I will be found. It greatly encourages us that if we pray with all our heart – believing that no harm is coming to us but only prosperity, it will be so.

But we need to know the context of these verses. To whom were they spoken? What were the circumstances of the people to which this message was given? Context is important in reading Bible verses because background knowledge helps us to apply correctly God’s words to our present day circumstances. We need the Holy Spirit to guide us to read attentively and reflect carefully what is the truth.

Jeremiah 29
4 This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon:

(God is speaking to the exiles of Judah (the southern kingdom) whose capital was Jerusalem. These were the people brought into captivity by their enemy to Babylon. They were living in a foreign land under the rule of the Babylonian king.)

5 “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease.

(To build houses, plant and eat from them imply staying a long time. This is not a temporary exile. They are told to marry and multiply – even from one generation to the next. To stay in a place beyond a generation means to take root in that place. Make it your home.)

7 Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

(Since they are to call it their home, they need to seek the peace and prosperity of the place – the foreign land where they are exiled. Since it is now your home, pray for its peace and you too will enjoy peace. Pray for its success and you too will be successful.)

8 Yes, this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. 9 They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them,” declares the Lord.

(Do not be deceived by lies of the prophets who said there’s peace – staying in your own land.)

10 This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place.

(God was very specific. He even told them of a time frame. 70 years. After 70 years, God will bring them back home. Indeed God’s promises came true. Read more about the 70 years of exile from https://www.gotquestions.org/Babylonian-captivity-exile.html)

11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”

(And God also spoke to those who remained in their homeland – those who did not go into exile.)

15 You may say, “The Lord has raised up prophets for us in Babylon,” 16 but this is what the Lord says about the king who sits on David’s throne and all the people who remain in this city, your fellow citizens who did not go with you into exile— 17 yes, this is what the Lord Almighty says: “I will send the sword, famine and plague against them and I will make them like figs that are so bad they cannot be eaten. 18 I will pursue them with the sword, famine and plague and will make them abhorrent to all the kingdoms of the earth, a curse and an object of horror, of scorn and reproach, among all the nations where I drive them. 19 For they have not listened to my words,” declares the Lord, “words that I sent to them again and again by my servants the prophets. And you exiles have not listened either,” declares the Lord.

Is it not ironical that people in exile were promised prosperity and security while those who stayed behind were doomed to die by the sword, famine and plague. The exiles would enjoy peace and prosperity in enemy territory while those who ran from their enemy would be object of horror/scorn and reproach among nations where they ran to.)

Bottom line: God’s ways are not man’s ways. God’s thoughts are neither man’s. Our idea of peace and prosperity is quite different from God’s. God’s plan – not to harm, to give hope and a good future is not dependent upon circumstances of our lives. God’s plan is about his character – he knows what he’s doing. God’s promise is not about what we will do – it is about what he will do. His desire is for us to draw near to him – to call on him and seek him with all our heart. To seek him with our heart is to obey his call no matter the circumstances of our lives – even in exile – away from our comfort zone, even when all around us seem far from peaceful. His promise is that he will be near to us, he assures us that he will answer to our call. Answers might not be according to what we imagine the best to be – because God’s best is far far beyond the reach of our best.

God says ‘I know the plans I have for you.’  God knows – he wants us to call on him to reveal those plans to us… plans to draw us near to him – to seek him and love him with all our heart.

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.

True Worship

Luke 7:36-47 tells the story of Jesus anointed by a sinful woman.

37 A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. 38 As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tear. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.

39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”

40 Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”

“Tell me, teacher,” he said.

41 “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”

“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.

44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

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The woman saw herself as a sinner kneeling at the feet of Jesus. She cried because she knew how unworthy she was and how merciful Jesus is. She was a prostitute and He was the great teacher. Her great need for forgiveness compelled her to worship with tears in humility at the feet of her Saviour. The greater the sin, the greater the love, the deeper the gratitude.

The Pharisee on the other hand was the self-righteous observer – judging and critical of the incident: How could Jesus, the teacher and prophet let a sinner touch him like that?!

Jesus praised and affirmed the woman with the assurance that her sins ‘though many’ have been forgiven. Jesus criticised Simon, the Pharisee for being a hypocrite: condemning another for what he himself failed to do.

Food for thought:
Worshipping the Holy God is kneeling at his feet – in humble realisation of what a great sinner I am. In Isaiah 6:5, he declared: “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.

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A truly grateful heart remembers how great a debt Jesus paid for me on the cross. Every good thing I receive comes from the Father of heavenly lights… nothing is to be taken for granted.

What is prayer about…

16 years ago today, my mom visited me at the hospital after I gave birth to my youngest. She was not feeling well and told us that her urine was pinkish. Not many days after, while I was still having my geh-lai (within first month after childbirth), she had kidney failure. My sister and I cried on the phone when we realised that mom was seriously ill. She had dialysis for the next 6 months until her kidney transplant in Feb. 2003. Dialysis is a long hard road to travel. 3x a week she spent at least 5-6 hrs – travel time, prep time (which included repetitive piercings/needle insertions when veins collapsed), dialysis – blood pumped out, purified and pumped back into the body – a process of at least 4 hours, then tests, clean up and pack up. Doctors advised that transplant is the way for a better quality of life. Mama was hesitant about having a transplant. So she prayed. As she prayed, she read of Hezekiah’s story.

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2 Kings 20
1 In those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to him and said, “This is what the Lord says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover.”

2 Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, 3 “Remember, Lord, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly.

4 Before Isaiah had left the middle court, the word of the Lord came to him: 5 “Go back and tell Hezekiah, the ruler of my people, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of your father David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will heal you. On the third day from now you will go up to the temple of the Lord. 6 I will add fifteen years to your life. And I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria. I will defend this city for my sake and for the sake of my servant David.’”

This morning as I read this story again, what struck me was ‘Before Isaiah had left the middle court,’ What does this mean?

In v. 1 Hezekiah was fatally sick – about to die. Bad news! Isaiah – God’s messenger told King Hezekiah to prepare to die.

v. 2 Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord. To face the wall perhaps to be alone with God? To face the wall to think about his life and impending death? To hide his tears? It doesn’t matter. What matters is he prayed. What do you do when you know you will die soon?

v. 3 Just one sentence only, 1 request – REMEMBER, Lord what I have done, remember that I followed you wholeheartedly and faithfully. This is an action word for the Lord – he prayed for God to do something. To remember. His prayer is for God’s mercy to remember. He called on God to remember that he did right. Yet he did not ask God to heal him. He just wept bitterly. Hezekiah knows that God knows.
How do you pray?

v. 4 So Isaiah went to deliver one short message and he must have left after or while Hezekiah prayed. Before Isaiah left the middle court, God sent him back to the king with an answer. God answered so very fast! It is not much as how soon the answer came but what the answer is about.

v. 5-6 God’s answer:
1) Who is Hezekiah? He’s the ruler of ‘my’ people.
2) Who is the Lord? He’s the God of your father David.
3) What did God say:
3.1. I have heard your prayer. 3.2. I have seen your tears.
3.3. I will heal you. How?
3.3.1. On the 3rd day you will go out of bed to my temple.
3.3.2. I will add 15 years to your life.
3.3.3. I will save you and your people from your enemy.
3.4. Why? v.6b for ‘my’ sake and for the sake of ‘my’ servant, David.

1) God’s answers to our prayers are about relationships – who we are to him and who he is to us.
2) God answers us according to what he sees and what he hears.
3) God answers in specifics – in promises of future things that he will do.
4) God answers for his own sake and for the sake of his children. God promised David that he will not fail to have an heir on the throne. God keeps his promises.

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My mom agreed to go through the transplant based on this assurance from God’s Word. God gave her another 13 years. It is not exactly according to the answer that Hezekiah got. God answers our prayers in different ways at different times according to his sovereign will but always for his own sake! For his glory and for the sake of his children.

This story is not about the ultimate answer to all fatal illness. It is not telling us that our stories will be exactly like Hezekiah’s story… we know this because not all prayers of Christians for healing get answered. This story is about the point of prayer. Prayer is relationship between God and the pray-er. It is about who God is to me and who I am to God. It is about God seeing and hearing what I want to say to him – all i have in me – my joy, my grief, my pain. Prayer is about God’s Words, promises and things he will do – for HIS sake – for his purpose and for the sake of his children.

Teach me Lord, how to pray for your sake. Amen.

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.

Silent reply

Isaiah 36
21 But the people remained silent and said nothing in reply, because the king had commanded, “Do not answer him.”

22 Then Eliakim son of Hilkiah the palace administrator, Shebna the secretary and Joah son of Asaph the recorder went to Hezekiah, with their clothes torn, and told him what the field commander had said.

What happened here? Why were the people silenced? Why did the king command them not to answer? Answer who? Why were the palace officials in mourning?
What did the field commander say to the people?

Read Isaiah 36:4-20. King Sennacherib of Assyria attacked Judah and sent his field commander to deliver an insulting message – to demoralise and taunt the people. King Hezekiah was given a message for him to surrender and submit to Assyria. The people were being convinced not to believe Hezekiah when he said that God will deliver them from Assyrian attack.

What do u do when people insult you? What is our natural response when we are forced to listen to unpleasant words and unwelcome news? Is there not an urge to cry out? or run away if cannot take it anymore?

It is hard to be silent in the face of oppression. It is not easy when people wrongly accused us or threaten us or oppress us with words. Each time I face this kind of situations, I often think of Jesus when he was silent during his trial. In the reading today, the people were commanded to be quiet – not say a word in defense of their king and God. The officials were so grieved, they tore their clothes in mourning.

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How did King Hezekiah stay strong in the face of difficult challenges and insults? It is his knowledge and faith in his God – the God who is his first and last resort. In the next chapter, we read how Hezekiah lamented and grieved. He knew how the Assyrians insulted God and he believed God will himself avenge them. The king sent messenger to Isaiah for him to pray for the people to God.

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Today, I am still learning the virtue of silence… to keep quiet even when the urge to speak or cry out – to defend myself is great. It is hard, sometimes when I cannot utter the words, when I have to swallow the words, I let my tears flow instead. God sees. God knows. He uses such situations to transform me into the likeness of Jesus – to be meek and calm and at peace in the face of harsh and wrong accusations.

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How about you, dear friend? Take heart, God sees. God knows. God is with you all the way – he will see you through.

 

Desires of the heart

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Psalm 37

1 Do not fret because of evildoers,
Be not envious toward wrongdoers.
2 For they will wither quickly like the grass
And fade like the green herb.
3 Trust in the Lord and do good;
Dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness.
4 Delight yourself in the Lord;
And He will give you the desires of your heart.
5 Commit your way to the Lord,
Trust also in Him, and He will do it.
6 He will bring forth your righteousness as the light
And your judgment as the noonday.
7 Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him;
Do not fret because of him who prospers in his way,
Because of the man who carries out wicked schemes.
8 Cease from anger and forsake wrath;
Do not fret; it leads only to evildoing.
9 For evildoers will be cut off,
But those who wait for the Lord, they will inherit the land.
10 Yet a little while and the wicked man will be no more;
And you will look carefully for his place and he will not be there.
11 But the humble will inherit the land
And will delight themselves in abundant prosperity.

What does it mean to delight myself in the Lord? In the Easy to read translation, it is to enjoy serving the Lord. I believe that to delight in the Lord is to like what God likes. Justice (v.7) as much as goodness, faithfulness (v.3,6) is a major concern of the Lord.

The psalmist tells us in v. 1 not to ‘fret’ nor be envious because of evil people. This implies impatience for justice – why aren’t they getting what they deserve. It also hints of desires to be in their shoes. It seems that evildoers are prospering.

What are we told not to do? First, We are not to fret (v.1,7,8). We are not to envy. (v.1) Why not? Evil people are transient. They do not last. (v.1,2) We are also not to be angry. (v.8) Why not? It leads only to evildoing. And evildoers will be cut off. (v.9)

Instead what are we to do?

v. 3 tells us to trust, to do good and be faithful.

To commit (v.5) is to trust, to leave it to God to do it. Do what? He will help me to be righteous (to be just) in the face of injustice. (v.6)

How? Rest and wait patiently. How? Rest in the Lord and wait for the Lord. (v.7) Why? For evildoers will have their due punishment and those who wait for the Lord will have their reward. (v.9)

How long do I have to wait? A little while..(v.10) To wait and be patient is to stretch it little by little. Konti nalang, konti pa.

Most of all, we are to be humble. Ultimately a humble heart trusts, a humble heart does good, a humble heart is faithful. It commits to depend on God – to let God be God. Humility enables us to rest in the Lord, to wait patiently for his time.

What are you waiting for, dear friend? Are you struggling in anger and envy for the wrong to be right? Is it difficult to rest and easier to fret? What is your heart’s desire? Is it aligned with God’s delight? Be assured my friend. He who delights in the Lord will have the Lord fulfil the desires of his heart. He who trusts in the Lord, waits in the Lord, humbles himself before the Lord will inherit the land. To inherit the land is to receive what God promised. And all of God’s promises are true. What He says, he will do.

Delight yourself in the Lord and He will surely give you the desires of your heart. Make it your desire to please Him – do what He likes, prioritise what He considers important. Trust, rest and wait patiently. Fret not.