Abraham’s life consisted of many episodes of faith (Gen 11:29-25:8), with each episode serving an example to Christians (1Cor 10:11). Among these episodes is one that seems to give him a unique identity perhaps among other Patriarchs. This particular episode has to do with his very name “Abraham.”Read More
It was a Tuesday morning and during my devotional time I asked God for something unusual.Read More
Last December I spent two weeks at one our more conservative Adventist schools. I must confess, I observed and was troubled by some behavior of both the staff and students.Read More
All this rain has got me thinking about what the Bible calls the “latter rain.” It’s exciting stuff, and you and I could be a part of it . . . if we wanted to be.Read More
I ran back to the car and looked through it. Nothing. An anxious feeling began to take hold of me as I frantically searched the car. I looked everywhere.Read More
We should pray much. We need to pray much. Jesus prayed much. If He needed to pray much, how much more should we pray? Secret prayer is the breath of the soul, yet many of us are weak and easily overcome by sin because we do not pray much. We will never enter into the fullness of communion with God, understand His Word, or have the power to relieve the woes of sin and Satan all around us, nor will we will make it into God's kingdom, if we do not, "watch and pray" (Mark 13:33).Read More
Since the inception of our health ministry in 2003, my husband and I have sought to publicize the benefits of a balance between an appropriate faith in God and living a healthful lifestyle by following God’s eight Doctors. As we have previously noted, these eight Doctors have been scientifically proven to dramatically improve overall health, mental well-being and longevity. With such inspiring news from science, one can be tempted to forget the source of the power of the eight Doctors and even to question whether God still performs blatant miracles today. Most of us are very familiar with the numerous examples in the Bible of miraculous healings, but in our secular twenty-first century it is easy to conclude that this is not the way the Lord heals today. While it is true that God usually works through His eight Doctors and God-fearing physicians, He still performs miracles today when it brings glory to His name.
With the earnest desire to bring glory to God and remind us all, that God is ultimately in control we wish to tell the miracle story of our son, Josiah George Gilbert Lewis, born Christmas Eve, 2012.
As soon as we joyfully discovered that we were expecting a baby boy in the late spring of 2012, we chose to name him Josiah. We named our little son, Josiah, after the Biblical King, Josiah, who was named in prophesy hundreds of years before his birth. According to the Bible, Josiah was the most faithful king that ever reigned over Israel and Judah, and was responsible for turning the people back to the Creator God (2 Kings 23:25). Our prayer for our little son is that, like King Josiah, he will be faithful to God and turn the people back to serving their Maker.
We also chose the name Josiah because of its meaning which is, “Jehovah heals”. To the Lord's praise, his name, as a promise, has already begun to come to fruition in his short life thus far. At 28 weeks of pregnancy, I was in a terrible car accident where I incurred a level one concussion and a drop in my hemoglobin secondary to a presumed pelvic fracture. To illustrate the size of the accident, our Ford Expedition was totaled. Despite this high impact accident, the air bag miraculously did not deploy which could have been fatal to Josiah. Instead, miraculously, the pregnancy continued safely until full term.
The promise in the meaning of Josiah's name was also fulfilled in the mode of his delivery. At 36 weeks of pregnancy, Josiah was still breech, which would necessitate a cesarean section for delivery. Although c-sections are very common today and usually end up without complications, given my inherited clotting disorders, surgery, in this case, would be much more risky. Miraculously, after much prayer and fasting, Josiah flipped over and became head down or cephalic. Given the car accident, under the careful care of Dr. Yvonne Gollin, Josiah and I received very close monitoring for the remainder of the pregnancy, which necessitated two times per week examining the baby's fluid levels by ultrasound and monitoring the baby's heart rate. During one of these examinations on Friday, December 21, 2012, the ultrasound indicated that the baby was still head down, with a cord around his neck. Then on Monday, December 24, I was evaluated again, and it was discovered that at some point over the weekend, Josiah had flipped back to the breech position, again necessitating a c-section. It is important to note that at 39.6 weeks gestation, the likelihood of a baby returning to the head down position naturally is very low and, in addition, manually changing the baby to a head down position is also unlikely to be successful. Furthermore, the baby was showing some heart rate changes on the monitoring, likely due to the umbilical cord being around his neck. Given these findings, we decided to proceed with having the c-section the same afternoon on December 24.
From the time that we discovered that the baby was breech at approximately 9 am until the scheduled cesarean section at 4 pm, we earnestly pleaded with the Lord to flip Josiah once again, to a head down position, again claiming Josiah's name as a promise 'to heal' if it was His will. At 2 pm we arrived at labor and delivery at Loma Linda University and almost instantaneously upon arrival, I started having regular contractions despite no contractions throughout the day. How futile the labor seemed since we knew that we were going to a c-section anyway because of the position of the baby, and we were forced to ask ourselves the age-old question of God, “Why...?” As though in answer to our question, the Lord blessed us with a wonderful Christian, Seventh-day Adventist nurse who prayed with us and reminded us that “all things work together for good to them that love the Lord.” At 4 pm, my classmate from residency, Dr. Sum Cheung came into the room to wheel me back to the operating room. Despite my not feeling any significant movement, we asked to have one more ultrasound scan to see if perhaps the baby had flipped back into a head- down position. Dr. Cheung performed the ultrasound and much to everyone's surprise and joy, Josiah had miraculously flipped head down again. With joyful praises to God, I exclaimed aloud, “Lord, you are the God that heals, thank you, thank you Lord.” Through God's providence, four short hours later, our precious baby boy, Josiah, was safely born as a small fulfillment of God's promise that He is the Lord who heals and, more importantly, He is the God who saves!
There have been many other miracles since Josiah's birth and we look forward to seeing how the Lord will fulfill His promise in his life. One thing we know for sure is that the Lord promises to heal because he wants to remind each of us of the power that He alone has, to heal us of the worst disease of all, sin (Matthew 9:6).
Our ultimate prayer for Josiah and all of us is that we will choose to have Jesus heal us of sin, so that we can all be together in heaven where there will be no more need for healing.
Almost two decades ago, God spoke to me. Not in a voice I could hear out loud, but by a distinct impression in my head. It was January in Texas, but it seemed more like Michigan. With two boys under the age of three, I was ready for bed long before I could get there. When I finally made it to bed that night, I just wanted to hibernate. I was already sound asleep when I heard the words in my head, “Go get Keyna and bring her inside. She is going to freeze to death.” Keyna was our aging, three-legged Doberman. She was a good dog, and God knew how much we loved her. She had grown old and grey with us. I remember years before, God had sent a stranger to my door to warn me about someone throwing poisoned meat to the dogs in our neighborhood. That night, I had brought Keyna inside, and in the morning, I saw the meat in our yard. My heart had been filled with gratitude and praise for my sweet Savior’s intervention!
But on that winter night in my sleep, I had no idea God was talking to me. “She has a doghouse,” I thought to myself, “and anyway, she’s old and that’s not a bad way to die.” I didn’t move. I never opened my eyes. I don’t even know that I woke up. Not until the next morning did I realize God had spoken to me, and I realized it because Keyna had fallen outside her doghouse and was dead. I cannot adequately describe my feelings that morning--guilt, shame, discouragement, grief. I would have given anything to go back and obey. But I couldn’t.
The story doesn’t end there though. Several years later our third child was born. Again I was extremely tired. The children were all in bed and asleep. I had finally gotten into bed and felt warm and comfortable. Once I was completely relaxed and starting to fall into the sleep I had longed for all day, there came the thought, “Go check the boy’s covers. Make sure they are warm.” I had put them in warm sleeper pajamas. “They’ll be fine.” Distinctly, the thought came, “Remember Keyna.” This time, I immediately got out of bed. I went downstairs to their room and saw our four-year-old sound asleep with his comforter in a heap at the bottom of the bed; he definitely would have been cold. With a smile I pulled his comforter up and tucked him in. “It was so sweet that God wanted to keep him warm…” I started to leave the room. But there was a firm, “Both boys.” I climbed up into our six-year-old’s bunk bed, and found, beside our curious boy, a tape player I didn’t even know he had taken apart. The wires were loose and exposed. I immediately checked, and found it plugged in also.
Obviously, I needed to teach the children some things about safety. But there were lessons for me too- about learning to listen to the voice of God. He promises to lead and guide us, but we have to learn to recognize His voice. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me… It’s not easy to recognize His voice; so often it seems like any other thought- one of our own ideas.
So many times in life, the lessons God has for us are like layers of an onion. My sweet, kind, merciful, Heavenly Father’s love was like the papery, protective covering. He loved me enough to speak to me- His weak, tired, definitely imperfect child. He wanted me to know that I could trust Him with my safety and of the safety of those I love. He wanted to fill my heart with a desire to always, immediately, recognize His voice, to know His voice, and follow Him; and to fill my heart with gratitude and praise. He does make all things work together for good when we love Him. And I cannot thank Him enough for using my own failures to bless me!
We live in a spiritual age. According to a recent Harris poll, some 31 percent or 48 million Americans believe in astrology; 31 percent of Americans believe in witches, and 36 percent of Americans believe that the Bible is the Word of God. Furthermore, about 80 percent of Americans believe in God while 68 percent of Americans believe that the soul never dies. Meanwhile, 27 percent of Americans attend church regularly. This string of statistics is just that—numbers, but they can be suggestive. For instance, the percentage of Americans who believe in astrology (31 percent) is the same as the percentage of those who believe in witches. But I would like to know how many of those Americans who believe in astrology and/or witches also believe in God. The Pew Research Center found that “more than 1 in 5 U.S. Christians believe in reincarnation, astrology and in the presence of spiritual energy in physical objects… many also consult psychics….” Thus, it would appear that fully 20 percent of American Christians embrace aspects of the occult as integral to their Christian Faith. There are a number of possible reasons for this shocking syncretism. The Harris Poll reveals that only 36 percent of Americans believe that the Bible is the Word of God. It appears that the bulk of Americans who believe in ‘God’ do not consult the Bible as a guide to truth. Postmodern Christianity is more eclectic and far more elastic in terms of personal preferences and needs than its modern predecessor. The rule of the subjective self in our culture means that anything can be true if it fits my current need, and, conversely, nothing can be true when it fails to meet the minimum standard of my need.
But a secondary question should be posed: to what extent are all Christians--even those of us who reject astrology—culturally inclined to seek out answers to life’s difficult questions through the avenue of the Self? If one out of five Christians seeks to understand God’s will for their lives through astrology, how many Christians, who would never consult the stars, try to discover God’s will through a pseudo-prayer life which, in effect, functions in precisely the same way as horoscopes do? To put the question more forcefully, to what extent do we try to discover God’s will for our lives through prayers that enable us to avoid exercising faith, submitting to God’s revealed will, or avoid doing what we don’t want to do? I am not trying to say that, formally, this is the same thing as practicing astrology, but I am interested in the possibility that even though we practice what, on the surface, appear to be biblically sanctioned methods for ascertaining God’s will, it could be that in our hearts, we are trying to use God in the same way others try to use the stars—that is, as a substitute for faith, godly reason and biblically informed decision making. In this vein, I found a website that advertises online courses on how to start an Astrology business. In the introduction, the website identifies why so many Americans have become clients of professional astrologers: “clients want Astrology as a tool to get clarity about important issues in their lives.” This quotation is not especially profound except that it reveals a number of cultural assumptions that we Christians need to be aware of:
- Astrology is a tool: astrology is merely a means to an end. This is the key aspect of all false religions. The pagan and occult faiths offer their adherents so-called tools as the primary inducement to discipleship. In other words, astrology is a means to an end and the end is personal knowledge which, in turn, is supposed to lead to personal happiness and security. Astrology is not an end in itself—only a tool. The real god in astrology is the self. By learning what the stars tell you, you become better equipped to lead your life with more direction, more purpose, increased knowledge, and better judgment. You become, in effect, your own god. As confidence in the secular model wanes, Americans turn increasingly to the spiritual; however, the spiritual they turn to functions in much the same way as their secular ideology did before they lost confidence in it. In short, these spiritual tools serve only to keep the self and the human in the position of absolute power. Like the idols-makers of old, we worship what we have made in order to maintain the illusion that we are gods.
- Americans need clarity in their lives: this second element in the quotation states the end or purpose of astrology. Postmodern Americans do not know how to live, they are not sure how to make decisions, they feel confused, and they no longer believe they can live a good life through the now largely discredited means of secular reason or common sense solutions to life’s problems. They seek clarity—that is, they want to see things more clearly than they do now. Astrology seems to offer a vision that comes from outside our limited sphere. This is a god-like perspective that humans cannot achieve from within the limitations of temporal existence, but, ironically, it remains a perspective which we control, since the stars only predict and shape our lives in ways that help us feel powerful without God.
The astrology website later assures its would be clients that, “you do not need to believe in Astrology to make a lot of money as an astrologer.” The same could be said of any person who decides to make selling religion his career: you do not need to believe in God to sell religion, since, after all, many postmodern individuals seek pastors for the same reason they seek astrologers—to use religion as a tool in order to achieve clarity in their lives. What, then, is the difference between God as God and God as a tool or, indeed, prayer as prayer and prayer as merely a means to personal satisfaction? That question, I submit, has not been asked in our churches; nor will it likely be posed, since to ask that question runs the risk of subverting the entire religious apparatus as we know it.
Many of us, even conservative iterations of us, employ a version of Christian prayer that has all the hallmarks of astrology: we use prayer as a tool, and we use prayer merely to achieve personal clarity (emphasis on personal). In fact, the Biblical conception of prayer may offend us, since we have become so secular in our religious pretensions that we hardly recognize the Bible, itself, as anything more than a tool for the endorsement of our personal needs. Actually, in the Bible, prayer functions more like a tool applied to us than as a tool to leverage God, and there lies the rub. To be sure, God expects us to ask and ask again--not because He has to be persuaded, but only because until we venture everything on faith (as informed by the Bible) we have not prayed at all. I may never consult my Horoscope, but I may pray merely in order to bless my own will, control a situation, or enter a proviso into my spiritual contract with God, so that if things do not go well, I can always attribute my failures and mistakes to God, who, after all, affirmed my poor decisions to begin with. The seemingly devout also employ prayer in order to avoid making tough decisions: I will pray, and then God will give me a powerful emotion or impression in lieu of my having to take the risk of actually deciding what to do.
Prayer, it seems, may become one of the most powerful weapons of the truly godless in the church, since Christian prayer now enjoys almost universal popularity, not least because most prayers that I hear ignore the plain testimony of the Bible: we pray for health and healing while we feed our addictions; we pray for the Holy Spirit to lead us at the same time we entrench ourselves in secular lifestyles; we ask God to protect us in our cars even as we expose our children to eternal hazards on the television and the internet; we pray that Jesus may come soon, as we spend our fortunes on toys; we pray for others around us to be converted as we refuse to give up our own idols. We do all this in the most sincere guise: the fervent Christian prayer. It may be the single most revolting aspect of the emerging postmodern liturgy—prayer as the pious expression of unmitigated self-worship. Its very sanctity makes prayer a deadly element once it has been allowed to work free of its biblical moorings, and that, I submit, has already happened.
The other day, while walking my dog around the airport at my campus, I happened upon some kind of hand-held digital device lying on the ground. Eager to return it to its owner, I pushed a conspicuous button and discovered the owner’s email. I quickly scanned the list of messages in hope of finding who owned the device, but I soon discovered that one specific type of email predominated: the owner’s daily horoscope. I eventually contacted the owner, and he turned out to be a young man from a good Adventist home. He was very grateful to have his device back; I wonder if he felt lost without it.
What we may not yet suspect is this: the current generation of Adventist youth and college age students are quietly and persistently forging a new Adventist syncretism in which previously antithetical categories may now happily coexist. We need to realize that they may be praying at Vespers and reading their horoscopes on Sabbath morning without the least tincture of guilt or unease; this, as it happens, is the simply the end of a long process of typical Adventist inculturation, or the adaptation of doctrine to fit the culture. This may shock some Adventist adults, but it should not: we taught them to do this. Here is a test: the next time you pray, ask yourself if you are not merely consulting God as your personal insurance policy, rich uncle, much abused therapist, or, worst of all, your ghostly doppelganger. Do you pray to understand and submit to the will of Almighty God as revealed in the Bible, or do you pray to bend the will of a weak and indulgent God to your will as informed by your desires? This test is not as easy as it seems; in fact you may have to pray for God to show you which you are--now that would be a real prayer.
I was so busy that Friday preparing to go to the church campout. Organization and management were not skills that came naturally to me. I had procrastinated and put off so many things and felt a lot of pressure. The kids really wanted to go. I hadn’t made the list of what to pack. I hadn’t purchased the food. The kids were too young at the time to leave them at home to do the packing, so we all got into the car and drove the back way into Cleburne to get groceries. In my head I was going over the stuff I needed, when we passed a lot of cars and an official looking van in a field. The kids wanted to know what was going on. The only thing I could think of was maybe a child was lost. I thought about stopping to pray with the people, but that seemed kind of arrogant. How do you ask if you can pray with complete strangers? I was so busy and we really didn’t have time to help. What help could a mom with three kids be? And anyway I could pray in the car.
So I prayed my generic ambulance prayer with the kids, “Lord, please be with those that need help and those that are helping, in Jesus name, Amen,” and went on my way. On the way home it was easier to drive by all the vehicles. It was late. We still had to pack and there was no way we could stop and still be ready to leave for the campout when my husband got home from work. And the thought of praying with complete strangers was still overwhelming. It was easier to drive by the second time and pray, “Lord, be with those who need help.”
We weren’t ready on time. My husband got home from work and told me that a two year old boy was lost in Alvarado. We told him we had driven right by the place where he went missing. I don’t remember, but I’m sure I must have prayed a quick, “Father, please help them find the child.” It was much easier to finish getting ready for the campout with my husband in charge. We didn’t make it there as soon as we wanted, but I think we got there before sunset. The kids had a lot of fun on the campout. I started to relax. It felt good to no longer feel the pressure of needing to get ready. We really did have fun with our church family. Once during the campout someone mentioned the child being lost and I said, “We need to pray.” But they didn’t take me up on it and I didn’t press.
We headed home from the campout that Sunday afternoon, tired but still happy and refreshed. We stopped to get gas and bought a paper. On the front page there was a story about a toddler that was still lost in Alvarado. I don’t know what the rest of the family listened to on the radio or talked about. The rest of way home I talked with God. I thought about how nice my weekend had been with my children, and the torment the parents of this little one must have endured. I thought about the different things that could have happened to the child. I realized that it was God who had asked me to stop and pray, and that I had been arguing with Him. I had been too busy and stressed to respond to His call. I hadn’t even recognized His voice! I asked Him why He needed my prayers, weren’t there lots of other people praying? He didn’t answer me. The thought came that the baby might not be found because I refused to take the time to really pray- not just a generic prayer, but to pray like it was my baby that was lost. I thought of the anguish I would be going through if my toddler had been lost that entire weekend.
And my heart was broken. In sorrow and repentance I turned towards the window and prayed for God to forgive me as tears ran down my cheeks. It no longer mattered why God wanted me to pray. I no longer thought that someone else more righteous than I should be the one praying. It didn’t matter to me anymore that I wasn’t that righteous man whose prayer availeth much. I begged the Lord to bring the baby back to his parents alive. I pleaded with Him not to hold my sin of indifference against this child. I came home broken and weighed down in sorrow for the child and for my own sin and selfishness. I did not have the assurance I would have had if I had listened to His voice and responded right away.
I went to bed early that night. I didn’t want to think anymore. My husband woke me up several hours later when he saw on the news that the child had been found late that afternoon. My heart was overwhelmed with gratefulness and praise for the mercy and loving-kindness of our Savior.
I still do not really understand the whys and wherefores of prayer. I do not understand why it was so important that I pray as I did that day. I only know it was. I have heard different people explain prayer but it always seems like there is more to it- like all our answers are just the surface of something too deep for us to fathom. What I do understand is that we pray far too little. Jesus longs for us to be less selfish and begin to truly care about the concerns of those around us. He longs for us to bring their petitions to Him and our own as well. Our only righteousness is found in Jesus and as long as we are abiding in Him we are that ‘righteous man’ and our prayers will avail much. I no longer see it as arrogance to believe that our prayers make a difference. I have learned that it is okay to pray with complete strangers, too. Our Father loves us and longs for us to take everything to Him in prayer and will do things in answer to our prayers that He wouldn’t otherwise do. It is so good to have a friend in Jesus!
--Cynthia Reyna has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Southwestern Adventist College, as well as a specialization in special education from Tarleton State University, Texas. She was a teacher before changing careers to motherhood. She has especially enjoyed visiting national parks and historic sites, traveling, camping, and kayaking with her family and being able to consider it “school.”
I’m telling you to love your enemies and do good to them. Lend to people without expecting to get anything back. If you do this, you will have a great reward. You will be children of the Most High God. Yes, because God is good even to the people who are full of sin and not thankful. Luke 6:35
“I do not want to do it! I cannot do it! But help me do it anyway.”
Bridging The Gap
I am ashamed of it, but I must confess its truth. I have read this verse numerous times without ever really considering what it means. Recently, I have had to consider it more closely.
Law school is not a safe place. God is not mentioned there. It is a place where religion is a byword. Needless to say, my trip to law school significantly challenged to my way of thinking. Life is no longer neat and clean.
The difficulties I faced in school did not come from wicked unbelievers who assaulted my faith by spewing forth heresies. Rather, my troubles arose from my reading of Scripture. My challenges materialized when I realized that Jesus was not merely calling me to be “pure,” but to be and do something entirely new. He was asking me to “love my enemies.”
Now, you say, “What is the problem? You seem like a nice chap, and therefore probably did not have any enemies in school. And, even if you did, why could you not love them?”
I Do Not Want To! I cannot do it!
Well, there were two reasons why I could not love them. Ready?
First, my classmates were really bad people. I mean it! I will not list my reasons for saying this, as I am sure that you can imagine some gross sins without my assistance (and your imagination would probably be right in this case).
As a “good” person, I had nothing in common with these people--nothing! As a result, I was neither universally liked nor appreciated. I would even say that I had some enemies. I came to terms with this reality. I was even content with leaving them alone. “At least I will remain pure,” I thought.
But then everything changed. I read Luke 6:35: “I’m telling you to love your enemies and do good to them. Lend to people without expecting to get anything back. If you do this, you will have a great reward. You will be children of the Most High God. Yes, because God is good even to the people who are full of sin and not thankful.”
I told God that I could not do it. I said, “They are awful! They do not like me! I do not like them! I simply cannot love them!” I really struggled with the idea of loving my enemies.
Despite my resistance, Luke 6:35 did not change. I really wanted it to change, but it did not budge. Finally, I gave in and told God that I was willing to do it--to love those scofflaws.
This brought me to the second hurdle, which was twice as challenging as the first. This obstacle was more difficult because Jesus had something specific in mind when He said, “love your enemies.” He did not mean for the command to merely be aspirational. Rather, the text was to be applied practically. This troubled me because I wanted to love my classmates inwardly. You know, I expected to think happy thoughts about my enemies and maybe, if they were lucky, I would smile at them once in a while.
Well that is not what Jesus had in mind.
Right there in Luke 6:35, I read that we are to “do good” to our enemies. To give, expecting nothing in return. Then I read that we are to “forgive” our enemies (verse 37). And, finally, I went to Matthew’s rendition of the passage and found that I was to “pray” for my enemies (Matthew 5: 44). Jesus wanted me to do three things to love those “evil” people. I was to: serve; forgive; and pray for them.
When I realized what God wanted me to do, I seriously considered returning to what I fondly refer to as my “purity theology” because I recognized that it was a lot easier to keep myself clean by avoiding flawed people than to actually practice Bible religion.
I again had a choice.
After much deliberation, I surrendered to God. I attempted to put His words into practice. Although my efforts were by no means perfect, I worked to fulfill Christ’s calling to serve, forgive, and pray for my enemies.
I do not know if my efforts changed my classmates. I can honestly say, however, that applying God’s word to my life changed me. It helped me realize that I was not so good after all--that I, like my classmates, was in need of grace (I highly recommend the word “grace”; if you have not done so already, add it to your lexicon, for it is grace that helps us do the impossible--to be aligned with God).
Grace bridges the gap
I graduated in May of this year. Just prior to commencement, some of the younger students at the law school formed a Christian organization. This organization is still going strong today. I like to think that God’s realignment of my thinking may have helped establish this group and ultimately changed my school for Christ’s sake.
Now, think what God can do if we continue to take Him at His word! Blessings!
Seventh-day Adventist world church President Ted N. C. Wilson today called for an International Day of Prayer and Fasting on December 1 to rally support for the release of two Adventists currently imprisoned in the West African country of Togo. Wilson and top church executives who voted the emphasis day at a November 20 morning business meeting said the event will raise awareness of the plight of Antonio dos Anjos Monteiro, Sabbath School and Personal Ministries director for the church’s Sahel Union Mission, headquartered in Lome; and Bruno Amah, an Adventist lay member and businessman in Lome.
Adventist lawyers and human rights activists have called for both men’s release since they were detained in March for conspiracy to commit murder. A Togolese man implicated Monteiro and Amah as conspirators in an alleged blood trafficking network, but a police search of Monteiro’s home and local church headquarters did not produce evidence. Since then, local authorities have recognized both men’s innocence.
Diplomatic efforts to secure both men’s release are expected to continue. Today church leaders established a working group to oversee efforts led by John Graz, director of Public Affairs and Religious Liberty for the Adventist world church. Church leaders are enlisting the support of members worldwide to raise further awareness through a social media campaign to promote the December 1 Day of Prayer.
“We are asking the entire world Seventh-day Adventist Church to join in prayer and fasting on December 1,” Wilson said. The world church leader met with both men in prison earlier this month during a tour of West Africa.
“These are falsely accused, innocent church members and we are pleading with the Lord for his intervention so that they can be reunited with their families and continue their work,” he said.
The Northern Asia-Pacific Division is asking members to prayer for the immediate release of Antonio dos Anjos Monteiro who was detained in March for conspiracy to commit murder. https://twitter.com/nsdadventist/status/270926119149133824
Antonio dos Anjos Monteiro was detained in March for conspiracy to commit murder after a Togolese man implicated him and two other Christians, one an Adventist, as conspirators in an alleged blood trafficking network.
The accuser had earlier confessed to the murder of some 20 young girls, claiming he worked for a criminal ring that trafficked human blood. The man had met Monteiro when the pastor previously ministered to him.
Monteiro, a native of Cape Verde, has served as the church’s Sabbath School and Personal Ministries director for the Sahel Union Mission, headquartered in Lome, Togo, since 2009.
Even though a police search of Monteiro’s home and local church headquarters failed to turn up evidence, local newspapers earlier this year published inflammatory photos depicting containers of blood alongside stories detailing the allegations against Monteiro.
“To say that Monteiro is innocent I think almost goes without saying,” said Todd McFarland, an associate general counsel in the Office of General Counsel at Adventist world church headquarters.
“The suggestion that an Adventist pastor would hire someone to murder young girls and then traffic their blood is bizarre, fanciful and false," he said.
Public pressure to solve last year’s string of murders, however, continues to thwart his release and exoneration, McFarland said. Prior to Monteiro’s arrest, human rights groups had accused Togolese police of not doing enough to solve the crimes.
In mid-September, church leaders met with government officials in Togo to expedite the case. The group included Gilbert Wari, president of the church’s West-Central Africa Division, which oversees Togo; John Graz, Public Affairs and Religious Liberty director for the Adventist world church; McFarland; and a lawyer from the church’s Sahel Union Mission.
“[The lawyer] is very hopeful. She said our visit created a strong impact on the government,” Wari said.
“At first we could see that the government thought they were just dealing with a small church in the corner, but now with this level of support and mobilization, they see that the Adventist Church is a worldwide church,” he said.
The Adventist Church's top international liaison is currently working with the ambassador of Togo to help secure Monterio’s release.
“The ambassador cordially welcomed me and promised to contact high level officials from the president’s cabinet to facilitate the release of Pastor Monteiro,” said Ganoune Diop, the church’s representative to the United Nations. Diop, who met with the ambassador in July, has since requested a follow-up meeting.
Graz said he wants governments to know that an innocent Seventh-day Adventist facing arbitrary detention is not alone.
“He has millions of brothers and sisters around the world ready to rally in support. We will do everything in our power to help get Monteiro released, and we are confident that justice will prevail.”
There are more than 5,300 Adventist church members in Togo, and close to 880,000 in the church’s West-Central Africa Division.
Monteiro, who was initially held in solitary confinement in jail for 14 days, has since been transferred to the Civil Prison of Lome, where pre-trial detainees such as himself are held together with convicted felons.
Despite deplorable prison conditions, Graz said Monteiro remains “optimistic and in good health.”
“We strongly believe that Monteiro is a modern-day Joseph,” Wari said, referencing a Biblical story in which an Old Testament figure is falsely imprisoned. “Everything seemed desperate and hopeless, but God was working and he was able to glorify his holy name through the crisis.”
By Elizabeth Lechleitner/ANN
I have noticed, and perhaps many of you have as well, that we, God's people, often treat God like a vending machine. We insert $1 worth of requests and maybe, if it has been a good day and we are in a cheery mood, 25¢ worth of praises and thanks, and we expect an immediate response from the Lord: the exact answer/blessing we had in mind pushed out of the slot we selected—D4: finances, E5: health, A1: wayward children, B3: better job, etc. It falls into the chute below where we can reach in, take it, and be on our merry way without another thought. Is that all prayer is? A mechanical transaction between the one praying and the Lord? We ask, He gives? Or is there something that we are missing as individuals and local churches?
One of the most frequently used Scriptures in regards to prayer is Matthew 7:7-8, which reads, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.” We mistakenly believe that by merely asking for something (inserting our $1 into the vending machine), we will receive what we desired.
However, there is far more that goes into earnest, godly prayer than merely stating our needs and demanding a specific outcome from the Lord. The Scriptures give us a solemn warning: “The LORD is far from the wicked: but he heareth the prayer of the righteous” (Proverbs 15:29). The prayer of the righteous… There appears to be a requirement on our part before the Lord will hear and answer our prayers. The Lord gives us more insight into this prerequisite, if you would like to call it such, in 2 Chronicles 7:14.
“If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” (Emphasis added)
The Lord’s promise to hear our prayers, forgive our sins, and heal our land is conditional; it is dependent upon us first humbling ourselves, earnestly seeking the Lord, and turning from our wrongdoing. This is not vending machine praying where we insert our petitions, often selfish requests, and then go about living our lives unchanged. The Lord expects more from us before He answers our prayers. Let’s take a deeper look into meaningful, Biblical prayer.
First and foremost, we must approach prayer with the correct mindset: we are entering into the very presence of the Almighty Lord, Creator of heaven and earth and Redeemer of fallen humanity. We need to humble ourselves before Him; all selfishness and pride needs to be checked at the door and we are to lay bare our true, pitiful, sin-marred selves knowing that we are unworthy of approaching the Lord. Yet in His mercy and love, He has granted us—in spite of our sinful condition—the privilege of entering into communication with Him through prayer. “Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving, and make a joyful noise unto him with psalms” (Psalm 95:2).
Though it is no longer popular in many Christian circles, we cannot neglect the confessing of our sins. As the prayer ministries coordinator at my local church gently reminds us every week before we kneel before the throne of the Lord in prayer: some sins are to be confessed just between you and the Lord (Psalm 32:5), others should be confessed privately to the one wronged (Luke 17:3-4; Ephesians 4:32), and there are times when we are to confess our faults to one another (James 5:16). Though uncomfortable, confession of our sins and faults is necessary; it is only by truly acknowledging our sinful state and realizing our desperate need of a Savior that we become free from pride and arrogance and become vessels that the Lord bought with His shed blood, can cleanse through forgiveness, and will fill with His Holy Spirit. In 1 John 1:9, we are promised: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” And on the subjection of confession, King David penned the hope-filled words, “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered” (Psalm 32:1).
Have you ever experienced a prayer meeting in which a group of believers, humbly on their knees, confessed their faults and, with heart-felt pleas, claimed the promise of forgiveness and cleansing for one another? It is powerful, life-changing, and there is a peace beyond earthly understanding that falls upon the group. We can no longer hide our guilt behind layers of justification nor can any self-righteousness remain in our hearts. In this way, we draw closer to the Lord. Ellen White wrote, “We need not try to work ourselves up into an intense feeling; but calmly, persistently, we are to press our petitions at the throne of grace. Our work is to humble our souls before God, confessing our sins, and in faith drawing nigh unto God.” (Ye Shall Receive Power, pg. 27, paragraph 3)
After we have removed the barrier of sin through confession, we are able to give our supplications. Supplication is more than simply making a request. The dictionary defines the word to mean “the action of asking or begging for something earnestly or humbly”. We should always begin our supplications with fervent prayer for the guidance of the Holy Spirit. “Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered” (Romans 8:26). We should pray for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on God’s people to hasten the harvest (Matthew 9:38; Luke 10:2), for God’s people that we may have more love and wisdom (Ephesians 6:8; Philippians 1:9; James 1:5-6), for our families (Matthew 9:13), for the sick and suffering (James 5:13-14), for ourselves that we will not fall into temptation (Matthew 26:41), for those who have not yet accepted the Lord (Romans 10:1), for the governments and leaders of our respective nations (1 Timothy 2:1-2), and for our enemies (Matthew 5:44). Most importantly, we should pray as Jesus taught us in the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:10) and how He Himself prayed in the darkness of Gethsemane: “…nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Mathew 26:39).
After presenting our supplications to the Lord, we should be filled with a spirit of thanksgiving, acknowledging all of the blessings that He has already bestowed upon us and looking in faith towards His Will being done in our lives and in this world. Philippians 4:6-7 encourages us to “[b]e careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” And Colossians 4:2 says to “[c]ontinue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving.”
One last crucial aspect of Biblical prayer is having assurance. Over the years, I have met too many Christians who live with the constant worry that the Lord will not hear their prayers. What if they had missed confessing a sin? What if they had worded their supplication wrong? What if… what if… what if… These worries and anxieties arise when we harbor doubt in the Lord. It reminds me of Jesus’ sad words to His disciples, “Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?” (Matthew 8:26) When it comes to prayer, we have the tendency to cast our cares to the Lord’s feet, reel them back to us, cast them to the Lord, then reel them back. If we would let go of our worries and trust in Him completely, we would experience that blessed assurance of forgiveness and faith that He will keep us.
After all, the Lord Himself has promised that He will answer when we call upon Him earnestly and with humility and that while we are yet speaking, He has already heard our pleas (Isaiah 65:24). The Lord is not a vending machine, and we need to be cautious that we never grow so complacent that we begin to treat Him as such. When we seek Him with all of our hearts and humble ourselves, He will not forsake us. At the end of the great commission, Christ said, “…I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20). He has promised that, while we may not always get the answer we desired, we can have confidence that—no matter how dark our situation may seem at the moment—everything will work out for the good of those who love the Lord (Romans 8:28).
By Stephanie Dawn As Christians, prayer is one of the necessary components in our spiritual journey. Prayer keeps us spiritually alive, and it opens the door for God to do miracles in our lives as well as in the lives of those for whom we pray. Unfortunately, we often make reference to prayer without fully understanding its significance. Sometimes prayer chains can become a form of gossip, and sometimes when someone comes to us with a problem that makes us uncomfortable, we respond by saying, “I’ll pray for you,” as a means of dodging a conversation that pulls us out of our comfort zone. If we really understood the role that we as God’s people are called to play on this earth and how deeply prayer is involved in this role, we would not treat prayer so casually.
After God led the Israelites out of Egypt, He led them to Mount Sinai. As they camped in the wilderness near the mountain, God gave Moses a message for His people. “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:4-6). During Bible times, only the descendants of Aaron were permitted to serve as priests in the temple, but the Israelites were also to be a kingdom of priests. God has given this same role to His people today. “To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (Revelation1:5-6). After God liberated the children of Israel from their Egyptian taskmasters, He gave them the privilege of being a kingdom of priests, provided that they keep His commandments. The experience of the Israelites symbolizes the experience of Christians today. When we accept God’s gift of salvation, He sets us free from the enslavement of sin, and if we live in obedience to God’s law, we, too, will have the privilege of being a kingdom of priests.
So what does it mean to be a kingdom of priests? The prayer of Daniel provides an answer to this question. Daniel was not a priest, yet he interceded on behalf of Israel, fasting and confessing his sins as well as the sins of his people. Notice how Daniel communicated with God in his prayer. “O Lord, great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant and mercy with those who love Him, and with those who keep His commandments, we have sinned and committed iniquity, we have done wickedly and rebelled, even by departing from Your precepts and Your judgments. Neither have we heeded Your servants the prophets, who spoke in Your name to our kings and our princes, to our fathers and all the people of the land. O Lord, righteousness belongs to You, but to us shame of face, as it is this day—to the men of Judah, to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and all Israel, those near and those far off in all the countries to which You have driven them, because of the unfaithfulness which they have committed against You” (Daniel 9:4-7). Like all of humanity, Daniel was born with a sinful nature, but he did not rebel against God. He did not live the wicked life that most of the children of Israel lived before their captivity in Babylon. Unlike most of Israel, he did not turn away from God, yet he identified himself with the sins of his people, and by praying in this manner he interceded on their behalf. In verses 16 through 19 Daniel concluded his prayer by acknowledging the fact that he and his people had no righteousness in themselves. They were not worthy to come before God, but Daniel threw himself and his people upon God’s mercy. Daniel was clearly aware of the great controversy and the fact that God’s name is at stake, and he appealed to God to answer his prayer based upon this fact. “O Lord, according to all Your righteousness, I pray, let Your anger and Your fury be turned away from Your city Jerusalem, Your holy mountain; because for our sins, and for the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and Your people are a reproach to all those around us. Now therefore, our God, hear the prayer of Your servant, and his supplications, and for the Lord’s sake cause Your face to shine on Your sanctuary, which is desolate. O my God, incline Your ear and hear; open Your eyes and see our desolations, and the city which is called by Your name; for we do not present our supplications before You because of our righteous deeds, but because of Your great mercies. O Lord, hear! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, listen and act! Do not delay for Your own sake, my God, for Your city and Your people are called by Your name.” In verses 20 through 23 of the same chapter we are told that Daniel’s prayer was answered even before he had finished praying. In fact, as soon as Daniel started praying, God commanded Gabriel to go to Daniel and explain to him the 70 week prophecy.
During Bible times, the priests interceded on behalf of the people by offering animal sacrifices, which symbolized Christ’s gift of salvation to the world. As God’s kingdom of priests today, we intercede on behalf of others, not by offering animal sacrifices, but by lifting them up in prayer. Just like Daniel, we come humbly yet confidently before God, acknowledging our unrighteousness and falling upon God’s mercy. When praying for those who have not accepted Christ or have wandered away from Him, we plead for God to pardon them and to take whatever steps are necessary to bring them to Him. Just as the high priest was the only one permitted to enter the Most Holy Place in the temple, Jesus as high priest is the only one who can stand in the Father’s presence and intercede on our behalf, but we have a lesser priesthood to perform, the act of interceding on behalf of others through earnest and persistent prayer.
The experience of Moses is a powerful illustration of the result of intercessory prayer. When Moses was communing with God on the mountain, God informed Moses that the children of Israel had made a golden calf and were worshipping it. Then God said to Moses, “Now therefore, let Me alone, that My wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them. And I will make of you a great nation” (Exodus 32:10). God does not have a violent, impulsive temper. He did not need Moses to restrain Him from carrying out an act of uncontrolled rage. If God had truly wanted to destroy His people, He could have done so in an instant without consulting Moses, and He would not have needed Moses to leave His presence in order to accomplish His purpose. When God told Moses to let Him alone so that He could destroy Israel, He was testing Moses to see how he would respond. He was giving Moses an opportunity to intercede on behalf of Israel, and Moses immediately seized upon this opportunity by quoting God’s own words back to Him and referring to the fact that God’s character would be viewed in a negative light if He destroyed Israel. “LORD,” Moses pleaded, “why does Your wrath burn hot against Your people whom You have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians speak, and say, ‘He brought them out to harm them, to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from Your fierce wrath, and relent from this harm to Your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants, to whom You swore by Your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven; and all this land that I have spoken of I give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever’” (Exodus 32:11-13). Because Moses took advantage of the opportunity God had given him to intercede on behalf of Israel, God did not destroy His people.
In Exodus chapter 34 we read that God gave Moses the privilege of seeing His glory. During this beautiful experience, God described His character to Moses by saying, “The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation” (Exodus 34:6-7). This statement is crucial to keep in mind when reading about another opportunity for Moses to intercede on behalf of Israel, found in Numbers chapter 14.
The children of Israel were on the border of Canaan, but the negative report given by ten of the twelve spies who were sent to investigate the land filled the people’s hearts with unbelief. This unbelief soon turned into rage, and a riot broke out. Then God said to Moses, “How long will these people reject Me? And how long will they not believe Me, with all the signs which I have performed among them? I will strike them with the pestilence and disinherit them, and I will make of you a nation greater and mightier than they” (Numbers 14:11-12). Once again God gave Moses the opportunity to intercede, and once again Moses used this opportunity. He pointed out to God that by destroying Israel His character would be misunderstood. He said, “Then the Egyptians will hear it, for by Your might You brought these people up from among them, and they will tell it to the inhabitants of this land. They have heard that You, LORD, are among these people; that You, LORD, are seen face to face and Your cloud stands above them, and You go before them in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night. Now if You kill these people as one man, then the nations which have heard of Your fame will speak, saying, ‘Because the LORD was not able to bring this people to the land which He swore to give them, therefore He killed them in the wilderness’” (Numbers 14:13-16). Moses had not forgotten what God had said about Himself on the day that God had revealed His glory to Moses, and now, as Moses once again pleaded for the children of Israel, he quoted some of God’s own words back to Him. “And now, I pray, let the power of my Lord be great, just as You have spoken, saying, ‘The LORD is longsuffering and abundant in mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression; but He by no means clears the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation.’ Pardon the iniquity of this people, I pray, according to the greatness of Your mercy, just as You have forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now” (Numbers 14:17-19). Once again God answered Moses’ plea. He gave Moses the reassuring response, “I have pardoned, according to your word” (Numbers 14:20). Because of their unbelief, God would not permit the people to enter Canaan, but the intercessory prayer of Moses prompted God to pardon them and not to destroy them. We should never underestimate the power of intercessory prayer, especially when we quote Scripture and claim God’s promises in our prayers.
To stop praying for others is a very serious fault. In fact, according to the Bible, it is a sin. “Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD in ceasing to pray for you; but I will teach you the good and the right way” (1 Samuel 12:23). We can never afford to take prayer for granted. As the sins of Israel multiplied, God bore long with them. He sent prophet after prophet to them in an effort to warn them of their danger and to urge them to return to Him, but they stubbornly refused to listen. Gladly would God have answered the prayer of any one of His people if they had only confessed their sins and interceded on Israel’s behalf! “So I sought for a man among them who would make a wall, and stand in the gap before Me on behalf of the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found no one” (Ezekiel 22:30). Tragically, there came a point at which it was too late to pray for Israel. In Jeremiah chapter 15 verse 1, God made this sobering statement concerning the children of Israel. “Even if Moses and Samuel stood before Me, My mind would not be favorable toward this people. Cast them out of My sight, and let them go forth.” In Jeremiah chapter 7 verse 16 God said to Jeremiah, “Therefore do not pray for this people, nor lift up a cry or prayer for them, nor make intercession to Me; for I will not hear you.” We have only a window of time during which we can intercede on behalf of others, and that window of time is different for each person. We have no way of knowing when the window of opportunity for each person will close. This is why it is so crucial that we pray without ceasing for those whom God has placed upon our hearts. If we neglect our duty to pray for these people, many of them will pass beyond the point of being reached by the Holy Spirit, and it will be too late.
On the other hand, incredible miracles will take place in the lives of many lost souls if we persist in praying for them. We can all gather hope from the story of Stephen. As Stephen was being stoned to death, his dying words were an intercessory prayer on behalf of those who were murdering him. “Lord, do not charge them with this sin” (Acts 7:60). Stephen’s prayer was not in vain. Present at his stoning was a young man named Saul. One look at Saul’s life might have led many of the Christians who knew him to conclude that he was a lost cause, but God saw what no one else could see. Saul went from being a hater and persecutor of the church to being one of the greatest Evangelists of his day, carrying the Gospel far and wide and leading many to the feet of Jesus. Only in Heaven will Stephen learn of the amazing result of his intercessory prayer as seen through the conversion of Saul. What joy Stephen will feel when he talks to Saul in Heaven and hears Saul’s testimony for the first time! If we persist in earnest intercession on behalf of others, refusing to stop praying until our prayers are answered, we, too, will feel this same unutterable joy when we are united with those we have prayed for in the Heavenly kingdom.
“Stay away from that stuff,” I was warned. Not drugs, but worse--I was considering Spiritual Formation. Surprised, and duly daunted, I thought I had just entered a twilight zone: a Christian theologian was discouraging me, a Christian, from pursuing a doctorate in Spiritual Formation. My inauguration into the controversy had begun. For me, the term “Spiritual Formation” was an apt descriptor for my desire to pursue formation in the image of Christ. But as I came to understand, spiritual formation is an umbrella covering biblical and unbiblical beliefs. Though my friend the theologian was right in being wary, I came to believe he was wrong in his all-inclusive toss of the proverbial bathwater.
Here’s the problem. The positive elements of Spiritual Formation are thrown out by conservatives rejecting anything that comes with the term, while on the other side, the liberal Christians seem to embrace whatever comes with it. Both are in danger of not testing the spirits by the word of God (1 Jn. 4:1). If we are truly in pursuit of Christian development, “Spiritual Formation” must not be seen as a single spirit, but rather the individual tenants within its nomenclature must be considered individually.
Fasting, prayer, Bible reading, and service are all clearly biblical components of Spiritual Formation. Contemplative prayer, though it sounds good, can mean the clearing of all thoughts from the mind in an effort to truly commune with God, whose thoughts are said to be beyond human capacity. Therefore, the closest one can come to communion with the infinite God is to not think. The roots of that belief can be traced back through various spiritual schools of thought, but not to the Bible. Though it is true that proponents of this belief often point to biblical passages, it is not within the wider context of the biblical passages.
My real concern is for those who are not rooted in a growing biblical faith. Perhaps someone has been reading one of these Christian mystics and is moved by the deep thoughts offered within their works that articulate well the beauty of God, and a desire to be one with Him. But when the author’s name is mentioned, another member overhears who has been reading a different kind of book, one that lists that author as a Spiritual Formation heretic, and he then slams the person for reading that author: Christian development squashed in the name of Christ.
I’m not saying that I would endorse the reading of the first book or discourage the reading of the second book. The wider issue is that what moved the first person was a passage about the desire to grow in oneness with Christ, and in condemning the author, the second person was inadvertently condemning a biblical thought--the ruling passion of Christ that we would be one with Him (Jn. 13-17).
As a church known for keeping a lukewarm distance from God (Rev 3:14-18), we should admire the overruling motivation of Spiritual Formation writers to be one with God. But if we do not seek that oneness according to His Word, then we will miss the mark we aim for. Both individuals in my little scenario represent growing factions in our church. But if they individually determine to worship God according to His Word, they will grow in that oneness with Him and each other.
Though as a doctoral candidate, I must be familiar with Spiritual Formation authors to have credibility with others in the field, I go to the Word for my spiritual formation.
Colossians 3:16 says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.”
“Prayer is a waste of time,” he scoffed. “It’s like throwing pennies in a wishing well or wishing on a star. I don’t mind folks wasting their time on frivolous fantasy, as long as they do something useful to make up for it.”
The next day, as my husband and I were driving home, I was silently asking God to send me a topic for this column. Minutes later, we took our home exit and I saw someone holding up a sign. It read, “Free prayer.” I could hardly believe it.
“Stop, stop, stop, stop!” I said. My husband was wondering what was wrong, so I had to explain my instantaneous answer to prayer with, “That’s my column.”
A couple people crowded around our window, and told us they just get together and pray for whoever stops and needs it. The lovely folks prayed for us, too.
This small band is from a relatively new church in our town with a congregation of about 25 members. Their motto isn’t only to get together and talk about God, but to be his hands and feet, serving anyone they can.
On Wednesdays, they feed the poor in San Bernardino, Calif. Thursdays they have chairs set up on the side of the road with a sign explaining what they’re up to – “free prayer.” Once a month they hold church services at local parks. Occasionally, they’ll go to Skid Row in Los Angeles, where they’ll hand out tarps and moving blankets to homeless folk.
“We have Bible studies and regular church services,” said the pastor, “but we want to be active in the name of Jesus. We want to put actions behind our words.”
The foundation of their lives and work is a personal relationship with Christ, and keeping the dialogue between heaven and their hearts open through prayer.
“We believe God listens when we pray,” he said. “We’ve seen God answer prayer.”
The members of this church know that no one is exempt from suffering, and something unique they wanted to offer our town was prayer.
“We weren’t going to get weird, but people in our community, they’re hurting too,” the pastor said. “So we were wanting to find their needs and pray for them.”
There’s nothing quite like asking, so that’s what they decided to do.
And people stop. They want prayer for their marriages, financial situations, disobedient children, illnesses, and the list continues.
“You drive by and think those people don’t have problems, because they live in nice houses around a golf course,” he said. “But there’s a lot of hurting people in that community, some losing their homes….”
The faith of this small group hasn’t been exercised in vain.
Once, a man they prayed for, whose marriage was on the rocks, stopped by to exclaim, “My wife and I are talking again! Thank you for praying for us.”
Others have stopped by with similar stories.
“We know it makes a difference,” the pastor said. “God says it does, we believe, and we see the changes in people we’re praying for. We see God answer.”
I was impressed with these prayer warriors. They test God. They try Him. When they pray, God blesses their faith, and things happen.
Sir William Temple said, “When I pray, coincidences happen, and when I don’t, they don’t.” Prayer brings us up to God. It’s a comfort and joy, necessity and privilege. God waits to help and to pour on us the full blessings of heaven. What an example my fellow townsmen were to us. After that experience, I wanted to do a little study about prayer.
I found that a great prayer life is more than just asking and receiving. In fact, God hearing our prayers is conditional on a few things.
First, we must realize our need of God and really hunger for righteousness, as well as not cling to known sins. Isaiah 44:3 says, "I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground." This doesn’t mean if we pray for a Bentley, it will show up on our doorstep within the hour. We are often short-sighted, and God gives us things that will be for our eternal good. God doesn’t make mistakes, so if we didn’t get the Bentley, it is for our good it was withheld.
Faith is another huge element of prayer. Will we take God at His word? Hebrews 11:6 says, "He that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him."
If we try to comprehend everything that is not 100 percent clear, our doubts will only increase. However, if we realize our helplessness and come to God with a humble, trusting faith, God will hear us and act in our behalf. Even though we might not see grand evidences of God's care and love, we must trust that He does indeed have infinite compassion and love for us, and our feelings will follow the thoughts we sow.
Prayer is also about praising and thanking God for all the evidences we have of His goodness.
In the end, I must joyfully disagree with my unnamed mocking friend. Prayer isn’t a waste of time. It isn’t like wishing on a star. It’s more like sharing our hearts with a best friend, a friend who sustains the universe with his power, and who loved us so much He died in our place.