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You Can Still Shake the Gates of Hell When Things Don’t Go As Planned

You Can Shake the Gates of Hell

When Things Don’t Go as Planned

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are my ways your ways,” declares the Lord.”

– Isaiah 55:8

In the West, we highly value productivity — or at least the appearance of productivity. We Western Christians all too often herald the expectation of productivity as a core value of following Jesus. Many of us believe that our life in Christ is only valuable if there are attendant measurable, attainable results (products)—or the appearance of them. Many of us even stake our identity in this idea.

What happens when God the Father decides that our dependence upon productivity is a huge hurdle to our growth in maturity and Christlikeness? How do we respond when God’s highest purpose for a season may very well be to teach us to deal with frustration, waiting, desperate praying, or trusting that there is real activity in the other realm that eyes cannot see?

I am a Bible translator in Papua New Guinea. My family and I live in a mountain village that gets upwards of 200 inches of rain a year. Mountainsides slide. Roads erode. Floods flow. The nearest city is over 60 kilometers away and is sometimes blocked by all of the above. Used to these realities, the locals here are … patient, easygoing, not concerned with speed or efficiency. Survival is enough.

These realities are disruptive, as are the questions. In the moments when this world is caving in on my expectations and the flesh is tired of waiting, the enemy goes to work on my sense of self-worth and accomplishment. He knows all too well how to use the expectation of productivity against me—and perhaps you, too.

Satan wants us to lean into our efficiency, to depend upon our productivity as a means of earning God’s affections. He wants us to think that if our productivity is interrupted by cancer or car wreck or even living in the developing world, that our faith is worthless and our position in God is null and void.

If you want to shake the gates of Hell, don’t take the bait. Don’t allow the adversary to convince you that the substance of your life is pent-up in getting things done efficiently any more than it is in the abundance of your worldly goods.

My college-aged sons and I were walking between villages a few months ago. We were talking about life and what we had planned for that day. We had made very efficient and productive plans for that day, but we instead found ourselves hiking and talking.

Our original plans thwarted, we asked God for his plan. The answers to that prayer took us to the house of a man who was sick and needed to be encouraged. They took us on a journey that would help establish a program board to streamline the work of translation among the Somau Garia people. God’s efficiency is about building people and his kingdom rather than merely giving us a personal sense of accomplishment.

The enemy hates it when we respond to frustration with prayer; when we choose to trust the Unseen rather than wallow in despair of what is only dimly seen. His designs for our destruction are thwarted when we surrender to our Father and his plans.

Are efficiency and productivity negative values? Of course not. Ministries like Bible translation are too great a task to finish without employing these values. But we dare not confuse the outcome of a set of work habits with fruit born of the Holy Spirit. Shaking the gates of Hell is done in the Spirit, by fruit born of Him and effort made through the strength of Christ—especially when things don’t go according to our plans.

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The Long Awaited Update

Uria Mopo Road Repair-2I have a confession to make. It has been months since I’ve posted here. OK, so you already knew that. Whew! I’m glad we got that out of the way!

I last posted a few weeks after we arrived in Papua New Guinea. Our initial weeks here were spent in the provincial capital, and then we transitioned to Uria Village, where we live most of the time.

One challenge of living in Uria Village is that, while there is a cell tower nearby, its data transfer rate is very slow. Most of the time it is impossible to upload blog posts to shakethegates.org. I’m currently looking for an elegant solution to allow me to upload from Uria.

We invite you to pray with us regarding a possible solution to the challenge. The current tower is owned by a company called Digicel. While they provide excellent service in the urban centers, their rural service apparently hasn’t been upgraded since the original towers were installed in 2008. Digicel’s competitor, BeMobile (partly owned by Vodafone) is erecting two new towers, one to the north of us, the other to the south. I’m guessing that the BeMobile towers have upgraded equipment (3G or 4G LTE). If so, it is likely that we will be able to get data speeds fast enough to keep up with the website and social media. Please pray that we will be able to get increased access while in the village.

Pictured above is a portion of the track we hike on into Uria Village. Fortunately for us, there is a lot of work being done to improve physical access to our area. It is likely that by the end of rainy season (toward the North American summer), we will be able to drive into and out of Uria–something that we’ve not been able to do for a very long time. Pray that increased physical access will be a blessing and not a curse. Much is changing in Papua New Guinea, much of which is being used for evil.

Finally, we invite you to pray with us as we launch a very busy 2016. Our part in shaking the gates of Hell involves translating the New Testament into the heart language of the Somau Garia people of Papua New Guinea, a people created for God’s glory. Among other things, we are conducting a translation workshop (beginning February 8), a preaching workshop (later in the year), and a spiritual retreat for Somau Garia translators. Pray that the Holy Spirit will stir the hearts and minds of the participants, bringing transformation and renewed passion for Jesus Christ.

Thanks for stopping by shakethegates.org–and thanks for praying!

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What Does It Mean to Shake the Gates of Hell? Part 1

The early months of our missionary career left us with the indelible impression that we weren’t in Kansas anymore, that the water really does swirl in the opposite direction “down under”, and that the spirit world is not a state of mind, but a life-and-death reality. Our gates (and maybe our foundations too) were being shaken and we needed to learn how to live and—fight—in a whole new way. Rather than passively waiting to absorb attack, we needed to climb out of the trench and make the longest run across no man’s land to shake the gates of hell.

It is useful to have an operational definition of those gates if we are to wage a good warfare. In Biblical parlance, a gate is “a symbol of strength, power, and dominion,” (Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, Volume 2, page 656.) As such, when referring to “the gates of hell” (as found in Matthew 16:18) it is understood that we are not referring to the place of eternal punishment, but to those spiritual entities in league with Satan for whom hell was created.

Courtesy of Lightstock.com

Courtesy of Lightstock.com

To confront this league of evil, we must wage war in the spiritual domain, using spiritual strategies, tactics, and assets.

Like a tent spread over all of the following thoughts is Romans 8:37–39:

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

The principles offered in the next several posts depend upon the truth that our Father loves us and that there is nothing that can separate us from that love. Some of these principles may, at times, make us feel vulnerable, exposed to the enemy, at risk. Yet, we must risk suffering in order that we might truly know Jesus, that we might gain a better resurrection, and have our faith purified and made strong. Jesus defined eternal life as “know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” (John 17:3)

Be Known By God

Shaking the gates of hell is a cooperative venture with the Lord that begins with being known (or acknowledged) by God. In a general sense, God knows everyone. This is not about being known in that way. I’m referring to the kind of intimate, relational knowledge that the Father has of the Son and for those who, by faith, have crossed from darkness to light. Turn your attention to these passages:

Mark 1:9–11, “In those days Jesus came from Nazareth and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ”You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.””

Job 1:8, “And the Lord said to Satan, ‘Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?’”

Judges 6:11–12, “Now the angel of the Lord came and sat under the terebinth at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, while his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the winepress to hide it from the Midianites. And the angel of the Lord appeared to him and said to him, ”The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valor.”

Our authority to wage war in heavenly places is rooted in finished work of Jesus on the cross, the resurrection, and the mandate given us by Him. We are Christ’s ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20), therefore we exercise delegated authority. Just as an ambassador serves as an extension of the government he or she represents, we represent the Savior according to His agenda, his power, his authority.

The difference in the Kingdom of God is that we are not just one of a host of bureaucrats carrying out the political agenda of a distant and unknown leader. We are sons and daughters, co-heirs with Christ, intimately known and loved by the One sending us to do his will. He has given us his Spirit to indwell and empower us, gifting us for the good of the body.

Christ’s finished work on the cross, his resurrection, even his mandate all exist under the great umbrella of God’s love for those whom He created. While these establish a foundation for shaking the gates of hell, they are merely the beginning. In the coming posts we will examine other elements of fighting the war in the heavenly places. Until then . . . may the Lord bless you and keep you, may the Lord make his face shine upon you and give you rest.

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Light from Broken Lamps

My friend, Lim, came sauntering up to the house one afternoon carrying an old kerosene lantern. He often stopped by to chat in the late afternoon. “Brother Todd, could you help me fix my lantern?”

Of all the skills I had to acquire to thrive in a jungle village, fixing leaky kerosene lamps wasn’t one. Like most Westerners, I’d probably just go buy another rather than fix it. They are relatively cheap. On the other hand, I might learn something. I suspected that he knew how to fix it, just didn’t have the stuff.

“Sure, Lim. What’s the problem?” “It’s leaking right here (he said as he pointed to the seam along the base.” “Any idea how to sort it out? I painted it last time.” The verb “paint” is about as ambiguous in the trade language as it is in English. We can speak of painting something with oil, paint, or even medicine when speaking of treating a wound. I was trying to figure out what he was getting at. We walked into my little workshop and started looking around. He picked up a can of paint: oil-based paint that becomes gummy when it dries. Clever. I never would have that of that one.

Outside in the breeze we started brushing paint around the bottom of Lim’s oil lamp. He grinned at me. I suppose he’d had similar experiences when trying to teach his children lessons that seem so straightforward to an adult. We set the lamp aside to dry and took up the real work of the day, talking about what was going on around the village, in Lim’s life, and eternity.

I’ve often thought of Lim’s leaky lamp since then. When you only make a few hundred dollars a year, kerosene is an expensive commodity. How sad and stressful it is to watch it drip down the side of your lamp and spill onto the ground, especially with such an easy, if unorthodox, fix.

Missionaries, especially in the kinds of remote areas where many Bible translators work, can be isolated for months at a time. Spiritual nurture is rarely external. Maintenance of the inner life can be costly and precious. Stress mounts: sometimes cultural; sometimes emotional; sometimes interpersonal; as often as not physical (sickness). Whatever the cause, the lamp of life tends to spring leaks and the precious flow of Oil drips out the bottom instead of feeding the flame.

The servant of Jesus must pay attention to the condition of the vessel. Where are there leaks? How large? Can I plug them or do I need help? Where can I find help? The servant’s life must be filled with the life-giving flow on a regular basis, lest the light dwindle to mere shadow.

Following are a few Bible verses that may help fan the flame and give the servant an advantage.


I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” –Psalm 121:1-2, ESV

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” –Hebrews 10:24-25, ESV

“Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer 0f faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.”–James 4:13-16, ESV

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Temptation and Prayer

One habit that Angela and I picked up when we moved to Papua New Guinea in the 1990’s was to always watch the path at our feet when we walked anywhere. Paths in rural Papua New Guinea are not wide, cement sidewalks or elevated boardwalks through wet areas. Because we lived on a very steep-sided mountain, our paths were (and are) narrow, stony, slick, steep, and snaggy. A person tends to watch the path rather than looking around at all the scenery. The scenery is taken in when drinking water or sitting for a bit of a rest.

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Jesus’ followers watched him walk the snaggy paths of temptation. He handled people who hated him, doubted him, those who tried to manipulate and use him, and tried to try and trick him into doing something that they could use against him. The disciples watched him handle both popularity and rejection with unshakeable character—and without sin.

Read the above texts. What do they say to you about temptation and prayer? Very early in Jesus’ three year ministry, he taught his followers to pray, concluding with, “And lead us not into temptation.”

On the other end of those three years he gave a similar directive—on the night he was betrayed. Entering the Garden of Gethsemane he instructed the disciples: “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” Walking several yards further, he dealt with his own temptation in prayer. In prayer he chose to make the horrific journey to Golgotha. Returning to his followers, he found them sleeping, “exhausted with sorrow.” He knew what was about to happen. “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.” They would need to have been strengthened in prayer to endure the coming hours.

Stress, fatigue, and sorrow can all take their toll on our ability to resist the temptation to fall into worry or anger or hate. Western culture cultivates these three realities. We are pushed to excess in all. It is a diabolical strategy to break us down and make us vulnerable to sin—to push us over the edge. Missionaries face these realities in a rather magnified way on a daily basis.

How do we overcome, friends? “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” Notice Jesus does not exhort his followers not to fall into sin. He exhorts them not to fall into temptation (the gateway to sin). There are three main sources of temptation: the world, the flesh, and the devil. As we live in the context of the world, within our own skin, and in an adversarial relationship with the devil, we must continually be in prayer. One of our ongoing prayers must be that we will not fall into temptation. If we find ourselves in the place of temptation when we are tired, stressed, and perhaps sorrowful, if we have not lived in an attitude of prayer, we are more likely give way to sin. How do we overcome?

  • Go, sometimes alone and at other times with like-minded believers, to a solitary place of prayer.
  • Determine not to leave that solitary place until you have surrendered your will to the will of the Father. Your flesh will oppose you. The world will oppose you. The devil will mock you. Don’t give in!
  • Call on God to work his will in your life at the crisis point.
  • Receive God’s grace and sufficiency to overcome.

By God’s grace, by his Spirit, by his Word, by his power we will shake the gates of Hell!

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Twenty-One Days in Prayer

They are not of this world, even as I [Jesus] am not of it. –John 17:16

I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I [Jesus] have overcome the world. –John 16:33

 


 

A World Apart

A few minutes spent twittering through the headlines is a sobering experience. I read of youth ministers being arrested for distributing child porn. Today I read of a minister who was sentenced to life in prison for murdering not one, but two of his wives. Then there are the stories of the hucksters, the “evangelists” who seem to be in “the business” to make a quick buck, actually lots of quick bucks–and seem to be very effective doing it. All of these kinds of headlines grieve me deeply. I am ashamed when I think of how these people drag Jesus’ name through the mud and give a watching world occasion to ridicule him freshly.

The world understands that we don’t belong to them. They understand that we are to operate with a different Spirit. Do we?

For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?

–I Peter 4:17, ESV

Living in a Time of Judgment

Daniel (of dream-interpreting and lion-mouth-shutting fame) lived in a time when Israel was oppressed and scattered because of her sin . Daniel’s heart was for her to display God’s glory to the nations. When he understood that according to Jeremiah’s prophecy the “desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years”, he responded by humbling himself in prayer.

So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes. I prayed to the Lord my God and confessed: “O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with all who love him and obey his commands, we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke your name to our kings, princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land.

–Daniel 9:3-6, NIV

Daniel acknowledged Israel’s sin, including himself in the indictment. He acknowledged the character of God as a promise keeper, a covenant keeper, as all powerful. God loved Daniel’s humility and brokenness before Him. Daniel didn’t try to dart away from his own culpability, his own role in Israel’s demise. God sent Gabriel, the messenger angel, to answer Daniel’s concerns.

In another instance, Daniel received a revelation from God.

At that time I, Daniel, mourned for three weeks. I ate no choice food; no meat or wine touched my lips; and I used no lotions at all until the three weeks were over.

–Daniel 10:2

As you read through Daniel 10, you see that once again the Lord honored Daniel’s humble attitude expressed through acts of contrition and self-denial. He was so fixed on God’s message, on gaining understanding, that he laid all the normal stuff of life aside to pursue God.

“Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before God, your words were heard, and I have come in response the them. But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia. Now I have come to explain to you what will happen to your people in the future, for the vision concerns a time yet to come.”

–Daniel 10:12-14, NIV

Cosmic Conflict and Answered Prayer

This is a somewhat cryptic account which peels back the layers of the heavens and gives us a momentary view of the invisible war. We are at war. When we pray there is action in heaven. When we humble ourselves there are ripples in the heavenly places. When we demonstrate our desire to understand, to know God, to overcome in this cosmic conflict, God hears and responds.

  • Don’t give up when your prayers are not immediately answered.
  • Take heart. You are engaged in the conflict of the cosmos. Every day the conflict becomes a little more intense. Everyday we are closer to the goal of our faith than we were the day before. Everyday we push harder into enemy territory.
  • Set yourself aside for Jesus–he has sent you into the world to live as Light and Life.
  • Humble yourself before God–His grace flows to the humble.

Prayerfully go forth and shake the gates of hell!

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Lifestyle of the Unexpected

Two slender Melanesian men stand side by side, one holding a chicken. They wear traditional clothes, heads decorated with dog’s teeth and hibiscus blooms. They live on the side of a mountain in Papua New Guinea, speak a language few have ever heard of, and extend incredible hospitality, Melanesian-style, to those who come to visit. As with many other pictures like this one, it could be captioned: Papua New Guinea, Land of the Unexpected.

Stanley and Sominak Welcome Reeds
There is another picture. An American couple. Dressed modestly. Signs of wear showing around the corners of her eyes; snowy white beard covering his face. They are younger than they might look. A pig’s tusk necklace hangs about his neck.  A string bag graces her shoulder. Across the bottom of this photo we find these words: “Missionary: Lifestyle of the Unexpected.”

Seven years ago when we boarded the flight home to furlough, to endless church dinners, thousands of miles on the road, we had little intention of remaining in the U.S. beyond the months allotted for visiting churches and friends and taking care of the usual stuff–doctor visits, dentists offices, a few weeks for vacation, a little support raising. Then . . . the unexpected.

We did not return. We moved to Iowa and got involved in local church ministry for a few years. We moved to Florida and worked on the home-side of missions, providing administration for missionary care and crisis management. Month to month and year to year God, in his abounding love and plan for our lives continued to nudge us little by little to a little village nestled on the side of a mountain in New Guinea. Unexpected.

This month we’ve been rolling continually northward throughout the Midwest sharing the vision God has placed before us and pointing the saints toward Jesus’ majesty. At each stop we’ve met people who love Jesus and have showed our family tremendous hospitality and the vast generosity of hearts surrendered to Him. Yet, we have met much that was unexpected.

Unexpected: we met a man in a Florida church who was living in a tent in the woods, dreaming of helping others and asking about how to become a missionary.

Unexpected: a shade tree mechanic in Texas who, while not regularly attending church, took time to visit with us and to fix a problem on our very high-mileage SUV.

Unexpected: a joyous evening spent in an upstairs apartment singing and dancing to a familiar song, while cooking dinner with our son who is interning in youth ministry this summer.

Unexpected: seeing friends not seen in 23 years, sharing a meal, laughing about old times.

Unexpected: 3,500 miles in two weeks (it ain’t over yet).

Unexpected: Dodging EF4 tornadoes, floods, rain, and hail for 200 miles while trying to make it to our next overnight–and coming through it all with no damage, no injury, no death or dismemberment!

Unexpected: Praying for an October 2014 return to that little village on the mountainside in Papua New Guinea. Praying for the hopes and dreams of an entire people and an almighty God to be brought to fruition in finishing the translation of the Somau Garia New Testament.

You, too, can join the adventure of “Lifestyle of the Unexpected” by praying with us day by day and by partnering with us financially. If you are interested in financial partnership, click here. If you’d like to become a prayer partner, please click here to drop us a note.

 

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Old Photos and New Life

Memories sit on the shelf of the mind quite often collecting dust and serving little purpose, like old family photos placed in a hall closet and forgotten through most days. There they sit until relatives land in town for a few days or one of the kids is home from college. Then they see the light of day.

I’m pulling a few of those memories from the closet today as I reflect on something that happened thirty-two years ago today (April 11, 1982). It was that Easter Sunday that I surrendered my life, my rights, my past, present, and future to Jesus Christ. I was buried with him in baptism and raised again with him to new life.

Why was that? Why would I have made that decision? How did it really change anything?

Walk to the shelf with me. Let’s pull out one of the photos from years earlier. The photo is shadowy. There is a six year old boy, wearing pajamas. His sallow face is swollen, hair tussled. A small pair of plastic-framed glasses lay on the night stand. He is kneeling under the table, eyes squeezed shut, hands folded. It looks as he could bolt at any moment, running for his life. There is a caption below: “Please God, I don’t want to die.” He had been told a few hours before that he might only have six months to live.

How about this one. Look at this. This photo is of an eight-year-old boy, sitting on the bench seat of a moving truck. He is holding a Orange Crush soda in his hand, his big eyes gazing up at his dad, grinning like a possum eating sweet potato. He gets to ride with Daddy on the first leg of the trip south to a new home. That new home would end up being southeast Kansas. Caption here: “What will life be like there? Will I fit in? Will they like me?”

What’s this? In this photo our little boy is alone, face tear-stained, shaking. Small towns can be cruel. Sometimes older siblings can be too. This photo was “taken” just after he was left at home, everyone else headed out for pizza and fun. Caption here: “Why?” Pause for a moment and consider this one. Lonely, alone, hurting, fearful, sick, desperately looking for . . . acceptance. We place this photo back in the box. How depressing. But wait . . .

Here’s an interesting one. There is our boy sitting in a church pew. The cushions were red, the hymnals that sort of 70’s burgundy that found its way onto Lincoln Continentals, velvet suits, and church hymnals in those days. The crowd is small–must’ve been a Sunday night–definitely. The preacher at the edge of the picture isn’t wearing a tie. Definitely Sunday night. White knuckles. Right there in the center of this photo. Our little boy is white-knuckling the back of the pew in front of him. He has talked to the preacher. He knows about Hell . . . and heaven. He knows about sin and its wages. He knows the price of rejecting God. Yet, the knuckles are white, the boy stationary.

What’s this one? This photo is different than the others. It is effusive, almost glowing. Can photos glow? In this photo the boy is dressed in white. His hair drips, water running down his chin. Is it water or Spirit? His eyes are bright, his face no longer sallow but warm and ruddy and alive. He smiles and feels clean, pure, new, and empowered. It seems like it must be the same boy from the other photos, yet not. There is still fear in this photo, yet it is a holy fear, not one born of dread and death. Oh yes, Easter Sunday. 1982.

That photo was taken 32 years ago today. Death died that day in me and became Life. Dark was dispelled by Light. Lost became found. Rejection was redeemed by the One who had been rejected without cause. Loneliness was removed as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit came to make a new home in me.

Aged Todd Portrait Photo

I thank God today that He looked at my sickness, my loneliness, my pain and buried those in the grave. I thank God today that by the power of the resurrection and by His Spirit he raised me to eternal life, lived in Him. I thank God today that he has given me opportunity upon opportunity to put hands and feet on “thank you.”

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God’s Poem, God’s Story

I’ve been re-reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy epic, The Lord of the Rings. There are few writers of his genre that are as adept and imaginative in developing not only characters, but cultures and histories and tense drama. The sheer art of his writing is compelling enough reason to read the stories perpetually. Turn a page and you never know whether you’ll find a strange tongue or an epic tale or a cultural cue or a song or . . . a poem. Sometimes it is a combination of all of those things wrapped into one.

Open the pages of Scripture. Page 1. Genesis 1:1. “In the beginning . . .” Hands trembling with excitement, ears of the inner man attuned to the meter and cadence and meaning of the written Word. God’s story begins. Page after page, story after story: histories, cultures, God’s interaction with idolatrous and selfish man. Powerful drama. Powerful narrative. Read long enough and far enough into this vast epic of rebirth and reconciliation and you will come to a little letter written to a group of young churches in Asia.

Part way into the letter, Paul breaks into a poem–but not one that you would expect. His poem is composed of one word. “For we are his [God’s] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:10. This word, workmanship, is ποιημα (poiema), or “poem“. It really means “creative work”, “piece of art”, “hand -crafted work”, or “masterpiece”.

Here, right in the middle of God’s story is his poem–you.

Have you ever considered yourself to be God’s magnum opus, his great work? That is what you are! Immediately before this verse we are reminded that God himself saved us by his own grace. He has and continues to shape and mold us to walk in those works that he specially crafted for each of us beforehand.

Frustrated with failure? Feeling like giving up? Ask God to show you how his hand has crafted the works that you were made to walk in. Already know what those works are and are just not doing them? Get up off your backside and get moving! Now is the best time to step out in faith and shake the gates of hell! Walk in the works He prepared for you!

You are God’s artfully crafted poem, planted right in the middle of his epic story. Embrace your identity and walk in it!

 

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4 Marks of a Praying Person

Ever hear the names James Hudson Taylor or George Mueller? If not, I encourage you to read James Hudson Taylor: A Man in Christ by Roger Steer or  George Muller: Delighted In God (HistoryMakers)  (also by Steer). These men were pioneers in and exemplars of what is known as faith missions. While they would tell the story of China (Taylor) or of Bristol’s orphans (Mueller) they resolved to never ask man for money to support their works: they would appeal to God alone in prayer for their sustenance.

As a Bible college student, their stories captured my imagination and have provided boundaries for my spiritual growth ever since. After reading Taylor’s story, I began thinking and praying on the theme of becoming a praying man rather than a man who simply prays when it is quite convenient. I began to wonder, “What does it mean to be a praying man rather than a man who prays merely from desperation or in a casual, nonchalant way?” Is there a difference?

I believe that there is.

  1. The praying person’s basic orientation is toward God rather than toward earth. Their belief system is rooted in the notion that God can and does respond to prayer and intervene in the affairs of mankind. They place a high value on God’s transcendent purpose over mankind’s schemes.
  2. The praying person is emotionally and spiritually tied to an unobstructed fellowship with and dependence upon God. The person who prays casually likely finds most satisfaction and affirmation elsewhere.
  3. The praying person interprets suffering through the filter of God’s character. The casual pray-er may interpret God’s character through the filter of suffering (How can God be good when he allows me to suffer? for example).
  4. The first priority and strategy of the praying person is prayer. It is often an afterthought to the person who prays more casually. (Well, all we can do now is pray . . . ho hum.)

While spiritual gifting might cause some to be more oriented towards prayer-as-lifestyle than others, we are all called to live a life of prayer and devotion to our Father. Consider the following exhortations from Scripture (ESV):

I Thessalonians 5:16-18: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 

James 5:16: “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”

Mark 1:35: “And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he [Jesus] departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.”

Matthew 26:39: “And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, ‘My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”

Colossians 4:2: “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.” (NIV reads a little differently and is how I memorized it originally: “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.”)

It is likely that we are all somewhere on the continuum between being the ideal praying person and the more casual prayer. Don’t settle for a mediocre prayer life. If it is your desire to shake the gates of hell and turn the dying toward Life, rid your life of that which distracts you from hearing God’s voice, turn your eyes above where Jesus sits at the right hand of God, fix your thoughts on Jesus, and give yourself to prayer. Your generation needs men and women of God to be fully His!