Today is the last day of February. Our prayer, hope, and dream is to be back on the field in Papua New Guinea this year. Please pray with us today that God will open hearts, doors, windows, eyes, ears, networks, mailboxes–whatever it takes–to make that possible. Pray with us that we will be prepared for the opportunities ahead.
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!
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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!
For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. Romans 15:4, ESV
While hope is found in many places, true and lasting hope is found in the Scriptures. What happens when someone doesn’t have access to the Scriptures in a language that they understand? Peter’s story (not Peter the apostle) is a somber reminder of the need for Bible translation. Enjoy a brief but important reminder of the value of access to the Scripture.
The lights in the cabin were dimmed. The almost unnoticed sound of air slipping over the skin of the airliner reminded me that I was at 40,000 feet. I sat, bleary eyed along the rear bulkhead, reading light on, notepad on the tray in front of me. It was Father’s Day and I was suspended between heaven and earth separated from my children and facing an unthinkable tragedy–I was going home, alone, to the U.S. to help my family bury my father. There were no words to pray. Sitting numbly in a stupor, I pressed pen to paper and began to write. “The last words my dad ever said to me were, ‘I love you, son. . .'”
Mountains across the valley emerged from the darkness as dawn approached. Fog flowed through the valley below us, a great white river that would disappear soon enough. The friar bird began singing his morning prayer as did the dozens of Papua New Guinean neighbors encircling our house. I listened to the cadence of my wife’s breathing and of the gentle words of caring friends outside. Though we had lived in Papua New Guinea only a short time, my health was mysteriously failing. Why? Our friends were crying out to heaven for answers.
A different night a line of flaming torches flickered against the mountainside. People were descending into a maelstrom of violence and hatred, ready to burn, to kill, to revenge. Sin had to be dealt with, swiftly and severely, shame mitigated, respect restored. The torch bearers thought that someone in our village had performed a revenge-killing on one of their relatives and they were coming to make war. We were caught in the middle of friends who were suddenly at war with one another.
Loss, sickness, and violence. Three threads of my New Guinea experience. Why were they so frequently present? What was I to learn about shaking the gates of Hell from these harsh realities?
First, I learned that in even the most unthinkable, hurtful, and skewering situations, I do not come to God with answers–I just come to God. I learned that I don’t have words, most of the time, to adequately express the loss, the hurt, the frustration or the fear. I learned that there is Someone to help me with all that.
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8:26-27, ESV)
Second, I learned that in even the most unthinkable, hurtful, and skewering situations, God is with me. I know this, in part, because the Son submitted to the most inhumane, brutal torture and murder, in order that I would not be charged and executed for my wrongdoing. I know this in part because when He was undergoing life in a human body–the temptation, the taunting, the torture, the rejection, even death–he experienced more of the unthinkable that I could ever imagine. Therefore, He is qualified to empathize with everything I’ve experienced. He takes that experience and prays with understanding for me.
If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died–more than that was raised–who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.
Third, I learned that even the most unthinkable, hurtful, and skewering situations serve to make me more like Christ and are used by God to make me more than a conqueror. They are used to make me fit for heaven, to be purified in the inner man, to be holy as He is holy. They are normative Christian experiences, not exceptions. They do not separate me from Him, they deepen my dependence upon him.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
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. (Romans 8:35-38, ESV)
These three truths transform my heart and mind, stealing me away from fearful, tentative tendencies, making me into a fearless, intrepid intercessor who intercedes along with the Holy Spirit and the Son, shaking the gates of Hell, causing rumblings in heavenly places, risking all for the honor of being called “son” by the Creator, Conqueror, and Counselor.