singing a prayer

We’re blind but pray for eyes to see
Where we’re bound, Lord, make us free
Stained, we plead for purity

I believe it is to present-day evangelicalism’s impoverishment that reciting from a prayer book or uttering prayers written by other believers (usually in formal, difficult language) is somehow deemed less spiritual compared to saying spontaneous, self-composed prayers. The latter is considered more sincere and potent owing to its being more personal; the former reeks of tradition and is therefore frowned upon by many today for being “scripted”. And yet, it is interesting how the “personal” prayers are oftentimes filled with overused christianese—“cover us with Your precious blood”, “for the nourishment of our bodies”, “expansion of Your kingdom”—thereby robbing the prayers of, ironically, personality and freshness. Modern evangelicals who discover old prayer books, hymns, and recorded prayers are surprised to stumble upon a fresh pathway to the heart of the Almighty.

Personally, when I feel too overwhelmed to shape a prayer with my own words, I have found it refreshing to borrow another Christian’s words and let those rise to the God who hears, whose heart is inclined not to my words but to my very heart.

Of late I have been praying this prayer-in-song by Steve Green, which in turn was inspired by reformer Martin Luther’s first of 95 theses: “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said ‘Repent,’ he intended that the entire life of believers should be repentance.” I first heard this song at a prayer meeting at Davao Chinese Baptist Church.

Here, have a listen. And, yes, pray.

“Penitent, we breathe Your name.” Amen.

spaghetti, anyone?

Back in college, an American was helping me and my friends explore the Bible. He was a crazy fellow in his thirties who came up with the silliest jokes and the most outrageous stories. And he loved God’s Word with great passion.

He and his wife always had food—chips, brownies, chocolate—on the table during our weekly meetings. One Monday evening, there was a bowl of spaghetti on the table, one fork beside it. I hadn’t had dinner yet, and was secretly wondering how we would all share the small serving of pasta.

I should have known my crazy friend had other plans.

He started forking the pasta, chewing on it in between sentences. And then, without warning, he spewed half-eaten pasta back into the bowl! He swirled his fork to gather more pasta, chewed on it, and again spewed food from his mouth back into the bowl!

“Spaghetti, anyone?” he lifted the bowl, a mischievous look on his face. His offer was met with “Eeew” and “Yuck!” from the group. I was hungry, but surely not enough to partake of half-digested food!

As it turns out, my friend’s demonstration of gross table manners wasn’t pointless. There was a valuable insight to be learned: When we rely solely on what other people write or say about the Bible, we might just as well be eating pre-chewed food! Writers and speakers have digested our spiritual food for us and served it to us in bite sizes. If “processed food” is our major source of spiritual nourishment, we are surely missing out on the really good stuff!

Using devotional books and listening to sermons are great. But they shouldn’t take the place of our reading and studying the Bible on our own. The real excitement of spiritual growth comes in discovering for ourselves the truth in God’s Word, and letting it transform us. Other materials and sources should only serve to enhance our discovery.

Now, I know the Bible can be an intimidating book. As if pronouncing foreign names wasn’t hard enough, you need to consider things like culture and context to understand the Bible’s meaning. Because of this, it is wise to enlist the help of other sources, written or otherwise, to help you navigate the Scriptures better. It is also wise to interact with others in engaging the Scriptures.

What is not wise is forgoing a fresh, nutritious buffet to binge on servings of half-eaten food.

Think about my crazy friend and his bowl of yucky spaghetti. Remember that no matter how inspiring they may be, the words of other people about the Bible will never be as powerful and life-giving as the very words straight from the Bible.

Bon appétit!

__________
[This piece was written a few years ago for youth. The “crazy friend” was Kuya Craig Meyer who is now in heaven, enjoying an eternal feast with Jesus Himself. A few days ago Daphne and I had a chance to catch up with his wife, Ate Deb, who was visiting with their kids from the US. I will be forever grateful for the lives of men like Kuya Craig who have modeled for me how it is to strive to be a man wholly for God.]

space for prayer

I’m taking a Davao-bound flight later to attend to some work-related matters in my home city. Whenever in durian city, one of the things I look forward to doing is attend prayer meeting at Davao Chinese Baptist Church where my brother serves as senior pastor.

Every Friday prayer-ers, many from other churches, fill the wooden pews of “ChiBap”. The church building, almost 60 years old and one of the very few, if not the only one, in the city that still has a steeple, swells as it welcomes the weary, the joyful, the downcast, the victorious—and everyone in between who seeks to join others in prayer.

The program is as simple as it gets. No creative and bombastic numbers to attract “seekers”; no special instrumental music to create a prayer-conducive (spa-like?) ambience; no flashy videos or high-tech presentations to capture the attention of the elusive digital generation. The meeting starts with a word of welcome from the pastor, followed by singing, then prayer and some sharing from the Word by the pastor, and then more prayer.

There is a sense of clear purpose. Everyone seems to know they’re here to do one thing—pray. (Half-hour before the meeting starts, some would already be sitting in solitude, quieting themselves for prayer.)

People are free to kneel, lift their hands, weep, keep their eyes open, all while communing with the unseen and yet present One. Interestingly, there is freedom for prayerful expression, but this is beautifully tempered by everyone’s sense of respect for the silence, the space, that helps the soul detach from the noisy world and connect with God.

In this place, it is not uncommon to see grown men pull out their handkerchief to wipe tears welling from their eyes. A mother might wrap an arm around her teenage son who now towers above her. Students, uprooted from the province and trying to get an education in the nearby colleges, come to lift up to God their concerns.

The oft-repeated refrain from the pulpit is that the Lord is near to the broken-hearted, that He helps those who are helpless. And, in grace and mercy, the Spirit honors the space created for Him in these meetings—to be near and to help. I have felt God near to me in this place. I have been helped. For I, myself, have stained this church’s floor with my own tears.

feet

Sharing from my journal.

(27 June 2011)

It’s all about feet this morning.

Before I dive into work, which is mainly with spreadsheets today, I want to write something about the odd things I’ve encountered about feet this morning. I say “odd” only because they have not yet made sense to me.

Dirty feet. This morning I read about Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. Peter was hesitant to have his feet washed by Jesus, but Jesus rebuked him by saying that he will not belong to Him unless He washed his feet.

Clay feet. In an article on The Gospel Coalition that I was reading, the term “clay-footed” caught my attention. It was used twice in the article. I thought it was an apt and interesting way to describe human frailty. A reference, perhaps, to King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream which Daniel interpreted?

Bare feet. I decided to walk to work today. Not because I wanted some exercise (well, that was an afterthought), but because my car was so dirty I did not feel comfortable parking it at the office for everyone else to see. (The sun casts a very unflattering light on Graham where he’s parked at the office.) While walking I saw a little girl, no older than 9 by my estimate, walking barefooted. She did not seem uncomfortable, confidently brisk-walking the busy pavement traversed by office-attired workers trying to make it to work on time. At first I thought she was alone, but when we both stepped on the MRT station’s escalator, she reached for the hand of a man in front of her. He was now holding the plastic bag I had seen her toting just a few moments ago. He must be her father.

What’s this about feet, Lord?

And, oh, I’ve been singing Keith Green’s song of late: “Grace By Which I Stand”.

***

(6 July 2011)

I am on the verge of tears now. I just read again what I had written above, and now it seems to make sense to me after the past days’ prideful rebellion. I got my feet dirty–very filthy. It seems the Spirit knows I would be in this situation. So He sent help ahead of time… Wow. Unspeakable grace.

I am Peter. Resisting Jesus’ feet washing seems to me at times the “spiritual” thing to do. “It’s my mess, I’ll fix it. Leave the Master out of this,” I tell myself. And so I struggle, trying on my own to keep from sullying my feet with sin. And when I do get my feet soiled and shamefully dirty, I run away, hiding from the very Person who can wash me clean. Until I learn to let Jesus serve me by washing my feet, I will never have a part in Him. I must realize more and more that my dirty feet–my filthy sins!–are my Master’s business, and He wants to wash me clean of them all. But I must let Him. Oh for grace to let Jesus wash my dirty, dirty feet!

I am clay-footed. The times I stand on grace I feel powerful and indestructible. And sometimes I deceive myself into thinking that this strength is mine. Truth is, my feet are made of clay–unsteady, brittle, unable to carry my weight for me. Let me run on clay feet and eventually I fall! But let these clay feet stand on grace–and never lose sight of this truth–then I can “run and not grow weary, walk and not faint.”

I am the barefooted little girl. I might appear helpless, alone, in a crowd of strangers and towering challenges, but the truth is, my Father is close at hand. I need to be like that little girl who, even with her dirty feet and small stature, walks the city street confidently and hopefully, not because she thinks she is big, but because she knows her father is nearby and she is safe. He will carry her load. He will carry her.

***

But nothing lasts, except the grace of God, by which I stand, in Jesus.
I know that I would surely fall away, except for grace, by which I’m saved.
-Keith Green, “Grace By Which I Stand”