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Day 16: Community of Prayer

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Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” – Hebrews 4:16 (NIV)

“I learned Hebrew with a Japanese accent.” Students of the late Dr. Toyozo W. Nakarai still sometimes use this humorous line. Born in Kyoto and schooled in Shintoism and Buddhism, Nakarai was a gifted scholar who, while still living in Japan, became a disciple of Jesus Christ. A master of Japanese culture, Nakarai became a world-class scholar of the Old Testament.

I met him five decades ago—he was then almost 70—and came to know him well during my years of study at Emmanuel Christian Seminary. This linguist and biblical scholar had an aura of nobility and self-discipline. Always courteous, he sought to bring out the best in his students. I certainly did not want to disappoint him.

So what do I think of first when I hear the name Nakarai? I can say it in two words: his prayers.

Among the most passionate and reverent public prayers I ever heard were those uttered by this man. His prayers in Emmanuel chapel services made lasting impressions. He clearly had given his prayers careful attention. I know, because he said so, that he usually wrote and committed his prayers to memory before offering them aloud. He used words skillfully. He did not ramble. He did not mumble. Drawing near to the throne of grace, he prayed in boldness and awe.

I never sensed that he sought recognition when he prayed or even when he published some of his prayers as a book. Whether standing in chapel or sitting at his desk, his spirit bowed before his Creator, the Father who gave his only begotten Son to save us from our sins.

How did my venerable professor pray when he was alone? I can only guess. I never asked him if he sometimes found himself searching for words. But I wouldn’t be surprised if there were times when he began a prayer with “Father” and fell silent for a time, gathering his thoughts, confident in the presence of his Lord.

I never asked this meticulously organized professor if his personal prayers sometimes got a little jumbled. Mine do, and yours do too, I suspect.

I pray at times for God to make something intelligible out of my groaning.

In moments of quiet reflection, I remember that I belong—we belong—to a community of prayer. We share sorrows and joys. We draw strength from the devotion and prayers of believers past and present. Let us give thanks for the blessing of belonging to a global community of prayer and service, a community confessing that Jesus is Lord, a community empowered and comforted by these words: Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Written by Dr. Eddie Groover, Point Chancellor Emeritus


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Day 15: Does God Really Hear my Prayers?

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“And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.” —Matthew 21:22 (ESV)

When Huck Finn’s guardian, Miss Watson, told him that he would receive whatever he sincerely prayed for, Huck prayed for fishing hooks, but to no avail. He concluded that her words “warn’t so.” Furthermore, “if a body can get anything they pray for, why don’t Deacon Winn get back the money he lost on pork? Why can’t the widow get back the silver snuff box that was stole? Why can’t Miss Watson fat up? No . . . there ain’t nothing in it.”

Amusing? Yes, but if we’re honest we must admit that there have been times when we have wondered whether our requests make any difference in what happens in the world. How many times have I asked for healings that didn’t happen, for protection that wasn’t given, for conversions that didn’t occur, for the end of bloody wars that drag on mercilessly?

Petitionary praying requires, yea demands, great faith. You can’t prove that our prayers make a difference or that they make no difference. Many good and bad things happen in our world, but you can’t prove that any of it is connected to prayer. Nor can you prove the opposite.

Faith in a God who hears our prayers and governs nature and history in view of them is based on our faith that God really sent Jesus as the savior of our world. Faith, in turn, is based on our conviction that God raised him from the dead on the third day.

If we believe in Jesus, then we must believe that his God and Father wants to hear our prayers and that they do, so far as God sees fit, really alter the world.

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” –Matthew 7:7-8 (ESV)

In this and many other Gospel texts, Jesus invites us, as God’s sons and daughters, to carry our requests to a loving, listening Father. These requests include the mundane (“Give us this day our daily bread”) and the sublime (“Thy kingdom come”).

Ultimately, each of us must answer this question: “Does God really hear my prayers, and does he take them into account as he governs the world, or does he not?” Don’t wait for proof. Join me in trusting in the God revealed by Jesus Christ.

Written by Dr. Barry Blackburn, Professor of Biblical Studies


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Day 14: The Gospel According to the Mario Bros.

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“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” —Matthew 6:25-34 (ESV)

In 1987, I got a Nintendo Entertainment System for Christmas. Along with the console came a game titled Super Mario Bros. The object of the game was to navigate through various levels and their obstacles in order to ultimately save the princess who is being held captive on the final level. In November 11, 2009, Super Mario Bros. was re-released on the Nintendo Wii console, and it had all of the components of the original with one enhancement. In this new version, you are able to store special resources that allow you to pass through the levels more easily.

I must admit that my daughter and I love playing Super Mario Bros. It gives me flashbacks of when I was her age, and she relishes in the comfort and company of her daddy. While playing some time ago, my daughter insisted that we use one of stored special resources at the beginning of each new level. I suggested otherwise, explaining to her that at the beginning of each level there is always a resource to help us get through.

“No matter how high the levels get, the game will provide you something to start the level without a disadvantage.” It is my belief that Super Mario Bros. is not the only thing that demonstrates this provision principle. If you were to look back over your life, you will realize that God has also been strategically placing provision at the beginning of every new season. As you embrace a new year, a new presidency and a new semester, it is my prayer that we will trust God to provide as we go to the next level.

Seasons come and seasons go. If you don’t believe me, just keep living. Super Mario Bros. teaches that as long as you have time left, you are going to have a change in your season or level. The length of your season may vary, and they will change and become more difficult. However, Jesus reminds us that we cannot so overwhelm ourselves with what is to come that we ignore or miss out on the life that is set directly before us.

Worrying about what tomorrow holds causes us to diminish the blessings of today.

Super Mario Bros. also illustrates that God cares about you. The game developers ultimately want Mario to get to the next level, so they provide a resource at the beginning of each level that will help Mario make it through. That’s good news, because God, being the developer and architect of your life, wants you to prosper as well. As His prize creation, you are much more cared for than the birds and the lilies.

Finally, Super Mario Bros. illustrates the importance of continuing to seek the kingdom. The goal at the start of each level is to make it to the castle at the end. Your job is to keep seeking the Kingdom of God. The enemy wants you to give up and believe that you don’t have what it takes to get to the next level. But remember the old church saying: “If God brought you to it, He’ll surely bring you through it.”

So don’t worry about the next season. Whether it’s today or next year, trust God to provide.

Written by Michael Moody, Christian Ministry Major (CGPS)


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Day 13: He Calls Me Friend

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“Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.” -John 15:15 (KJV)

From the time we teetered through the earliest years of life, learning to speak our first sentences, we have enjoyed the power of conversation, especially with a loving parent, beloved sibling or other special person. The words and phrases flow easily without hesitation or fear. Children just assume that they will be heard, and they trust they will get an appropriate response. It gives additional meaning to the expression, “out of the mouths of babes.”

As we grow, we begin to use and value the privilege of having that special person or friend whom we can go to with ease, expressing our disappointments and sharing our wants, desires and frustrations without fear of neglect, indifference or judgment.

Unfortunately, we often hesitate to take advantage of the greatest benefits of this sharing interaction with a loved one by neglecting to take time for prayer with our Heavenly Father. The demands of life often crowd out the time for prayer in our lives.

Sometimes we fail to pray because we have come to believe that we need to have special words or forms in order to pray correctly. Other times, we may fear rejection or judgment because of some misdeed or careless action. But we forget that with someone who loves us sincerely, we never need to be concerned about special words of formality. We never need to fear not being accepted because we are less than perfect. What could be easier than simply expressing your thoughts and feelings candidly and sincerely when you have the assuredness of total acceptance?

When we recognize the uniqueness of our relationship with God, prayer can become as natural as breathing.

When we set aside time to commune in prayer, we can be assured that we have the ear of One who is attentive, caring and non-judgmental in every situation. We can speak candidly and honestly knowing that our every concern is heard and received in love. Because our God loves us unconditionally, we are comforted in that we are with our closest friend. Why should we ever hesitate to approach Him when we have the promise of knowing we are safe and cherished?

In the beautiful song by Israel Houghton, “Friend of God,” we are reminded of the awesome, though undeserved, benefit of the love of God when we are in relationship with Him.x

 

Who am I that You are mindful of me,
That You hear me when I call?
Is it true that You are thinking of me?
How You love me – it’s amazing.

I am a friend of God;
I am a friend of God;
I am a friend of God;
He calls me friend.

God Almighty, Lord of Glory
You have called me friend.

When we recognize that God has called us “friend,” prayer becomes a joy!

Written by Marvin Wendell Bussey, Point Trustee & Teens at Work, Inc. Director

 


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Day 12: Prayer as a Habit

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Several years ago, I had the opportunity to hear from Gary Haugen, the president of the International Justice Mission (IJM) headquartered in Washington, D.C. IJM is an organization of Christian attorneys who have as their vision statement, “To rescue thousands, protect millions, and prove that justice for the poor is possible.” It’s a huge organization with a budget of over $30 million per year. IJM boasts fifteen field offices around the world on every continent and a senior leadership team of fourteen executives with hundreds of employees. They have a robust lobbying wing that meets with political leaders around the world to wake them up to the plight of the poor.

In his speech, Haugen explained that at the center of their workday is a policy that is followed at their headquarters and every field office around the world. That policy is that every day 11:00 a.m., every office shuts down, not for lunch, but for prayer.

Mr. Haugen said, “There is no way we can fulfill our mission on our own. It’s too hard. We’re convinced that the mission is so hard that we can’t succeed without praying.” And he asked the question that hit me between the eyes, “Are the challenges that you are taking on in life big enough that you have to pray?”

Are the challenges that you are taking on in life big enough that you have to pray?

The answer, of course, is yes. Yet so often the prayer-sized challenges of life do not align with an ongoing habit of prayer. Yet we must not make prayer as habit exclusive from prayer as a need.

In her award-winning book, Girl Meets God, Laura Winner recounts her journey from growing up as an orthodox Jew to becoming a practicing Christian. She describes the habit of praying the traditional prayers of Christian history in terms of habit:

Habit and obligation have both become bad words. That prayer becomes a habit must mean that it is impersonal, unfeeling, something of a rouse. If you do something because you are obligated to, it doesn’t count, at least not as much as if you’d done it of your own free will; like the child who says thank you because his parents tell him to, it doesn’t count. Sometimes, often, prayer feels that way to me, impersonal and unfeeling and not something I’ve chosen to do. I wish it felt inspired and on fire and like a real, love-conversation all the time, or even just more of the time. It is a great gift when God gives me a stirring, a feeling, a something-at-all in prayer. But work is being done whether I feel it or not. Sediment is being laid. Words of praise to God are becoming the most basic words in my head. They are becoming the fallback words, drowning out advertising jingle and professors’ lectures and sometimes even my own interior monologue.

It is through the habit of prayer, the long-term doing of it, that we find the strength to meet the challenges of life.

Written by Dr. Joshua Rice, Instructor of Biblical Studies


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Day 11: Pray, Rejoice, Give Thanks

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“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (ESV)

When the Apostle Paul writes that God wants us, in Christ, to do three things non-stop, I’m immediately challenged. I’m not good at “always … without ceasing … in all circumstances.” Three actions – rejoice, pray, give thanks – are so important, they are stated as commands in the imperative mood, not just suggestions.

If we are going to follow the will of God for our lives, then Paul is telling us that expressing joy, praying, and thanking God are expected, not optional. And as often as I stop and realize that I have a relationship with the Creator through His Only Son, that I am free from sin and death, and that God’s grace meets my needs every day, then I have every reason to rejoice, to pray, and to thank God.

But it’s the adverbs that bother me. Does that passage of Scripture really mean rejoice all the time, pray without stopping, and give thanks in all situations? Yes, it does. When did we fall into the pattern of having to stop what we are doing – the hectic flow and regular busy-ness of our lives – to pray to God? When did it become “normal” for Christians to pray two, three, four, or however many times per day?

The Apostle Paul doesn’t say to stop and pray; he says to pray non-stop. He doesn’t say to pray often; he says to pray continually.

This passage wakes me up to my own bad habit of obeying these three commands as if it’s okay for them to be events. We schedule them, daily or weekly, with a start time and a stop time. Stop and rejoice, stop and pray, stop and say thanks – now get back to real life.

What if “real life” is viewing and practicing prayer as a continual, ongoing dialogue with our Heavenly Father, rather than an occasional voicemail message? What if we take Paul seriously and talk with the omnipresent God as our constant companion? What if we realize that what He really wants is for us to view ourselves as His constant companions? What if we are not just talking to (at) Him, but listening for His voice?

“Father, what do You want me to do right now, in this situation?” “This is what I am dealing with right now, Lord.” Always, without stopping, in all circumstances. Perhaps, to the extent that we can do that, we will find it amazingly easy to rejoice all the time and to recognize the numerous things for which we can be grateful.

That’s my challenge to myself: to pray without ceasing. To not hang up on the conversation. To change the way I view prayer. To engage in conversation with my Heavenly Father all along the way. I invite and encourage you to do the same.

Written by Dr. Dennis Glenn, Vice President for Institutional Effectiveness and Dean of Accreditation


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Day 10: Praying . . . Even for Our Leaders

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I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior…” -1 Timothy 2:1-3

Today, the United States will experience another “smooth transition of power” from one president to another. More often than not, it is from one party to another as is true this year. I have very good friends who think the new president will save western culture from destruction. I have other very good friends who believe he will push western culture over the cliff into the abyss of anarchy. I’m not smart enough to know which of my friends will prove to be correct! I am grateful, by the way, that I have friends on both sides of the question. That might mean I can influence both! None of those friends, by the way, know who I voted for in November!

Through the Apostle Paul, I know God asked me to use “petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving” for “kings and all those in authority.” At some level I wonder if Paul might be saying, “When you have kings who see life differently than you (as was the case with Nero, the Emperor when Paul wrote these words) your best option is to pray for them!” After all, God has a bit of a track record in using “non-believing” rulers to advance His will. Remember Cyrus (see Ezra 1)? I’m pretty sure he wasn’t “Sammy Sunday School,” and yet because of him, the Israelites returned to Jerusalem from the Babylonian exile.

Shortly after the beginning of the 2017, I saw a post on Facebook that caught my attention. It was written by a fine young man who serves in ministry. Here’s some of what he said: “I must confess that I did not pray for you while you were in office. . . I must also confess that I greatly appreciate the loving and healthy marriage that you and your wife displayed for our nation.”

Those words were directed, via Facebook, to President Obama. The writer acknowledges that President Obama will never see them, but said, “I just felt I needed to say it anyway.” He closes his post by noting that this didn’t mean he agreed with Obama’s policies, just that the Bible admonishes us to pray for our leaders and he didn’t.

I private messaged this young man to commend him for what he wrote.

More than a few people posted “thank you” sorts of statements, and also owned up to the fact that because they so seriously disagreed with President Obama’s politics, they also did not pray for him. They often committed to doing better.

One person, however, said this, “Are we to pray for Satan in the flesh?” Nero was the Roman emperor when Paul wrote those words to Timothy. I’m pretty confident President Obama would have some serious catching up to do to be compared to Nero. And the same would be true of President Trump.

Here’s the deal. It doesn’t matter whether I voted for President Trump or not. God’s Word calls on me to pray for him. I should pray for him that his policies and actions would make it possible for us to live “peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” That’s the same way I prayed for President Obama and other presidents before him. Prayer has no D or R after it!

To pray for “kings and all those in authority” is a good thing, so good that it “pleases God our Savior.”

I hope we all can commit ourselves to be more diligent when it comes to praying for “kings and those in authority.” As the Facebook author above noted, that doesn’t mean we condone their policies but that we are committed to obeying what God has asked us to do.

Written by Wye Huxford, Vice President of Spiritual Formation