Category Archives: prayer

The school above the wind

It was Friday night, the night of power. The full moon was hidden behind thick clouds in the windless tropical night. The sky to the west was bright with the lights of the city far below.
It had been a busy week at the small school house on the top of the mountains east of the city. The students had finished the national exams on Monday and the teacher had been busy filling in for the other teachers who hadn’t made it up the grueling motopathq2rcycle road the rest of that week. She lived in a small wooden house on low stilts a 20 minute walk from the school. The kitchen hut was on the ground and a few chickens roosted in baskets tied under the edges of the thatched roof. She finished washing the dishes from her evening meal, blew out the small kerosene lamp in the kitchen and retired to the room up on stilts. There she had a solar charged car battery which could operate a couple of 10 watt fluorescent bulbs plus provide enough power to charge her cell phone or even a laptop. After putting the finishing touches on her lesson preparations, she settled down for the night. But that night she wasn’t sleepy so she switched on the radio to listen to a program in a local language that starts at 9pm.
She became aware of something big and heavy moving on the tin roof of her house, but at first didn’t pay much attention to it because she was busy answering a text. Then the sound came closer to where she was laying and it got louder, rattling the metal roofing. She jumped up and down on the bamboo floor to shake the house to try to scare whatever it was away. But it didn’t go away. She went outside to see what it was but couldn’t see anything even in the bright moonlight.
She went back inside and lay down again. But the sound occurred again. She opened the door and there was the wooden board for barring the door hanging there. The third time she didn’t go out. In fact she couldn’t move, it was as if she was paralyzed. Whatever was on the roof seemed to slither along the roof and sounded for all the world like a giant python snake. She began to pray. It occurred to her that it was something evil sent by someone “playing” with black magic, someone who had studied at the “school above the wind”. She told the thing that she has done nothing to the one who sent it and it should go back to the one who called it forth. And it vanished. [She texted me at midnight and asked me to pray]. It took her a long to get to sleep as she lay thinking about what had happened.
The next afternoon after school she hurriedly cooked, bathed, fed the chickens and ate her own dinner while there was still daylight. Her brother usually lives in a hut nearby but he is down in the lowlands at the moment so there are no nearby neighbors. She’s a bit nervous about being alone this night but says she remembers David’s plea for protection and vindication in Psalm 7. And she is remembering how her prayer for deliverance last night was instantaneously granted. I told her I would pray too that she would sleep like a log.

So Lord, please give her Your sweet peace and a refreshing night’s sleep.


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Scripture more important than prayer

2008-06-12-lake-w-rainbowA few months ago I was listening to a sermon where the pastor was saying that prayer was THE most important thing in the Christian life. I was in the pew thinking, that no, actually, Scripture is probably more important because without it we don’t even know how to pray, nor do we know to Whom we are praying. Ironically, the pastor backed up all his points with, you guessed it, SCRIPTURE!

Reading through Nehemiah the other day, I noticed that after the walls were rebuilt, they had a revival. And what led to this revival? In chapter 8 Ezra read the Scriptures. From early morning until midday he read. And the people listened attentively. They wept as the Scriptures were interpreted and explained. In chapter 9 all that reading of Scripture was followed by a long prayer of confession of sin and a recital of their history of rebellion and God’s greatness and His history of compassion and forgiveness. This time of prayer was then followed by chapter 10 were the people made commitments to change in areas they were sinning. They took action to reinstitute proper worship, observation of the sabbath, bringing in tithes, separating from foreign marriages, providing for the on going temple worship.

Anybody can pray without Scripture, the pagans, animists, and adherents of other religions do it all the time. But without Scripture our prayers are very me-centered. “God, give me and mine health, wealth, safety.” But from Scripture we learn all about WHO we are praying to. A God who is almighty and all-powerful. A God who is holy and doesn’t tolerate sin. Yet a God who is compassionate and loving and full of mercy to those who hope in Him. We learn of a sovereign God who works all things (ALL things, good and bad) for His purposes. We learn of HIs purposes, that we become a holy people, that His salvation be proclaimed to the ends of the earth, that people everywhere repent and believe the gospel. We learn that prayer offered in faith is very effective. We learn about perseverance in prayer. We learn that obedience is better than sacrifice,  we learn that our sins hide God’s face from us. We learn about how to pray, how to praise.

But stopping at Scripture and prayer is not enough. We also need to take action. In my case, it may be different from those in Nehemiah’s day, depending on what conviction of sin the Holy Spirit brought to my heart through the Scripture. Revival is not complete without action being taken to correct the wrong that I am doing. It doesn’t necessarily mean add new programs, new activities, but rather to STOP doing what is wrong and DO do what is right.

So let us dig out our Bibles and let revival begin!

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The most selfish prayer ever prayed

Despite the war going on north of here between government and rebels, yesterday was the annual “harvest festival” with its floral parade, traditional dances, and many other activities. Many of us stayed home partly due to the security situation but partly (actually MOSTLY) in order  to avoid the crowds. But one friend decided to go and watch the parade and try out her new camera. She was telling me later about the crowds. She said it was a sea of black heads everywhere they went. At one point she said it was so crowded that for 10 minutes they couldn’t move in any direction. She was starting to feel panicky and some people were holding small children up on their shoulders to protect them from the crush of people. She started praying, “O Lord, if there’s a bomb please hold it for for awhile until I can pass by.”  Later that evening while reading her Bible and thinking about the day she suddenly thought about the implications of what she had prayed – it was as if she had prayed, “Lord, don’t let any bomb blow up while I’m here, hold it off until I pass – and then it’s okay to blow up all those other people!” She said she was horrified and realized that that was the most selfish prayer she had ever prayed!

We laughed about it because who hasn’ t prayed without thinking in moments of distress?  I too have probably prayed similar prayers, never stopping to think how an answer to my prayer might affect others. I guess next time I’m in a questionable security situation the better thing to pray would be, “Oh Lord, if there’s a bomb, please make it be a dud!” 🙂

Update 28 August: It seems that an improvised explosive device was found near a school on the edge of town yesterday. The authorities thought it may have been abandoned there because security was so tight during the festival. My friend thinks God did indeed hear her selfish prayer – but answered in a much better way!

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There’s a lot of talk about prayer these days. A lot of folk seem to be confusing prayer with meditation, even mystical meditation. See for example : where the author says:

But, at least for me, prayer is more often becoming a time of listening than talking. There is so much noise in our world and our lives (much of our own making); prayer becomes a quiet space enabling us to stop talking long enough to see what God might be trying to say to us. The disciplines of prayer, silence, and contemplation practices by the monastics and mystics are precisely that – stopping the noise, slowing down, and becoming still, so that God can break through all our activity and noise in order to speak to us. Prayer serves to put all the parts of our lives in God’s presence, reminding us of how holy our humanity really is. [?!!?]

Others say that prayer should be specific, concrete, detailed, out loud, and with confidence. (As if God needs to be told how to carry out His business, never mind that His thoughts are not our thoughts, His ways not our ways.) Others say it is most effective when done by groups of people gathered in the same place at the same time in synergy. (As if God is a politician and pays more attention to bigger numbers of lobbyists.)

But what does the Bible say? In order to start to answer that question I did a search of the New Testament on words prays, prayer, pray, praying. (This could be expanded by also looking at words like ask, request, etc). You can do it yourself using a good concordance, or a computer Bible. I kind of organized the results according to the following topics:

When and where did people pray?
What did people pray for?
How are we to pray?
Are there postures?
What are the results of prayer?

My preliminary results (I won’t include my list or analysis because you really ought to try this yourself!) are as follows:

When and where did people pray? There are no specific commands as to time of day, location, what direction to face, or what constitutes a quorum. People prayed in prison, in the temple, in their houses, by themselves, in groups, on the rooftops, in an inner room, in the wilderness, on mountains, on the beach, and apparently just anywhere. They were told to pray when they are sick or suffering, to sing when cheerful. Pray all the time, at midnight, night and day.

What did people pray for? Surprisingly, not as many specific concrete things as you might think. Sinners prayed for mercy and forgiveness. Jesus prayed that the cup [of His imminent suffering] might pass – yet surely He knew it wouldn’t? He more than once told His followers to pray that they would not fall into temptation, that they would have strength to escape all the [bad] things that are about to take place. People prayed for those imprisoned for their faith. They prayed for the salvation of others. Speakers in tongues should pray that they can interpret. Paul prayed glorious prayers for people’s spiritual growth: that they do no wrong, be made complete, be given wisdom and understanding, knowledge of God’s will, strength, that their love might abound, that they would be sincere and blameless and thankful, that they would walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, that the name of the Lord would be glorified in them and they in Him. For himself Paul often asked that a door would be opened up for the word to spread, that he would be bold in speaking it. He asked prayer for protection from evil men, and that he would be released from prison, and that he could visit again for the purpose of ministering to them. We are also told to pray for rulers and authorities so that we can lead a tranquil and quiet life. We are told to pray for each other, for spiritual leaders, evangelists, and for those who mistreat us. (Anybody else out there starting to feel like your prayer life has been missing the mark???)

How are we to pray? Jesus of course gave us a model: praise, request for daily food, forgivenss for sins, help in forgiving others, that we not be tempted but rather be delivered from evil. We should devote ourselves to prayer, pray in the Spirit (after all, He intercedes for us), but also pray with our minds. We are to be on the alert (not zoned out), persevering (not losing heart, nor a once for all time prayer). Prayer is also described as supplication, petitions, requests, thanksgivings, entreaties. (Doesn’t sound much like quiet meditation, does it?) Jesus is said to have offered up prayer with loud crying and tears, the Holy Spirit also groans, so prayer doesn’t have to be silent. We are to pray in faith, to pray without ceasing. We are to pray earnestly, one guy, Epaphras, was said to labor in prayer. We are to pray without wrath and dissention – and not treating your wife right can mean that your prayers won’t be answered! We must also forgive others when we pray – or we won’t be forgiven.

Are there postures? Doesn’t seem to be. Some people stood, some knelt, some threw themselves on the ground. No mention of prayer rugs. Some lifted holy hands. No particular posture required, nor are any forbidden.

Procedures? Do not use meaningless repetition. (If it bores us, how much more must it bore God?) Other procedures are mentioned such as wearing headcoverings for women and NOT wearing head coverings for men was discussed in 1 Cor (though it’s not clear if this was for public worship or for everywhere, for leaders of public worship or everybody, whether hair is enough, etc.) Anointing the sick with oil in James. Praying for others sometimes involved putting hands on them. Other than that, nada, zip.

Attitudes? First and formost believe. Have faith. Not doubting. Yet also with humility, “not my will but Yours”. Do not lose heart. Prayer with thanksgiving is mentioned often. Rejoice. Be of sober spirit and sound judgement, alert. Be anxious for nothing. Avoid long prayers for appearance sake. In fact, in one place we are advised to go into our inner rooms and pray to our heavenly Father in secret.

What are the results of prayer? Results in peace that passes all comprehension. Sinners are justified. People regained sight, were restored from their sicknesses, released from prison, delivered from peril, food is sanctified, it rained, it stopped raining, helps other people, prayers ascend as a memorial to God, and are incense on the altar in heaven whose fragrance goes up before God. God hears the prayer of the righteous.

So, I am encouraged to pray more. I don’t need to do washings and change clothes and face east at certain times of the day. I don’t need to wait until I find a group or a prayer partner. I don’t need to wait until I am in a church or on a mountain. Even if I am somewhere where I can’t stand or can’t kneel, I can still pray. Even if I don’t know the details of what someone is going through at the moment, I can pray that “they would be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in their hearts through faith; and that they, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that they may be filled up to all the fullness of God.” Wow! Wouldn’t you like people to pray that for you?

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