The Power of Prayer and Presence

By Cheryl Paden

Valerie joined our writers’group with the enthusiasm of a bee after nectar. She instantly became everyone’s encourager and energized us to write and to send out our work for publication. We rejoiced with her when she published her first article, and we thanked God for the birth of her long-awaited son, Jack.

Jack was six weeks old when doctors diagnosed Valerie with cancer. We all began to pray for healing. She started treatment and suffered from the side effects. After losing her hair, she glued sequins onto an oversized pink handkerchief. She bounced into our writers’ group that night and announced, “No one will notice that I am bald, they will only see my beautiful new bandana.”

We laughed as we watched her exaggerated modeling techniques and admired her new look.

At the close of the evening Valerie added, “I feel a cold coming on; as long as we are praying to heal the cancer, pray for that too. Might as well pray to heal everything.”

We agreed, and our praying continued.

We attended our annual writers’ group retreat at the St. Benedict Retreat Center. Valerie left the meeting to go visit with Father Thomas, the retreat center’s director. She explained that she wanted to ask him for prayers for her healing. As Valerie and I walked together that evening she confided, “I can just feel the love of everyone’s prayers. It is an amazing feeling. It’s wonderful!”

Valerie’s condition continued to worsen. We continued to pray, but the miracle we asked for would not happen. I called Valerie to ask what I could do. “Just come hold my hand.”

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So I did. I sat at her bedside and held her hand. She whispered to me about her fears of leaving two-year-old Jack.
Valerie died the next day. Our writers’ group attended the funeral. The prayers for healing—at least our idea of complete, physical healing—were not answered.

Valerie’s words, “I can feel the love,” I believe was God’s response to our prayers. Our requested miracle of healing was not answered, but we loved our friend through her illness, and I believe she knew that.

Years later, when I suffered from my own illness, I spent time in the emergency room, doctors’ offices, and completing medical tests. Unable to attend work, social functions, or keep to my regular routine, I sat at home, fretted, and waited for medical answers. For that entire month, no one knew the details of my situation.

Then I remembered Valerie’s words.

I went to my keyboard and emailed every friend that I knew to be a prayer warrior and asked for prayers. By that afternoon, the burden of the illness had lifted. I still did not have the medical answers, but I felt the love of God and of my friends.

Through shared prayers and through simple presence, I learned the significance of what Valerie conveyed to us: Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2).

This article was originally published at: graceandpeacemagazine.org

Feet

By Frederick Buechner

“HOW BEAUTIFUL upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good tidings,” says Isaiah (52:7). Not how beautiful are the herald’s lips, which proclaim the good tidings, or his eyes as he proclaims them, or even the good tidings themselves, but how beautiful are the feet—the feet without which he could never have made it up into the mountains, without which the good tidings would never have been proclaimed at all.

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Who knows in what inspired way the heart, mind, or spirit of the herald came to receive the good tidings of peace and salvation in the first place, but as to the question whether he would actually do something about them—put his money where his mouth was, his shoe leather where his inspiration was—his feet were the ones that finally had to decide. Maybe it is always so. When the disciples first came upon the risen Christ that Sunday morning of their confusion and terror, it wasn’t his healing hands they touched or his teaching lips or his holy heart. Instead, it was those same ruined, tired dogs that had carried him to them three years earlier, when they were at their accounts and their nets, that had dragged him all the way from Galilee to Jerusalem, that had stumbled up the hill where what was to happen happened. “They took hold of his feet and worshiped him,” Matthew says (28:9; italics mine).

Generally speaking, if you want to know who you really are, as distinct from who you like to think you are, keep an eye on where your feet take you.

This article was originally published in Wishful Thinking and later in Beyond Words

Does Praying for Missionaries Make a Difference?

By Dr. Clark Armstrong

Does praying for missionaries make a difference?

There are always testimonies to support in some dynamic or dramatic way that, indeed, prayer does make a difference. But I want to testify today that it makes a daily, sustaining difference also. Our top daily prayer supporters are my wife, Connie’s, parents. But Hannah Babin, the little girl in this picture, was six when we came to her church in Baton Rouge on Home Assignment in April 2014 and now she is ten. She told us and her mother, Heidi, that she was going to pray every day for us and she has faithfully kept her promise.

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As we reflected on this past year, we are amazed that neither Connie nor I have needed to see a doctor other than for routine checkups. Nor have we been really sick. We are in our sixties and this is unusual among our peers.

We have driven (well, Connie is our main driver) in the worst traffic in the world in Manila, Philippines without any fender-benders or incidents. We have found every church building or location we needed to find over this time in places that have no addresses and where, therefore, GPS is almost useless.

We had a really tough time on one day in April, and we were tired and burdened and overloaded. We always know that God has Connie’s parents and a host of others who we may not know by name praying for us every day. But that night I said to Connie not to lose hope because a ten-year-old girl in Louisiana is praying for us today.

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If God could raise up a young prayer supporter like that, we should take courage that he will never leave us nor forsake us. How could he fail to answer the prayers of a sincere girl? Our hearts were strengthened, and I proceeded as professor to proofread the thesis that had to be done by morning. I finished at 5:00am and rose at 7:00am to live another ministry-packed day. I am convinced that that student graduated this year because of Hannah’s prayers.

I have no conclusion to arrive at other than daily prayers have been holding us up. Thank you, Mom and Pops, Hannah and the Babin family, and all our other prayer supporters. Anything that has been accomplished through our lives this year for Christ and his kingdom was made possible and is equal to the credit of your uplifting prayers. To God be the glory! We are a team and we could not do it without you all!

–Dr. Clark Armstrong is Professor in Asia-Pacific Nazarene Theological Seminary in Manila, Philippines.

When Your Calling Feels too Small

By Alison Dellenbaugh

Success is measured in obedience.

Lately, I’m hearing a lot about “calling” and following wherever Jesus leads. And I’ve been right there on the front row, soaking it up. Meanwhile, my church is focusing on what it means to really be a disciple, no matter the cost.

When we hear these calls to radical discipleship and bold leadership, a lot of us have our spirits pierced and want to sign on–as we should. “Here I am. Send me!” we say with Isaiah. “Anything! Anywhere!” We’re ready to lay down our lives, take up our crosses, and follow Jesus into even rough waters. Go to Africa? Start an orphan care ministry? Plant a church in the inner city? No matter how big, Lord, we’ll do it!

But what if God asks us to do something small? That can be the hardest calling of all, especially for those of us who feel passionate about following him with abandon and making a difference in the world.

I’ve told God I’ll do anything he asks, then waited for the next assignment. And he seemed to say to me, “Will you be faithful to keep writing these church announcements?”

Um, of course, Lord, but…don’t You have anything more? Harder? Not so safe?

For you it may be something different. “Will you stay in your current position? Work in the nursery? Serve in the local soup kitchen instead of Haiti? Lead another Bible Study with only the same four people?”

Last year, I felt strongly that God was calling me into a new ministry, though I had no details. I expected a door to open any day, but instead I saw doors close. After a few months, I cried out in prayer late one night, asking God to please call me somehow the next day! And first thing the next morning, I was asked to do a new ministry task. A task that seemed small. A task that turned out to be tedious and stressful, requiring several volunteer hours a week, very much behind the scenes. Given the timing, it almost felt like a divine joke.

Yet the same day I got the assignment, one of my devotionals was on Zechariah 4:10, which says in part, in the NIV, “Who dares despise the day of small things…?” Or in the NLT, “Do not despise these small beginnings.” Message received.

I determined to stay faithful in what I was given, and I sought God hard along the way. Eventually I was relieved of that task, but meanwhile nothing new presented itself, and my husband, who wasn’t even seeking a new ministry opportunity, was given a big, daring one! At least in Zechariah the small beginnings paid off. Mine weren’t seeming to lead anywhere.

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During this time, a Bible study asked for my definition of success. I pondered what would make me feel successful, and it hit me: Success isn’t achieving a particular result. Success is obedience and faithfulness to God–doing whatever he wants me to do, wherever he has put me.

It isn’t measured by what I accomplish relative to what I think I should have accomplished, but by how I respond to God and whether I’ve done what he’s asked. Even if what he’s asked seems less worthy than what I’d hoped to give him.

I say, “But God, I could do this for you!”

And he replies, “Yes, but will you do what I asked?

If we accomplish great things in Jesus’ name–apart from his leading–they’re hollow and they will not last. If we do small things, unnoticeable to other people, because of his leading and out of love for him, those things will have eternal value. We’re often proved the most in the smallest things–the momentary choices to follow, step by step, high or low. Of course we should be willing to die for him, but also to live for him however he leads, even if it’s not what we’d envisioned. A bigger ministry might bring us joy or allow us to more fully use our gifts, but it won’t bring us more success than following him in any other calling.

Still, we’re all frustrated when we feel we have more to offer, or gifts that are not being used. When what we’re doing doesn’t match our passions, we may fear God’s letting us go to waste. But God, who started a good work in us and will be faithful to complete it, is growing and shaping us for his purposes in those moments. I heard Jill Briscoe say at a recent conference that sometimes we learn more of God when we work outside our gifts and passions. Indeed.

I didn’t go a day that season without learning more of God. Had he given me a bigger ministry when I expected it, would I have sought him so hard, or would I have shelved deep reliance on him until I had another perceived need? Would I have seen the opportunity as a sign of his goodness and love, forgetting he’s good and loving even without that? I likely would’ve thought I’d earned it by my super spirituality. And I might have found my security in that, instead of learning anew to find it in him alone.

Don’t get me wrong–I’m still praying for God to open new doors, even as I do what he’s called me to today. But meanwhile I have this confidence: As long as I’m obedient to God, I’m pleasing him regardless of what I’m doing, how important it seems, or even the fruit it bears. And that’s no small calling at all.

This article was originally published at: Christianity Today

Gifts from Worshipping in a Multiethnic Urban Church – Part 2 of 2

*This is part two of the article published in the previous post.

Most churches I’ve been to are designed for someone just like me.

As much as I enjoy the Caribbean flavor of our worship, it is a constant reminder that our service and programs are not designed to reach me—they are designed to speak the heart language and meet the needs of other people in our community.

That’s how it should be, of course. But it strikes me that for all of my life I’ve been part of churches that were actively accommodating to people just like me—people my age and my race and my socioeconomic status. And I never thought of our worship and programs as “how we do church.” I thought of those things as “how people ought to do church.”

The implications of this lesson don’t stop with my past church experience. It’s become clearer to me in recent months that the vast majority of ministry resources, even Christian resources more broadly, are produced with “me” in mind. I’ve enjoyed a privileged status for a long time and never really realized it. I feel it as soon as something isn’t tailored to my tastes.

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The gift that comes from worshipping in a service that isn’t designed for me is that it reveals the depth of my consumeristic relationship with church. This is not a fun lesson, but it’s an important one.

Diversity doesn’t just “happen.”

We thought moving to one of the most diverse cities in America would mean that we would find comfortable diversity everywhere. Boy were we mistaken. The longer I live in New York City the more striking it is to me how segregated the city is. Neighborhoods and even blocks divide along ethnic designations. Schools can be monocultural even in diverse neighborhoods. It’s harder than I realized to find churches in the city that are committed to radical diversity.

All our social and civic systems work against ethnic and socioeconomic integration. It’s possible I knew that intellectually before now. But living where we live and worshipping where we worship has driven the point home: diversity doesn’t just “happen.” It takes deliberate and uncomfortable intentionality. It takes a group of people who are happy to hear all the church announcements twice—once in English and then again in Spanish—happy to sing all the songs in two languages. It takes a group of people who are willing to sacrifice their preferences so someone who sits near them can hear God speak to them the way they need to hear him.

I suppose the real gift of worshipping in a diverse urban church has been the tangible hospitality. While our service is not designed to appeal to my tastes, I am frequently moved by how accommodating people are to make sure my family feels welcome. We have been the recipients of great grace and kindness. That grace and kindness has made this vast new city feel small and familiar.

This article was originally published at: City to City.

Gifts from Worshipping in a Multiethnic Urban Church – Part 1 of 2

By Brandon O’Brien

When we moved from Arkansas to New York City, we settled in Washington Heights in Upper Manhattan. Our decision to live in Washington Heights was determined primarily by economics. I just could not imagine paying so much rent for so little space somewhere like the Upper West Side.

So, completely naively, we moved into the Heights and immediately became ethnic minorities.

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In addition to being white in a predominately Dominican neighborhood, my wife and I also have two adopted children. Both of them are ethnically different from us and from each other. We are quite a sight. And we’ve received our fair share of stares in the last several months—not just in the Heights. But the one place we feel totally normal is at church.

We worship in a new church called Christian Community Church of the Heights. Our service is bilingual—with music and announcements in both Spanish and English and a sermon delivered in English and translated live for Spanish speakers. The congregation is majority Latino but very diverse. In fact, the congregation reflects the ethnic diversity of the neighborhood (60-something percent Latino and 40 percent “other”). There are as many or more trans-racial couples as same-race couples.

Being surrounded by diverse families is a gift in itself, for a family like ours. We’ve received several other gifts by worshipping in a multiethnic urban church. Here are a few, presented as lessons learned. I’ve learned, for example:

Hips can be used in worship.

I’ve raised my hands in worship. I’ve bent my knees in worship. Doggone it, I’ve even clapped and swayed. But never before have my hips been tempted to involve themselves in worship. And it shows: they are very bad at it.

There’s a serious point in here somewhere. Style of worship is more than a matter of taste. Different musical forms open different possibilities, even theological possibilities. For example, I’ve sung the song “Blessed Be Your Name” in many churches in the last fifteen years. In all of them, the tone of that song has varied from reflective, even repentant, to triumphant. But when I sing it over a Caribbean bass line and rhythm section, a new possibility opens up. The song becomes positively celebratory.

In this case, musical style is a reflection of deep values and cultural personality. Our Dominican brothers and sisters know how to party, and they know how to bring that party to church. I never thought I could sing, “You give and take away” with a smile on my face. The fact that I can do it now is a gift from my diverse congregation.

*This article will continue in the next post.

Reflecting on Passion After the World Cup

By Scott Armstrong

Many readers of this site know that my family and I were able to attend the World Cup in Russia this past month.  It was a remarkable time and a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  Perhaps the thing I remember most is the passion that so many people had for their countries and for football/soccer.

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I saw it in the literally tens of thousands of Mexicans and Colombians that traveled, dressed up, and chanted for their teams at all times of the day or night. I saw it when the host team, Russia, unexpectedly beat Spain in the Round of 16, and the Moscow streets erupted in joy.

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But perhaps I did not personally experience the many levels of passion at the World Cup more so than in the two games we were able to go to.  Before the first game, June 26, we were caught up in the fervor of the Danish fans who filled the Metro stations and the streets chanting and singing for their team and country.  Sadly, the passion they and their French counterparts showed before and during the game was not shared by their national teams.  France v. Denmark has been widely recognized as the worst game of the tournament.

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We knew something was wrong when the lineups came out and hardly any of the stars were starting.  No Pogba or Mbappe?!  Not even Lloris or Umtiti?! Well, at least the subs will play their hearts out, right? Nope.  Both teams knew that they just needed a tie to go through to the next round.  So, they played like it was a scrimmage.  No urgency.  No one trying too much.  All of the neutral fans grew restless and even angry throughout the two hours.  We paid money for this? We came all this way to watch this charade?!

Did you know that the word “passion” originates from the Latin word “passio” which is closely related to the Greek root “path” meaning “to suffer”? By the time the game ended 0-0, the entire stadium was raining down boos on the teams for such a disgraceful performance. It is truly hard to explain how disappointed we all were.  I actually started to cry because I was so sad our family had chosen to go to THAT of all games.  Bleck.

But all was not lost.  The final game we attended was July 3 in Moscow.  Round of 16 – Colombia v. England.  I kid you not: I gathered my family together before we headed to the stadium and prayed that God would give us a great game.  I did not care what the outcome was: I just wanted it to be memorable.

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And boy was it!   Controversy was constant with a penalty being awarded and both teams pushing and jockeying for position at every free kick.  Yerri Mina, a Colombian defender, tied the game up 1-1 in stoppage time at the end of the second half while the stadium full of mostly Colombian supporters went wild.  Then, it went to penalties, where England has a history of crashing and burning.  But not today, folks! Nearly three hours after the first kick, England buried their final penalty and proceeded to the next round while both fans and the team exuberantly rejoiced.  It was a phenomenal game and the most energy I have ever experienced at a soccer game by far (and I’ve been to dozens in many different countries!).

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I should add that, as we got ready for penalties and the supporters of each team were cheering and hugging and even praying, I started to cry again.  But this time it was out of unbridled happiness that we had gotten to be a part of an event like that.

What was the difference between the two games? Essentially one thing: passion.

I know the circumstances dictate that there is less to play for at certain times in the tournament.  But this is the World Cup.  If you are going to step on the field, you should give it your all.

This is a belief that propels me in my daily life and guides me in my spiritual walk. If it is worth doing, it’s worth doing well.  Live passionately, and especially let the source of that passion be more than football or food or movies or your job or even your family.

The only wellspring of passion that will never run dry or disappoint is Jesus Christ. He offers abundant life (Jn. 10:10) and glorious salvation (Jn. 3:16).  In my case, he has put a calling on my life to preach – and do so cross-culturally – so that I cannot hold it in; like Jeremiah, it is a fire in my bones (Jer. 20:9).

Anyone who has met me knows that I am passionate about futbol.  But I pray that everyone knows I am even more passionate about Christ and his mission.  He, after all, gave himself for us on the cross in what has become known as – you guessed it – the Passion.

If you have not yet experienced that compelling, driving force in your life, allow the one, true Source of passion to instill his fire in you. You – and all those around you – will truly never be the same!