Tuesday, March 30, 2010

On Parenthood

TITLE: On Parenthood
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 31 Mar 2010

A Meditation on Holy Week

Key Point: Letting go is an act of trust. Letting God take over is an act of love through faith.
Scripture: "So Jesus grew both in height and in wisdom, and he was loved by God and by all who knew him." (Luke 2:52, NLT)

A) A Parent's Odyssey of Learning to Let Go
When they are little, we hold their hands tightly. As they grow, we loosen our grip. When they become teens, we learn to let go. When they enter adulthood, we let them fly. For the rest of our lives, we as parents can only cheer them on.

This is a typical odyssey of a family with children. Someone once told me that bringing up our children is like flying a kite. When they are younger, we hold onto them with a firm grip. As they grow, we learn to let go, and let them bravely face the winds on their own. Finally, we just have to completely free them and trust that they will live the best possible lives for themselves. We can only stand on the side, to watch, to cheer, and to pray.

Letting go is not altogether a sad event. There is always hope. As parents, one thing we need not despair about is seeing our children grow up. We need not be stuck in a constant state of nostalgia, lamenting for the ‘good old days’ when our children lives and depend on us. We need not worry about their future if we learn to give our worries to Jesus. My thoughts this week center around how God lets Jesus go, and how Jesus chooses to follow the will of his Father.

B) How Joseph and Mary Let Jesus Go
As a little baby, Jesus was completely dependent on how Joseph and Mary obey the instructions of the angel (Luke 1). As a young boy, he was seen growing with stature with both God and men (Luke 2:52). He made his parents worried about his whereabouts, but told them that his rightful place is his Father’s house (Luke 2:49). The gospel records Joseph and Mary as being puzzled by what Jesus said. It is a sign that Jesus is teaching his parents to start letting go of their possessiveness, and to recognize Jesus' higher purpose. That is to obey His heavenly Father in Heaven. I can imagine that fateful day, when Joseph and Mary feel powerless. They must have been distraught to see their son arrested, cruelly tortured and unfairly judged by the religious and political powers of the day.Even though Joseph is simply a husband to Mary, he feels for this boy born of the virgin Mary. Like a typical parent, he is understandably worried for the safety of Jesus. He finds it hard to let go.

This week is Holy Week. Christians all over the world will  make a special effort to reflect more on the person of Christ. As we remember the work of Christ, and his journey to Gethsemane, we need to let the process of remembrance flow. There is no need to press a quick fast-forward button to jump over Maundy Thursday or the Good Friday crucifixion. Being human, sometimes we want to avoid the pain and torture of Christ to focus on the victory and the ultimate triumph at the cross. This is understandable. Let us be patient. There is a time for everything. Holy Week is not simply about God overcoming death at the cross through Jesus. It is reflecting on God letting Jesus go to the cross in full obedience.

C) The Essence of Letting Go: Love

Holy Week is about love, faithful and everlasting love. It is about a love that is present with us whether in sickness or in health. It is a love that is with us, whether we are sad or happy, uplifted or downtrodden; together or alone. It is a week to remember that love came down to earth in a humble servant to die for the sins of the world. This love is demonstrated so clearly and passionately, that we learn the greatest meaning of dying to self. For parents, we can only glimpse at the willingness of God the Father, letting go of his completely innocent Son, to die for us.

God does not have a divine ego to fill. Neither does He need to justify himself for how creation turns out. Why should He apologize for something that belongs to Him in the first place? It is pure and simple. It is love. Love unlimited. Love freely and fully given. Holy Week is reflecting on this love of the Father that is so great, that God gives his only Son to die for us sinners. It is seeing how God loves us through the highs of Palm Sunday. It shows us the depth of Jesus' love to tolerate the injustice inflicted on Him. It reveals to us the breadth of Jesus' sacrifice for all on the cross. It demonstrates the extent of Jesus' work, to give us all a pathway back to the kingdom. This is because God the Father is able to let Jesus go, and Jesus willingly chooses love.

D) Our Children : Future Leaders of the World
I am a proud father of three growing children. As the years go by, I watch them become more independent, more inquisitive over adult matters, and more intelligent with 21st Century tools like technology and the latest fashions. Sometimes I feel I have more to learn from them, instead of they from me. My parenting posture needs to be readjusted. At some point, ‘letting go’ becomes the primary attitude, not ‘grabbing hold.' The former trusts, the latter distrusts. Grabbing hold is an attempt to control. Letting go is an act of trusting God. Letting go is a discipline that parents will find it hard to adopt. It is necessary. Letting go is love.

As parents, the challenge for us is this. After years of caring and catering to our children’s basic needs, the next milestone of love is to cheer them on. We can either choose to be pessimistic about their future. We can worry constantly about whether they can make it in life. Or we can be optimistic that they have a bright future ahead of them, and that they will know how to handle life when it comes. I want to take the optimistic approach. I take comfort in the words of the famous US President, Abraham Lincoln:

A child is a person who is going to carry on what you have started. He is going to sit where you are sitting, and when you are gone, attend to those things which you think are important. You may adopt all the policies you please, but how they are carried out depends on him. He will assume control of your cities, states, and nations. He is going to move in and take over your churches, schools, universities, and corporations. . . The fate of humanity is in his hands.” (Abraham Lincoln)
As a Christian parent, I do not fully agree with the last statement. In fact, the promise of humanity is in the hands of our loving Father God, through the presence of the Holy Spirit, will guide our children to do the will of God, in heaven as well as on earth. In God’s perfect timing, under the guidance of God and the prayers of the parents, children will soon take charge, and become parents in their own right.
What if we as parents find it hard to let go? What if we find it difficult to trust our children to do what is best for them? We can advice them. We can guide them. We can even try to get the best help for them. Regardless of what parents can do for them, eventually, our children will need to take a step for themselves. When we find it hard to let go, may I suggest prayer. May I recommend that parents adopt an unceasing prayer attitude? In prayer, we never truly let go of our responsibilities. For in prayer, we entrust our deep love for our children into the mighty hands of God.

E) The Final Stage: Letting Go
In conclusion, what is the greatest joy of a parent? I think, as a Christian parent, the greatest joy is knowing that by letting go of our children, we let God take over. We continue on the privilege to pray for them, to watch them mature from a distance, and be loved by God. We see them rallying around friends, and friends around them. It is with deep gratitude to God, that through them, God will change the world in ways that we as parents could not. They will live out their dreams. We can only cheer them on. Like a wise teacher, as our children grows up, we put off the sage-by-the-stage mentality to command them on each and every move. Instead, we take on the role of a guide-by-the-side to cheer them on to good works. The final stage of parenting is simply this: Letting go of our children for growing, and letting God take over for grooming.

Thought: Higher Education is not performing as a sage on the stage, but as a guide by the side. Christian Higher Education moves a step further: Parents praying unceasingly for their children.


Copyright by SabbathWalk. This devotional is sent to you free of charge. If you feel blessed or ministered to by SabbathWalk weekly devotionals, feel free to forward to friends, or to invite them to subscribe online at http://blog.sabbathwalk.org . You can also send me an email at cyap@sabbathwalk.org for comments or enquiries.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Too Busy With Our Own House

Title: Too Busy With Our Own House?
Date: 25 Mar 2010
Written by: Conrade Yap

Main point: Chronic busyness is a symptom of messed-up priorities.

"You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?" declares the LORD Almighty. "Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with his own house.” (Haggai 1:9)

A church leader recently lamented and said this to me. “We can plan so many things for the church, but will people be interested?  The main problem is busyness. People are so busy.

I was initially taken aback. During leadership meetings and planning, it is typical to expect some excitement and some great plans to motivate the congregation toward spiritual growth and love of Jesus. Not this leader. Not this experienced man of God, who has seen many plans that begin well and end poorly. In fact, there is a sense of despondency that feeds cynicism upon cynicism.

The choices we make in life reflect the priorities in us. In other words, busyness is a choice. It is an attitude. It is a state of mind. I do not believe that we are helplessly unable to cope with busyness. Busy or not, is not a question of time. It is a matter of priorities. In fact, chronic busyness is a symptom of our priorities badly messed up. The more we allow ourselves to drift into an aimless whirlpool of busyness, the less we are able to discern the purpose and the priorities we badly need.  We become so busy with self, that we neglect the house of God. When this happens, our activities become primary. Relationships become secondary.

A) Our Messed Up Priorities
The Book of Haggai begins with a call to the Israelites to straighten out their priorities. Twice, the prophet proclaims the LORD’s reminder:

“ . . . . . . Give careful thought to your ways.” (Haggai 1:5b)
“. . . . . . Give careful thought to your ways. “ (Haggai 1:7b)

What is it that the Israelites are to give ‘careful thought’ about? It is when the Israelites are accumulating things and luxury for themselves, to the neglect of God’s holy temple. In 538 BC, the Israelites were returning from exile. The temple was in ruins, and God’s people has returned. Instead of spending time to rebuild the temple, the people were more interested in beautifying their own homes. Thus, Haggai has to intervene to call the people to re-consider their ways. It is a call for Israel to set things right, by first getting their priorities right.
We can live very busy lives. The question is: if we were to divide our activities between short-term objectives and long-term goals, between temporal and eternal purposes, how will our life look like? Haggai is pleading with the Israelites to put community before self interest.

B) Wait! What About Our House?
Wait. Some of us may be asking:

  •  Why should God’s house be of a higher priority?
  • I cannot afford not to work long hours. I need to feed my family, and to pay for my children’s future needs.”
  • What makes you think that the Church should get more of my time? Isn’t the Church already rich with resources?”
I have been in many churches to understand where the typical church member is coming from. I know that what is important to a church leader, may not be the same as a church member. For example, leaders may organize prayer meetings, but often, the people who attend such meetings are the leaders themselves, plus a handful of faithful members. Pastors may offer the best spiritual exercises, but people are too busy to take part. What happened to the rest? Perhaps, that is one reason why few people aspire to be church leaders or pastors in the first place.

Let me suggest that we all “give careful thought to our ways?” Ask ourselves about our priorities.  Ask about the state of our relationships with one another. Ask about our time allocated toward something more kingdom-focused, instead of world-focused.

“So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:31-33)

I am not saying we always say ‘yes’ to all kinds of church requests. I am asking that we consider our priorities, especially when we find ourselves saying ‘no’ nearly 100% of the time.

C) Kingdom Priorities
Let me put the question the other way. Instead of asking you to consider putting God’s house first, why not consider what God is speaking to you about kingdom priorities? The following table will help to illustrate what I am saying.

Me-First attitude
Kingdom first, as we trust God to provide for our needs
Achievements first
Relationships first
Asks: “What’s in it for me?”
Asks: “What’s in it for God?”
Runs After Things, especially temporal stuff
Runs after God
Non-stop planning and executing
Unceasing prayer, which guides actions
Stingy with time
Generous with time
Complains easily
Gives thanks readily
Cares primarily for own house; self-led
Cares for God’s House; community-led

Kingdom priorities mean that we learn to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. It does not mean we do not care about our earthly responsibilities at home, at work or in school. It means we do not WORRY about them, but trust God to provide for our needs. It does not mean we discard our responsibilities. It means we put these responsibilities in perspective, in proper priority.

D) A Kingdom of Inter-Dependence, Not Independence
One more thing. Kingdom priorities also mean that we work dependent on one another. The phrase: “God helps those who help themselves” is one big lie. We need to remove this teaching altogether. It goes against community building. The fact is, we need one another. Anyone living a life toward delusionary  self-independence, is only digging his own pit of loneliness.

Throw away our puny shovels of busyness after our own things. Remove our straw hats of independence. Understand that we are made to be dependent on each other, not independent from one another. Re-organize our priorities, to move from worldly minded to kingdom focus. Give careful thought to what it means to build up the kingdom of God, by helping one another be the best people they are created to be. Let’s build the church of God. Haggai’s message is applicable to us today. The Church of God is not built with stones, but by relationships through loving God and people. Let us prioritize accordingly.

So brother, hand me another brick. Sister, pass me that cement. We’ve got a church of people to build.

Thought:  The Church is not a collection of independent individuals, but a community of dependent sinners accepting one another in Christ-like love.

 “I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the LORD.’” (Ps 122:1)


Copyright by SabbathWalk. This devotional is sent to you free of charge. If you feel blessed or ministered to by SabbathWalk weekly devotionals, feel free to forward to friends, or to invite them to subscribe online at http://blog.sabbathwalk.org . You can also send me an email at cyap@sabbathwalk.org for comments or enquiries.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Choose Peacemaking

Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: Mar 16, 2010

What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members?” (James 4:1, NAS)

MAIN POINT: Peacemaking starts from inside our heart; Quarrels and conflicts too. The difference lies in which one we choose.

Pastor Craig Groeschel was about to preach one Sunday morning. Just a few moments before he takes the pulpit, a female Church member passed him a note labeled, “Personal.” Thinking that it was a nice message of encouragement, he opened that note with hope. Unfortunately, it was a cruel accusatory note. It curtly criticized and put the pastor down for not making time to see her last Friday, which was the pastor’s day off. According to that lady, the pastor was insensitive to her, for not prioritizing her in his schedule. It is one thing to give a hurtful note. It is yet another to time it just before the preacher's sermon delivery. Imagine how one small note can hurt the soul big-time.

Conflicts happen. Sometimes, too often. Even in the Bible, there is a famous example of conflict that occurred between Peter and Paul. Paul opposed Peter ‘to his face,’ over the issue of hypocrisy in preferential treatment between Gentiles and Jews (Gal 2:11-14).

Conflicts can happen at the personal level, at a congregational level, or even among good friends like Peter and Paul. The key to recognizing how to resolve any conflict is to first identify the source, and then to make a choice on what to do about it.

A) Where is the source of conflicts?
Some say the fault lies in the other person. For two feuding groups, fingers can be pointed at each other. Harsh words fly. Tempers flare. An ungracious attitude fuels even more negative reactions in a downward spiral of strife. Any fallout from the hostility can even injure people outside the two groups, especially when the warring groups start to canvass for political support. Both factions can issue ultimatums to the rest: “If you are not with us, you are against us.” When this happens, a church crack begins to appear as members draw an ugly line that divides. 

Such a black and white scenario makes it a tough place to be for any church member. In a heated environment, no position is safe. If one supports the left, the right gets upset. If support goes to the right, the other will threaten to terminate relationships. If one chooses not to support either, one risks getting slammed by both groups. No position is safe when a church is deep in conflict. Perhaps, one way out is to relinquish power during such a heated situations. This is because the moment each group starts to load up their verbal weaponry, more people will get hurt. Why not lay down our weaponry of hurt, unload the ammunition of angry words, and give some space and time to resolve any differences? After-all, when church members fight, the evil eyes are the ones smiling.

B) Desires inside us

Dave Edling, of Peacemaker Ministries observes that the fault lines in any relationship issues lie not outside but inside a person's heart. According to Edling,

"Disagreements begin when the desires that battle within us, as described in James 4:1, lead to expectations of others—maybe an over-elevation of who we think we are, and what our rights are, and what we deserve to have." (Christine Scheller, Missing the Rupture, Christianity Today, May 2003)

Indeed, one of the causes of many conflicts and misunderstandings is due to an ‘over-elevation’ of who we are or our points of view. When we start having strong views about our rightness, it only increases our perceptions about other people's 'wrongness.' If a person stubbornly thinks that he is usually right, in his eye, others will seem flatly wrong. Eugene Peterson, a former pastor for 29 years, translates James 4:1 as follows:

Where do you think all these appalling wars and quarrels come from? Do you think they just happen? Think again. They come about because you want your own way, and fight for it deep inside yourselves.” (Jas 4:1, MSG)

This is scary yet so true. When we want things our own way, everything has to be bent to our own desires. ‘Desires’ can be a very powerful thing. When used compassionately to help people, it can bring about a multitude of goodness that warms the soul. When used otherwise, it can hurt, even kill. I remember reading a heartwarming story just after the horrifying terrorist attacks of September 11. The aftermath of the disaster did not simply shock those who are still alive and grieving. It angers some people enough to start to hunt and hurt people of Muslim origins. Anticipating the potential problems, a group of Catholic nuns set out for the neighborhood mosque. Holding hands, and lighting candles, they sing hymns to promote peace and goodwill while protecting the mosque. This example of peacemaking is truly counter-cultural. By placing themselves as a cushion between the mob and the Muslim victims, the nuns make themselves vulnerable in the name of peace.

C) Choose Peacemaking

The desire for revenge is part of a very sinful human condition. When we do not have things our way, we often gravitate between two choices. We can hurt ourselves by beating ourselves up inside, or hurt others by accusing others outside. Is there a third way?

The good news is yes. There is a third way. This is the way of peacemaking. More importantly, it is to change our ‘desires’ to CHOOSE peacemaking over all others. Etty Hillesum, a Jewish woman who prior to her being gassed in the Auschwitz Holocaust, writes in her diary:

After this war two torrents will be unleashed on the world: a torrent of loving kindness and a torrent of hatred. I knew that I should struggle against hatred.” (Etty Hillesum, An Interrupted Life: The Diaries, 1941-1943, and Letters from Westerbrook, NY: Henry Holt, 1996, p208)

Imagine such inner strength, that no gas chambers can overcome. Hillesum chose the path of peace amid the awful hatred happening all around her. If she, being victimized and tortured can choose peacemaking despite the most horrific circumstances, how about us, who are not in any physical torture chamber, sitting in our comfortable chairs choose peacemaking?

We can choose the path of peace. This is also the path chosen by Pastor Craig Groeschel, after receiving the terrible accusatory note. That day, he chose compassion for that hurting lady, and went on to do his ministerial duties. Choosing peace means being conscious of the larger good. Choosing peace means struggling against hatred and ill will, replacing them with love and goodwill. Choosing peace means making peace, rather than simply waiting letting silence dictate the peace process. Choosing peace means we maintain a posture of open hands instead of clenched fists. May we all learn to choose peace. May we all become peacemakers for the kingdom of God. In fact, when we choose to become peacemakers, we accomplish two objectives in one stroke: we bring goodwill for the kingdom of God, AND nip sinful desires from growing in our hearts.

To be a peacemaker means not to judge or condemn or speak badly of people, not to rejoice in any form of ill that may strike them. Peacemaking is holding people gently in prayer, wishing them to be well and free. Peacemaking is welcoming people who are weak and in need, maybe just with a smile, giving them support, offering them kindness and tenderness, and opening our hearts to them. …… It is to approach people not from a pedestal, a position of power and certitude, in order to solve problems, but from a place of listening, understanding, humility and love. When we relinquish power, we become more open to the compassion of God.
(Jean Vanier, Finding Peace, Toronto, ON: Anansi, 2003, p68-9)

Thought: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.” (Matt 5:9, NIV)


Copyright by SabbathWalk. This devotional is sent to you free of charge. If you feel blessed or ministered to by SabbathWalk weekly devotionals, feel free to forward to friends, or to invite them to subscribe online at http://blog.sabbathwalk.org . You can also send me an email at cyap@sabbathwalk.org for comments or enquiries.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Left to Our Own Devices

Title: Left To Our Own Devices
Written by: Conrade Yap
9 Mar 2010
"Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn't worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they begin to think up foolish ideas of what God is like. The result was that their minds became dark and confused." (Rom 1:21, NLT)

Tiger Woods is a world-class golfer. John Terry is a famous footballer with the popular English club, Chelsea. Jack Neo is a famous South-East-Asian filmmaker-entertainer. Despite them located on three different continents, they share something in common. All of them have secret affairs. All of them are married men, sleeping with other women. This week, the popular and successful filmmaker in Singapore, Jack Neo has his photos and his sexual trysts become headline news all over the region. While Neo and his family are currently hiding from the press, details of his affairs are showing up in many places. The man who started with humble beginnings, who have enthralled millions of television viewers with his versatile acting is now fleeing from publicity. Like Tiger Woods and John Terry, this time, Neo has dethroned himself. Positive feedback about him and his character are getting less while negative and verbal jibes are getting more. It saddens me to read that Neo has not only committed adultery, he has damaged his testimony for God. Worshipping in one of the largest Churches in Singapore, his actions have become a stumbling block to others, a disappointment to many.

Sigh. Such news are not new. In North America, sexual scandals are one of the most read news in any media. Many are already exposed. Many more are yet to be discovered. Still, if any affair by a famous politician, movie star, singer, or a celebrity is leaked, rest assured that the press would soon be on a news feeding frenzy. Whatever they write, people read. Whatever they publish, people buy them. Right now, the German Catholic Church is also reeling from revelations of another sex scandal. When will all these end? In this week’s edition of Sabbath Walk, I want to ponder on what it means to be left to our own devices.

Key Point - “Left to its own devices and schemes, the human heart becomes an idol factory.”

A) Separation of Sex and Spirituality - The Factory Starts Work
The Quaker, Richard Foster laments:

One of the real tragedies in Christian history has been the divorce of sexuality from spirituality. This fact is all the more lamentable since the Bible holds such a high celebrative view of human sexuality.”
(Richard Foster, The Challenge of the Disciplined Life, Harper San Francisco, 1985, 91)

Foster notices an important aspect of being human. Hell breaks loose when human sexuality is separated from spirituality. The fallen human condition is like an aimless kite. Without it being fastened and held by a firm hand, it is susceptible to winds coming at it from all directions and speeds. The moment the hand releases the kite, the kite will be soon be lost. Ask any kid who lost his favourite kite. Reflecting on the effects of Money, Sex, and Power, Foster, argues cogently that any view of sexuality without spirituality is incomplete, utterly incomplete. In other words, man without God is hopeless. Man trying to live without obeying God's instructions render him helpless. Sad is the man who though incomplete, behaves as if he is completely right. That is self-righteousness. Even more tragic is the sinner , who rationalizes himself to justify all means to achieve his ends. That is unrighteousness. They blame others. They blame things outside their control. They blame all else except themselves. Some even blame God. When we are separated from God, and left to our own devices, to do whatever we want, anything can be rationalized. Left to our own devices, the human heart begins manufacturing idols.

B) Manufacturing Sin after Sin
One incomplete state begets another. They compound one’s sin and mistakes. Worse, they rationalize and try to give excuses to justify their behaviors. When pushed to a corner, some hardcore sinners will change from a defensive posture to an offensive gesture. They fight back when they refuse to be cornered about their sin.

I learned many years ago when I was in business school that man is not exactly a ‘rational’ creature. Instead, man is a ‘rationalizing’ creature. There is a subtle difference between ‘rational’ and ‘rationalizing.’ The former sees them as always doing the right thing. The latter thinks he is doing the right thing all the time. The trouble is, when people forget they are sinners in the first place, they pride themselves in all the decisions they make. What were Woods, Terry and Neo thinking just before their first sexual fling? I suppose that not getting caught the first time, tempts them to continue their affairs indefinitely. Left to our own devices, the sinful heart manufactures sin after sin.

C) Manufacturing Reasons to Justify Sin
People find ways and means to justify their plans and their actions. In business, when a greedy person has set his heart to grab a lucrative deal, he will find all ways to justify his actions, to make things happen according to his plans. When getting the deal becomes the overall objective, the human rationalizing machine kicks into action. When the goal is finally achieved, the very success justifies the means. Sometimes, successes can be a convenient cloak to cover up any unethical practices. Who dares to question the person up there? Who dares to point a finger at a famous boss who can easily take away our livelihood with a simple command? The same is true for those who refuse to acknowledge their sins. The powerful rules, until their sins are exposed. Adulterers can sometimes deceive themselves by rationalizing themselves as follows:

  • “But I really love my lover. But I no longer love my spouse.”
  • "Who asks my spouse to be so ugly? So fat and undesirable?"
  • “But we need to modernize ourselves with more 'appropriate' interpretations of the Bible.”
  • “Certainly, God wants me to be happy, or He would not have given me this drive.”
  • “It is beyond my control.”
  • “If my spouse truly loved me, I would not have done it.”
  • “This is my life. No one has a right to judge me.”
  • “I am sure God understands me. After all, He is a God of grace and forgiveness.”
  • “It is alright to sleep a little. After all, I am not perfect right?”
  • “Don’t blame me. Blame God, for He is the One that created me like that in the first place.”

Some of these excuses make me angry. I cannot imagine how can a man who commits adultery, suddenly turns around and blames his wife for own despicable act! Or, how can a woman justify her infidelity by blaming her husband's low esteem for her affairs? The trouble is, when one becomes successful in the eyes of the world, he becomes his own biggest threat. When he or she lusts after something, reasons are concocted simply to get it. When a person is bent on sin, everything else can be used to justify his actions. A person addicted to sexual affairs, blames others except himself. This is because the human heart is a natural and efficient factory of idolatry. Idols are not external things that mysteriously appear outside. They are internal thoughts that gradually form idols in everything we touch. Without God, everything else can become a substitute to replace God. Without God, we are on our own. We form our own ideals. We design our own ends. We manufacture our own gods. Without God, our biggest punishment is not external but internal. Read the judgment.
So God let them go ahead and do whatever shameful things their hearts desired….” (Rom 1:24a)
Left to our own sinful natures, our heart manufactures rationalizations to justify sin.

D) Manufacturing 'Idols Not Enough'
Let me urge caution. All of us are vulnerable. All of us are susceptible to temptations. In fact, the most dangerous of all temptations frequently begins with an honorable goal: to be successful. It could happen to any of us. The more fame and success we get, the greater the temptations. The important question for all of us is, can we handle success? For those of us who wants success, pray too, that the Lord grants you the strength to fight temptations of success. Another way is to facilitate inner and outer successes. Any external success without adequate moral and spiritual foundations will eventually crumble.

“For all our striving to attain worldly success outside, how much are we achieving INSIDE? (of character, integrity and gratitude)”

In the race for success, people are tempted to become lopsided. They race for worldly success without a corresponding race for inner integrity. They then become easy pickings for the evil one. We build our lives and our future on sinking sand. Doris Mortman shares this wisdom:
Until you make peace with who you are, you’ll never be content with what you have.
(Doris Mortman, Circles, Bantam Books, 1988, 45)
Left to our own devices, we manufacture more sins, and more justifications without reservation.

E) Peace with God
True peace cannot be manufactured. It can only be received and practiced. Indeed, I suggest something more than simply 'making' peace. We need peace from God. We need peace with God. We need God urgently, more so because we are already fallen creatures prone to sin more and more. Left to our own devices, our hearts manufacture deceptions. With God as our peace, we say a defiant ‘NO’ to worldly temptations, no matter what good they entice us with. We say YES to God, no matter what it costs us. Instead of being left to our own devices, we pray that God will not leave or forsake us. We ask humbly for God’s help. We seek to store up eternal treasures in heaven instead of accumulating temporal treasures on earth. Then, and only then, we slow and shut down our inner heart that manufactures idols, to turn it into a heart that bears good fruit for Christ. Replace our heart of idols with a heart for God. Then we can be strengthened to flee from sexual sins. We can be strengthened to speak out against sins, especially our own. We can be strengthened to banish self-deception. We can be strengthened to shut down our idol factory, with God’s strength. In idols we distrust for, in God we will trust. May God be merciful to us, not to leave us to our own devices.

There remains the best and only way to shut down our idol factory once and for all. Say to ourselves: "The LORD is my Shepherd; I shall lack nothing." (Ps 23:1)


Thought: “In mathematics, an integer is a number that isn’t divided into fractions. Just so, a man of integrity isn’t divided against himself. He doesn’t think one thing and say another – so he’s not in conflict with his own principles.” (Arthur Gordon)

Copyright by SabbathWalk. This devotional is sent to you free of charge. If you feel blessed or ministered to by SabbathWalk weekly devotionals, feel free to forward to friends, or to invite them to subscribe online at http://blog.sabbathwalk.org . You can also send me an email at cyap@sabbathwalk.org for comments or enquiries.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Problem of Unanswered Prayer

TITLE: The Problem of Unanswered Prayer
Date:  3 Mar 2010
Written by: Conrade Yap

SCRIPTURE: "Yet when they were ill, I put on sackcloth and humbled myself with fasting. When my prayers returned to me unanswered, I went about mourning as though for my friend or brother. I bowed my head in grief as though weeping for my mother." (Ps 35:13-14)

This is the 15th day of the Period of Lent. It is a tradition observed by many pious Christians all over the world. For those of us who observe Lent, this will be a more conscientious effort toward prayer, abstention, fasting and of course, denying oneself just like Christ. Last year, I fasted from chocolates. For the entire period, I was conscious of anything that is chocolate-ty. From cocoa to candies, from ice-cream to mochas, I will abstain from chocolate even though I love to eat them. Cheekily, my kids become extraordinary helpful and remind me about my chocolate fast. Occasionally, they would tempt me by eating a large blob of double chocolate ice-cream before me. I survived Lent 2009 without chocolates.

This year, I decide to fast from using Facebook. I do not have to. I freely choose to. Each time I was tempted to go to FaceBook, I resist. I think Christ. I pray. I just want to remind myself to learn to deny self in some small way, so that I can embrace Christ’s journey to the cross a little more profoundly. Self-denial comes before taking up the cross. Taking up the cross is a pre-requisite for following Christ. It is a tiny step to move from plenty toward the direction of poverty, just like Christ, though I dare not boast of matching Christ's sacrifice.

In both instances, my fast from chocolates and from Facebook is primarily to remind myself to remain prayerful. Each time I deny myself, I pray. Each time I think of it, I shoot up a sporadic word to God. A simple ‘Thank you Lord,’ almost always suffices. As I reflect on prayer this week, I want to touch on a topic close to my heart: The issue of unanswered prayer.

A) A History of Unanswered Prayers
CS Lewis struggled with this. When he was 9 years old, his mother fell ill with cancer. As doctors perform emergency surgery on his mum, he prayed earnestly for healing. Unfortunately, his mother died, leaving Lewis a confused boy. He never really got over it, and he rejected Christianity for a long time. Did God answer his prayer? In a results focused world, the answer then is clearly no.

Another example is Jerry Sittser, a pastor, a chaplain and a professor. Like many good natured Christians, he surrendered his life to Christ and served God wholeheartedly. Like many of us, he too prayed for his family’s safety and for God’s protection on them all. Unfortunately, on a fateful night, he lost his mother, his daughter and his wife, in one automobile accident.

These are but two examples of a world where many prayers seem to go unanswered. Where is God? What in the world is He doing? From martyrs to missionaries; From dedicated servants in Church to many other pious ministers in various faith ministries, it is common to see Christians happen to receive the wrong end of the bargain. If God does not answer prayer, even according to his purpose, then why pray?

B) My Story
Just a couple of months ago, I learned of a missions opportunity in India. Excitedly, I prayed. I sought out God. I discussed with my wife. I was thrilled with the opportunities to teach in a Bible College, to preach and to teach the Bible and many outreach occasions. I was very specific in my prayers, to pray about it quietly and not making it known to anyone. I asked for God to provide my family the necessary finances, not only for the trip, but also my family needs, so that my family can be cared for when I am away. It didn’t happen. It happened for James Hudson Taylor in his ministry in China. It happened for George Mueller in his ministry to orphans in England. Not me. Unfortunately, I am no Taylor or Mueller. My prayer came back to me like an unanswered letter, making me suspect whether it has been opened in the first place.

Maybe I was foolish to put God to the test. Maybe I have been naïve to think that God has to pay for all my needs before I can go. Maybe, it is a case of unanswered prayer. Maybe it is a lack of faith. I do not know. Maybe, I was not desperate enough to go.

C) To Answer or Not to Answer: That is God’s Question, Not Mine
The issue of unanswered prayers remain a mystery. I am still on a journey of discovery and learning. I am still struggling with the issue of prayers that go unanswered. Allow me to share with you three brief insights on prayer. Hopefully, this can help shed some light on your personal journey with God pertaining to this strange issue.

Firstly, prayer is not simply words uttered with our lips or vocal chords. It is not muttering the ‘right’ words, or to conjure up the proper emotions prior to sending God our list. Words are important. They can be formed and spoken with the mouth. However, prayers are more than words. It is an expression of the heart. It is an expression that requires our truest selves to rise up to meet God. In short, prayer is the divine language of the heart to God.

Secondly, prayer is a relationship. It is a relationship that is not changed by good or bad news. After all, a father loves a child, regardless of how naughty he is. Prayer is a relationship that connects humanity with divinity. It is a connection that bridges the biggest gap in the world. No causeways, no bridges, no Internet connection can ever link up to our Divine God. It takes a simple act of remembrance, to know that God is listening. It takes a simple act of stopping our fast-paced hands and feet, to still ourselves to know that God is bigger than all our problems combined. It takes a simple act of the will, to keep our minds stayed on the Giver of Life, the Creator of the world. Without understanding prayer as a relationship, we will not be able to do any of the above.

Thirdly, and most importantly, in prayer, we give God the right to answer or NOT to answer our prayers. This is the single biggest reason for us to trust God for the answers to all our prayers. Our faith in God can be increased when our prayers are answered. Our faith in God need not decrease even if our prayers remain unanswered. Let me give one illustration.

In the 2003 movie, Bruce Almighty, Jim Carrey stars as Bruce Nolan, who is dissatisfied with life. God decides to give him divine powers, especially one that answers prayers. Initially, Bruce handles the pressure well, until he realizes that his careless answers to all kinds of prayers from people the world over start to take their toll. It is a humourous story, but it communicates the truth that we are not God. Only God is God. Only God can do God’s job, not us. If we think God has to answer all of our prayers according to all our whims and fancies, God is not God. We are.

One more thing. A popular teaching about prayer in many Christian circles is that Prayer Changes God. Let me suggest it differently. The biggest benefit is not us changing God, but God changing us. Oswald Chambers puts it very well:

“To say that ‘prayer changes things’ is not as close to the truth as saying, ‘prayer changes me and then I change things.' Prayer is not a matter of changing things externally, but one of working miracles in a person’s inner nature.” (Oswald Chambers, My Utmost For His Highest)


The issue of unanswered prayer remains a challenge for me, and I believe for many of you too. Do not despair. God is always listening. Whether the answers to prayer are going to happen now or not yet, let us remain faithful. Let us remain hopeful. Let us remain grateful for God is in control. As for my India missions, or other lands, or my deepest desires with regards to Christian ministry, I wait patiently for the Lord. I pray to delight more in Him each day, till my will be changed to adapt to His will. Indeed, to answer prayer or not, is not mine to decide. It is God's. Always God's.

Delight yourself in the LORD, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” (Ps 37:4)


Copyright by SabbathWalk. This devotional is sent to you free of charge. If you feel blessed or ministered to by SabbathWalk weekly devotionals, feel free to forward to friends, or to invite them to subscribe online at http://blog.sabbathwalk.org . You can also send me an email at cyap@sabbathwalk.org for comments or enquiries.