Friday, March 28, 2008

On Being Sensitive

Our house Church had a meeting with Balin tonight. Balin is my national evangelist friend whom I have written about before. Last year I shared about his trip to Mordor and how he shared the Gospel boldly in the prisons there. This winter we helped him buy a ticket out to the East. He had heard that there were men and women of Gondor there and he wanted to take a week long trip to find them and share with them. Well, long story short he didn't find them but he did discover something interesting. The local language of the Easterlings is very close to the language of Rohan which he knows. So, he shared the Gospel with the Easterlings instead! Now you and I would be flat out flabbergasted if we were dropped into the middle of a strange city in a strange land with no contacts and determined to preach effectively, but not Balin. Balin stayed at a hotel that businessmen of Gondor often stay at when they travel through. He went out each day and toured the city and prayed. Here is the thing I want you to notice about Balin, he is not a rabid, shove a Bible in everyone's face kind of evangelist. He gave us a brief slideshow tonight and pointed out the many pictures of people he shared the Gospel with. There was the fruit seller, the boy who he met on the street and paid to show him around town, the vendors who sold him lunch on the street, a nice couple visiting the museum at the same time he was.... all these heard the good news for the first time from Balin. But as Balin talked he also pointed out men and women he did not share with. A fellow man of Gondor at the hotel, a local Mullah, a teenage boy who was full of hate for just about everyone, a young woman who was unremarkable in any way.... these he shared little or nothing with. Why not? Because the Holy Spirit told him to be quiet. I found this really interesting. Balin is a man for whom the word fear (or sense) has no meaning at all. I have seen him share his faith in the middle of prison surrounded by hundreds of Muslim prisoners. I have seen him share his faith one on one, in groups, at local markets, EVERYWHERE! But he heard the Holy Spirit tell him to keep quiet and he did. He also shared boldly when it was time to share. His message is largely the same by the way. He tells people that God loves them and is calling to them. He tells them that they are forgiven if they want to be and that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. I have thought before that perhaps his 'secret' was in his delivery of the message, the love that pours out of him, but now I think it is his sensitivity to the Holy Spirit. It reminds me of Jesus doing what he saw the Father doing. Can I be that sensitive? I think that we can all be. I think that Balin is teaching us that we can be as close to the Father as we want to be. It is not the Father who wants to be hidden and hard to perceive. It is our hearts and minds that must be focused on what He is doing. It is about Him and not about us. It is His ways, His timing, His Gospel, His Church that He is building. Jesus, make me to know you better, deeper, clearer every day. Amen.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Praying in the Midst

I have been putting together some training materials to prepare for the coming disaster season. Every year here in Gondor the snow melts and causes landslides and floods and this year promises to be particularly difficult because of the harsh winter which depleted villagers’ already meager resources and dumped heaps of snow in the mountains.

When I teach I prefer to exegete scripture but in this paper I am recounting my personal experience in praying for others. Take it with a grain of salt but do consider the truths that I have discovered here. I often tell our team members to pray for everyone everywhere you go; pray at all times, pray in all situations, do it in English, do it in the local language but DO IT! Below are 8 things I have learned- mostly the hard way- about praying for others.

Prayer for victims:

1. Listen to the Holy Spirit as you visit with someone who has experienced tragedy. This is one of those useful tips that we all know but we so rarely do. There are two things you should be listening for when you talk with someone as you consider how you will pray for them. One: The Holy Spirit is always talking and He often talks through those who suffer. God has a lot to say through those who suffer and we miss it because we are too busy trying to solve their problem. LISTEN to the Holy Spirit! He will teach you and guide you through the experiences of those who suffer. If you are a disciple of Jesus then BE a disciple, learn and grow in the desperate situations you find yourself in. Time and again God has opened my eyes to physical and spiritual truths as I listened to those who suffer. Two: Listen to the Holy Spirit for what He has for that person. Again, we just want to solve their problem so we can feel good but what does He want? He may want to heal the sick and broken hearted but He may also want to use this desperate situation to bring the person closer to Himself. Listen so you can pray in accordance with His will and not your own sentimental notions.

2. Listen to the person using good listening skills. Ask questions to clarify information. Do not defend God or anyone else. Do not argue with the person when you think they are wrong in their evaluation of the situation. Your job is to LISTEN and let them know they have been heard.

3. For persons who are in panic mode you should remind them of where they are now. In other words, if a person lost a loved one tragically they may go on and on about the suffering that that person endured. Remind them gently that he/she is at rest now. Sometimes victims need to be reminded that the disaster is over. This does not subvert principle number two, it is for a very specific situation where the victim of a tragedy can not let go of the disaster. All who suffer disaster will experience this to some extent and part of your ministry can be to pull them into the present.

4. Offer to pray for the person. In our part of the world they will never say no. It may feel awkward but press on and ask anyway. Even if that person seems resistant to your help offer to pray. You will be surprised at how walls come down when we offer to pray. Remember that when we go to prayer very often spiritual warfare kicks in hard. You will think of lots of reasons not to pray just now. Decide just now to pray anyway.

5. Pray for healing for an illness or injury ONLY if God tells you to do so. Do not make promises you can not keep. Do not provide hope that is not real hope. This is a tough one and controversial. I used to pray for all who were sick to be healed but I have learned that God’s will is more complicated than that. Pray for God’s grace and love to touch that person. Pray for God to meet their needs. But don’t pray the command prayer of ‘In the name of Jesus Christ rise up and walk’ unless God very specifically asks you to. You don’t command God, you obey Him. He has a will for that person right now- find it and pray it.

6. Do not miss an opportunity to pray for healing if God does in fact direct you to do so. He opens up many doors in this way- don’t miss it! God loves the person you are ministering to much more than you do. He opens all kinds of doors in all kinds of ways. Just because you are uncomfortable or have little experience does not hinder God. Let Him have His way in every situation. If you sense that now is the time to pray the direct prayer of healing do it in full faith.

7. Pray in a way that lets the individual know you have heard them well. Begin your prayer by thanking God for whatever the person is thankful for. Recount any blessings that the person has mentioned. Thank God for all who did survive the disaster and thank Him for all who have helped. Then move on to pray for the things yet needed. Shelter, food, comfort, whatever THEY have perceived they need. Finish the prayer by projecting a time when life can be normal. If they lost a garden that they miss say, “Lord, we look to you and your power to restore this man’s garden and we pray your blessings on the crop that he will reap because of your aid.” Projecting a blessed future is something most do not do when they pray but it can be very powerful. Take what they have said and pray for a time when normalcy will be restored. This lets them know that you have heard them which is key in ministering to them. It also releases the power of God into their lives in the places they perceive they need it most.

8. Don’t promise to return unless you are sure you will be able to return. Do not promise to help unless you know for sure that you will be able to provide aid. I know from experience that you want to feel that you are their savior and that you will fix all their problems and so you make promises that you can not keep. Remember that they belong to God and they are in His hands and not yours. Do not seek glory by promising aid but seek His glory by downplaying your own role in their recovery and elevating Him as their only hope. Of course, you will help when time and resources allow but even then you will not be the savior. Point them to the one who is in all you do, say, and pray.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Standing Up and Being Counted

During the cold dark snowy days of January the Ringwraiths descended on Anfalas. Ok, that is a little dramatic but the truth is the Ismaili secret police incite about that much fear. Out in Ithilien where the majority of the population is Ismaili they are notorious. If a local goes by a foreigner's home to have any kind of discussion there is a good chance that a member of the secret police will be waiting on their doorstep when they get home. If they don't like the answers to their questions then a person could lose his or her job or be threatened in a variety of ways. Most people live in fear these guys.

The village of Anfalas is made up of Ismailis who moved out of Ithilien back in 2001. Since their relocation to a desert wasteland just a few kilometers from Mordor in Southern Gondor they have been abandoned by the Agha Khan and have not seen the secret police. As I began with, they showed up unexpectedly in January. They called a meeting of the whole village and everyone nervously gathered outside the school, some 300 villagers. Kili and Fili and their wives and children did not go. They were baptized just two years ago and have been faithful followers of Jesus ever since. The mayor came to their door and demanded that they come to the meeting so they agreed and came and stood at the back of the crowd.

The head of the secret police stood up and addressed the crowd. After just one or two pleasantries he looked back to Kili and Fili and asked them if they had in fact become followers of Jesus as they had heard. Kili replied that yes, they were followers of Jesus. Then he asked, 'Why?' Fili replied that Jesus was the way, the truth, and the life and that because Jesus was in fact God's son that they had to follow Him. The Ringwraith turned to the Khalifa (Ismaili Mullah) and began yelling at him. He accused the Khalifa of being incompetent and lax in his duty to his people since he allowed this to happen. Fili stepped forward and stopped him. He said, 'Look, the Khalifa is not God. He does not control us, we have made our own decision. Say what you want to the rest of these villagers but as for me, Kili, our wives, and these our children do not count us as being under your authority.' Then the meeting was over. The Ringwraiths drove away leaving a scared and confused group of villagers. The mayor came up to Kili and Fili in front of a lingering group of villagers and exclaimed, "Are you drunk!!?? You don't talk to the secret police like that! Why are you forcing your beliefs on us like that? What are you trying to do?!" Fili, calmly and carefully rebuked him and said, "Look, we are not drunk as you well know. We did not want to come to the meeting but you made us come. We did not force our beliefs on anyone but they asked us directly what we believed." When he finished the surrounding villagers applauded.

So many live in fear here. So many are afraid for anyone to find out that they are followers of Jesus. This is why it is so encouraging when we hear of men like Kili and Fili who stand up like Daniel's friends and declare the truth in the face of opposition and danger. The results are evident. Kili and Fili and their families meet together every night after work to read the Word and pray together. About 15 other villagers join them regularly. Pray that many of these will also stand up and be counted.