The Goal of Prayer

When we close the door to our prayer room, we achieve some form of privacy and a level of intimacy with our prayers. Jesus said: “When you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:6). So, what is our goal in practicing this form of prayer?

There is a posture in prayer which leads us to the goal of prayer. Our goal is to receive and enter into His Presence. When we pray, we long for the Father to see us in secret and reward us. When we are in His Presence, surrounded by His purity and holiness, then we are blessed and we see God. This is when the blessing makes sense, the one where Jesus says: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). We see Him and we are seen by God. 

In the Gospel of Luke, when we come to the teaching of the Lord’s Prayer, Luke mentions a parable of a neighbor who receives his request from his friend because he asked with shameless persistence. Here in Luke 11:1-13, we read of the Lord’s Prayer and various teachings about prayer. In verse 13, Jesus states: “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13).

The goal in prayer is that everyone who prays can receive and enter into the Presence of the Spirit of God. And when the Spirit is in your deepest thoughts, your inner sanctuary, then you can experience peace, become pure, practice mercy, receive humility, and offer your poverty, pain, and persecution as gifts to your friends around you. So, go ahead and ask the Father the question: “How much do you love me?” Celebrate His presence in your life and through your prayers.

Listen To Jesus

Listening to someone is hard when we are talking. And sometimes, even when our lips are not moving, we still can’t tune in to what others are saying because we are busy thinking of words to say on the next available opportunity we get. Listen! God spoke from the cloud on that mountain saying: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him” (Matthew 17:5). We are to listen and align our hearts to Jesus. We need to be silent before our God and listen to His Son. 

On this Transfiguration Sunday (02/19/2023), please read our Lectionary Gospel Reading from Matthew 17: 1-9. We will be ready to listen to God when our hearts and minds are soaked in the “silence of God” or the quiet assurance of His presence. It is only after we have learned to be silent before God that our words will take on deep meaning for others.

“Words can only create communion and thus new life when they embody the silence from which they emerge. As soon as we begin to take hold of each other by our words, and use words to defend ourselves or offend others, the word no longer speaks of silence. But when the word calls forth the healing and restoring stillness of its silence, few words are needed: much can be said without much being spoken.” (Nouwen 1981:57. -- from: Henri Nouwen. 1981. The Way of the Heart: The Spirituality of the Desert Fathers and Mothers. NY: Harper Collins Publisher)

A Posture In Prayer

There is a posture in prayer that describes an inner sanctuary in our lives. Matthew 6:6 states: “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” This verse expresses it vividly with a command to find a room and shut the door to this room so that one can guard the intimate communion with the Father in heaven. It is in this inner sanctuary that we can ask our God the question: “How much do you love me?” 

Early in my marriage, I did not understand why my wife would often ask me the question: “How much do you love me?” I enumerated to her the many reasons why I love her. I gave my reasons. I married her. I committed my life to her to establish a family. I offered her a home for our children. I go on and on. And yet, she would keep asking me the question: “How much do you love me?” Later, I finally understood that she did not really want to hear the answers. She just needs to hear me say “I love you” and feel my presence beside her.

Similarly, in our spiritual lives, there is an inner sanctuary where we commune with God in the deepest ways possible. It is in this deep level of intimacy with our Father in heaven that we long to hear Him say “I love you, my child” and we desire to simply feel His presence. We ask the question “How much do you love me?” so that when the Heavenly Father answers, we not only hear His words, but we also feel His Divine Presence in our lives. He sees us. He views us from His holy place and comes close to our hearts. This is the reality of “God With Us” or the truth of God Immanuel. This inner sanctuary posture is the location of our prayers.

There are different rooms in a person’s life. A room for our friends. Room for our private thoughts. One room for all our decisions about work, career, and our job. A room for our lovers and heart affairs. One room for our family. One for financial matters. And one special room for the deepest innermost experiences, a place where we make our most intimate decisions. This final room, the innermost room, is the most important section in any person’s life.

Many people have invited Jesus to their lives. They opened the doors to their family room, to their career and work room, to their recreation and entertainment room, to their social relationships room, and many other rooms representing the different parts of their lives. But they have never opened the door to their innermost room, the private room where secrets are shared and decisions are made in whispers and silent deliberations. Those who have not given up everything will never experience the fullness of the Spirit of God.

Here is a question for everyone: Have you opened the door to your innermost room and invited God to come in to the inner sanctuary of your life?

Are You Moving With God?

When we see a ship, we think of the ocean. When we view a paddle and a canoe, we cannot help but think of the many adventures we will be facing. We look forward to traversing rivers and going to new places. Adventures galore!

In the same breath, when we see God in his holy temple, we also think of the oceans of people scattered in the world. We cannot help but think of global cultures, of people who need to hear the gospel. We long to share God’s love and holiness to everyone out there. This is why when we hear our Lord ask the question: “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” then, we respond with Isaiah by saying “Here am I!” (Isaiah 6:8). We move because God is out there, just as much as he is here with us.

Are you moving with God, just as a ship is moving with the wind and the ocean? Is your faith stuck, not moving with the river? (Ezekiel 47:9) Do you long to move with God?

You might have noticed that I did not use the word “going.” Going is for those who will cross cultures and jump from one area to another. Moving is for everyone who is willing to hear God’s challenge and respond in obedience. When Jesus said to his disciples: “Don't be afraid; from now on you will be catching people,” he is also saying this to everyone who wants to follow him (Luke 5:10. GNB). Movement is an integral part of our Christian faith. When we walk with Jesus in a life of obedience, this means we take a journey with him, similar to sailing the vast uncharted parts of the ocean. One thing for sure is that our Lord is sailing with us.

Seeing our God move in the world means coming to a state of readiness to move with him. So, the next time you open your Bible and read of God’s movement, pray this short prayer: “Help me Lord to move with you.” And then take a step of faith and be with the people who needs to receive the river of life, who needs to experience the ocean of God’s love.

Resurrection Sunday's Reflection

Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). — (John 20:15-16)

      How do we practice being alone with God? How do we start? Actually, these questions are not the right questions. They are important, but not the correct ones to begin practicing the discipline of solitude. Rather, the question should be: Where do we start? This question is not about a location or a physical place, but rather, the condition of a person’s heart and an inner self that one brings to his or her meeting place with God. We are not saying human conditions dictate the nature of our meeting with God. On the contrary, every outcome of this meeting is borne out of the grace of God. We respond to God because he first reaches out to us. Jesus longs to reveal himself to us. He loves to talk to us and share his resurrected life with every Christian. Thus, we respond by practicing the discipline of solitude.

       So, when we ask the question, Where do we start?, we really are opening our hearts to God. We simply are responding in faith and love to our resurrected Lord. Just like with Mary Magdalene, there are conditions for the practice of solitude and these conditions will prepare us to meet God and to hear his intimate voice calling out our name.  What then, are the conditions for this discipline? I am suggesting the conditions of surrender and silence.

       One is surrender. The condition of surrender is a person’s total abandon to God’s guidance and leading. One of the ways surrender shows up is in the area of our thought life. This is a moment when we can think of nothing else except being in the presence of God. Mary and the other disciples were certainly caught up in the aftermath of the death of Jesus. All they could think of is when they can see the body of Jesus. All their thoughts were for their friend, their Teacher, their Lord Jesus. It is in this state of abandon that Jesus reveals himself to them.

      Two is silence. The condition of silence is a person’s acceptance of the ways of God. There is quietness and stillness, maybe, not all the time. Sometimes, there is an exchange of words or gesture. Here, the stance of the person is an attitude of trust. The main thing is that the person is not distracted by one’s emotions or any outside circumstances. Silence gives focus to the person’s solitude. Mary’s silence brought her to a conversation with the two angels, and finally to the “gardener,” who turns out to be Jesus. Her heart was silent before God. When Jesus called her name, her solitude allowed her to listen in and from the depths of her inner soul.  It is here when Jesus reveals his resurrected self to Mary.

      Mary Magdalene’s silence and her surrender bring her to a time and place of solitude. In turn, this solitude opens her heart to hear Jesus’ call and receive the gift of the presence of God. In our present time, Jesus is searching for people who have silence and surrender in their walk with God. Jesus desires from us to enter into solitude, to be alone with him. When you are in prayer, meditating in God’s word, or spending time in fellowship with your brothers and sisters, take time to be alone with Jesus. He loves you so much. He wants to reveal Himself to you. Find a place to be in solitude with Jesus. 

Have a blessed Resurrection Sunday, 2021 !!!

The "Transforming Ray" of Jesus

“On the cross Jesus absorbed and died for all the wounding and sin of the world. In him all pain can be transformed into something redemptive. The light of the presence of Jesus is a transforming ray that can radiate cancerous wounds of the soul. Prayer for inner healing rests on this reality. There is hope that even now we can begin to taste the wholeness that awaits us in heaven.” (Adele A. Calhoun. Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us. Rev. Edition. 2015:256)
Just like the person in John 5:6-9, I also say to Jesus, "I want to get well, Lord." More than just a wish for myself, but also a longing for restoration for my many friends who are hurting and in despair. Covid 19 have brought a lot of anxiety and suffering to my friends. The January 6th event and the violence and hate we see on television, they all create a spirit of distrust and aggression against the other person. I pray that we all will be forgiven and converted by the transforming "ray" of Jesus' presence. 

Start in the Fear of God

I am finishing up my devotional study of the Book of Proverbs for the months of October and November. One theme that clearly stands out is the phrase “fear of the Lord.” What is the meaning of this phrase? Proverbs 1:7 states that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” (See also in Proverbs 9:10 ESV.) The phrase is repeated 15 times throughout the book. There is not enough space here to give justice to an explanation to the meaning of this theme: “fear of the Lord.” So, let me suggest a different approach to help us with a short overview study of the Book of Proverbs.

I suggest asking the question: “When does the fear of the Lord happen in a person’s life?” Here are four instances when this theme occurs. One is when a person comes to God in worship. Prayers become acceptable before His presence (15:8). Worship becomes a life of obedience. “Whoever walks in uprightness fears the Lord” (14:2). The fear of the Lord is real when the people’s posture is that of praise and life of discipleship. Proverbs 21:3 states: “Clean living before God and justice with our neighbors mean far more to God than religious performance.” (See Prov. 21:3. MSG). Together as a community, we come into a position of worship.

Two is the reception one gets when practicing the theme of the fear of the Lord. Verse seven of chapter 16 says: “When a person’s ways please the Lord, He makes even one’s enemies to be at peace with that person” (Proverbs 16:7 ESV). He receives the respect of outsiders. Isn’t this verse reassuring? Respect is a social evidence of the fear of the Lord in a community. This is an act of God. We receive it as a gift from our Creator, and we continue in our life of obedience and worship in the fear of the Lord.

Three is the action of people living out the fear of the Lord in their lives. The whole book overflows with practical instances of God’s wisdom. The fear of the Lord expresses itself in everyday life and the ethical actions of the people. For example, there is a reference to an insect, the ant, regarding the practical teaching on working hard. (See Proverbs 6:6) Many other admonitions refer to children listening to the advice of their parents and to life teachings on honesty in our business dealings. The whole book speaks of various acts of good works. Action happens when one is practicing the biblical theme of the fear of the Lord.

Last is when the people experience the fear of the Lord, they yearn for a celebrate that is grounded in the early beginnings of God’s creation. Chapter 3 and 8 have plenty of reference to creation story in Genesis. Wisdom is described as present at creation, at the beginning of time. (See Proverbs 8:22-31 and 3:19-20.) The practice of this theme of “fear of the Lord” brings a longing for creation, the hope that this world will be brought back to order similar to the creation order. In a manner of speaking, this theme ushers in the intent of the Jubilee Year, a renewal for everyone. For example, we find in Proverbs 2:21 that a time will come when we will be “inhabiting the land,” a reference to the “Year of Jubilee” festival. The writer of this book speaks of creation metaphors in many other places. People yearn for the time of God’s visitation, just like His visit in creation. 

In summary, these four instances of position of worship, reception from outside, action in life, and yearning for creation, give us an overview of the Book of Proverbs. If we take the first letter the word of each of the four instances, we come with the acronym P.R.A.Y. In so many ways, prayer is a good way of summarizing the theme of the “fear of the Lord” that we find in the Book of Proverbs.

Pray then, in the “fear of the Lord,” and our prayers will move from a ritualistic exercise to a communal worship, from an isolated spirituality to an inclusive faith, from mere words to an engaging discipleship, and from the present to a hopeful yearning of God’s creation order. “Skilled living gets its start in the Fear-of-God, insight into life from knowing a Holy God” (Prov. 9:10 MSG). Pray in the fear of God.

Prayer For Justice (2017-2020)

I am praying for a country, where there is "justice for the fatherless and the widow, and love [for] the sojourners, giving them food and clothing" (Deut. 10:18 ESV). I am praying for its President and "for kings and rulers in positions of responsibility, so that our common life may be lived in peace and quiet, with a proper sense of God and of our responsibility to him for what we do with our lives" (1 Tim. 2:2 PHILLIPS). I am praying for the citizens of the land to "be generous to the poor, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim freedom to prisoners," even those in bondage to addiction and those who are blinded by racial discrimination (See Matt. 11:5; Luke 4:18-20; and Luke 11:41 NIV). I am praying like Jesus did, with the "Spirit on him; he’ll proclaim justice to the nations" (Matt. 12:18, and Isaiah 42:1 NIV). I am praying for "justice [to] roll down like waters; and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream." (Amos 5:24 NASB). Let us humbly pray and seek God's face so that healing will come to our nations (See 1 Chronicles 7:14). I am praying. Please pray with me. (DWC, Sept. 2017)

A Tree of Comfort : STREAM Prayer

Let me start with a story about a tree that gives comfort. When I was growing up in the Philippines as a young boy of twelve, I lived in a place that is very remote and accessible only by hours of walking. My cousins and I would hike to the nearby barrio for hours just to buy some food supplies, such as sugar, cooking oil, or bags of rice. On this particular hiking trail, we would often stop at one point under a huge mango tree. This is the mango variety where the fruit is fibrous and small, but extremely sweet. You know how we eat this mango? We peel off the outer skin and suck the sweet juice but not eat the fruit-meat. (You really can’t eat the mango fruit because it is all fiber.) We always look forward to stopping at this mango tree. The nearby “atabay” or water well provides us with water to quench our thirst. The shade of the huge tree gives us a cool resting place from our journey. A makeshift old tire swing invites us to a time of break and fun. I remember that mango tree was a source of joy and fellowship with other kids in the area, and rest and relaxation from our arduous hike. That tree became a symbol of comfort from our weary journey. The question for us here is: “Do we become a source of comfort and rest to the people around us?”

Jesus shares with us a parable that describes a tree and its invitation of comfort to the birds in the area. Let us read a parable of the kingdom of God. This is found in Matthew 13:31-32:  “He put another parable before them, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.’”

The question I pose here is: “Do we become a source of comfort and rest to the people around us?” And, our answer should be: Yes, the Lord is my Helper. Or your answer could be: Yes, God is working in me.

Here are some practical suggestions to help us become a source of comfort to others. We can call this as STREAM Prayer. (I have adopted this from another pastor’s sermon.) The acronym means “being still” for S, “giving thanks” for T, “reflection” for RE, “asking for God’s grace” for A, and “meditating in God’s hope” for M. These are five parts of the same prayer discipline. Imagine a stream coming from a mountain and providing us with thirst-quenching water and refreshing our tired bodies with its cool and healing touch. This STREAM Prayer can be source of god’s comfort and rest for our souls as well as for the people around us.

Let us now look at the explanations of these parts of STREAM Prayer. One is being still. This means acknowledging God is our Creator and Savior. He is the Almighty Lord and he is in control of everything. Let us practice the breathing prayer. As you breathe in and inhale, say to God: “I receive your Lordship in my life.” He is in control. Breathe in his power and majesty. As you breathe out and exhale, say to God: “I go forth to obey you in all my ways.” He will guide you in everything. Submit to the Lord’s direction and be still. Surrender your thoughts, your emotions, your whole being to God. Keep repeating this form of prayer. Breathe in and breathe out until you sense God is near you. Be still and know he is God.

Two is giving thanks to God for everything. Think of all the good things you have and praise God. Look around you and appreciate the beauty you see. Give thanks for even the little things. Thank God for the air we breath, the taste of good coffee or tea, the noise of happy children, the shelter we have from the house we live in, the provisions we received from our jobs, or the smiles you see when you go to your favorite convenience store.

Three is reflection.  We take note of our emotions. Reflect on what the Holy Spirit is telling you and ask his help as you name the emotions you are feeling. Then move forward and give each emotion to the Lord. Invite him into those emotions. Redirect your feelings to his will. You can also ask yourself here, “Did I choose the way of Jesus in that situation?” If you did then rejoice. If not, examine your heart for any sin and surrender this to God. You make things right by confessing to Jesus and pray: “Yes Lord, you will be my helper.”

Four is pray and ask God’s grace for a need you are currently experiencing. Choose one need you see in your day. Give it to the Lord, completely. Focus on this day and the need for today. God’s grace is sweeter when applied to our daily life. Take one day at a time. Ask God to transform your life and meet your need so that others will find comfort in our Lord. Pray and say: “Yes God, you are still working in me.”

Five (and last) is meditating in God’s hope and trusting in him with all your being. Tell the Lord that you hope in him for the next hours ahead. Face the day and move forward expectating that God’s grace will be displayed in your life. Anticipate his will to be done in your life. Pray “Let your kingdom come, let your will be done. Grant me joy and peace as I humbly trust you with the outcome of my life and my day.” End with trust. Direct your thoughts to a life of trusting in our Almighty loving Father. 

Practicing the STREAM Prayer means being still, thanking God, reflecting on one’s life, asking for God’s grace, and meditating on God’s hope. STREAM Prayer will prepare us and bring us closer to God so that we can become a source of comfort and rest to the people around us. This is my prayer for each of us.

Lord Have Mercy

(Below is a prayer and response to today’s turmoil happening in the city streets of the USA.)

      Our Father in heaven, your word says we must agree “wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose. Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.” We must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. (Philippians 2:2-5 NLT).

      We have failed you dear Father. We have lost the ability to look beyond the color of our skin and cannot see street protests as the expressions of our brother and sisters’ pain. We have accepted violence as the tool of the powerful and silence as the default response to our despair. We have relied on our religious meetings and public image as the only ways to measure spirituality. You have said a long time ago what you want, Father. The prophet said: “Do you know what I want? I want justice—oceans of it. I want fairness—rivers of it. That’s what I want. That’s all I want.” (Amos 5:21 MSG). We have failed you dear heavenly Father!

      “Listen to my prayer! Look down and see me praying night and day for your people. I confess that we have sinned against you. Yes, even my own family and I have sinned! We have sinned terribly by not obeying the commands, decrees, and regulations that you gave us through your servant Moses.” (Nehemiah 1:6-7 NLT).

      To Moses, you said: “You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.” (Leviticus 19:17-18 ESV).

      We have sinned against you. We have not loved our neighbor and have not listened to their hurting and grieving voices. We have failed to raise up a generation of people who are able to uphold justice and practice mercy. Many moons ago, you have called me to be a teacher among your people. You have said: “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28.20 ESV). I have failed you my Lord. Please be with me all the days of my life. Forgive me.

      “Be merciful to me, O God, because of your constant love. Because of your great mercy wipe away my sins! Wash away all my evil and make me clean from my sin!” (Psalm 51:1-2 GNT). Declare to me your will for my life. Say to me again: “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more." (Jeremiah 31:33-34 ESV).