Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Glorifying God in Our Lives

If the chief goal humans is to glorify God and enjoy him forever, as the Westminster Shorter Catechism has expressed, then human beings ought to be in the look out for reasons for glorifying God. God's glory revealed in nature is indeed the most explicit stimulus for glorifying God. A second realm which impels us to praise God is what he has done in our lives. Put it another way, praise of God happens when we acknowledge what God has done in our lives.If that acknowledgement doesn't happen we will be singing praises to ourselves or to anything other than God.

The Psalmists pour out praises to God because they maintained hearts of thankfulness to God. For example, the psalmist who penned Psalm 116 says, “How can I repay the LORD for all his goodness to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD” (Psalms 116:12-13). In the Bible, the cups are described in terms of what they are made of or what they contain. For example, a silver cup is one made of silver while a wine-cup is that contains wine. In this verse the cup of salvation is a cup that is filled with God's acts of salvation or acts of deliverance. The Psalmist will lift up a cup that is filled with God's acts of deliverance that he has received in the past. That is his way of “repaying the Lord” for all that good things he has done for him. John Piper is credited with the alliteration “an attitude of gratitude.” This is what exactly we are talking about. Lifting up the cup of “salvation” is to maintain a heart of gratitude.

However, many times we are not able to lift up a “cup of salvation” because we are not able to ascribe to God what he has done in our lives. God doesn't get credit for what happens in our lives because we have trusted in our own strength and kept God away from our lives. This is a dangerous independence from God which impoverishes our spiritual lives. This is the tragedy of the modern secular mind which exalt human effort to such a level that there is no room for God in our consciousness.
Our culture think about God only when something goes wrong. When calamities strike, then we tend to ask where is God and why God allows such things. Until then we don't normally talk about or mention God. God doesn't normally feature in modern conversations.
However, it is important for us to lean on the strength and wisdom of an almighty God. This is what the wise sage of the Book of Proverb admonishes. “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil” (Proverbs 3:5-7).
This passage teaches us some very important truths. First of all, it is to disown our autonomy on our lives. “Lean not on your own understanding” means to understand the limits of human reason and ability. Eugen Peterson (in The Message) paraphrases this verse as, “Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don't try to figure out everything on your own.”

Some people approach God as the last resort. They have tried everything and failed. These are the people who don't like to bother God with things they can do themselves. The other group is those who totally ignore God in their lives. However, both these are wrong. The right approach would be to depend on God for everything and recognize that we can do nothing without him. This absolute dependence on God leads us to ascribe God glory in our lives. That is to give up our autonomy on our lives and give God the control.

Lives that recognize God in their lives and admit their absolute dependence on him would have plenty to praise him daily. Such lives can lead lives that “glorify God and enjoy him forever.”

Monday, October 11, 2010

Glorifying God for His Glory in Nature

The Westminster Shorter Catechism declares: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” That is to say that human beings exist to praise God and thus live a life that enjoys God for ever. The question that follows from this naturally is how to glorify God in such a way that we can enjoy him forever? This also means that believers ought to be always on the look out for stimuli to praise God every moment of their lives.
Glorifying God is not by repetition of some mantras that has some self-hypnotic effects or the like. It is not getting into a trance or ecstatic experience that comes from psychedelic lights or sounds. Glorifying God is not subjective, but objective in its nature where the worshiper gazes the glory of God realizing how the creator is distinct from the creation. Real praise of God happens when we see the glory of God and pours forth our hearts before him.
The psalmists are good examples for worshipers of God. They acknowledged God in their lives, in creation, in history and in everything. Psalmist who penned Psalm 8 might have composed it at night or for singing for a celebration at night because there is no mention of sun but the night sky (stars, moon) are mentioned. The singer and the chorus would scan the clear night-sky of Palestine and shout in adoration “how majestic is your name in all the earth!”
While the Psalmist had drawn his inspiration to praise from a cosmic scene the poet of Psalm 104 has a much smaller frame of nature: The cultivated land from which humans and animals get their food from. He would praise God saying “Praise the LORD, O my soul. O LORD my God, you are very great; you are clothed with splendor and majesty” (Psalm 104:1). His inspiration comes from the planet earth and the space where the plants and trees grow and fish, birds and animals thrive. Because it is a great God who provides for them.0
In the history of Christian church, there are numerous examples where the believers used nature as a resource for worship. Saint Francis of Assissi is the outstanding example. He could see God in the nature and had cultivated a habit of connecting with God's creation. Another example that comes to my mind is the author of the great hymn, “How Great Thou art!” translated in to almost every modern language.
In 1885 Swedish pastor Carl Gustav Boberg was walking back home after an evening service from his church when he was inspired by the sight of lightning and winds making waves in the fields and the rain that followed. The pastor himself said later about the inspiration for the song. "It was that time of year when everything seemed to be in its richest colouring; the birds were singing in trees and everywhere. It was very warm; a thunderstorm appeared on the horizon and soon thunder and lightning. We had to hurry to shelter. But the storm was soon over and the clear sky appeared.” Inspired by the nature scene he wrote “How Great Thou Art!”
Nature is the stimulus and the reason for glorifying God provided we are willing to see the majesty of God the creator in it. Just like a painting declares the creativity of the painter and all praise for the painting is in fact praise for the painter, we praise God when we see his glory in nature around us.
However, humans have marred and disfigured the nature. We have leveled the hills and filled the meadows to erect concrete jungles that hide the view of sunrise and sunset. We have lights in our streets that are so bright and lights up the evening sky so that the stars are scarcely visible. We have built factories that emit fumes in to the sky that shrivels the trees and makes birds flee from our trees and fish to die in our rivers. We have messed up God's nature.
However, though humans have marred God's nature and thus his glory we look at what remains to elicit praise from hearts. We can look at beautiful landscape photos freely available to praise him. There are TV channels that showcase the beauty of God's creation that make us bow down in praise of God the creator. A walk in the country side is certainly an unavoidable option. However, it is important that we don't just look through nature around us but see the glory and majesty of our God in it and pour forth our adoration of him.
Like wise true and meaningful worship takes place when we open our eyes to see God's glory displayed around us and is sensitive to his acts in our lives and history. Acknowledging God in our lives, in creation, in history and in everything. (to be continued...)

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Christians and Civil Authorities

Click here to listen to "Christians and Civil Authority"

This sermon explores the relationship of Christians to the civil authority. An exposition based on 1 Peter 2:13-17 preached at the Community of the Redeemed, Pune.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Guidelines for a good sleep

What do you do before sleep? There are various ways of going to bed. Some people will like to read in bed and finally you will find them sleeping with an open book on their chest. Some people watch TV and doze off to sleep, the remote still in their hands. Some may have their earphones plugged in and the iPod still playing. However, there a number of people who go to bed fighting thoughts that wage war in their heads.

The psalmist who penned Psalm 4 talks about two such people because their thoughts while going to bed are different. While Psalm 3 is generally considered as a morning Psalm, Psalm 4 is considered as an evening Psalm. That means, a Psalm where the psalmist gathers his thought before retiring to bed.

The psalmist has been facing immense opposition from his enemies. His main worry is the plot of his enemies to spoil his reputation. He seems to be a man of some standing in the society, may be a king or a person of reputation. However, the plot is to spoil his reputation in society. That is why he cries, "How long will you people ruin my reputation? How long will you make groundless accusations?" (Psalm 4:2 NLT). A good name is important in his society where the controlling factor was shame. In his culture whether you are guilty or innocent doesn't matter much, but what matters is what people think of you.

This is enough to give sleepless nights. If his accusers can find enough buyers for all the false accusations they are making, then his very life even will be at risk. However, the psalmist is cool and composed. He is so cool to say to himself while going to bed: "In peace I lie down and sleep." (Psalm 4:8). His cool stems from his faith in God who makes him dwell safely (Psalm 4:8).

However, the people who are bent on spoiling his name in the society go to bed restless. Their heads are booming with plots and schemes to destroy the godly person who wrote this psalm. However, the psalmist full of confidence in his God has an advice laced with some sarcasm. "In your anger do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent." (Psalm 4:5). His advice is that do not lose your sleep thinking about the harm you can do to me. I am special to God and no harm can ever happen to me.

We can carry the anger and frustration of the day to bed at night and keep ourselves awake. Most of the time, the people who hurt us or people whom we are envious of, take shooting positions in our thoughts when we descend to bed. We lose our sleep because we fight battles that we should not fight in our thoughts. Some of us worry a lot about the harm others can do to us and lose our sleep. However, the example of the Psalmist is to sleep trusting in God. That quiet trust, which the psalmist who authored Psalm 3 also echoes is important: "I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the LORD sustains me." (Psalm 3:5).

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Attitude in Worship

There are times when we are very few in number when we gather for worship on Sundays. Our eyes scan the room to find who has come and who has missed that Sunday. Our spirits are down when we are few and up when there are many people. The preacher feels less "anointed" when there are more empty chairs than people and the spirit of the worship team depends on the number of people too. I have been pasturing an urban church for three years now where the number dwindles during the holidays. During the holiday season, most of my church members would like to travel, visit their families and only a faithful few will be left during for weeks. I have learned to cope with this and am teaching my leaders to cope with this. We are learning to keep the same level of "anointing" and the spirit whether we are few or many!
The first thing that we realize is that we are not few in worship even when there are empty chairs around. Christian worship is a joint celebration with the angelic hosts in heaven and believers all over the world. The angelic hosts in heaven are in constantly in worship of the Jesus Christ; they don't take any break! So when we are in worship we are only joining them for an hour or two and withdraw. The writer of the Book of Hebrews puts this truth this way:

But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect& (Hebrews 12:22-23 NIV).

To put it in another way, the strength of a worshipping congregation is not the number of people who occupy the chairs but includes myriads of angels in worship in heaven. Christian worship is not just the worship of the congregation that is gathered in one given place. When we worship at any given place we also need to realize that we are joining other worshippers who are in worship of Christ at the same time in different places. At any moment in time, there are thousands of Christ-worshippers in worship before him and no one is alone! This is to say that there is no one who is in solitude when it comes to Christian worship. Whether in multitude, a large stadium with thousands of people, a great band and a golden-tongued preacher what pleases God is our attitude in worship. The number and the performance don't really matter to God.
Though it addresses a situation in ancient Israel, Psalm 50 teaches some important principles of worship of God. It addresses people who were keen on worship by offering sacrifices and offerings and paying their vows. That is the mode of worship that they were used to. There is nothing wrong with that however. But God's problem with them was their attitude to worship. They thought that God is dependent on them for food (Psalm 50:12).
What God expects from them was not sacrifices which they thought is feeding a hungry God but sacrifices they offered as symbols of their gratitude to God. The psalmist called such sacrifices "thank offerings" and "vows" (Psalm 50:14). God invited his people to pray to him when they are in trouble so that he can help them out of those troubles (Psalm 50:15). When worshippers engage God in their struggle they worship him with grateful hearts. So all that God expects is the right attitude in worship; he expects people to recognize him as their savior, deliverer and bring a heart of gratitude to worship. They recognize their dependence on God rather than God's dependence on them! The multitude without this attitude doesn't please him.
So, let us remember this: Whether in solitude or in multitude, what matters in worship is our attitude.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Meritocracy at Its Worst

Wikipedia defines meritocracy as "a system of a government or other organization wherein appointments are made and responsibilities assigned to individuals based upon demonstrated talent and ability (merit)" Or simply put, the leader is someone who is one notch higher than whom he leads. Then the million dollar question is what would be the quality of leadership when those who select the leader are many notches below average human abilities.

The Bible has an excellent example in this regard. It is a scenario that prophet Isaiah describes if the enemy attacks the country of Judah and the city of Jerusalem. If that happens, the leaders of the nation will be killed. Commanders of the army, the king and his ministers and the cream of the society will be deported. This is what actually happened. Prophet Jeremiah who was much junior to Isaiah and started his career after Isaiah died, lived to witness what Isaiah had prophesied:

"The commander of the guard took as prisoners Seraiah the chief priest, Zephaniah the priest next in rank and the three doorkeepers. Of those still in the city, he took the officer in charge of the fighting men, and seven royal advisers. He also took the secretary who was chief officer in charge of conscripting the people of the land and sixty of his men who were found in the city.
Nebuzaradan the commander took them all and brought them to the king of Babylon at Riblah.
There at Riblah, in the land of Hamath, the king had them executed. So Judah went into captivity, away from her land. This is the number of the people Nebuchadnezzar carried into exile: in the seventh year, 3,023 Jews;
in Nebuchadnezzar's eighteenth year, 832 people from Jerusalem;
in his twenty-third year, 745 Jews taken into exile by Nebuzaradan the commander of the imperial guard. There were 4,600 people in all." (Jeremiah 52:24-30).

Isaiah could foresee such a situation where the nation lost its talented people and think-tanks on one fine morning. It is like the entire cabinet and the legislators of the nation, artists and thinkers all die in one day! In such a situation people were desperately looking for leadership and found someone by applying the principles of meritocracy. This is the scene that prophet Isaiah describes.

"A man will seize one of his brothers at his father's home, and say, "You have a cloak, you be our leader; take charge of this heap of ruins!" But in that day he will cry out, "I have no remedy. I have no food or clothing in my house; do not make me the leader of the people." (Isaiah 3:6-7).

In a dynasty, the crown prince has to wait for years for the death of the reigning monarch to ascend to the throne. In a democracy, one has to win the support of the people and majority in the house of elected representatives to be the leader of a nation. In some cases the government has to be overthrown through a coup in order for someone to come to power. Here the people catch the man just because he is the only person who has an overcoat (others may only have under clothing) to become their leader. That is the only merit he has in this reign of meritocracy. While people vie for leadership positions, this man would run away from it. Let us clap for him. Unlike many of our leaders, he knows his limits!

There is a saying that people get a leader they deserve. We don't have to explore the skies for the answer to the question why there is such a paucity of good leadership in Christian institutions and churches. The answer is just around us. It is the reign of mediocrity, and who are relatively less mediocre has elevated to leadership positions. Thus the reign of mediocrity goes on.

Are you frustrated with the quality of leadership that you are under? The answer to the problem is to create a pool of people quite unlike the leaders that we have now. May be in future when we look for someone to lead we may find someone who is not only well-dressed but may have much more to offer.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Penchant for Truth

When Jesus said, "Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8:32) he was talking about himself who is the way, the truth and the life. However, it was based on a larger principle that God expects us to be seekers of truth. God expects us to be truthful as well. As the debate with his opponents progressed Jesus made a frontal attack on the devil and all those who model devil in their behaviour: "You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father's desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me! (John 8:44). What characterizes those who follow Jesus and those who follow Devil? Those who follow Jesus have a penchant for truth while the opposite camp has a penchant for lies.

This is an observation I made recently while studying how conflicts, differences of opinions and crises are dealt with in Christian communities. It seems that there is a quest for "peace" at the expense of truth and I strongly feel that this is not what Jesus would do.

Let us consider a hypothetical case. Two Christian believers have a problem involving money. Mr A claims that Mr B owes him some money which B denies. Revd C (could be their pastor or friend) gets involved as a mediator to resolve this problem. C is kind and a lover of peace. He would like to resolve this difference between the two Christian brothers as quickly as possible with as less damage as possible. So he offers A the sum of money he claims B owes him. C is willing to part with that amount for the sake of peace. This sort of problem solving gets a great round of applause from all of us. Looks great! Peace and sacrifice, love for brothers all that are involved here. However, I strongly feel in the light of the Word of God that that is not the right way to resolve this problem. What is lacking in this approach is the penchant for truth which is the hallmark of Christian believers.

There is another way of solving this crisis. Revd C seeks to establish if B really owes A any money or if A is making a false claim. If it is a false claim then rebuke A in a Christian spirit. However, if A is right and if B is not willing or unable to pay the amount of money that he owes A, then C as a lover of peace and willing to sacrifice can offer that money to A. In this scenario there is peace, sacrifice, love as well as truth.

Many times crises in Christian communities are solved without any concern for truth. We hush up, demand silence from those who are crying out for justice and to be heard just because we do not have the penchant for truth. We think establishing truth could be painful and may cause problems. So we don't venture in to it but circumvent the truth. This only helps to breed lies as we provide cover for them. Exposing lies in the process of seeking truth could be inconvenient and sometimes painful. But we need to take that pain and inconvenience for the sake of truth. It is this lack of penchant for truth that has made our churches and organizations to make "lie our refuge and falsehood our hiding place" (Isaiah 28:15).

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Sin of Silence

There is an Indian saying: Silence is the glory of the wise! It means the wise person keeps quite and by implication it means the fool keeps talking (certainly all nonsense!). But silence at times could be malicious, dangerous and even a grave sin. So let us say that like tumors, silence could also be of two types: the benign ones and the malign ones.

In his vision of God Isaiah confessed: "Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty" (Isa 6:5).

The word "ruined" could be a mistranslation. It is equally possible to translate it as "been silent" though many modern translations still follow the KJV in this regard. The translation "silent" fits the context too. The sin of the people of Isaiah has to do with speech (unclean lips) and the cleansing that God does has to do with speech. Moreover, the commissioning that Isaiah receives is to speak! All this happens in the context of the "holy" speech of the Seraphim. So it is right in concluding that the sin Isaiah confesses is the sin of being silent!

The timing of this very clearly dated vision is also important. It is in the year that king Uzziah died. Though the phrase "in the year" does not necessarily mean after the death of the king, it is highly probable. There is only one another instance where Isaiah dates a prophecy by the death of a king (Isaiah 14:28). So this date is important for our understanding of the nature of Isaiah's sin.

The title of the book says that Isaiah was active in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah (Isaiah 1:1). The reign of Uzziah and that of Jotham overlaps since the former could not continue as king for health reasons and had to hand over the kingdom to Jotham who was the co-regent. We see Isaiah confronting the other two kings: Ahaz and Hezekiah. However, there is no mention of Uzziah or Jotham other than in the title (which is from the editor of the book) and in this passage (Isaiah 6) where the prophecy is dated.

The reign of Uzziah-Jotham was one of prosperity for Israel but was one of spiritual decline. It was not a reign that pleased God. However, the prophet of God was silent during this period of spiritual decline (2 Kings 15:34). He did not critique Uzziah's apostasy nor of the nation during this period. He just watched the nation slide down to apostasy, injustice and violence. So that later on Isaiah lamented on its capital city: "See how the faithful city has become a harlot! She once was full of justice; righteousness used to dwell in her-- but now murderers!" (Isaiah 1:21).

Isaiah woke up from his slumber during the days of Ahaz and Hezekiah who succeeded Uzziah. He challenged the kings and their religious and political decisions. Demanded that they return to God in full trust. However, he was silent during the days of Uzziah and Jotham.

That is the sin he confesses: being silent when he was supposed to speak up! That was a grave sin. His silence deprived the nation a voice that could have stopped them in their track to spiritual and social rot. His voice could have helped them to make an early U-turn, if he had the courage to speak out. Our malign silence could be equally or more damaging at times. Have we spoken out where we had to or kept strategic silence in order to protect our reputation, good standing with people. Did we hold our peace where our voice was crucial just to have more brownie points from those ungodly people and ungodly systems?

Isaiah realized his sin, he confessed and God was willing to accept his confession and commission him for a greater task. God hasn't changed and his Seraphim are waiting with burning coals in their hands. They are waiting for the words of confession from us so that the coal can touch our lips and release it to speak on behalf God.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

When the Idols fall

A proper perception of human beings will enhance our appreciation of God and lead us to praise him more meaningfully. In a Psalm of Praise of God (Psalm 8) the Psalmist exclaimed "what is man that you are mindful of him?" Which meant man is not anything that God should mind especially compared to the celestial bodies that God has created. However, he goes on to say that in spite of this, God still gave man a place of honor and glory since his position is just below the angels. Human beings are incomparable to God.

One popular metaphor of life is that of a journey: A journey that we start at birth and end in death. In this journey we meet people of all sorts and learn many things from them. It is possible that we are drawn to some people because we see rare virtues in them. They become our role models and even idols in our lives. We adore them, we follow them because their exhibited virtues and charisma. All idols are multi-dimensional or multi-faceted. There are facets of these idols that may disappoint us. When we discover those facets (for that we need to view the idols from more than one angle) of these idols we become discouraged and frustrated. Idols fall and we are confused not knowing whom to follow or in whom to be excited in!

Let me elaborate on this a bit! People marry each other after long courtships. They may have had courtships which helped them to get to know each other better and tried different persons before proposing to the one whom they really love and would like to spend their life with: as some say to love, grow together and get old together. But then why such marriages fall apart at the same speed to they came together and almost at the same rate? In some countries every fifth marriage ends up in divorce! Our knowledge of each other is partial and there are facets of personalities that we find despicable as life rolls on. This is true of friends, leaders and all sorts of human relationships that we can think of.

We live a world where there are no constants. Even the majestic mountains made of rock change as the rock crumble in the heat of the sun and tiny pieces are carried away in torrents or by winds. Anyone who looks for consistency in human beings will be terribly disappointed.

However, this unfolding knowledge of people on our journey of life certainly has a positive side if we don't let its negativities weigh us down. These inconsistencies point us to God, the one who is always constant. When I discover that the person whom I considered to be the person of highest integrity is the supreme example of dishonesty I am learning to turn my attention to God. When human dishonesty leads us to appreciate the integrity of an unchanging God, that is best antidote for frustration.

Discovery of human weakness which leads us to a comprehension of the greatness of God results in praise and adoration of God. Such redirection of our thinking is greatly rewarding. Otherwise, we will be crushed under the weight of our own idols that are fallen from their pedestals.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Good Friday sans Pretensions

I just don't know why they call it Good Friday. It was a very bad Friday for the mother, siblings, disciples, friends and followers of Jesus. It was the day when Jesus whom they loved so much died at a very tender age at the hands of the Roman army as a criminal. Death brings an end to everything. Their sorrow was much deeper because they had no clue of what is going to happen on the third day. Though he had told them and though they have seen him bringing back dead back to life, they never imagined that he will be back to life. So with no ray of hope, their sorrow was even thicker.

While the people at the foot of the cross on that fateful day were genuinely sad, the people who were observing Good Friday ever since were simply trying to pretend to be sad; because they knew rest of the story already. On Good Friday, some people walk the stations of the Cross enacting the suffering of Christ. They have processions where they enact scenes from what happened to Jesus on that day by taking up the roles of Jesus, Simon the Cyrene, the soldiers or the crowd. Some were fasting on that day. They abstained from food till evening and some would drink bitter juices to identify with the suffering of Jesus. Some devotees allowed themselves to be flogged and even nailed to a cross for a while. Still they were pretending because they knew Easter is just another day away.

However, Good Friday is more than pretensions. Good Friday is a reminder of the place of suffering in Christian faith. On that day 2000 years back Jesus died a terrible death. It is a reminder that my salvation is not cheap but was very costly. It also reminds that there is suffering in Christian life because it begins with the sufferings of Christ. It explains why Christians in many parts of the world face persecution. There is no Christianity without suffering.

We wear a mask of sorrow on that day for the simple reason that we were taught that way. However, for every believer who has experienced the great liberation there is a smile behind that thin veil of sadness. He suffered pain, shame, and ridicule and died. I am not any way sad but rejoice that his death was on my behalf. Why should I be sad when I know that his pain brought me healing and his shame is the reason for my dignity? I am only proud and grateful. Yes, the adjective "Good" is not only grammatically correct but experientially too. It was for my good that bad things happened to him.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Prayers that God will not Answer!

The title of this article may startle the readers! Yes, there are prayers that God may not answer. It is hard to believe this in a world where there is so much of talk about miracles, deliverance and so on. We are made to believe that God answers prayers unconditionally. We are also made to believe that certain places and certain people have so much charisma that anything they pray for will be answered. So we tend to flock to these places and around this people to get our prayers answered. We are encouraged to subscribe to some prayer plans (quite similar to some saving plans) that for a small subscription our children will be prayed for from birth to their adulthood. Childhood ailments, successful education (a main worry for Indian parents), job security and marriage are all covered in these plans. All that we need to do is to subscribe, sit back and relax for the rest of your life!

However, God doesn't answer prayers unconditionally. He is not a slot machine, where the machine delivers what one want by simply inserting a coin or token without any questions.

God does not answer prayers when there is sin in our lives. God want us to receive his forgiveness and correct our lives before coming to him. God has moral demands and he insists that our lives be according to his will before he grants us our requests. King Saul prayed to God for help against the Amalekites, but he was terribly defeated. God did not answer his prayer because of sin in his life (1 Samuel 14:37, 1 Samuel 28:6, 7). David prayed for the healing of the child that was born in his illegitimate and sinful relationship. God did not answer, the child died. Though David had repented, it was God's will that he feel some pain of his sinful action (2 Samuel 12:13-23). However, God allowed the second child (Solomon) in the same wife to ascend to David's throne later.

God also doesn't answer prayers that are not in line with his will. His will is supreme above all our wills and his will is perfect and flawless. He knows what is best for us. So he answers prayers only according to his will. Elijah was a great man of prayer. Bible says that he could stop rain (James 5:17), he had brought down fire from heaven that burnt the sacrifice, dried up the water and even melted stones of the altar (1 Kings 18:32-38). However, God did not answer one of his prayers: He wanted to die but God did not allow him (1 Kings 19:4; 2 Kings 2:11). Because that was not in God's will that he die at the time he wanted. So was also Jonah who wanted to die but God did not allow him to die when he wanted to die (Jonah 4:3). Saint Paul was not a sinner and but though he prayed for healing of his physical ailment (we don't know what exactly it was) God simply refused instead gave him the grace to live with it (2 Cor 12:7-9).

Thirdly, there are things in our control that God will leave us to address than bringing it to him, especially matters that have to do with our character and our moral life. For example, God is not going to answer the prayers of those who pray that they will be more humble because being humble is in their control. If they want to be humble all that they need to do is to go ahead and be humble! If people pray that God make them more liberal, I don't think God is going to make them liberal in their giving because they just need to go ahead and start giving. Many times such prayers are used to shun human responsibility and put the blame on God! However, we need God's grace to live lives pleasing God. So, God is certainly going to grant the grace to be humble, more liberal in giving etc. Nevertheless, doing it with the grace that God provides is our job.

Now let us turn the question on its tail. Instead of asking what are the type of prayers God will not answer let us see how to pray in a way that God will answer. God answers prayers from hearts that are right with God. Secondly, God answers prayers that are according to his will and thirdly, God want us to do what we can do depending on his grace instead of using prayer as an excuse.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Personal Worship and Corporate Worship

Worshipping together is one of the salient features Christianity which it shares with its predecessor Judaism and is followed by its successor Islam. Most of the religions have individualized worship experience. Worshippers visit shrines on their own to pray to their deity and does not necessarily need the company of others. However, gathering together for worship in the church, synagogue or the mosque is important for the above religions besides the private time of worship. So the two terms: "Personal worship" which signifies the individual's act of worship and "corporate worship" which is the worship which individuals offer in the company of other believers.

Some people are very keen on corporate worship but at the expense of the personal worship. They are regular at church services, praise and worship meetings etc but may not pour out their devotion and adoration to God when they are alone. These people find it difficult to meet God alone; they need the company of others. There are people on the other extreme who have a dislike to worship God in public, in the presence of others and they tend to be very private in their devotion and adoration of God. They are in the habit of shunning the gathering together of the saints in worship (Hebrews 10:25). They are very private persons and have a dislike for people.

However, both these extremes are certainly wrong. Personal time of worship and prayer is essential component of Christian spirituality. Jesus spent nights in praying alone. He taught that we should pray in secret (Mathew 6:6). He also went to the synagogues for corporate worship and the bible says it was his usual practice (Mark 10:1). This was the practice of the early church as well (Acts 2:42). They gathered together for fellowship, to receive apostles' teaching, prayer and breaking bread together besides their personal times of worship of God.

Personal worship and corporate worship are the two wings on which Christians soar to the presence of God in adoration and praise. They are two aspects of one act called worship: the creatures adoring the majesty of the creator, the sinners pouring out his their profound love for their saviour. Personal worship leads the worshipper to corporate worship because the worshippers have reached a level of adoration which they cannot hold within themselves any longer and need to get it out of their chest! So they look to corporate worship as a place where they can share it with others and to receive from people who have something to share. In a similar manner, the corporate worship should be so rich an experience that the worshipper leaves the place of worship to continue the worship at a personal level until another time for worship arrives. Personal worship propels people from their prayer closet to the chapel and the chapel is so compelling that they return to their closet to continue the worship. They are mutually enriching experiences.

Strength in Weakness

'For he delivers the needy when he calls, the poor and him who has no helper. He has pity on the weak and the needy...