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If God knows everything that’s going to happen, what’s the point of prayer?

by | 25 September 2017, 11:04 AM

Dear God, it’s me.

I don’t know why I’m telling You this … I’m sure You have more important people and things to care about. I’m sure You’ve already decided on the outcome of this matter, but since I’m supposed to tell You this – I have exams next week, and a packed schedule this week.

Please help me … I don’t know, survive?

In Jesus’ Name I pray, Amen.

Have you ever mumbled a prayer like this? As a student, I’ve said a lot of such prayers. Then as a young adult, other concerns came to the fore: Travel mercies, the salvation of friends and family, or sufficient competency at work not to invoke the wrath of my boss and colleagues, for example.

Sometimes, after such a prayer, I’ll murmur to friends later: “I know I’m supposed to pray about all this. Yet it feels like it’s a feel-good measure – something we do to make us feel good about the fact that we did it. But why do we have to? Hasn’t God already predetermined the outcome?”

My cynicism stems from my belief that surely God already knows if a plane will crash or not. Surely He already knows whether my friend will be saved in the end or not. And doesn’t He already know whether I will make it through a work day without stepping on anyone’s toes?

It’s not the action of asking that earns us a reward – it’s not about approaching God like we would an ATM.

Prayer seems even more pointless where a tragic end seems certain – like after an accident, where the victim is in critical condition. Or when a loved one’s illness becomes terminal and there seems to be no hope for physical healing.

Nevertheless, we are told to pray. In fact, we are told to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

So while it seems counterintuitive to pray even though we can’t see how it may change the situation, we persist. We do so because we’re commanded to. And we do so because it’s our privilege to do so – to be able to speak to God through prayer.

People who are reconciled to God have the privilege of communicating with Him as He did with Moses (Exodus 33:11), because we are now His friends (John 15:13-15).

PRAYER: A COMMANDMENT AND PRIVILEGE

In Matthew 6:9-13, Jesus has taught us The Lord’s Prayer. Among the things we’re told we ought to pray for:

  • “Your kingdom come, Your will be done”
  • “Give us this day our daily bread”
  • “Lead us not into temptation”

You could argue that a lot of this is pointless. Of course His will will be done. Of course He will provide for me daily, as Jehovah Jireh. Of course He isn’t going to lead me into temptation.

Why do I need to pray these things? In fact, in Matthew 6:8, Jesus even said: “For your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

Yet He didn’t tell us not to bother asking. Ask Him we should.

The key is in the repeated refrain from Matthew 6, which appears in verses 4, 6 and 18: “Then your Father will reward you.”

The teaching is that it’s not the action of asking that earns us a reward – it’s not about approaching God like we would an ATM. The principle is that when we present our requests to God in acknowledgment of His pre-eminence and presence in our lives, He acknowledges what is done in secret (again from Matthew 6:4, 6 and 18) through His mercies and lovingkindness.

Praying such a prayer is us effectively saying:

I know You can do this, Father, because I know You can do everything.

I don’t know every detail of your plans – if my friend will be saved, if my relative will be healed, if my boss will be kind – but I know your character, as a God of justice, righteousness and love (Jeremiah 9:23-24).

If it is in your will, Lord, do this wonderful thing.

GOD’S INSTRUMENTS TO DO HIS WILL

My pastor once told this story to illustrate the purpose of prayer. He wanted his two school-going children to keep their study tables tidy. As motivation, he offered them an incentive – a “table neatness” prize – for keeping their desks tidy for a week.

They obeyed, and received their promised rewards. His pre-schoolers, however, were not offered this incentive.

When they found out about their older siblings’ rewards, they wanted the prize too. So they made the request to receive the prize if they likewise kept their desks neat for a week. Of course, my pastor agreed to their request.

That was his intention all along – he had intended for his pre-schoolers to realise they would enjoy the “table neatness” prize, to want it, and ask him for it.

In a similar way, for God, it’s not just about getting the thing done, it’s about getting our hearts on board. Having His people pray is part of His plan to achieve His redemptive purposes in the world – a privilege He extends to us, for our benefit.

One example of this we see in the Bible is in Isaiah 37, which describes King Hezekiah’s conversation with God when Assyria declares war on Judah.

For God, our prayer is not just about getting the thing done, it’s about getting our hearts on board. Our prayer is us choosing to join Him as He moves.

When Hezekiah pleads to God to save him (Isaiah 37:20), God makes known that He has used Hezekiah’s prayer as an instrument (Isaiah 37:21) to defeat Assyria. Not only that, God also makes known that He had “long ago” determined that David would bring Assyria to ruin (Isaiah 14:24-27) and save the city of Judah.

It was going to happen anyway; the only question is if it would happen under Hezekiah or some other praying king. It wasn’t the prayer in itself that moved God’s hand; God was always at work.

Our prayer is us choosing to join Him as He moves.

So, whatever the inertia I have towards prayer: Yet I will obey Him. I will learn to persist in prayer (Romans 12:12, Colossians 4:2), taking baby steps in His time, for my own good.

/ eudora@thir.st

Eudora found herself writing on public platforms by chance. Apart from writing, she likes many random things, including spoken word poetry, adult colouring books, tea, stationery and fresh, clean laundry.

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by Senior Pastor Jeffrey Chong, Hope Church Singapore | 20 February 2018, 11:08 AM


The illustration used in the video was adapted from a sermon by Pastor Michael Strickland from The Cove Church


TWO NATURES

“So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.” (Galatians 5:16-17)

The Bible shows us that there are two natures: One of the Spirit and one of the flesh. But we can only have one.  If we really want to see life transformation, we need more of the Spirit because what the flesh desires is contrary to what the Spirit desires. They are in conflict with each other.

“Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.” (Galatians 5:26)

As vessels of God, what we need to do is flee the evil desires of the flesh and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace. When we have more of God – there is less of ourselves. Where there is more of the Spirit – there is less of the flesh.

It’s one or the other.

SEALED AND DELIVERED

If we’ve received Jesus into our lives as our Lord and Saviour, the Bible says that we’ve received a seal of the promise of God.

“And who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.” (2 Corinthians 1:22)

But there’s another experience that God wants us to have in our Christian walk – it’s the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The Bible says that we will be filled – to the brim – with the Holy Spirit!

That’s not all there is to it. When we are filled with the Holy Spirit, though we may have changed, we are not removed from our usual environments that test our responses or reactions.

So we will react either according to our “old self” or respond through our “new self” which is being renewed in the knowledge of God. If we are not in step with the Spirit, it’s easy for us to respond in the flesh.

1. Anger
Whether you’re driving on the road or responding to your children: Are you aware of the situations and things that tend to draw anger out of you? Are you an angry person? Even though we are filled with the Holy Spirit, anger can seep into our lives through cracks and open windows of impatience and intolerance.

2. Self-righteousness
When you place white vinegar in a glass jar, it looks just like water. But vinegar stinks. We may look like water on the outside but we’re not.  We can do many Christian things yet still have a spirit of self-righteousness – trust and reliance on ourselves instead of the grace of God.

3. Jealousy
Things get nastier when you throw jealousy into the mix. Some of us get jealous when others do better than us: We write off others’ successes and we point fingers at them. We cannot stand not being the best. Don’t let jealousy make you a miserable person.

4. Other sinful desires  
Lastly, there are the darker things that we may not talk about openly – or at all. Things like adultery, pornography, stealing and backstabbing. These desires belong to our fleshly nature.

In order to keep in step with the Spirit and defeat our fleshly nature, we can’t just be filled with the Spirit one time. We need to continually be filled and continually be empowered so that God’s light won’t dull in us.

Think about the first thing you do in the morning. Do you reach for your smartphone or for the presence and guidance of the Holy Spirit? Each morning, tell the Holy Spirit, “Speak and I’ll listen. Lead and I’ll follow.”

Jesus said, “Let those who are thirsty come to me and drink, and out of your belly will come out an abundant flow of the Holy Spirit.” When we are continually filled with the Holy Spirit, not only are we filled – Jesus says we will be filled until we overflow!

By the continual empowerment of the Holy Spirit – through the overflow of our revived heart – we can bring revival everywhere we go: Our homes, schools, army camps, and workplaces.


This article was adapted from a sermon first preached on Jan 14, 2018, by Senior Pastor Jeffrey Chong of Hope Church Singapore.

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How far would you go for love?

by Weiren David Ong | 20 February 2018, 9:20 AM

“Then He said, “Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” (Genesis 22:2)

That’s from the famous story of Abraham and Isaac. When Abraham is commanded by God to sacrifice his son, he proves obedient and is commended for his faith. And importantly, right before the knife falls – Isaac is spared.

I think that when I first heard this story as a child, everything seemed more … watered down. I mean, it had a happy ending.

What I didn’t think of back then, was how Abraham must have felt during this whole ordeal. For instance, after receiving this grave command, he rose early the next morning to get ready (Genesis 22:3).

I wonder if he even slept properly, knowing what was to come. He seemed deliberately obedient, but as Isaac’s father, surely his heart was grieved.

And the journey took more than 3 days! Putting myself in that position, if there was something I dreaded doing, getting it over with as soon as I could would be the best solution. But poor Abraham had to wrestle with God for days on end – ever having the easy option of turning back home right behind him.

Laying down your own life is not an easy thing to do by any standards. But laying down a loved one’s life … That seems impossible to me.

Isaac was Abraham’s legacy. He represented Abraham’s promise from God. Isaac was indeed everything Abraham was asking God for – and now it seemed like Abraham had to return it.

I won’t be surprised if you find the whole thing rather twisted. I did as well, initially.

In the same way the man Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son for God, God was willing to sacrifice His Son for man. But while Abraham’s hand was stopped – God gave His son for us!

But still the story progresses, with Isaac questioning his father as to why they didn’t bring the animal that would be sacrificed.

Abraham could only reply each time, that God would provide the lamb. It must have been extremely awkward at the moment when Abraham started to tie Isaac up, having to tell him, “Isaac, it’s you.”

Abraham picked up his knife and was about to sacrifice Isaac on the altar, but his hand was stopped just in time because God knew then Abraham was fully devoted – he was willing to lay everything he ever wanted back down again.

Then God provided a ram to take Isaac’s place.

Why would God do this? It seems so extreme. I don’t have a conclusive answer, but I do know and trust God’s character – He is no sadist.

And I know that God Himself was in Abraham’s position: In the same way the man Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son for God, God was willing to sacrifice His Son for man. But while Abraham’s hand was stopped – God gave His son for us!

It seems like a lot to most, but Abraham only tolerated 3 days of grim foreknowledge. God knew what needed to be done since He made the world – waiting for the time to give His son to it.

“And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her Seed;
He shall bruise your head,
And you shall bruise His heel.” (Genesis 3:15)

If you have also glimpsed the vastness of God’s love and grace, I’d like you to pray this with me: “Dear God, the love You have given me is so deep I will never fully grasp its depth. But help me to see clearly that You have proven Your love, over and over again. And soften my heart to fall in love with You, over and over too.”


This article was first published on Weiren’s blog, and is republished with permission.

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How are those resolutions coming along?

by Alex Park | 19 February 2018, 9:48 AM

We’re already about two months into 2018 — how are your new year resolutions coming along?

Mine was “get busy”. Not get busy trying to fill myself with things that don’t last, or things that bring temporal fulfilment. I wanted to get busy with the things of God.

I thought of it after a conversation with a close friend who shared how working with God proved so much better than just staying at home all day watching Netflix and gaming.

Choosing to serve God … Though it seemed like it would tire me out more — it actually did the opposite. He restored me, especially after a very difficult 2017. Walking with God more intentionally this year, I’ve learnt that He will faithfully guide me through life.

“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:29)

In Rhythms of Grace, Judas Smith gives us an insight to this verse: “In farming, a yoke is a wooden crosspiece that is fastened over the necks of two animals and attached to the plough or cart that they are to pull. However, in the past getting two oxen would be costly for farmers. So, farmers would get an experienced, mature ox pair it with a younger, weaker calf. This way, the younger calf would follow the pace of the older ox, not going too fast or too slow. Both of these two animals harnessed together would then begin to plough the field, doing the same amount of work two oxen would.”

I hadn’t seen it that way. Jesus is the stronger and experienced one. We are like the calf, frequently getting ahead of ourselves — sometimes too weak to even keep up. But Jesus invites us to follow His pace — the unforced rhythms of grace (Matthew 11:29 MSG).

He’s calling us to partner Him in this journey that we run. Only follow His pace, learn from the One who created you and loved you before the foundations of the earth. As you choose to follow Him — He will guide the path and walk with you.

Jesus overcomes the strongholds of sin and darkness in your life.

Everyone struggles with sin and we are all on the journey to become more like Jesus everyday. But the fight with sin seems almost impossible at times. How do you love when there is so much hate, be pure when there is so much lust, or worship Him amidst a million things fighting for your attention?

Depression, fear, anxiety, loneliness … The list is endless and the struggle is real.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)

Did you catch that? It’s not about trying to be better or merely resisting temptation. It’s about being wholly surrendered — “fixing our eyes on Jesus”.

If we could overcome sin and the powers of darkness by sheer willpower or discipline, we wouldn’t need Jesus. He wouldn’t have to come down to save us at all.

During His time on earth, Jesus focused one purpose: Not to be served but to serve and give His life as a ransom to many (Matthew 20:26). In the same way, steward with great focus the ministry you have been assigned to — loving His people and pursuing Him.

Don’t be despondent at the sin or oppression in your life. There’s hope! Where light is, darkness ceases to be. Keep running because He guides you and walks with you. He overcomes the sin and darkness in your life.

If you’ve been serving and fighting for His Kingdom — don’t lose sight of Him. Wherever He has called you to be, He has gone before and He is with you in that place.

So, again, how are those resolutions coming along? There’s still time for 2018 to be the year you allowed God’s faithfulness to move in your life. The best place you can ever be is at the centre of God’s will.

I’ll leave you with Erwin Mcmanus’ words in The Last Arrow.

“It makes me wonder how many times in my own life I thought I failed, but actually the only thing that happened was that I quit. When you come to the end of your life, will you be able to say, “I gave everything I had,” or will you have a hollow feeling inside of your soul that you quit too soon, that you expected too little, that you did not strike the last arrow? Make the commitment to not stop before you are finished, because you are truly stopping before God is finished.”

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Self-control isn’t easy

by | 19 February 2018, 9:39 AM

Recently, I fell victim to clickbait and watched a video titled “My dog was raped!” on Youtube.

Some Youtuber was kicking a big fuss about how her dog was “raped” by another dog in the pet hotel. She ranted about it for a whole 20 minutes. Feistier than the drama she manufactured, was the comments section where she was being slammed for making a mountain out of a molehill.

“It’s not rape!” one comment read, “Dogs can’t be raped. They don’t think like humans. They act on instinct, not logic or reason. You’re placing human behaviour on dogs!”

That inane video actually gave me cause to think. I wonder if self-control – the opposite of instinct – a human trait?

Instinct is defined as “an intuitive, typically fixed pattern of behaviour”

For example, all animals have the natural instinct to mate and procreate. It is hardwired into their system. It’s why most people aren’t up in arms whenever dogs mate in public. After all, you can pin it down to their instincts.

Now bear with me: Humans also have the instinct to mate, but it’s obviously inexcusable for us to have sex anywhere. We have labels for people who can’t control themselves when it comes to compulsions – addicts.

The ability to control oneself when needed is part of being a healthy and well-adjusted human adult.

But what exactly is self-control?

Self-control is the ability to manage your actions, feelings and emotions. It is to have mastery over our temptations and impulses. It’s when you want to binge-watch something but resist because you’ve got exams.

Self-control is also a learned behaviour. Consider babies. Cute, instinctive little people who act on their thoughts and feelings. They have virtually no self-control. When we’re done being infants, we are expected to learn how to manage our actions and feelings.

It’s almost ironic that any hope for self-control is reliant on something beyond ourselves — God!

So why is it important for us to learn self-control? Well, it’s a form of love (1 Cor 13:5). Often, there are desires we want to act on, even ones with bad consequences.

For example, I might want to hurt someone when I’m angry, or insist on my way instead of considering others’ opinions. I might even want to cheat on my partner because I’m sick of the relationship.

In such cases, it takes self-control to exercise patience, kindness and perseverance — instead of caving into our compulsions – all of which are hallmarks of true love (1 Corinthians 13:4-8).

But self-control isn’t easy. The truth is, I often act immediately on my emotions instead of finding the appropriate ways to express them. But I know I can’t change myself – only God can.

In Romans 7:19-20, Paul makes that famous declaration, “For I do not do the good I want to do. Instead, I keep on doing the evil I do not want to do. And if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.” Yet in his conclusion he says, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

It’s almost ironic that any hope for self-control is reliant on something beyond ourselves — God! Enslaved to sin, our only hope is to abide in Him. It is only when we do so that sin is overcome. Then we can see the fruits of the Spirit in our lives, one of which is self-control.

Are you in a situation where there’s no breakthrough despite your efforts and discipline? Ask the Lord for humility and let Him help you. The change might not be immediate, but He will work in us to bring us to completion (Philippians 1:6).

/ siqi@thir.st

Siqi loves to eat. Except for peas, egg yolk, cucumbers, livers, intestines. Among others. She also happens to be a writer.

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I got stood up on Valentine’s Day

by Geraldine Koh | 15 February 2018, 3:48 PM

It was Valentine’s Day. I could have gone on a date with my husband. But I had looked forward to meeting Miss L. She was a freelance sex worker from East Asia, pacing the streets of Geylang’s red-light district to eke out a living.

In her 30s, she was new to Singapore, having travelled a long way here from her hometown.

I had met her on a warm Friday night under the faint neon lights of a corridor in Geylang. I was on one of my regular walks with a group of volunteers who were committed to expressing the love of Jesus with marginalised communities working in the red-light district.

Miss L had been friendly during our first meeting. She was chatty, talking incessantly about her hometown. She was clearly missing home badly. She had no friends, never taking the initiative to mix with fellow sex workers from her home country who stood along the same glitzy street.

I met her the second time on another Friday. I braced myself to ask if she had someone to celebrate the Lunar New Year with. She looked down forlornly and shook her head in silence. I suggested having reunion dinner with her.

Her eyes lit up, and she said “Yes!” without much hesitation. Having a reunion dinner together would have made her feel at home during this festive season which can ironically be superficial, long-drawn and lonely.

I suggested having reunion dinner with her. Her eyes lit up, and she said “Yes!” without much hesitation.

She had agreed to meet me on Valentine’s Day, the same week of the Lunar New Year celebrations. I got myself ready and travelled quite a distance from my home to Geylang, looking forward to meet Miss L and bless her with a sumptuous meal.

I waited and waited. The dreaded message came. Miss L texted, I have not slept since I finished work with a client. I am very tired. I need to have a good sleep before heading back into the streets again. I cannot meet you for dinner.

I had a surge of mixed feelings. I did not feel too much disappointment. This was not my first time being “stood up”. Several other street ladies I had arranged to meet before also did not turn up, citing similar reasons as Miss L.

On the other hand, I felt immensely sorry for Miss L. She needed her sleep from working long hours in the prostitution trade. In fact, she needed more than a physical state of rest. She needed the rest only Jesus could give her.

I hope to have that reunion dinner with Miss L soon. Reunion is about families reuniting and getting together to celebrate love and kinship. For my reunion dinner with Miss L, it would be special; it would include having fellowship with a very special family guest — Abba Father — someone I know it would be worth it for Miss L to know and embrace.


Operation Mobilisation (OM) Singapore has a ministry reaching out to marginalised communities working in the red-light district of Singapore with the love of Jesus. If you and your friends are interested to pray, give and go with this ministry, please write to info.sg@om.org

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Article list

If God knows everything that’s going to happen, what’s the point of prayer?

Empowered for a purpose

How far would you go for love?

How are those resolutions coming along?

Self-control isn’t easy

I got stood up on Valentine’s Day