Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Cultivating the Presence of God

Psalm 32:8, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you.”

One morning as I was reading Psalm 32 and meditating on this verse, I felt the Lord’s prodding – be God-oriented instead of merely being activity-oriented and result-oriented. What do I mean by ‘God-oriented’? I believe it is to ensure we are not being overwhelmed by our daily to-do list and pace of life to the extent that we overlook our encounters with God in the small minutes of our daily life.

In ‘The Practice of the Presence of God’, Brother Lawrence said, “I make it my business to rest in His holy presence which I keep myself by a habitual, silent and secret conversation with God. This often causes me joys and raptures inwardly.” He desired a lifestyle where he intentionally and consciously cultivated a deeper awareness of God’s activity in his lives. This, for anyone, is an excellent desire to cultivate and so I asked our glorious Lord to help me live this out in 2016.

It involves habitually building in small pauses and breaks in the daily routines to turn and re-tune the heart back to God. Before we pick up the phone, we breathe a prayer to the Lord to help us listen. As concerns pop up, we place those concerns in God’s hands before moving on to handle them. As we fulfil our daily tasks and responsibilities, we talk it over with God and dedicate each task to Him before we begin and after we complete it. When interruptions happen, we ask Jesus for grace to be like him because he always had time for people who questioned and interrupted him. We can set our mobile devices to alert us several times throughout the day so that we intentionally pay attention to God and live in his presence. It may be just as short as five minutes for reading a short Psalm, praying or even simply revelling in his goodness. I am sure you will have other suggestions to lay alongside these practices.

Ultimately, the desire to develop this awareness of Christ’s presence is to see God grow spiritual fruit in our lives. The fruit could be keeping company with Jesus through the day, receiving each daily moment as God-given. It could be learning a new lifestyle of letting go of our need to control, to compete. Instead we grow in awareness of our constant need of God. We learn to rest in his presence so that we see him even in those situations which needlessly sap our energy, irritate and anger us. We will reap the promise of Ps 32:8 that he will instruct us of the direction we ought to go as we orient our lives with Christ at the centre. I am very sure God will grow even more fruit other than these as we continue to intentionally set time aside regular time for him daily.

However, it is important that we remember that the spiritual discipline is about personal relationship. It is not just an activity embedded with ritual and strategy. It arises out of a love for God that desires to live in a deeper union with Christ. Ultimately, it is about our life being a love letter to Christ, an expression that we love him and desire to remain wired to him alone throughout the day.

May our glorious Lord Jesus be your great reward in 2016 as you remain in him and may you see the fruit of his tender care as you walk with him.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Christmas is about Giving and Sharing

Christmas is just around the corner again. Many people will again be shopping for gifts for their family and friends. It is hard to miss this part of Christmas. We are reminded of it by our friends’ busyness in planning and buying their gifts. We are reminded of it by the media advertisements on where the best buys and offers are found.  We definitely cannot miss the air if we take a walk in the shopping malls. I am sure many will also be doing this today at the last minute, thinking of something special to get for a friend or family member (I've given out all the presents I need to give so I am at peace for one). 

Gift-giving is a wonderful way of showing someone that he or she matters to you. The act of buying something meaningful, wrapping it appropriately and penning one’s thoughts of the season on a card to go along takes time, effort and resources.

Gift-giving at Christmas is also significant because it reminds us of God’s gift to all of us—his one and only Son, Jesus Christ. Before the Fall, Adam and Eve had an intimate fellowship with God. This was broken when Adam and Eve chose to go their own way and resulted in God’s crowning act of creation, mankind, being alienated from God. Yet Christmas reminds us that God did not give up on man but gave up his only son for man. The Christmas story is about God’s unfailing love for his creation. However, this Christmas story needs also to be shared and spread.

There still are many people who celebrate the season but do not know the story, not in their hearts anyway. Friends and family may have lots of fun amidst the food, feasting and festivities but yet not know Jesus Christ, the real reason for the season. They may receive gifts from one another and yet not receive the gift that God has prepared for them, through Jesus Christ.

There will also be people who will see us enjoying ourselves and yet they will have no one to call friend. When you laugh, the whole world laughs with you but when you cry, you cry alone. I hope that all of us will make sure that no one in their cirlce ever cries alone. The best gift we can give anyone is to bring them to Christ. While we may bear each other’s burdens, we can never bear it completely because we can never be there for those in need all the time. Omnipresent friendship can only come from Jesus Christ. His name is Immanuel which means ‘God is with us’.

For many people, the big question in life is “Is God with me?”  We can tell people there is a God and they agree. But yet they find it hard to accept that God is there with them. They find it hard to accept that God is so easily accessible to them. This is what the message of Christmas is – there is a God whose unfailing love for us led him to give his son Jesus to carry our sins. In this messy mixed-up world filled with death, disease and disasters, where millions of people cry out “where is the hope?” we Christians can offer them the hope of Jesus Christ.

Let us then commit ourselves to being God’s gift-bearers to the people around us. As we hand out our gifts to friends and family, let us tell them of the special gift that gives the meaning to Christmas. The Bible reminds us that God is preparing a great celebration for his people in eternity. This Christmas, let us be the ones that God uses to send his invitations to this celebration. Let our willingness to be his messengers be the special gift that we offer to God this Christmas.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Praying Like Jesus Prayed

"Abba, Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will" Mark 14:36

In life, there are times we struggle not knowing if we will ever see a solution. However, God has provided a channel through which we find an answer to life’s challenges – prayer. On the night, before he was betrayed and deserted by his friends, Jesus prayed in this time of distress. And in his prayer we see a model for our own prayers.

He prays like a child addressing a loving father and called out “Abba”. The Aramaic word expressed the idea of love, tenderness and intimacy. Jesus was praying to someone he knew he could put his complete trust in. There will be times when we will experience the challenges of life – illness, office politics, loss, etc. These will be our Gethsemane-like challenges. We will have to bear emotions of loneliness, pain, humiliation, etc. That is the time we will also have to go on our knees and address God as Abba – the cry of a child to a loving Heavenly Father.

Prayer is also a time for us to acknowledge who God is and who we are. Jesus wanted to be spared the agony of crucifixion. He wanted to be spared the agony of separation from his father when he bore the world’s sin. So he asked his father if it was possible for this upcoming misery to go away. Could the Father remove the cup? Yes! Could Jesus refuse the cup? Yes! However, that would mean our being lost forever. So Jesus prayed, “Abba! Father! Everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will." Just because something is possible does not mean it is according to God’s plan. It was God’s plan that Jesus would sacrifice his life in payment for the world’s sin. Jesus knew what was important was not his own earthly desires but his Father’s desire for reconciliation with us. So Jesus used prayer to bend his own will to the Father’s will. That is the way prayer works. In prayer our desires are shaped around what God wants.

If Jesus being God himself could bend his will to follow his father, how about us? Through prayer we realize that we are finite and God is infinite. This should create in us a sense of humility. We know that talking with our Heavenly Father, who also created the universe, anything we ask is possible. But what is possible may not be in God’s Will or beneficial to us. So we ask for what we want and God gives us what he knows we need. Sometimes, we set our expectations very high. Thus, if our prayers are not answered positively to our liking, let us see with eyes of faith, that God loves us and wants the best for us. Therefore we pray and bring our petitions to our Heavenly Father and trust that he will respond in the appropriate way.

What is your cup of suffering today? Perhaps you are asking God to take it away. But he may not because he sees a greater plan for your life than you can see for yourself. That’s when you need to pray an ‘Abba’ prayer of trust just like Jesus did here. God may not remove your cup because he want to see you bring others to Jesus as they see Christ-likeness in your response to challenges of hurt and humiliation. We can choose to disobey our Father. But then we will lose the opportunity to glorify him. Therefore, we should pray to be like obedient sons and daughters who have complete faith and trust in their Abba, “Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Great Divide

Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. His delight is in the law of law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither.” (Psalm 1:1-3)

In Ps 119:105, “your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path”, the Psalmist declares plainly – without Scripture, we walk in darkness. Psalm 1 illustrates this effect of Scripture with a graphic contrast between the wicked and the righteous - the “tree planted by streams of water” versus the “chaff that the wind blows away”. One is unwavering and flourishing while the other is unsteady and fruitless. The root of the practical difference between these two is the contrast in their attitudes towards the “law of the Lord”. Our attitude to God is seen in how we live, act and perceive right from wrong in response to the objective truth of his Word. In Psalm 1, one man, whose life is pictured as an ever-fruitful tree - lush, lasting and a blessing to all, delights in Scripture and meditates on it “day and night.” The other, whose life is pictured as windblown chaff, i.e. momentary and good-for-nothing, does not. That is the only difference but it is all the difference in the world. It is a watershed in every person's life.

What is a watershed? Geographically, it describes an area or ridge of land that separates waters flowing to different rivers, basins, or seas and literally, it is an event or period marking a turning point in a situation (Google). The Continental Divide stretching from north to south of North America is a watershed. Rain and snow falling on one side of the Rocky Mountains eventually flows in the Pacific Ocean. Rain and snow on the other side flows into the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean. There is no way that water destined for one will end up in the other ocean. At its point of origin on the mountain peak, the Divide is hardly apparent, perhaps mere millimetres apart. Walking along it, one may even get the illusion there is no Divide. Yet, the destination of water and snow running down either slope ends up thousands of kilometres, even a continent apart.

There is a spiritual truth here that can be applied in our lives. The great divide between followers and non-followers of Christ is the attitude of belief or unbelief to the Word of God. The prefix ‘un-’ looks so insignificant. Yet this prefix defines the follower of Christ. It is the great divide between the fruitful Christian and the fruitless Christian. On one side, we find fruitfulness and delight in God’s Word. On the other, we find dryness and dreariness.

How stands our relationship with Christ? Are we like the Psalmist, “whose delight is in the law of God”? I believe the Psalmist is pointing the way to joy in our relationship with God. God’s Word remains in his mind and he cannot stop thinking about it. He thirsts for God so he keeps drinking and drinking. As a follower of Christ, we too should delight in God’s Word. To some it is dull and boring, but to us it is fulfilling and joyful. To remain in Christ, we delight to study it, hear the preaching of the Word and have faith in God's Word. Such an attitude results in a life of joy, trust, godly desires and blessing from God, not wavering even when sometimes, we lose our happiness along the way. That’s the way to live - staying rooted in Christ alone.