My Father

Have you ever thought about the meaning of the word Father?

You’ve probably never needed to, because it seems so obvious… so self-evident. I used to think so too, until recently.

I was going through a “dark-night-of-the-soul” period where I found it difficult to pray. For some reason, it just stopped making sense speaking to a God that was invisible and immaterial. Whenever I closed my eye to pray, I was overwhelmed by the whole absurdity of the act. It just felt like talking into the air, into nothingness.

That’s when someone suggested a rather cliche solution: that I read the Bible and look at the way the people in there addressed God. Most specifically, how Jesus prayed and taught his disciples to address God.

Jesus called God His Father.

“Our father who is in heaven,” he taught us to pray. It sounded straightforward enough, except my main challenge was in conceptualizing God as a Father.

Many Christian counselors suggest that people who have difficulties thinking of God as a Father usually had a bad experience with their earthly fathers. They don’t know what is so good about having a father, and so they struggle to embrace a God who approaches them as one.

But the situation seemed different for me. This wasn’t about my earthly father. Growing up, my relationship with dad was more or less “normal.” My problem was a more philosophical one: How can I address God as “father” with a straight face when I know that God is Spirit and not human. Isn’t the word “Father” just an anthropomorphism of a being that is beyond our comprehension?

Well, I was in for a great (and pleasant) surprise.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the word father as: “a male parent” or “a man who is thought of as being like a father.” Another alternative definition is: “one related to another in a way suggesting that of father to child.”

Beyond these surface definitions, Mr Charles and George Merriam and Mr Noah Webster don’t tell us much about what is actually involved in “being a father”, or what qualifies a man to be one.

Stay with me now. When you consider every aspect of what it means to be a father, you will quickly realize tat no single human being perfectly fits the description.

Does biology make one a father?

It is obvious that many who have contributed the Y chromosome to the existence of a child cannot quite be called the fathers of the child. This is especially if they have not contributed in any way to the raising of the child. These men fail to fit the “father” description because something, a relationship, is missing.

Does nurture make one a father?

In fact, there are many children being raised by men who are not related to them biologically, men who are married to their mothers, men that they call fathers. Even so, many who have been raised by men who were not their biological parents often say of these men, “he is like a father to me” as if he is not quite a father. Something is missing in the picture.

Does the law make one a father?

Or is it the law? Does legal adoption qualify one to be defined as a true father? And if so, why do we still feel the need to qualify the father title with an adjective such as “my adoptive father”. Somehow, we instinctively know that they are not quite the true definition of father.

Is it all three?

But even in the now increasingly rare case where one is raised up by the father who shares the same genes, these fathers still fall short. You may be biologically related to your father, he may be the one that raised you and his name may even be in your legal birth certificate, but he still falls short.

Earthly fathers don’t always love their children and when they do it is never a perfect love. Earthly fathers don’t always provide and when they do it may not be the best kind of provision. Even when they try their best, their humanity is a guarantee that they will never be the 100% father.

The fact that they are fallen human beings means that they will inevitably not measure up at being fathers.

The True Father

So who is the true father? Who fits the bill? Who meets all the criteria? Who is the one we can look at for any idea of what it means to be a perfect father? In other words, where do we get the idea that there is something like a 100 per cent father and yet no single human being has ever fit the mold? How do we know that the kind of fathers we have here on earth are less than ideal?

I found the answer when I went back to the Bible with my struggle. In the Words of scripture, I encountered a Father who fit the description, who met the criteria, and never disappointed. In the God of the Bible, I found not just the true definition of a perfect Father, I found the embodiment of that Father.

In my confusion, I thought it more realistic to address a human father than to address an invisible spiritual father. Yet the reality is that the human father was a false reality. No human being deserves to be called father. Not the man who contributed to your genes, and not even the man who raised you up. Only God fits the bill.

In fact, our earthly fathers are poor imitations of the true Father. Even the best of human fathers are mere glimpses of the perfection that is in our glorious heavenly Father. In other words, there is no truer and realer illustration of a human being talking to his father than that of a man praying to his God.

I am no longer struggling to pray. In fact, it is becoming more absurd to take my troubles to human beings instead of to God. I have learnt that prayer is the realest and truest form of communication I could ever take part in. Because in prayer, I am speaking to the only one who not only hears my words, but perfectly understands my words and perfectly responds to those words.

Through prayer, I can, for the first time in my life, talk to my real Father.

The Superpowerful Prayer of Jabez

Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.” And God granted his request. [1 Chronicles 4:10]

If God did it for Jabez, God will do it for you.

All you have to do is make sure you say the prayer exactly the way Jabez said it; Word for Word. Miss or mispronounce a word and God will not answer your prayer. Never mind that Jabez said his prayer in Hebrew. Just make sure you remain faithful to your KJV, NIV, ESV… translation. Because, you know, the people who translated the Bible were anointed men, men who had the gift of tongues and “wrote in tongues” like English.

Better yet, grab a copy of Bruce Wilkinson’s 2000 book: The Prayer of Jabez: Breaking Through to the Blessed Life. Read and meditate and apply the book and your life will never be the same.

Don’t believe me? Ask the author himself. This is what he says in the preface:

“I want to teach you how to pray a daring prayer that God always answers. It is brief—only one sentence with four parts—and tucked away in the Bible, but I believe it contains they key to a life of extraordinary favor with God. This petition has radically changed what I expect from God and what I experience every day by His power. In fact, thousands of believers who are applying its truths are seeing miracles happen on a regular basis.” (bold emphases mine)

JI03Still don’t buy it? Then you should check out how many people have bought and continue buying the book. I could be lying, but numbers don’t. The Prayer of Jabez has topped the New York Times Bestsellers’ list and sold more than nine million copies. Surely, 9 million people cannot all be wrong! New York Times knows better than to allow a lying book at the top of their list. Come on, it is New York Times!

And if you still don’t believe me, just visit the book website and marvel at the amazing testimonies of people whose lives have been transformed after they prayed this prayer every day for two weeks, exactly as the book prescribed.

But seriously, guys, why is the prayer of Jabez so popular? Because it is a prayer about blessings, enrichment, protection and gladness. It is a prayer for prosperity. And who doesn’t want to prosper? Even God wants us to prosper and promises us as much — of course, we must first meet certain conditions, such as invoking the prayer of Jabez correctly, the way Jabez did it. There is nothing wrong with prosperity or asking God for it. There is nothing sinful with wanting and being drawn to wealth and health.

And here is biblical proof: God answered the prayer of Jabez.

And He will answer your prayer of Jabez. The guarantee is in the Bible. Be careful not to pray for other things such as to be holy, or to be more forgiving, or to be more generous and loving. Don’t pray for the will to persevere hard times. Nobody wants to suffer. Jabez didn’t. And Jabez did not pray about such things. If anything, those are wimpy prayers. Stick to the script(ure): stick to the answered prayers.

Do this, and you will break through all the barriers standing between you and your blessings. Pray the prayer of Jabez, not the prayer of (insert_your_name_here). Your name is not in the Bible, and you are not even sure God will answer your customized prayers. Stick to the prayers with guaranteed answers, like the prayer of great Men of God such as Jabez.

Take Full Possession of My Heart

This was a prayer of the renowned 18th century evangelist, John Wesley. It is also my prayer and, hopefully, will be yours too:

TAKE FULL POSSESSION OF MY HEART

O merciful God,
whatever You may deny me,
do not deny me this love.

Save me from the idolatry of loving the world,
or any of the things of the world.

Let me never love any creature
but for Your sake and in subordination to Your love.

Take full possession of my heart;
raise there Your throne
and command there as You do in heaven.

Being created by You, let me live to You;
being created for You,
let me ever act for Your glory;
being redeemed by You,
let me render to You what is Yours
and let my spirit ever cleave to You alone.

– John Wesley

Now This is What I Call a Perfect Prayer

2009-10-prayerI first heard it from my dad more than a decade ago. I was still in primary school. My dad rammed this prayer into my head until it became a permanent part of my memory. No, my dad was not born again, and he was not teaching me this prayer because he wanted me to be more pious. His reasons were different. My dad admired and pedestaled this prayer because it was a revealing prayer. It revealed the hypocrisy in many Christians. The words in the prayer indicated zero self-focus and total God-focus – Something that my father did not see in the professing Christians around him. It was a difficult prayer to live out, and I guess that’s why my dad loved it so much and made sure I memorized it. Here it is:

Oh LORD, If I worship You for fear of Hell, burn me in Hell,

and if I worship You in hope of Paradise, exclude me from Paradise.

But if I worship You for Your Own sake,

grudge me not Your everlasting Beauty.

A PERFECT PRAYER

It’s obvious that this prayer expresses an other-worldly attitude of selflessness. It’s true that many people are “Christians” because they do not want to end up in hell. Others are Christians because the images they’ve been fed of heaven titillate their carnal cravings. Very few (if any) of us worship God for who He is. For a long time, I was persuaded that there was no prayer more profound than this one. Not even the Lord’s Prayer came close. Yet, something always bothered me about the prayer. It was an impossible prayer. What appeared to be a perfect prayer was actually a perfectionist prayer. It was a dangerous prayer. I never really prayed it. Whenever I examine my heart, there are always some strings attached in my relationship with God. My prayers and acts of worship are tainted with both explicit and subtle selfish aims. As apostle Paul once remarked;

“I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me.” [Rom 7:21]

WORSHIPING GOD FOR GOD’S SAKE

Later on, I realized that even though I had elevated this prayer and placed it on such a high pedestal, there’s an important element of the prayer that I never bothered to question. What does it mean to worship God for His own sake? This the question, though unanswered, was actually the most important aspect of the prayer above. To worship God for His own sake means to worship God as He really is. And to worship God as He really is means that one must first get to know this God. The Bible is God’s revelation of Himself to us. God has revealed Himself as the creator and sustainer of the universe. But this is not all. The Bible reveals God as Savior and Redeemer of a world imprisoned in sin and the effects of sin. To worship God for His own sake is to worship God, not just as creator and keeper, but also as the redeemer of the world.

FREEDOM IN CHRIST

So you see, while the prayer above was indeed impressive, it was also imprisoning. I don’t want to tell God to take me to hell because I am worshiping Him for the fear of hell. The truth is that I am afraid of hell, and part of the reason why I worship God is because I do not want to end up there. This may not be the main reason for my worship, but it is part of it. If this makes me sinful, then I am headed to hell, for I cannot perfectly not mix my worship with my fear hell. On the other hand, I want to go to heaven, and I admit that to some extent, I worship God for the hope of paradise. If this means that I am disqualified for paradise, then I am hopeless.

But the good news is that I do know God for who He is. And of all the things that God is, He is also my Savior. Through the gift of His Son, Jesus Christ, God has redeemed me from the curse of my sin. He has redeemed me from the power and penalty of my ever-sinful ways. I am free in Christ. This means that even if sometimes I worship God for the fear of hell, I will not end up there. It means that even if sometimes I worship God for the hope of paradise, He will not exclude me from paradise. This prayer that I learnt from my dad was profound. It was impressive. But it was also an imprisoning prayer. It disregarded the saving grace of God, and for that reason, it was a false prayer.

*****

PS: Just last year, I Googled the words of the prayer only to discover that it was written/said by an ascetic female Sufi (Muslim) mystic called Rabi’a al-‘Adawiyya (717 – 801 A.D.).

No wonder.

The Winemaker

image courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org

image courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org

I guess he hadn’t completely broken off ties with his family. For in this scene, we find Jesus still hanging out with his mum and even attending a wedding together. I wonder, was he a mama’s boy? John doesn’t tell us. But he does tell us that there was a wedding, and that the wedding was apparently under-budgeted. For we see the wine running out just as the happy-hour crowd is streaming in. We are not told what he was doing at the moment. We can try to speculate. Maybe he was chatting up a bride’s maid (I know, that doesn’t sound very Jesusy). Perhaps he was part of a mini-dancing contest; or maybe he was just relaxing at a corner table with his new-found friends and students enjoying the cake and the ambiance. We are really not sure, but we know that whatever he was doing was interrupted by a strange statement from his mother,

“They have no more wine.” (John 2:3)

He could have feigned ignorance and asked, “What are you telling me for? It’s not my wedding and I am not the wedding committee chairman.” Actually, he sort of said something similar (v. 4) but Mary ignored it.

He could have taken this as an exit cue, “I guess it’s time to leave then, isn’t it?

But he didn’t, even before these five stage-setting words left Mary’s lips and landed on Christ’s ears, they both knew that she was no longer talking to her son, but her master. She was giving Jesus the reins. Take over. Fix this. Do what you came to do, what you do best – the impossible. It’s time to flex those muscles son… I mean… Lord. You have to pause and admire Mary’s faith. Jesus had never performed a miracle, never walked on a puddle or healed a sniffle. At least not that we know of. But she was handing over a whole wedding in jeopardy to him, and you know just how crazy wedding plans can get.

You have to admire Mary’s faith because it is this kind of faith that’s missing in many of us, believers.

We’ve all been there; impossible deadlines, tragic headlines, dying relationships, shocking medical reports, and now weddings wading in impending doom. We’ve been there, we’ve witnessed our best laid plans hitting solid walls, we’ve wept as our best friends betrayed our trust, we’ve helplessly stood by hospital beds as heartbeats slowed down and death smacked its lips. We’ve been there, and we’ve been desperate. We have needed that glimmer of hope, that healing hand, that knight in shining armor. Only to find blank stares and no answers. And we have given up. Many times, countless times.

Why?

The answer to that why is simple, but it is not simplistic: We never spoke to Jesus about it; it never even came across our minds. Like Mary’s statement, a phrase like, “My girlfriend dumped me” doesn’t sound like something we would say to Jesus. It’s too open-ended. We half-expect him to respond with a blank “so what?” Yet, Jesus still attends weddings and He still turns water into wine. He still transforms empty shells of people into hope-filled souls. He still heals marriages and mends friendships.

So, instead of running around in desperation, dare to look up for affirmation. He won’t ignore you. Consider running your concerns by Him, however vain they sound to you. Mary did, and we know what happened. Water-jars were transformed into wine-jars as parched taste-buds were suddenly soaked in a divine taste of wine.

Give him your tears, and watch Him turn even that into wine.

I Apologize for Being a Christian

js_gloc_apologetics

To see Saul standing atop that hill stirs in us feelings of compassion, and deep sadness. You just have to understand the man. His soldiers are fearful and wide-eyed. The scene is so captivating that the scribe of 1 Samuel 13 places his quivering quill down and picks up, not a thesaurus, but a geographical map for phrases that best describe the scene. Saul’s soldiers hid in “caves” and “thickets”, among “rocks”, in “pits” and “cisterns” (vs. 6). Any hole in which a human body could fit, there you’ll find a scared Israeli soldier. Some of them didn’t just step back, they went back home! (vs. 7) And those who chose to stay only did so because they could barely steady their wobbly knees. To say that they were trembling with fear would be an understatement. They were “quaking” with fear (vs. 7).

Saul doesn’t get why Samuel is not yet here. He should have been here two days ago. The Philistines are advancing. The gap between the camps is closing. The Israelite soldiers are cowering. The stench of defeat is choking. He glances at his shadow. It’s now a few inches longer than the last time he checked. Continue reading

Okay Kenyans, You Can Stop Praying Now

imagesIt is a small room. There’s probably about 30 to 40 people inside. All the people in the room are praying. Fervently. Faithfully. Resolutely. Unceasingly. You see, one of their own has been thrown into prison. And they are praying for, if not his release, at least his well being. That he won’t be killed like James, the brother of John. The Christians in Mary’s house are praying for Peter, who had been thrown into prison by Herod. Their prayers are so loud and passionate that they can barely hear the knocks at the gate to the house.

But Rhoda, a servant who was probably standing near the door, hears the knocks and rushes out, towards the gate. When she recognizes Peter’s voice, she is so overjoyed that she forgets to open the gate and rushes back into the house. She announces that Peter is at the door. Everyone thinks she’s crazy. Continue reading