Pray for Our World – What does prayer do?

Prayer is often misunderstood. It is not simply a wish list, or to be used casually in conversation. It is also not for spreading gossip in the form of a prayer. When it’s sincere, I do believe God hears those gut-wrenching prayers we call out to him in our time of desperation. God is always ready to extend grace to those who reach out to Him. But many times it feels like we don’t see prayers being answered. It is not from lack of faith. God does not requires us to earn anything first. But it does require an understanding of who God is and His plan for our world. Throughout the story of the Bible, God relentlessly pursues a relationship with us, to bring us back to Him, and is constantly fighting for us against the evil. He promises us hope and a Savior. Many times God has reassured me of things but He has never told me the future. God always meets us where we are today, not in the future. Every day is precious in itself.

As I journey into praying for our world this year, it is good to see what prayer has done for our world in just the last few decades. We often hear of the bad news, but if we step back a little, we can see the overall good and God’s plan for our world.

  • There is an unprecedented number of new believers across Africa, Asia and Latin America – those who have not had as much opportunity as before.
  • Christianity is now a global religion – there are Christians in every country on earth.
  • Renewal movements are also growing at an unforeseen rate, especially after the 1950’s (around the time Israel became a nation again).
  • Prayer movements and networks have multiplied and grown, including Global Day of Prayer, Days of Prayer for the nations, and grass-root networks.
  • Charity aid has escalated across the globe since the 1980’s and 1990’s. There is a more holistic understanding of missions – care for orphans and widows, uplift the poor, liberty to the oppressed and set the captives free. All those things Jesus taught us to do.
  • Many places previously closed are now open to aid workers and educators.
  • There are many new methods to reaching and helping people than ever before.

We must also be aware of the global hotspots in our world, where there is likely to be more turmoil and conflict in the coming years. We should especially be praying for these areas:

  • Future of Jerusalem and the ongoing conflict.
  • The Korean Peninsula shared between a ruthless dictator and a thriving but nervous democracy.
  • Somalia – war-torn and aggressive groups.
  • Central Africa – lawless militias.
  • Afghanistan and Pakistan – unstable and dangerous due to religious extremism and terrorism.
  • China’s growth and assertiveness.
  • All – human trafficking. It has now replaced drugs as the main trafficking area. 30 million people live in this type of slavery. It happens in our towns and cities, and is an attack on our youth. We should all be outraged!

Praying for others is a way we can recognize other people’s value, and a start to a more caring world. It gives us a sense of higher calling, something more than just ourselves, and a likeness to Christ.

Names of Jesus: Lamb of God

The next day John the Baptist saw Jesus coming to him and said,
“Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” 
John 1:29

A lamb had special significance to the Jews. A lamb was sacrificed each year during Passover. God provided a lamb to Abraham for sacrifice instead of his son Isaac. But Jesus was much more. He was the perfect sacrificial lamb.

Religion had become a set of rules to follow. Jesus was not about rules, though we sometimes still like to pin rules and conditions to Jesus. Jesus was about repentance. Repentance not religion. Grace not rules. He is the perfect lamb to take away our sin, which is what we all need.

In Jesus’ Words: A new era of God (Mark 1:1-20)

Jesus went to Galilee, preaching the good news of God: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe in the good news!”  (Mark 1:14-15)

A new era of God’s relationship with mankind had begun, just as it had been promised to Abraham’s generation.  The time had come for mankind to make a decision.  The Old Testament sacrifices and laws were now represented through the long-awaited Messiah.  The Kingdom of God was present on the earth, and this certainly was good news!

The last prophet was John the Baptist.  He was the messenger sent ahead of time to prepare the people for a new era, a new way.  Mankind’s only required response to receive God’s salvation: Repent and Believe.  It sounds simple, and it really was.  Jesus would take the place of the sacrifice.  A new era had begun and it changed the world in a very short time-frame, unlike no other ever has.

But even in today’s more-sophisticated climate, repentance seems hard for people.  It requires admitting our faults, admitting there is a higher power than ourselves, and admitting that we cannot be our own savior.  But Jesus says this is Good News!  Take a look around at our world.  The probability of us doing very well in this life (and death) by our own power are not very high odds.  Every day I pass by car accidents, or hear of friends and family with sudden health problems, and I’ve lived long enough to see people at the top of the world one day only to fall so hard the next.  The good news is that we do have a higher power who is compassionate, merciful and only has our best interest in mind.  It would be very frightening to live in this world without having a stronger help than myself, someone I can call out to anytime.

“Follow Me,” Jesus told them, “and I will make you fish for people!”  (Mark 1:17)  I imagine Jesus saying that with a smile and delight.

Jesus did not ask the people their qualifications, where they came from or what they had done.  He wanted to have a relationship with them, teach them, and show them what life was really meant to be.  Mark’s first recorded words from Jesus says almost everything we need to know about Jesus’ message in this new era of God: “Repent. Believe. Follow Me. It’s good news!”

In Jesus’ Words: The Gospel of Mark

Over a year ago, I started on a journey to tune out the needless noise, the constant back-and-forth of our society, the politics and debates, and go directly to the source – Jesus’ words – to see what He really has to say about all of this.  For if Jesus really is who he said he was, then his spoken words should mean everything to us and how we live our lives.

There is a book called “Five Seconds After You Die”, in which Mike Connell writes, “In the first five seconds after we die, we will know how we should have lived.”  That’s a startling thought.  Jesus talks a lot about the after-life and how we should be living now.  His advice is wise and timeless.  We get no do-overs in this life.  It is worth a few minutes of our time now to think about those five seconds later.  What if Jesus’ words are true?

In this journey of going directly to the source, I have just finished Matthew’s historical account of Jesus’ words.  Matthew was an outcast, a sinner, a deceiver and a thief.  Yet Jesus chose him, called him out of his lifestyle and he repented.  Matthew was so happy over this that he invited all of his rowdy friends to dinner at his house to meet his new friend, Jesus!  It certainly caused attention.  Matthew was also a Jew who wrote primarily to the Jewish audience to show them that Jesus was in fact the long-awaited Messiah and King of the Jews they were looking for in their prophecies.

Mark writes with a different purpose.  Where Matthew had been one of Jesus’ original disciples, Mark was a contemporary of Peter and Paul.  He wrote to a Roman audience and focused on the servanthood of Jesus.  Matthew showed us who Jesus is, Mark will show us what Jesus does.

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life – a ransom for many. 
Mark 10:45

There were many different types of witnesses, many different accounts of Jesus’ life, but the message in all the gospels is always the same and remains the same today.  Jesus did not engage in political rhetoric or protests.  He did not challenge the Roman government.  He did not waste time on fruitless arguments.  He looked at each person individually, and he looked at their heart.  No one was a “less” sinner than another.  Not a single one.  All of Jesus’ words lead to one thing – repentance – and to believe in the One who can and will forgive.  It will be your five seconds.  Between you and Jesus only.  I hope you will join me as we begin to look at the words Jesus spoke to us as recorded by the Apostle Mark.

In Jesus’ Words: Forsaken and the Gift (Matthew 27:45-51)

My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?

From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over the whole land.  About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out with a loud voice. Elí, Elí, lemá sabachtháni?  My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?
Jesus shouted again with a loud voice and gave up His spirit.
Suddenly, the curtain of the sanctuary was split in two from top to bottom; the earth quaked and the rocks were split.
~ from Matthew 27:45-51

Forsaken.  At this moment, Jesus was abandoned by God. Jesus had been with God from the very beginning, and now he was alone, abandoned, and in despair. Jesus became the sin-bearer for us, carrying all of our sins and those of the entire world, while God poured out his wrath and punishment on sin.  It was far worse than any physical pain and torture he had received – it was the moment Jesus feared the most.  God could not look at his son.  He was forsaken, shamed, and separated from God.  It was the ultimate sacrifice, and for no other reason than the love for his creation.

There is so much to think about from this event and Jesus’ final words before his death:

Jesus has already paid the price for our sins (past, past and future). For those who accept this sacrificial gift, we will not be punished again for any of our sins.  God does not punish twice for the same crime.  Here, Jesus represents the loving, compassionate, and merciful side of God.

But God also hates sin.  It goes against His holy nature.  For those who do not accept Jesus’ sacrifice, God’s wrath will still be on their sins.  People often have difficulty imagining God sending people to hell, especially with the images of devils and fire and torture.  But the reality is, hell is a place where there is complete abandonment of God.  A place where you can no longer call out to God and have any hope of Him responding. It is a place where there are no good characteristics of God available anywhere – of love, compassion, mercy, sacrifice.  Hell is permanent abandonment and separation from God. People sometimes doubt there is any evidence that God is even in our world today, but imagine if you took out all references to God and love and good in our world, what would be the effects then?  Complete lawlessness and chaos and evil without any hope of goodness or love.  And definitely no self-sacrifice.

But why is Jesus the only way?  I would rather ask the question like this… Why would God promise a Savior and then punish and sacrifice his son so much, only to turn around and say, “Well, it doesn’t really matter, there are many ways.”  No other way or religion offers a sacrifice for you.  But just like when someone gives you a gift, you have to accept that gift.  It cannot be forced on you or it is no longer a gift.

Finally, I always get asked this question… What about those before Jesus, or those who have not heard, or places where their culture prevents it?  Jesus came for past, present and future.  He is not time-bound.  Let Jesus deal with those things.  He is the gate-keeper, and His gift is for everyone and He gives everyone a chance to accept.  We should be more concerned about those of us who know better, who have knowledge, and yet have openly rejected his gift.  Once you have been offered a gift and refuse, you may not have another chance to accept.  Others may not have been offered yet.  We are to accept Jesus’ gift of eternal life and fellowship with God, and pass the good news on to others.  This is what Jesus died for, so that we may never have to experience separation from God.