Pray for Our World – Region of Asia

I remember stepping off the plane in Bangkok a few years ago.  I had never been to this far-reaching and culturally different region of the world called Asia and did not know what to expect.  What I did know was that it was less than one percent Christian and held the majority of the world’s most ancient civilizations, a stark difference to my American Southeast culture.  But I’ll never forget the young Thai girl I met in one of the shops.  She had a framed picture of Jesus on one of her store shelves, and the store was noticeably lacking of any of the numerous Buddhist statues you would see in any other shop.  She had the most beautiful smile, and beamed with radiance when she proudly told me in broken English, “I am Christian.”  Later that night in my Sheraton hotel, where the locals treated us like celebrities because they thought we were rich, I found a Gideon’s Bible tucked away in the desk drawer of my hotel room.

God is everywhere, and God loves the people of Asia.  It is God’s plan for all the world to know Him, and to know about His Son Jesus that he sent to this region of the world 2000 years ago.  Asia spans a wide geographic area from the Middle East in Western Asia to China, India and Japan in central Asia, to Southeastern Asia of Philippines and Indonesia.  Asia is where the birth of the church started with Peter and Paul, and it is where the End Times is prophesied to take place.  The last 100 years have shown a remarkable resurgence of Christians in the area, increasing by over 150 million. Lands that were previously cut off from Christianity have been opening up, and there is an increase in Muslims responding to the Gospel.  There are many stories of Jesus appearing to Muslims in dreams and visions, which is the only way Muslims believe God can talk to you.  God is meeting them where they are.

It is in the individual acts of the missionaries that have gone before us, the Gideons, your prayer and donations to missions, Satellite tv, and internet Gospel, that has continued what Peter and Paul started in this area of the world.  It has given this one young Thai girl and many others the hope of a Savior and has shown them the Light of the World. 

Pray for Our World – The Americas

As I continue around the globe in prayer, starting with the African continent, I now come to the Americas. These are two continents made up of three main areas of North America, Caribbean, and Latin America. They have a lot in common between the 53 countries that make up this region, but there is also great diversity – from the indigenous Intuit people of the Arctic to the Fuegians of South America. There are blessings and challenges to this region, which is sometimes referred to as the New World.

The United States has the majority of the population, and then Canada. North America is the wealthiest continent with 99% literacy rate, 77% Christian and 18% non-religious. The past has been plagued with ill-treatment of indigenous peoples and slavery. The present is plagued with drug-trafficking primarily coming from the south. The balance of world power is changing in the United States, as the world perceptions and roles are changing.

The Caribbean is largely Hispanic and African-Caribbean, with 82% literacy and 83% Christian. Their main economy is tourism. Latin America is largely Hispanic and Brazilian, with 90% literacy and 92% Christian, which is mostly Catholic. Their main economy is export of natural resources.

Overall these statistics look pretty good, and many answered prayers have been a part of it. In the Caribbean and Latin America, there has been a shift toward more democracy and away from military regimes, and a new vitality in the Catholic Church based on new reading of the scriptures and evangelical teaching. There have been many great evangelists, missionaries, writers, speakers, pastors, and trainers that have come out of North America, and North Americans are most generous with missions and good causes. In the area where I live (Southeast United States), I am fortunate to see this played out every day in my church, friends and co-workers.

But there are also a few large areas of prayer needed for this region of the world. Drugs, poverty and crime are certainly on the list, but the one that really stuck out to me when studying this region is the Church. The past brought many solid leaders and teachers from the church but today’s American church is changing.

  • There is a decline in influence. Pray for moral purity and spiritual development of our churches.
  • Consumeristic attitudes have led to shallow thinking and teaching.
  • There is a lack of Biblical understanding as many churches move away from teaching the Word of God to more self-help sermons.
  • False teachings are on the rise, with pluralism (more than one truth), secularism, new age trends, and spiritism (such as voodoo).

Pray for our youth and university students, those who face these obstacles constantly. Just the statistics alone on our youth are staggering. Pray for the immigrant communities, who come from every major world culture to this area of the world – seeking hope. And pray for our poor and oppressed – sex trafficking, drugs, and those who go without in an area of plenty and over-abundance. And don’t just pray – God wants us to help, to get involved! As an American, I pray, “May God have mercy on us and help us return to God, so that we don’t waste what God has blessed and purposed us with.”

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: The Mighty God

The prophet Isaiah spoke of the coming Savior child to be born of a virgin, and said that he will be named Mighty God.  Isaiah is referring to two prophesies of different times – a child and a king.  We celebrate the birth of the child at Christmas, but we will celebrate again at the return of a mighty king who will restore and redeem.  Isaiah gives us a hint of this Mighty God in his earlier prophesy:

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of darkness, a light has dawned.
You have enlarged the nation and increased its joy.
The people have rejoiced before You as they rejoice at harvest time
and as they rejoice when diving spoils.
For You have shattered their burdensome yoke
and the rod on their shoulders, the staff of their oppressor,
just as You did on the day of Midian. (Isaiah 9:2-4)

This Christmas, when you hang your lights, think of the great light that will overcome the darkness and will once again fill the earth with joy.  We have hope!

Leah, the Unloved – a Christmas story

I’ve discovered a little known part to a story that often gets overlooked in the amplified fairy-tale type stories we usually like to hear.  At this time of the year, squeezed in between the endless Christmas tunes and the joyous family images we are constantly presented with, there’s a lot of heartache and loneliness for many people.  Even the psychologists have recently stated that too much Christmas music can be bad for your mental health, which reaffirms what many of us already know and feel this time of year.

This a story for all of us – a reminder for some and a hope for others.  It is about Leah, the unloved one.  I have never thought of this particular story in this way before.  If you are familiar with Bible stories, then you have probably heard of the love story between Jacob and Rachel in Genesis 28-29.  Jacob, who is also known as the father of the nation of Israel, is the son of Isaac and the grandson of Abraham.  Jacob fell in love with his boss’ daughter Rachel at first sight.  She was “shapely and beautiful”, while her older sister Leah had “ordinary eyes”.  It was not the custom back then for the younger daughter to be married first, so Jacob agreed to work for their father for seven years so he could marry Rachel.  After he finished the seven years, he was tricked into marrying Leah instead.  Jacob had to agree to another seven years of labor so that he may also marry Rachel, which he did.  In telling this story, we often focus on Jacob’s love for Rachel and his sacrifice, but what about Leah?  How did she feel?  She was forced into marrying a man who did not love her or want her.

As the story continues, when the Lord saw that Leah was unloved, He opened her womb and she produced four sons, but Rachel was unable to conceive.  Each time Leah said, “surely my husband will love me now.”  But the beautiful Rachel may have started to become bitter, because when she saw that she was not bearing any children to Jacob, she began to envy her sister Leah.  She demanded that Jacob give her children, of which Jacob became angry with her and replied, “Am I in God’s place, who has withheld children from you?”  So Rachel instructed her slave to sleep with Jacob instead, and they had a son named Dan (who is later associated with pagan practices).

Fast forward a little through the turbulent life of Jacob and his twin brother Esau, and his demanding father-in-law, until we get to the end of Jacob’s life.  He eventually has a son with Rachel named Joseph, who has an incredible story all of his own in Egypt, but this little known story is still about Leah.  On Jacob’s deathbed, he gathers all his sons together to tell them what will happen to each of them in the days to come.  As a side-note, Jacob’s twelve sons will become the twelve tribes of Israel, who later fight and split apart into the Northern and Southern Kingdoms.  Jacob begins to tell each of his sons their fate – some good and some bad.  But it is Leah’s son Judah who receives the best blessing and prophecy:

Judah, your brothers will praise you.
Your hand will be on the necks of your enemies;
your father’s sons will bow down to you.
Judah is a young lion—
my son, you return from the kill.
He crouches; he lies down like a lion
or a lioness—who dares to rouse him?
The scepter will not depart from Judah
or the staff from between his feet
until He whose right it is comes
and the obedience of the peoples belongs to Him.
He ties his donkey to a vine,
and the colt of his donkey to the choice vine.
He washes his clothes in wine
and his robes in the blood of grapes. (Genesis 49)

It is through the lineage of Leah, the one who felt unloved, from her son Judah that the line of David will come and the birth of a Savior, Jesus Christ.  And in the end, it was Leah that Jacob honored in her death by being buried with her in Abraham’s burial site.

Then Jacob commanded them: “I am about to be gathered to my people. Bury me with my fathers in the cave in the field of Ephron the Hittite.  This is the field Abraham purchased as a burial site.  Abraham and his wife Sarah are buried there, Isaac and his wife Rebekah are buried there, and I buried Leah there. (Genesis 49:29-31)

If we only look at life from the short view, it can often seem very unfair and full of disappointments and sorrow.  But we must look at life with the long view in mind just as God does.  We are all beautiful in God’s eyes – with true beauty.  God has something special in mind for all of us whether we see it in this life or when we get to heaven.  I believe that Leah was loved after all.  And from her offspring, came Jesus Christ.