Praying for Bahrain

I have never been to Bahrain. I know very little about Bahrain. All I know is that it is a small country in the Middle East, located on a series of islands in the Persian Gulf. But I prayed for Bahrain the other day. It’s on my prayer calendar/journal. Every day of the year, I have a nation, city, or geographic region (desert, ocean, continent) to pray for. It’s somewhat random, and personal–many of the “cities” are really local small towns or places close to my heart–and it doesn’t make my prayers virtuous or important. My prayers can’t “save” the world, or any corner of it, from natural disaster or political corruption, disease, or any other malady common to our fallen world. So why do it?

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First, because God loves and cares about the whole world. It’s easy for me to focus on my surrounding community; my state; my country. I know the people and language and culture here. But there is nothing exclusive about God’s love. Throughout the Bible, it is clear that our God is a global God. Sure, God “chose” Abraham and the nation of Israel to display His Holiness. But He also raised up other nations and leaders– Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar, the Queen of Sheba, Caesar Augustus–and sent prophetic warnings to Babylon, Edom, Assyria, Egypt, and many other nations who neither knew Him nor worshipped Him. I don’t know enough to know how many of the people of Bahrain are Christians, Muslims, Atheists, or any other religion. I don’t know how many of them are suffering from depression, domestic abuse, or disease. But I know that God knows– and cares. Even though I am praying “blind,” I am making an effort to “see” God’s heart for others.

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Second, as I pray for various nations, I become more interested in them. I learn more about them. I recognize them when they are mentioned in the news, or when I hear about people who live or visit there. Again, this doesn’t make me a better person, or my prayers better than anyone else’s–but it helps me be a more informed (and hopefully more compassionate) person than I was yesterday or last year.

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Praying for others reminds me of two important truths: I am very small in the scheme of things– one of more than 8 billion people on the planet! I cannot know them all; I cannot care for them all or influence them, or change their situations. But God can! I serve a God who not only knows all 8 billion individuals; He knows their thoughts, their pasts and their futures–He even knows the number of hairs on each head! The second truth that arises from that is that, small as I am, I am known by God. He cares about ME, just as He cares about each person that breathes. HE can change the small circumstances of my life, and the lives of those I know and love; AND He can raise up kingdoms and break down empires!

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Pursuing prayer is about following God. Part of that is learning discipline. God isn’t “grading” me on whether or not I pray for Bahrain, or Belarus, or Boston, or the tiny local town of Baroda. He isn’t going to turn His back on me if I don’t pray for any of these places. And He won’t love me more if I do. But I will get better insight into His character as I learn to pray faithfully, consistently, and compassionately for others– wherever they are.

The Hopes and Fears of All the Years..

My paternal grandmother was born in Shanghai. But not the Shanghai most people think of. Not a great Eastern city of importance, but a tiny settlement called Shanghai (or Shanghai Corners) in southwestern Michigan. It doesn’t have a post office; it’s not even listed on most maps. And it wasn’t named directly after the great Chinese city– it was named after a breed of chicken (most likely the breed now known as Cochin)!

Jesus wasn’t born in Jerusalem. He wasn’t born in Rome or Athens, or New York City or London or Johannesburg or Tokyo. Jesus was born in Bethlehem. It wasn’t as small as Shanghai Corners, Michigan, but it wasn’t a city of great importance, wealth, or industry. And yet, it was the place where history would be reshaped. Our modern calendar divides into what happened before that night in Bethlehem and what came after. More than two thousand years later, no event has been able to displace it as the pivotal event of recorded history.

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And this division wasn’t caused by a revolution, or a series of wars. It wasn’t shaped by disaster or plague, victory or catastrophe. It came silently with the birth of a single baby, wrapped in strips of cloth and placed into a makeshift bed. But all the years revolve around that single birth. All the great triumphs of history– the moon landing, the invention of the printing press, the conquests of Alexander the Great, the building of the Sphinx–all are placed in the context of the arrival of God in human form. God stepped into the limits of human history, and the timeline was permanently altered. Before His appearance, prophets and seers looked forward. After His arrival, history looks back. But His birth is the focal point; the period. The end of the Beginning and the beginning of the End.

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The hopes of all the ancients–shrouded in mists and wonder– were given flesh and bones. The fears– dark and amorphous– were blinded by the light of His Presence.

What hopes and fears are we carrying today? Our hopes have a name– Jesus; Emmanuel! Our fears have nowhere to hide from His power. And this wondrous gift, while it first arrived in the little town of Bethlehem, reaches around the entire Earth– to Shanghai, and Shanghai Corners; New Delhi, and St. Petersburg; Dallas and Buenos Aires; Cairo and Caraballo; Los Angeles and Lagos; and thousands of small towns in between.

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“Oh Holy Child of Bethlehem,
Descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin, and enter in:
Be born in us today.”

Of Rocks and Rills…

I love spending time in nature– walking, riding, or biking through woods and meadows, hills and valleys, along lakes or rivers.  God has created such beauty and majesty in every part of our world!  I grew up surrounded by woods and water– lakes, rivers, old forests and new-growth woods, with lots of farmland and meadows spread out over low rolling hills.  So it is always with wonder that I look upon mountains, deserts, rain forests and jungles, and tropical settings because they are not part of the “normal” landscape for me.  Even so, I never tire of the sites that greet me year-round–the steady breaking waves rolling in off Lake Michigan; the babbling of a small river or stream over field stone as it races down a small hill toward a pond; trees bowing and dancing in the wind just before a storm…

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Nature is not just beautiful.  It gives us yet another way to experience God’s “nature”– his character and provision.  God is steady like a rock– strong, enduring, a safe refuge.  God is refreshing and life-giving as a river– ready to wash away aches and soothe us.  God is eternal, and his love is as vast and deep as the ocean.  God is mysterious as the forest–giving shade and cover, and concealing treasures, and ancient secrets.  God is as open as a meadow, as pure as an ice shelf, as glorious as a desert sunset.

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God uses his glorious creation to illustrate his “nature.”  I pray that we can experience the both aspects of God’s nature today, and praise Him for who He is and how He has revealed Himself all around us.

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What’s Your Destination?

Recently, my husband and I took a weekend trip.  We had a destination in mind, but had to decide on a route.  Looking it up on the computer, we were given an estimated distance and travel time based on a programmed route that was found to be the “fastest.”  However, this route was not necessarily the shortest, or the most scenic, or the safest.  Knowing our destination, my husband was able to reconfigure the program to map out a route that fit our needs.  It got us to the correct destination, and allowed us to travel safely, leisurely, and confidently.

After we reached our initial destination, we decided to take a side trip.  Since we hadn’t counted on taking the side trip, we didn’t have a route.  We relied on the same technology, but, not knowing our exact destination, we typed in a general location and followed the instructions we were given.  We missed an important exit and had to reconfigure…we changed our plans and had to reconfigure…we misspelled the name of the new destination and were sent miles out of our way before we realized what had happened…we ran into an unexpected detour which sent us more miles out of our way.

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Knowing your destination, and having a good map or set of directions can make a huge difference.  We still had an enjoyable trip, but we might have been able to do more if we had planned a little better–one of the places we decided to visit had just closed by the time our reconfigured driving directions got us there!   And we might have been able to cut several miles off of the detour route if we knew the local roads better (it didn’t help that our map application wasn’t working at the critical moment, either!)

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In life, there are many “programs” that offer advice, direction, and focus to get us to a destination.  There are weight-loss programs, “life coaches,” self-help books, universities, “mindfulness” seminars, even religions that promise to guide us along a particular path.  But if we don’t have a clear destination in mind, we can end up wandering down a detour or even a dead end.  What started out with such promise becomes a maze of questions, unmet expectations, and frustrating twists and turns.

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So what is my destination in pursuing prayer?  Where do I want to end up at day’s end?  In a year?  When I face the end of my life (if God chooses to let me see the end approaching)? I want to experience the kind of prayer life that honors God, deepens my relationship with Him, and has an impact.  There are many “paths” of prayer– but they have different destinations.  Meditation, recitation, fasting and praying, praying corporately or in isolation–I need to map out a course that will get me to the goal.  And I need to rely on the guidance provided by the Bible, the Holy Spirit, and godly counselors and teachers.

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Passport Prayers

I get to travel every day.  I journal my prayers in a daily notebook.  Prayer Journal  (click here to get ideas or learn more)  Each day has a heading and four sections– one for birthdays or other “memory days”; one for thematic prayers (generalized themes like “family”, “community”, “global concerns”, “culture”, etc.); one for urgent requests, and one for a region of the world–nations, major cities, local communities.  On busy days, I send a short prayer and try to remember what I know, or imagine what I’d like to know, about that area.  Some days, I have the luxury of time to look up information or history about that area– what is the language, capital city, literacy rate, average age, major religion, geography, economy, etc.

Our world is full of wonder, variety, crisis, and opportunity–I want to add all of this to my pursuit of prayer. It reminds me of several things:

  • I am not the center of the universe– my issues and problems are not unique or exceptional.
  • God has placed me here to interact with others–I can’t reach out and connect with 6 billion others, but I can become more aware of their needs and way of life.
  • The world is a big place–seeing it on the screen via the internet sometimes causes me to forget that.  And as I see how big the world is, I also need to remember that God is even bigger!
  • The world is full of variety.  Not everyone lives or thinks or worships as I do.  Not everyone faces the same circumstances, the same temptations, the same struggles.  Yet God sees and hears each one who calls on him.  He doesn’t have trouble understanding languages and dialects– he doesn’t get culture shock.  He is not an American Jesus, or a Brazilian Jesus, or a Korean Jesus.  He’s not an urban Jesus or a remote mountain village Jesus, or a gated community Jesus.  When we enter eternity, we will share it with amazing brothers and sisters from every corner of creation.  He’s got the whole world in his hands!

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  • Many millions of people around the globe have never heard the Gospel– or they’ve heard lies and misrepresentations.  Millions of other believers are being persecuted for believing in Jesus or for sharing the good news of Salvation in His Name. People in every nation, every community, are suffering.
  • We are commanded, as Christians, to “go into all the world” and preach the gospel.  I may not be able to travel to “all the world”, but I can “go” in prayer, sharing on-line, and  learning about needs, as well as in sending out and praying for those who can travel.
  • I am grateful for the opportunities God has given me– to learn about him and worship him in freedom; to travel and participate on short-term mission opportunities; to meet and share with missionaries, travelers, students, foreign workers, and others who share their culture and knowledge and perspectives; and for the global work of the Savior, and my privilege to share in it.

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Time to pack my bags– I’m heading to Germany tomorrow!

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