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Thursday, 10 August 2017

Prayer works!

On one of my study wall, above a large map of the world, is a wooden plaque that I have had for so long I am unable to recall its origin! It has just three words burned on to it: "Prayer changes things"!

The news of the past few days would certainly give credence to that claim. As some are aware, I have a long-standing interest in the persecuted church, and pray on a daily basis for my brothers and sisters in Jesus who suffer for their faith in ways that I am unable to fully comprehend. One of two specific individuals for whom I have been praying, is 39-year-old Maryam Naghash Zargaran who, in spite of various physical health issues, has spent the last four years in prison in Iran. There were occasions when she was permitted to be taken to hospital - albeit, chained to her bed - but she was then brought back to prison even although doctors insisted that she was not fit for continued incarceration. I, along with many others, was thrilled to learn that Maryam was released from prison on August 1st. 

The second person is a South Korean pastor in his sixties, Hyeon Soo Lim, who holds Canadian citizenship. Although he had visited North Korea on more than one hundred occasions, to do humanitarian work, in 2015 he was arrested, tried, and sentenced to hard labour for life. As anyone with any knowledge of North Korea will be aware, hard labour in the hermit country is no "open prison" life - even for a much younger man. My prayer, for some time, has been that this dear brother would be released, and permitted to return to his family in Canada - in spite of the life sentence. That, I was fully aware, was asking for a miracle. You may imagine my delight to learn that, on August 9th, Pastor Lim had been released and was on his way back to Canada.

Two wonderful "answers to prayer". However, what about others who remain in prison - someone like Asia in Pakistan, arrested and incarcerated in 2009 for the heinous crime of having offered a co-worker in a field a cup of water. The problem was that Asia is a disciple of Jesus; her co-workers were all Muslims. They claimed that her act was insulting to Islam, and she was tried, and found guilty, of "blasphemy"! She continues to await a date - that would be kept - for her final appeal to the Pakistan Supreme Court. I pray for Asia on a daily basis - why has that prayer not been "answered"?

The difficulty, it seems to me, is that so many only consider a prayer to have been "answered" if they get what they want! This, of course, is just silly. When my daughters were young - and even now, as adults in their own right - they did not always have their request fulfilled. However, they always received an answer! Sometimes that answer was, indeed, positive, and the request was granted. However, there were times when they were told that they would have to wait until they were older; and times when they were told, quite plainly, "No!". Always, however, as a loving father, I answered their requests.

Prayer, I would contend, is (as far as requests are concerned - of course, true prayer is NOT a "shopping-list" to be presented to Almighty God!) like that. Sometimes, in His infinite wisdom, God denies me that for which I have asked. His answer is "No!". That means that, whatever I in my human frailty and ignorance, may think, this is not good for me. On other occasions, the answer is "Wait!". I am asking for the correct thing - but my timing is wrong. Praise God for those times when I am walking closely enough to Him that I am in tune with His will, and His timing, and the answer is "Yes!". However, there is no such thing as "unanswered" prayer!

I recall the story - which I believe to be true - of an Episcopal Bishop in, if memory serves me well, Dublin, in the 18th century. A sceptic challenged him about prayer. "What you consider an answer to prayer is just coincidence", he claimed. The bishop was a much wiser man than I am. Instead of entering into a debate on the subject (as I would undoubtedly have done!), he merely responded: "You may be right. All that I know is that when I pray, the coincidences happen; and when I don't, neither do they. So I'll just keep on praying, and thanking God for His coincidences"!

If you are a praying person, who believes in the power of prayer, then be encouraged that no prayer reaches the Heavenly Father that is not answered in accordance with His perfect will, knowledge, and purpose. Do pray for those in the persecuted church. When some of them are interviewed by "westerners" that is their constant request - not that their suffering should cease (they may not have a Bible, or even be fully literate, but they will know the words of James: "Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness." [1:2-3]) but that we should remember them in prayer. 

Remember, too, those other words of James that: "The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects." (5:16). You and I have no righteousness of our own - but if we are truly "in Christ Jesus", then we are clothed with His righteousness - and that assures that we are accepted by the Father, and our prayers will rise to Him as incense.

Let us pray!

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