Tag Archives: prayer

Botany

the flowers of the field

the Flowers of the Field (c) 2007 muddart

“And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith!” – Matthew 6:28-30

In my last post I wrote about the “birds of the air” and how in the original language, the passage has the idea  of fixedly observing the birds, as contrasted with casual observation.  I then considered whether Jesus might have been  speaking more than rhetorically, and actually suggesting that his hearers go out and intently observe the birds.

But he did not stop there.  In the passage above, the word translated as “observe” likewise is not a casual observation, but has a fuller definition of “to learn thoroughly.”  From a literary perspective, such compelling language, used in a parallel structure, strongly suggests that Jesus was indeed urging his hearers to go and personally take time to meditate upon the birds and how they live and eat, and upon the flowers and how they grow and flourish.  How do they accomplish what they do?  How do they do their amazing feats?

In the observation of these things the answer is hidden on how to not be worried or anxious or stressed about this life and all its most important concerns.

Have you ever taken some time to carefully study the birds and flowers in light of these questions?  What did you learn?  If you never have, why not try it?  Let me know what you find out.

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Bird Watching

birds of the air

The Birds of the Air – (c) 1999 Muddart

For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? – Matthew 6:25-27

Recently, I came to the conclusion that this passage and its context could easily be studied for a lifetime.  I myself have been  meditating rather intently on it for a number of years now, and I continue to find greater depths to its underlying meaning.

It began some years ago when I was going through a long period of very tight cash flow.   Every payday, when I had to figure out how I was going to make a little money go a long way, I would sit down with this passage to try to quiet my soul and get peace in the midst of uncertainty about the future.  I learned a lot of things both from these verses and the ones that follow them.

Did you know, for instance, the Greek word that is translated as “look” in this passage actually means to “observe fixedly?”   Or that there are other Greek words used elsewhere to denote more casual observation? When I discovered that this was the literal meaning, it got me thinking: maybe Jesus wasn’t speaking rhetorically, maybe he was actually suggesting to his disciples to go and intently observe the birds.  Maybe he was telling them, and me as well, that if we went and carefully observed the birds we would learn something about how not to worry, and how instead to trust God to supply our needs.  Have you ever meditated on the birds of the air?  What did you learn?  If you never have, it’s worth the try.

Love Practically: the Dynamics of Heart Opening

Authors note: another unpublished post from the past.  This one was drafted November 24, 2009, but never published.  As I read it over, I couldn’t figure out why I hadn’t published it.  Only made minor modifications.

About a week ago, I had this experience.  I was having an interaction with someone, and in the middle of the interaction I heard the Spirit of God speaking quietly into my own spirit “Will you open your heart to this person?”  The interesting thing was I wasn’t aware of my heart being closed.  The person was someone I liked, enjoyed spending time with and considered a dear friend.  I would have expected such a question if faced with someone whose need overwhelmed me, but though like all of humankind this person had needs,  I didn’t feel overwhelmed by their need or like they were asking something of me that I wasn’t willing to give.  So, the case was not one that I would have expected a challenge to open my heart.

Yet as I heard this question whispering gently in my heart, I knew my heart was not fully open.  So, I made a conscious effort to open my heart.  Two amazing things ensued.  Not immediately, but sometime later, the person opened their heart more fully to me.  No “deep dark secrets”, but sharing important stuff — questions, thoughts, hopes, longings.  And the second thing was later that evening at home alone, I found myself drawn into the presence of God, and experienced His heart opening up and pouring out to me, and I was suddenly amazed to realize my heart was more open to God.

The experience gave me a deeper revelation of what I already knew, which is if I open my heart to my brother and my sister, I open my heart to the Lord.  An open heart is an open heart and a closed heart is a closed heart.  I can’t decide to open my heart to God, and not open it to my fellow man, and I can’t decide to close my heart to one without closing my heart to the other either (1 John 4:7-8, 1 John 3:17).

But the experience held another lesson as well.  I’ve thought about it and prayed about it in the days that have passed since.  God was asking me to open my heart to much much more than simply human need.  I think before now I’ve always linked opening my heart to other people to opening my heart to their need, and yes, that is a part, but if I only open my heart to the need of the person in front of me I have still not opened my heart to the person themselves.  The Lord is asking of me so much more: to open my heart to the fullness of the mystery of that person.  It is written that we are created in the image of God.  This God is an infinite, eternal God.  In the image of this God we are created! Wow, what an amazing thought!  Each person is intricately and amazingly made, and yet so often when we open our hearts only to our own image of that person, only to our expectations of them, only to our thoughts of what they can do for us, even if it’s only making us feel better about ourselves for helping them.  But what would it mean to open our hearts fully to the person themselves, to the things that make them fully human — for instance their creativity, their free will.  To open my heart to someone with a free will, either God or man, means to open my heart to a mystery.

Experiencing Authentic New Testament Christianity

Author’s note: Sorry to have been away so long.  The better part of this post was actually written last May, but the last year turned out to be very eventful, so my musings got put on hold.  This morning, I woke up with some thoughts that I wanted to put down in writing, but found the draft of this post instead, and realized it said a lot of what I had on my mind.

In my observation there seems to be a huge upsurge of people within the both the evangelical and charismatic Christian traditions seeking something more authentic in their Christianity.  Many are looking to the 1st century church and asking themselves: does what we do line up with what they did?  Does what we are doing look like what Jesus meant for the church to look like?  These are good questions, but at times I fear in our quest for “authentic New Testament Christianity” we may miss the point. Here are some of the points I hear from various different camps looking for authentic Christianity:

  • We should meet in houses, because that’s what the first church did
  • We should have spiritual fathers, like Paul’s relationship with Timothy
  • We should have/recognize modern-day apostles like there were in 1st century
  • We should be experiencing miracles like the 1st century church
  • We should be experiencing church growth like the first century church
  • We should have church structure that matches the first century church
  • Our church government needs to match the first century church

I don’t wish to argue the validity of any of the above statements.  They may all be true, but my concern is that all these points miss the main point.  And if we miss the main point, then our perspective on every other point (which includes those above) will be be wrongly skewed.

So what’s the main point?  When the first century church started out they didn’t know how they were going to do any of those things.  They had only three things, (1) Jesus had loved them in a way that completely broke them to the core, and ruined them for all else, (2) He had told them that they were to love one another in this same way (!), and (3) they knew they will completely and utterly incapable of doing so in their own power!  Point #2 ought to alarm us!  If it does not, than we do yet have a revelation of the depth and power of God’s love.  As I have said on other posts, the greatest miracle on Pentecost was not the tongues or the miracles that followed, but the fact that this group of misfits who just a few short weeks before had been vying for position, now miraculously began to love one another to the point that they were “selling their property and possessions and sharing them with all as anyone had need.” (Acts 2:44-45)

So, it seems to me if we want to experience a Christianity like that which was experienced by the first century church (and I’m not sure we fully do, but that’s another subject altogether), we need to experience the same kind of love they did, and if we want to experience the same kind of love, then our only path is to gather together in prayer with others of like mind and ask Him to send His Spirit into our midst and empower us to be like, and to love like Him. (Acts 1:14)

“If only one flower stands out, it is not truly spring”

The following article was published on the Serving China Prayer Blog.  Though it was originally written to help foreigners more effectively pray for and serve the Body of Christ in China, it is really full of many lessons that we can learn from them as well.  Enjoy!

A House Church Pastor’s Perspective

By Brother Dong

EDITORS’ NOTE: This month we are so glad to present you with a letter written first-hand by a leading Chinese house church pastor himself! “Brother Dong” is a premiere Christian leader on a nationwide scale, involved in a very wide spectrum of Christian work across many provinces. Recently, he spoke to us by phone, giving us his insights on what we as a foreign servant ministry in China should focus on in the months and years ahead. It was so profoundly valuable that we asked him to put it in writing, which he agreed to do and then let us share with you also.

When Brother Dong first shared with by phone, his framework was how we could better pray for the church in China. Later, when he wrote the article, the same comments focused on how to best serve the church in China. Finally, when we read the article ourselves, we couldn’t help but notice how much we here in the West could learn from the church in China. It is our prayer that this excellent article will aid you both in better interceding for our brothers and sisters in China, as well as inspiring all of us to learn and apply lessons from the church in China to our communities of faith at home.

God’s work in China in the past fifty years has surprised many–Christians and non-Christians alike. Restricted circumstances and non-existent religious structure have birthed a homegrown movement, which does not easily fit into any traditional model. Maybe now for the first time Christianity has taken root in China. For the church to flourish within and without China, it is important for the Body of Christ to engage church in China in a holistic way.

First, help her stick to the essentials that sustain and grow a Christian or a church. There is a continual need for Bibles, and literature on spiritual life, preaching, and teaching, gospel tracts, world mission history and missionary biographies. Particularly in the current circumstances, these types of literature can reach many people at many places.

Second, help her return to the basics of Christian faith. The simplicity of Christian faith is the vitality of God’s church. The essence of Christ’s gospel needs no more than a mouth and a breath to spread. As the educational level improves in Chinese society, there is a temptation to develop elaborate theologies and practices, which are not only incomprehensible to many Christians and cause divisions, but also divert and waste the energy that should have been utilized to expand God’s Kingdom.

Third, encourage her to pick up the zeal and vision for world missions. The Chinese rural house church will be an important model for the future of world missions because 1) it is homegrown, which is non-threatening to local community and culture; 2) its strategies and methods are indigenous, mostly free of Western denominational influence, and so are flexible and adaptable; 3) its operation, without the burden of church building and clergy, is least resources-dependent, which in turn enables her to focus the resources for outreach; 4) it remains communal and relational, which is the nature of many societies/cultures in Asia and Africa; 5) it is of the lower class, which comprises of the majority of world population. This will potentially result in a shift in Christian missions and social development from “the strong reaching out the weak” to “peer help”.

Fourth, interact with the urban church productively. This requires Western believers to be especially wise, using caution in this effort. The urban church has experienced significant growth in the last fifteen years. It tends to be strong in education, affluence, skills, and resources, thus often self-sufficient. The strong background of leaders and limited exposure often result in isolation of churches. Intellectual ability often hinders urban churches from coming together because disagreement on certain doctrine or practice. Advanced training offers the urban church competence in managing efficiently, which could lead to some mega-churches. This may not be a good thing. There is a Chinese saying, which says: “If only one flower stands out, it is not truly spring.” In the same way, efficiency of one entity may not mean effectiveness of the whole Body of Christ. To gain recognition, urban church tends to institutionalize through legal/structural effort and purchase of property, which is resource-draining. The consequences may be unexpected: when the Spirit is there, everybody cares for one another; but when the Body of Christ becomes institutionalized, each person becomes just one of many which often results in insensitivity and indifference. It is our hope that urban church would not fall into Western denominational structures and theologies.

Fifth, build dialogue and partnership between urban and rural churches. Because of societal and cultural differences, China exists in two very different worlds: the rural and the urban. Despite rapid urbanization in recent years, the influx to cities is mainly of rural outlook. The feelings of inferiority among the rural versus those of privilege among the urban often hinder interaction between the two worlds. This bears similar impact on the churches as well. They need to be pushed into dialogue and partnership to utilize their respective gifts. Rural churches typically are strong in dedication, human power, time, and contextual adaptability, while urban churches possess finance, knowledge, and advanced skills. Doing projects together may offer a good venue to develop dialogue and grow partnership.

Sixth, network churches from different background and areas. Because of the current circumstances, churches, big or small, often operate within their own circles. It would be beneficial for them to cross the boundaries which they have placed between themselves so that they can catch a big picture of God’s work and His call upon the Chinese church. This is usually not easy for nationals to initiate. Foreign believers are a good third party to initiate and sustain this kind of interaction. Only through this effort can real growth and expansion happen. Then many small and solid churches will bloom all over China, rather than a few big ones in a few centers.

Seventh, help her grow in the understanding of social witness and cross-cultural outreach. The one-sided economic development in the past thirty years has left out many in society. Most of the marginalized live among or are from the rural area. Christians have won approval through their upright living in their community, but they need to actively enter the society to reach out to the needy. Churches need to open their eyes to see the needs of orphans, HIV/AIDS, prostitutes, and the poor. Another area is cross-cultural: many churches have little experience or understanding of other cultures in China’s predominately Han Chinese society. As a result many Chinese missionaries are not effective in their work among ethnic minority groups. There is a need to understand cross-cultural issues and their practical implementation in order to include those people groups in fulfilling the Great Commission. Chinese churches are rich in resources, which can be effectively used for reaching out people outside of China, such as North Korean refugees and people-groups in Southeast Asia.

Finally, rekindle dedication to and sacrifice for Christ. As China develops economically, comfort, security, and stability begin to set in. Programs and strategies become increasingly sophisticated. There is a need to return to simplicity and rekindle the spirit of dedication and sacrifice. That is the most sustainable strategy in bringing the whole world to Christ!

My Father

This piece was originally written in 2004 as a tribute to my Dad on his 70th birthday.  It is one of my favorite pieces.  I won’t say more.  Let the piece speak for itself.

with Dad on the farm

with Dad on the farm

As I approach my father’s 70th birthday, it’s hard to believe so much time has passed by.  I remember as a little girl, looking up to my Daddy who was a colossal 6 feet 2 inches tall, with broad shoulders.  A giant of a man, yet with such a tender, gentle heart.  As a child, I remember our family moving to a farm 2 hours from the city so my parents could spend time writing.  We would take long family walks together.  It always seemed that my mother and brother would charge ahead, while I walked behind with my father – me, because my legs were the shortest, and my father, because he liked to stop and look at some small flower or bird.  A gentle giant who noticed the smallest flower and the most fleeting bird.  Every once in a while, he would pause just to listen or observe – “You hear that, Margaret, that’s a Bob White.”  or “You see that, Margaret, that’s a Mountain Laurel.”

But of all my memories, what is most precious is how my father taught me to be a spiritual being.  He did this without hardly knowing it, and at a time when he himself had lost faith in the existence of a God.  I once tried to tell my father about this memory, but he seemed to think the memory was a painful one for me, and apologized.  I didn’t know what to say, so said nothing, but now wish I had clarified.  It happened when I was around 6 years old.  We lived on the farm then.  It was glorious – a house on a hill nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  When I stood out in front of the house, mountains greeted me in every direction.  I was just at the age that it was dawning on me that Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy, among others, were not real.  Other questions began to creep into my mind, so one day I went out to ask my father, “Dad, is God real?”

“Well, Margaret,” he replied, in his honest philosophical voice, that never talked down to me, “I don’t believe in him, but others feel differently.  I think your mother may feel differently.”

From there I went to my mother, who replied, “I think there’s some power out there, but I don’t know what it is.”

Today, I have deep gratitude for these answers.  My father was an atheist, but he was a humble atheist.  He didn’t pretend that he knew the answers for me, and thus put the question back in my own hands.  So, I ended up standing in front of our house and asked the Universe, or whatever might be out there: “Is God real?”  In a moment, as I gazed over the visual cacophony of colors bespeckling the autumn Blue Ridge Mountain range, I knew.  I am still amazed to this day, that a young 6-year old girl could have the thoughts that flashed through my mind, but when I looked at those mountains I saw the work of an artistic genius.  I knew.  Dad, your answer was not a painful one for me, but a powerful one.  My memories of those days are the sweetest I know.  I was unknowingly pointed to the only One who could answer my question, and I heard the Voice answering visually from the mountains.  Now as I reflect back I realize that even the power of observation that answered me that day was taught to me by my father.  No, Dad it was not painful, it was the day God spoke.  Thank you.

“But the basic reality of God is plain enough. Open your eyes and there it is!  By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes as such can’t see: eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of his divine being. So nobody has a good excuse.”  (The Book of Romans, The Message Bible)

“So you’ll go out in joy, you’ll be led into a whole and complete life. The mountains and hills will lead the parade, bursting with song. All the trees of the forest will join the procession, exuberant with applause.  No more thistles, but giant sequoias, no more thorn bushes, but stately pines – Monuments to me, to God, living and lasting evidence of God.” (The Book of Isaiah, The Message Bible)

planting our garden

planting our garden

Online Prayer Community for China

With the Opening Night of the Olympic Games coming up this Friday, we’ll all probably be thinking about China much more. What a great opportunity to pray for China!

There is a relatively new blog Serving China Prayer Blog (also see my blogroll), which is designed as an online community where those praying for China can come together online to pray and reflect together. Anyone can register and post as long as they follow some pretty simple guidelines (posted on the site).

The accompanying website ServingChina.com is also worth checking out — lots of interesting information about China, and especially Christianity in China.