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Why Should We Pray for Others?

Written By M. Tiong, Malaysia, originally in Simplified Chinese

“I will pray for you.”

I believe all Christians are familiar with this sentence. It is the most common response we receive from our brothers and sisters in Christ when we share our troubles with them.

But do prayers of intercession really work? I used to doubt it. If intercession really helps, why are my non-believing relatives still resisting God? If intercession is really effective, why have the sick still not recovered? If intercession is really powerful, why are Christians around the world still being persecuted?

Moreover, isn’t God omniscient? So even if we do not pray on behalf of others, God would still know their needs, right?

Not long ago, I opened the Bible, desiring to find out more about the role and importance of intercession. The time I spent with the Word taught me five lessons. These lessons have been a tremendous encouragement to me and they urge me to reexamine my doubts towards praying for others. If you’re experiencing the same doubts as I do, I pray that the points below will help you see the importance of prayers of intercession.

 

1. Prayers of intercession please God

In Isaiah 59, God was astonished and displeased, for there wasn’t anyone who would help or pray and intercede for Israel. Isaiah writes, “He saw that there was no one, he was appalled that there was no one to intervene; so his own arm achieved salvation for him, and his own righteousness sustained him” (Isaiah 59:16).

If we want to please God, we ought to love others by praying for them. For example, we can attend the church’s weekly prayer meeting to pray for the needs of the church.

On a personal level, I feel disappointed with the politics and law in my country and am unhappy about some policies that are set in place. Seeing the state of my country, it is easy to just give up praying for my country. However, God used this episode in the Bible to remind me to persevere in prayer, for my prayers please Him.

 

2. Prayers of intercession were done by Jesus and His followers

Jesus taught us to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). He Himself served as an example when He prayed to the Father to forgive the people who persecuted Him. It would be easy for Jesus to curse the people who crucified Him on the cross. Instead, Jesus chose to intercede on their behalf (Luke 23:34). Jesus sets the example for us, showing us that it is possible for us to do the same.

We can also take comfort in the fact that Jesus cares for those who intercede for others. In Jesus’ three years of ministry, He answered many prayers of intercession. For example, the centurion who pleaded for his servant (Matthew 8:5-13), the synagogue leader who pleaded for his severely ill daughter (Matthew 9:18-26), the father who pleaded for his possessed son (Mark 9:14-29), and many more. Can we also follow these examples and pray for someone we know?

I have a list of people I pray for frequently. These people include my family who has yet to come to know Jesus, friends whose faith are stagnant, and children whom I support from the World Vision. And what encouraged me was to see how God answered prayers—one of my friends who has depression, started to interact with people and smile more.  I was very thankful for that.

 

3. Prayers of intercession bring us closer to the heart of God

God has a plan in every decision He makes. The sin of the city of Sodom was so great and grievous that in His anger, God wanted to destroy the whole city (Genesis 18).

Abraham interceded for Sodom and even negotiated with God, asking God not to destroy the city if there were even 10 righteous people in it. God was not displeased with Abraham’s plea. In fact, God patiently answered him.

Perhaps, God was pleased by Abraham’s request because it showed how much he loves and treasures lives. I believe Abraham slowly began to understand that God loved man more than he does, and that as long as there is one righteous man in the city, God would spare the city.

Eventually, God sent angels to rescue Abraham’s nephew, Lot and his family, before the city of Sodom was destroyed. God showed His compassion and love once again. Therefore, when we continue to pray, we will gradually understand what the heart of God is like.

 

4. Prayers of intercession increase our empathy for the people we pray for

When we feel helpless and inadequate to help others overcome their difficulties, do not forget that as Christians, we have the power of prayer. We may not fully understand what a person is going through, but as we pray for them continually, we learn to put ourselves in their shoes and empathize with them.

When I pray for missionaries, I can imagine how hard it is for them to be away from home, to be alone overseas. When I pray for my persecuted brothers and sisters, I can feel their pain.

On top of that, others are encouraged to persevere in the faith when they know someone is praying for them. When we empathize with others, we demonstrate God’s love, and comfort them in their difficult times.

 

5. Prayers of intercession help us share each other’s burdens

Problems may not be resolved immediately after we pray for others. But the Holy Spirit can strengthen and comfort those we pray for.

When I was overseas pursuing my Masters’ degree, I was overwhelmed by the heavy load of assignments. I did not want to share my stress with my family, as I was afraid that they would worry about me. But being alone in another country, I did not have friends to talk to either. It came to a point where I wanted to give up and return to my country.

Shouldering the weight of all my burdens alone, I went to a church prayer meeting where a group of sisters prayed for me. As they prayed for me, tears flowed down my cheeks uncontrollably, and I could feel the weight of my burdens lifting.

I am now pursuing my Ph.D. Although my workload is still just as heavy and at times I feel like giving up, I know many others are praying for me and that I can always regain strength from God.

 

When we pray for others, we move from a self-centered focus to a love for God and people.

As our friends share their troubles with us, has it become a habit to just say “I will pray for you”, without taking any action? Has it become a convenient way to brush someone aside? We ought to treat our prayers for others seriously. Instead of saying “I will pray for you”, let us say, “Let me pray for you now”, and then immediately pray together with them!

Perhaps you have been praying for a long time and things still remain unchanged. But do not lose heart. As long as we are willing to spend time praying, it will not be in vain. May we learn to pray like Jesus did in Luke 22:42, asking for God’s will to be done and not ours.

What 5 Bible Couples Teach Us About Romance

Written By M. Tiong, Malaysia, originally in Simplified Chinese

I once thought that it was fine to start a romantic relationship as long as it felt right; I did not realize that I ought to take time to pray to God about it first. I once thought that it was time to break up when feelings faded; I did not realize that relationships needed to be nurtured. I once thought that I would be rational in romance; I did not realize that I would end up hating the other person badly and nursing my bitterness when the person left.

From puppy love in school to dating in college to being single after graduation, I have been through the whole roller coaster of emotions. It reached a point when I felt as though God no longer loved me. How come other people could start a relationship and watch it blossom and bear fruit, whereas I kept floundering? And why did I end up not only hurting myself, but hurting others as well even though I also dated with marriage in mind?

It was only later on, that I realized that I had been looking at relationships through my own lens. When things felt right, I would immediately launch into a relationship, assuming such feelings came from the “Holy Spirit”. Likewise, when problematic situations wore me out both physically and emotionally, I would assume that these were signs to break up, and as a result, let go of my relationships.

Movies, TV shows, online dating games, etc., all tell us to rely on our own feelings. We are told to chase after the romantic, the happy, and the epic. When these feelings are gone, dating and marriage should come to an end as well. But is that true? What view of romantic relationships does the Bible prescribe?

A thought came to my mind one day: Why not learn from godly marriages in the Bible to find out God’s thinking?

Let me share what I have learned from five couples in the Bible.

 

1. Isaac and Rebekah: Pray about marriage. Love is not only a feeling, but an important commitment.

Rebekah was from the same tribe as Abraham. She was selected by Abraham’s servant as a bride for Isaac (Abraham’s son) after the servant sought the Lord in prayer. Here I see a very important principle for relationships: choose a spouse from among God’s people. This choice is not random, nor should it be based on feelings—it should be the result of faithful prayer. If we get involved with unbelievers, we will have to deal with the differences in beliefs and values, or worse, we might follow the other person’s religious traditions and abandon God and His teaching.

The second thing I learned from their relationship is this: love is a decision. Although Isaac and Rebekah had not met each other before getting married, they were able to love each other their entire lives. In that time, it was not uncommon for men to have multiple wives, yet Isaac chose to spend his entire life with Rebekah alone. Their relationship shows us that when you decide to love a person and a holy covenant has been made, we can rely on God to keep us going and loving each other to the end even when difficulties arise in the marriage.

 

2. Boaz and Ruth: Listen to the advice of elders. No matter what your past is, trust that God accepts you.

Ruth was a foreigner as well as a widow. But she loved Naomi, her mother-in-law. She later followed Naomi’s advice and hinted her intentions to Boaz, and, as we all know, it was a happy ending for Boaz, Ruth, and Naomi. From this story, I learned that God does not look down on anyone whatever their background may be. What He cares about is our hearts. Ruth chose to believe in God―the same God her mother-in-law believed. She was also obedient to this beloved elder, and so she was blessed in the end, and even named in Jesus’ genealogy.

I used to think that only those who married their first boyfriend/girlfriend had relationships blessed by God. But it is not so. God accepts us no matter what our pasts are. Interestingly, I also saw from Ruth and Boaz’s marriage that women do not have to wait for men to make the first move in a relationship. Sometimes, a woman can give timely and appropriate hints to “less observant” men. Of course, this is on the condition that any action taken is in accordance with God’s will. As for men, they should think things through and ask older Christians for advice before making a move.

 

3. Joseph and Mary: Love requires action. We can accomplish God’s work together by fearing and obeying Him.

When Mary became pregnant with Jesus through the Holy Spirit, Joseph wanted to avoid divorcing her publicly so as to protect her name and her life. In that patriarchal era, the engaged man had the right to publicly divorce his fiancée, and the woman would be stoned to death for committing adultery. But Joseph did not do so because he loved Mary and feared God. Mary was also a God-fearing woman, and so willingly accepted the risks that came with her pregnancy.

Loving someone is proven by action. Joseph proved his love for Mary by respecting, protecting and marrying her. When evil men came after them to kill baby Jesus, they supported each other the entire way. This is one God-fearing couple who shared in both the good and bad times for the sake of God. To share the same faith as our spouse, and to be willing to commit to Christ and to each other, is a beautiful thing.

 

4. Aquila and Priscilla: Be a couple committed to Christ. Build up a home with Christ at its head, and give all for God’s kingdom.

Although this couple is not as well-known as the others we’ve looked at so far, I really admire their commitment to God in the New Testament. Though they were busy with work, they always warmly welcomed God’s servants Paul and Apollos (Acts 18). They opened up their home as a meeting place (1 Corinthians 16) and actively pursued any opportunity to add to God’s kingdom.

God not only wants families to be saved, but also to serve. Opening up one’s home not only incurs extra financial costs, but also a lot of time and energy. Here, we see an example of active ministry by lay people: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37), and “but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).

Also, two are better than one. In addition to sharing the ups and downs of life, a couple can pray for each other, serve God, and minister to people together. This is a beautiful picture. When I consider the families I know where one spouse is passionate about ministry but the other is not, I am all the more convinced of the importance of praying for a like-minded future spouse. Only when two people are of a similar maturity and mind, can they build a family with Christ at the head.

 

5. Zechariah and Elizabeth: Pray faithfully and wait patiently for God. Submit humbly to God’s will.

According to Luke 1, Zechariah and Elizabeth served the Lord faithfully despite their old age. I especially remember the part where Zechariah was serving as a priest when God’s messenger appeared to him, telling him that his prayer had been answered and that God would give him a son. This reminded me that God is always listening to our prayers, but whether or not those prayers are answered depends on God’s will.

Although we also see the weaknesses of Zechariah and Elizabeth―Zechariah was temporarily mute because of his lack of faith, and Elizabeth was initially afraid to tell people about her pregnancy―yet this did not hinder God from using them to accomplish His plans. When the child was born, they obeyed God and named him John. And after praying for so many years for their own child, Zechariah and Elizabeth were willing to give him up to God’s work, and to obey God in naming their child. Such surrender is something I need to learn. 

These five couples all have their own weaknesses, yet they share one thing in common: both partners feared and obeyed God. The example of Aquila and Priscilla especially reminded me that I must serve the Lord at any time in any place.

The Bible has many other examples that can teach us about relationships. The five couples above are only a handful, but these are the ones that have touched me deeply. Through studying them, I am better able to face the insecurities caused by my past relationships. These couples also inspire me to build a proper, God-pleasing view of relationship, and help me re-focus on God Himself. I hope that all I have learned about relationships can also help bring light to you in your own relationships.

Behind Happy Social Media Posts

Written By M. Tiong, Malaysia, originally in Simplified Chinese

Whenever I scroll through Facebook or microblogging site Weibo, I will always look with envy at the lovely photos of my friends’ travelling escapades, their new branded products, and delicious food that they enjoy. Based on these photos, I have to conclude that their lives must be going swimmingly. And I can’t help but wonder: Why is my life so boring compared with theirs?

One day, however, a friend who frequently shares awe-inspiring photographs told me that she was in fact very stressed. Life, she said, had little meaning. It was only when I heard this, that I began to realize that the people I envied were no happier than I was. It led me to ask: “Are people really as happy as their social media posts suggest?”

Why does it seem that none of us are ever happy? The Bible notes that man will never be satisfied nor content with what we have; we will always pine for something better. “Death and Destruction are never satisfied, and neither are human eyes,” says Proverbs 27:20. King Solomon, the wealthy and author of Ecclesiastes, had everything, yet understood this dissatisfaction. He said, “Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 2:11).

Why is this so? Perhaps it’s because our possessions cannot truly fill the emptiness in our hearts. Although we constantly seek to fill that void with different things—be it wealth, love, fame, or other people’s admiration—we will never find true contentment in them.

It is not necessarily wrong to desire achievements, success, and affirmation. However, it is more important to realize that these cannot be a measure of our worth. They do not have real substance, because they will not last.

Our fulfilment, worth, and meaning of life must come from God. Only our Creator God can fill the void in us, His created beings, because only He knows what we truly need.

So we do not need to envy what others have. Proverbs 14:30 says: “A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.” And Psalm 16:11 says, “You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.”

I thank God for reminding me about the things I ought to be paying attention to—the needs of people around me, obeying His will, and living a life that pleases Him. I pray that our lives will no longer revolve around how frequently we travel, how much we spend on branded goods, or how much our food costs. Rather, may our focus be on God.

May we all find and share the true joy that comes from being in God’s presence. And may we become followers of Christ who seek to please God.

What If Your Neighbor is a Prostitute?

Written by M. Tiong, Malaysia, originally in Simplified Chinese

A few scantily-dressed women flirt with passers-by in a dimly lit alley. Some of them strike up conversations and bargain with potential customers, while others wait around for customers to offer them a price.

It’s not an unfamiliar scene to many of us: we’ve either seen it in the movies or witnessed it in real life. In Amsterdam, where prostitution is legal, I saw prostitutes being displayed in glass cubicles—as though they were clothes on sale—for people to pick and choose.

Like it or not, the sex industry is booming because of society’s demand for sex services. So, how should we as believers respond? Or should we turn a blind eye to it?

A few years ago when I was on my graduation trip, I encountered three women, likely in their 20s, on the bus in Pahang, Malaysia. It was about 6am in the morning. They were skimpily dressed and were crying. One of them had a badly bruised face and could barely stand. The rest of the people on the bus either ignored them or stared at them strangely.

One of the ladies approached me and asked in broken English if they could borrow my mobile phone to make a call because they didn’t have any money on them. My friend immediately nudged me and warned me not to lend my phone to them in case they took off with it. But I felt for them, so I decided to do so.

Not only did they return it afterwards, but they also smiled at me and thanked me profusely for the kind gesture. Just before I stepped off the bus, I handed them some money. Later on, I received a call from an unknown number. The voice on the other end was a male’s. He asked me where I was located, so he could “collect them back”. After the conversation, I was pretty sure those ladies I had met were sex workers.

Till this day, I can still remember the look of gratitude on their faces. I believe God was teaching me a lesson about extending love to everyone—regardless of who they are and their status in society (Luke 10:27; Matthew 25:40).

God himself exemplified this radical love by making a prostitute named Rahab part of His plans for Israel. In Joshua 2, we read about how she helped the Israelite spies escape. In return, God saved her entire family. He loved her and later, gave her the status of a well-respected married woman (Matthew 1:5). She is even listed in Jesus’ lineage! (Matthew 1)

Rahab’s story and transformation shows us how God does not look at our background and status. He is interested only in our faith and obedience. So, if God treats these individuals with the same grace and mercy that He treats us, who are we to ignore or discriminate against them?

Here are four practical ways in which I believe we can respond:

1. Pray for them

Let’s pray that these prostitutes will come to believe in God and find His love and peace in their situations—especially if they are not there by choice. May God give them the means—both physical and financial—to get out of this industry and be able to receive healing.

Let’s also pray that God will open the eyes of those involved in growing and supporting this industry, to realize the evil of the industry and the lives that have been destroyed.

 

2. Pray for ourselves

We need to also pray for ourselves. May God grant us compassionate hearts to love and care for them whenever the opportunity arises. Even though we disagree with what they do, we ought to love each of them, just as God loves us and calls us to do so.

 

3. Understand their situation

Most of the time, we react without fully understanding the situations of these individuals. We need to spend time to read about their struggles and find out more about the issues. This will help us better understand them and know how to help them.

 

4. Volunteer and donate

There are many volunteering opportunities. It could simply be to befriend a former sex worker, provide them with jobs to learn new skills, or to help take care of their children. We can also donate to support organizations involved in reaching out to these individuals.  

 

I try to make the conscious effort to read up about the plight of these individuals and pray for them. Ultimately, our basic response should be that of love. Whether it is a stranger or someone we know personally, at the end of the day, they are our neighbors.

Let’s heed the call from Luke 10:27 and Matthew 25:40 to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.