Pray Where You Are: Praylessness as a Sign of Grace

Do you really long for the courage to believe that deliverance from a prayerless life is possible for you, and may become a reality? Then you must learn the great lesson that such a deliverance is included in the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, that it is one of the blessings of the New Covenant which God himself will impart to you through Christ Jesus.

— Dr. Andrew Murray

One of the first things we need to get our hearts right in prayer is to pray our praylessness. This seems odd to pray about our prayerlessness, but I think that it is a sign of grace to us when we lack prayer because it is a diagnosis of our spiritual condition. It is a sign that we have sought something else besides God for our desires and also it means that we found something else that has captured our comfort in the midst of suffering. Yet, the remedy is not condemnation for our prayerlessness but rather in scripture there is a solid truth that God validating His promise to be there in our hard places and broken stories. There’s no name that you call us that is any more precious to us than, “Mine” (Isa. 43:1). God is continually calling us to His. It is in this heart of prayerlessness that we should find our delight and honor that we are called to be His, and that is confirmed in the suffering that he bore in the cross. That is where He stands in the midst of our prayerlessness; God is inviting us to return to Him and to delight in the resurrection and return of Jesus.

Prayer is one of the most vital ways for us to connect with God and like any intimacy that we have in our lives, there is a need to cultivate it through the means of presence and time. As we spend more and more time, we find out two things; first, when we cultivate relationships we discover the “other” and we see what passions has formed this person, we see their values, their fears, their joys and most of all we simply connect our hearts with their hearts. Second, we discover ourselves through that interaction. We find a bit of ourselves being stirred and expanded through that interaction.

That is why John Calvin in “Institutes of Christian Religion” states “Without knowledge of self, there is no knowledge of God. Our wisdom, insofar as it ought to be deemed true and solid wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. But as these are connected by many ties, it is not easy to determine which of the two precedes and gives birth to the other.” God wants us to know him and through that we discover who we are.” God in this great act of condescension invites us to know Him and be known by Him. God is offering His presence to us. Yet, the reality is that we still lack a desire to pray to Him.

One of the gifts of grace that is extended to us in our prayerlessness is God is offering a mirror to us. A few years ago, I met with some pastors from Australia and they talked about spiritual disciplines and said that “the calculator always wins.” I really loved that. They are saying that we can’t lie about our spiritual condition of we don’t regularly enter into disciplines of grace like prayer. It is God’s way of showing us our spiritual condition and drawing a picture to present to us the gaps in our public profession and our private lack of  repentance and turn our hearts to Christ. It is showing that our condition is filled with a wounded rebellion and forgetfulness….Like all relationships there is the danger that this could leads us to a place of shame and condemnation that sounds like this, “how can you ever think you can go back to God when you have been so neglectful in your prayer to this loving God….He can’t accept your feeble attempts to go to Him after all your rebellion.” That is not the spirit of God. His posture is continually to “come.” He continually shows you the cross and our prayerlessness is a sign of grace to turn to him or rather run to Him. To know that the cross has provided a way back to our Abba Father without condemnation. To know that presenting our prayerlessness as a sign of grace that the Spirit is working in our hearts. If it wasn’t working then we wouldn’t even pause to acknowledge we lack prayer. Can you praise God that you are now awakened to your prayerlessness? Can you see that this is a gift to us? To see it as a diagnosis that is leading us to the invitation to relocate our hearts to Him?

As God has worked in my own heart, I see that my prayer life is prone to start from a place of desperation instead of a heart of devotion. Many of my prayers are transactional and not transformational in nature. “God give me this…” As DA Carson states in “Praying with Paul, “The unvarnished truth is that what we most frequently give thanks for betrays what we most highly value.” So when I ask God for…is what I truly cherish. I also have succumbed to the tone of prayer that lack any great expectations so I keep them manageable to what is “practical” so I don’t get disappointed. It is filled with cynicism and with a shade of sarcasm. I am embarrassed by some of the prayers I have written down in my prayer journal but yet in the pages are filled with praise of God working despite my lack of faith. He is showing that these faithless distorted prayers are pointing me towards Him; God shows me the countless ways He has provided for his people and also in light of eternity the wonder of what He will accomplish and redeem all of creation. He shows me his intimacy towards me and in his gracious, patient and boundless love God invites me into the glimpses of how He is working. He shows me that he is worthy of God-sized prayers. A grand picture of prayer that bears forth His sovereign grace over every sphere of His creation. So I am emboldened to pray prayers that moves from the personal towards the cosmic. Thank God that His work is not dependent on how effective my prayers are but rather our prayers are effective because God is already at work. He is inviting us to delight in what He is done, doing and will be doing.

This is how our prayerlessness can be an awakening to the sign grace that is pointing us to the promise that He will restore, confirm, strengthen and establish us; in, through, and even after our lack of prayer. So let’s come before our God and pray our prayerlessness.

Prayer Prompt (Taken from the Worship Sourcebook)

A prayer of confession for cynicism
Father, you tell us in your Word
that whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.
We confess that we have frequently relaxed our faith.
We have allowed ourselves to become cynical,
and our cynicism has boiled over
with slander, criticism, prayerlessness, and pessimism. How easily we’ve allowed ourselves
to crumple under the stresses of our lives.
Forgive us for our smallness of faith.
In your mercy, hear us,
for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Portraits of Grace: Brandon & Christina

Portraits of Grace is a snapshot into the lives of the people at King's Cross Church. As "kingdom minded, kingdom people," we recognize God's work in every detail of our lives. We invite you to meet the people of our church.

Photo by Albert Cheung

Brandon and my relationship can be really challenging because he and I are so different. We’re kind of like opposites in a lot of ways. He’s so goofy and I’m easily annoyed. But his personality is what attracted me. He’s very happy and the way that he cares for others is really attractive… I guess.
– Christina

Christina would probably describe me as “Dopey, lighthearted, and positive”. Her demeanor is more serious or mild-tempered. If we were dogs then Christina would be the German shepherd- very stoic. I would be the little chihuahua running around, barking, saying “Look at me, look at me!” That’s the imagery that comes to mind when I think about how we interact.
– Brandon

Repentance Is Just Humility

As a staff, we have been going through “The Heart of a Servant Leader” by John C. Miller (aka Jack Miller). This came at such an opportune time as I am recovering from a cold and last year with the diagnosis of diabetes. It made me reconsider so much about the notion of self care but also of “holy self-forgetting.” So for this week, I wanted to share a letter he wrote to a missionary who was recovering from a serious illness. Jack had also almost died a year before as he undergone four months of chemotherapy. I hope that you as you read this, it touches your heart in a manner that considers our rest as a way for us to serve. Often we think of rest as the end goal but it is a pathway for use to rest in God so we can serve others. 

Repentance Is Just Humility 

August, 1988

Dear Sam, It was with much joy that I received your letter, telling about God’s working in your life during a very hard time. You have been very sick, and we rejoice in God’s great kindness in restoring you to good health in answer to many prayers. We love you, dear brother. Your family needs you, and we need you. So take good care of your health, as much as is consistent with faithfulness to God and with living fearlessly and without undue preoccupation with our physical condition.

God has been bringing to us here at New Life and the home office [World Harvest Mission] a spirit of healing too—that of a deepening repentance. That is why your letter speaking of your own repenting struck me as part of a pattern of God’s working. I know God granted me the grace and joy of repentance during my ordeal last October and November. Paul [Jack’s son] and I did some deep repenting together. God really convicted me that pride crowds out the love of God. The group taking leadership training this year has also been undergoing much repentance and with many lives being changed, really in a basic way. Then some of these same folks and others under Bob Heppe’s guidance in Amsterdam experienced a similar repentance as they read Repentance and Twentieth Century Man together in preparation for a very fruitful ministry time.

So God has shown great kindness to us—and most certainly to you. I praise Him for healing you and restoring you to your ministry. I especially honor your repentance, which you described to me. Cotton Mather has said, “Every man upon earth may find in himself something that wants mending.” Calvin also describes repentance as a gift from God to the church, a gift that is especially to be treasured as we see the Spirit working it in Christian lives. Thank you for sharing with me this gift. I treasure you as a work of God, most precious to Him and to me. May God grant you grace to deepen in your repentance! Pray that He will do the same for me! For repentance is just humility, and humility stands in the low place, not on the mountains of pride. Therefore humility gets much grace because grace runs downhill! Bear also with a little counsel about your experience of severe illness. Don’t take lightly having been very sick. When you have been seriously ill—as you have—afterwards you may have to struggle to balance care of your body with a holy self-forgetting. When cancer came, my temptation and inclination was to give up being a careless extrovert in matters of health and become an introvert, preoccupied with my physical life. Well, God has helped me to repent, in some measure, for both tendencies. At present, though, I am still waging war in this area of my life. For this is the anniversary of my illness. About this time last year I first noticed the onset of lymphoma symptoms—abdominal swelling and sweats. Well, any time my body is slightly overheated or a bit feverish or I just feel sweaty in the heat, I have a fight with a satanic attack of fear. The feelings whisper, “Maybe your lymphoma is coming back.”

Perhaps you don’t have precisely the same kind of struggle, but we all need to labor to see that our lives are controlled by God’s will and the gospel of hope and not by our anxieties.

But the Lord has helped me. I have been able again and again to confess my anxieties—really deep ones—and ask God to take them away because I cannot. They are simply too deeply rooted in me and my past. But once the Spirit shows me the self-centered unbelieving core of my fears, then help usually comes to me very quickly in the form of release. Essentially I need to confess to God that I have a deep-seated need to protect and control my life and ministry. Once I acknowledge that hard, painful fact to Him, grace seems to stream into my life. Somehow the Father delights in honesty. Usually when my anxieties dominate and will not go away, I need to face the truth that my devotion is not being given to God with all my heart, soul, strength, and mind, but to myself.

But His cleansing through the blood of the perfect Lamb has been so powerful and freeing for both you and me. So let’s not be afraid to confess and forsake our ugliest sin and rely on the Spirit enabling us to put on Christ’s love for others. Since you shared your struggles with me, let me acknowledge that one of my battles is with my constant tendency to forget what God has done for me, to ease off on my repenting, and to rest on my past humblings under the impact of chastening. Here I am almost fully recovered from my severe chastening of the past year and amazing deliverances, and already my heart is drifting into complacency. Forgive, O Lord!

But Rose Marie and I took today (Saturday) to pray together and put the priority on thanksgiving and praise and letting intercession flow out of that. We have especially been praying for you and the Ireland team and for us in the church and mission here to experience revival, and maybe that revival begins with the recovery of thanksgiving and praise.

Today has been a wonderful time of joy and freedom—and we believe an opportunity to shift our faith from circumstances and appearances to the Father’s holy and absolute sovereignty, His all-conquering grace, and the sweet hope of Jesus’ sacrifice revealed in the preaching of the cross.

Finally back to Mather and the joy of repentance, which is closely related to the joy of praise. After he stated that every one of us has something that needs “mending,” he added that “the work of repentance is to inquire, not only, what we have done, but also, what we have to do.” What the staff and I, and others, have been doing here is trying to deepen our oneness of love with members in the church and fellow elders. We think this is what we have to do! Sometimes it means that people who are really different in style and personality have to work harder at developing oneness. Sometimes it means getting rid of prejudices or prejudgments about others and especially getting rid of attitudes of superiority toward those who seem less enlightened than we are! I am thrilled by what I see happening as we work on what we “have to do” in order to mature in Jesus’ love.

Will you join us in this work of the Spirit? Why not labor with all faith and hope and joy to deepen your relationship with your team leader first?—and then with each of the other team members? Make it your goal, the burden of your labor and the intensity of your devotion—to fulfill the law of Christ in serving them in love. For me, I like to translate this into practical terms: one of my primary jobs is to make others successful. Make it your joy and your task to see that the team succeeds. Rest when you need to, but work very hard when you work. Gather the fuel by meditation in the Scriptures when you rest, but when you work burn hot for Christ!

I write these things to you with confidence that you are not neglecting them. You are laboring with zeal in the heat of harvest. I have seen you many times burn hot for Christ. Let grace abound and joy abound and let loving work abound. These next six months are crucial. Give it all you have as your praise of Christ repent, we magnetize the world with our hope, love and joy. You are already a magnet, grow in your magnetism. Warm greetings to your family.

Much love,

Jack Miller

Prayer Prompt (taken from the Worship Sourcebook)

We are tired, Lord,
weary of the long night without rest.
We grow complaining and bitter.
We grieve for ourselves
as we grow hardened to the pain of others.
Another death leaves us unmoved.
A widow’s tears fall unnoticed.
Our children know only the bitterness
already possessing their parents.
Our violent words explode into violent acts,
bringing destruction without thought or reason.
Lord, have mercy upon us.
Lead us to repentance, that we may forgive and be forgiven. Amen.

I hope that this will help you dive deeper in the wonders of grace, repentance and faith. I hope that we consider the words of Jack Miller as we are invited to the joy of repentance. One of the best ways of exercising that gift is to do it in community that promises to extend that to one another.

Remaining in Him,
Peter Ong

Portraits of Grace: Christina

Portraits of Grace is a snapshot into the lives of the people at King's Cross Church. As "kingdom minded, kingdom people," we recognize God's work in every detail of our lives. We invite you to meet the people of our church.

Photo by Albert Cheung

My parents aren’t Christian, so I started going to church in junior high school with some of my school friends. After a while I decided I didn’t want to go anymore. I always felt like God was calling me but I didn’t want to listen. I wanted to do my own thing for a while. I decided that having a relationship with a guy was more important than God. That was a really hard time. I put myself in a really bad situation. God knew that it was not good for me so He called me back by letting everything fall apart. Fortunately God provided a pastor and my friends there for me even though I had turned away from them. He always put people there to tell me, “This is not good for you”. He’s always there- calling me back through people around me.

Pray Where You Are: Gasping Surrendered Rest

Dear King’s Cross Family,

This week has been one of those unexpected detours that start off with the feeling of dread. My youngest son was sick and as I started having a scratchy throat. I thought to myself, “here it comes…another cycle of the cold will come to the Ong family household.” It wasn’t that bad, Noah recovered pretty quickly and I thought it would pass pretty quickly. Then it was confirmed, I felt chills then my throat started to hurt; progressively it got worse and worse and each day, the pain got worse. Jamie, my wife started getting all the remedies, lemon/honey/ginger tea, every over the counter medicine of lozenges, cough suppressants, pain relief but nothing helped.

Finally I succumbed and went to the doctor and they found out, it was strep throat. Now, if you never had strep throat, then I would not hope you do, but it is debilitating. It exposed me. I couldn’t pray with voice. I couldn’t sing. I tried to read but every few minutes, the pain would distract me. So, I just tried to stay in bed wanting recovery so I can be with my kids but also to be with God. So, I tried to do some more planning for 2016 for the church, then the detour of pain. Finally, I felt muted. I got on my knees and prayed silently. Gulping. Silence. Pain. Flinch. Gulp. Pain. Flinch. A building of tears. Then the words came. Grasp. It was as if I was missing the truth of the sermon I preached two Sundays ago. In Ephesians 3:18, the word in the NIV translation is more appropriate with “grasp” then the ESV of “have strength to comprehend…what is the breadth and length and depth of His love,”

Why would he use this fighting metaphor? To grasp, to fight to attain? What is Paul eluding to? What are we wrestling with that makes it so hard to take hold of? One of the best relocations of my heart arrived on Psalm 42 where the psalmist says, “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted in me?” or in Psalm 103, where the psalmist says, “Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits …” What’s going on there? There is this inner conversation that we have and in this time of being muted, I had to pray to God by talking to myself. The Psalmist is expressing that he is wrestling the truth into his heart. He is “grasping.”

He is grasping at the truth and speaking memory into his heart. “Don’t forget the gospel. Why are you feeling this?” He’s saying, “Look, in light of this truth of Christ, why are you doing this, oh heart? Why don’t you see this? Why are you anxious? Why are cast down? Why are you not more grateful?”

What is he doing? He’s taking himself in hand, he’s taking the truth, and with the power of the Spirit, he’s thinking and reflecting and applying and connecting until he begins to feel and sense and see change. Do you know how to do that?

As I sat at home this Sunday, feeling useless and a burden to my family and the church. I went to God. I read his word, I saw God inviting me into surrender to the rest that He is providing me. This is His grace to me. The God of the universe is inviting reflection, and he is dealing with my wrestling with anxiety; with my busyness and my addiction to ministry work. It felt like there was no one else in my living room, it was just God showing the truth of his love. He was showing me the cross. Most of the typical meditation techniques are invitations to empty your mind. “If you want to have meditation, you must empty your mind.” That’s not how the Bible teaches us about meditating. God fills your mind with truth and your heart with love, and with the power of the Spirit, you get that truth into the center of your being. God is a giver of presence. That is how I was able to call out to him as “Abba Father.” It was so active. I saw Him as He saw me; an insecure, inadequate and filled with identity issues. Yet God is reorient my heart. He is seeing me through the lens of the redemption on the cross and likewise I was able to see my Lord as my Savior. It was a renewing of my mind. It wasn’t not passive. I was grasped that this gospel is very filling. It’s not emptying. It was grasping.

So Paul’s prayer is that we have this living, vital, bright reality that fills you with the fullness of God, then it may require us to have a discipline to meditate, not just on how long and wide and high and deep God’s love is in general, but on how long and wide and high and deep is the love of Christ for those He died for. It’s only when you understand the Christ, that you’re saved by grace in spite of being a sinner. You’re saved not by what you do but by what Jesus has done, not on the basis of your performance or your good works. You’re saved by sheer grace. That is the thing that turns the concept of the love of God into a real warming reality that you can truly sense. Look at Christ’s commitment on the cross and this should emboldens us to sense the delight that God has when He looks upon us because of our union with Christ.

If you want to understand the depths of the love of God … In fact, the only way to understand the depths of the love of God is to understand the depths to which Jesus Christ went to love you. The central symbol of our faith is God’s humiliation for our restoration. Christ prayed on his knees as well…in Gethsemane, he fell to his face not that you may not only to gain acceptance but from that truth; desire you to experience acceptance in your heart. How deep did he go? “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” He was thrown into the deepest pit anybody ever went into, and he went in voluntarily. He went down and down and down so you can grasp how deep…

Prayer Prompt

What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us?
He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, 
will he not with him also give us everything else? 

Who will bring any charge against God’s elect?
It is God who justifies.
Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. 
Who will separate us from the love of Christ?
Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life,
nor angels, nor rulers,
nor things present, nor things to come,
nor powers, nor height, nor depth,
nor anything else in all creation,
will be able to separate us
from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
—Romans 8:31-35, 37-39, NRSV

Portraits of Grace: Brandon

Portraits of Grace is a snapshot into the lives of the people at King's Cross Church. As "kingdom minded, kingdom people," we recognize God's work in every detail of our lives. We invite you to meet the people of our church.

Photo by Albert Cheung

I enjoy serving in the Children’s Education Ministry because I feel that I’m able to relate to children. I’m very light hearted and like a kid myself. Even the silliest things I do can make them laugh and bring them happiness. Kids bring me joy because they don’t have to worry about what we as adults have to worry about, and that gives me a chance to focus on being present in the moment with them. It is especially rewarding when children remember things that you’ve taught them or conversations you’ve had together. I am grateful to know that God has given me the responsibility to help shepherd these children.

Pray Where You Are: Divine Light

Dear King’s Cross Family,

I want to extend my warmest and sincere regards to this New Year and I pray that it has been a means for you to reflect back on 2015 and also approach 2016 with great expectations. This past Sunday, I shared part one of a three part sermon on what are to be the some guiding principles as we move as a church. I shared Paul’s prayer for the spiritual strength of the church from Ephesians 3:14-21.

I would like to share an excerpt from Jonathan Edward’s sermon called Divine and Supernatural Light:

“…a real sense of the excellency of God and Jesus Christ, and of the work of redemption, and the ways and works of God revealed in the gospel. There is a divine and superlative glory in these things; an excellency that is of a vastly higher kind, and more sublime nature than in other things; a glory greatly distinguishing them from all that is earthly and temporal. He that is spiritually enlightened truly apprehends and sees it, or has a sense of it. He does not merely rationally believe that God is glorious, but he has a sense of the gloriousness of God in his heart. There is not only a rational belief that God is holy, and that holiness is a good thing, but there is a sense of the loveliness of God’s holiness. There is not only a speculatively judging that God is gracious, but a sense how amiable God is upon that account, or a sense of the beauty of this divine attribute.

There is a twofold understanding or knowledge of good that God has made the mind of man capable of. The first, that which is merely speculative and notional; as when a person only speculatively judges that any thing is, which, by the agreement of mankind, is called good or excellent, viz., that which is most to general advantage, and between which and a reward there is a suitableness, and the like. And the other is, that which consists in the sense of the heart: as when there is a sense of the beauty, amiableness, or sweetness of a thing; so that the heart is sensible of pleasure and delight in the presence of the idea of it. In the former is exercised merely the speculative faculty, or the understanding, strictly so called, or as spoken of in distinction from the will or disposition of the soul. In the latter, the will, or inclination, or heart, are mainly concerned.

Thus there is a difference between having an opinion, that God is holy and gracious, and having a sense of the loveliness and beauty of that holiness and grace. There is a difference between having a rational judgment that honey is sweet, and having a sense of its sweetness. A man may have the former, that knows not how honey tastes; but a man cannot have the latter unless he has an idea of the taste of honey in his mind. So there is a difference between believing that a person is beautiful, and having a sense of his beauty. The former may be obtained by hearsay, but the latter only by seeing the countenance. There is a wide difference between mere speculative rational judging any thing to be excellent, and having a sense of its sweetness and beauty. The former rests only in the head, speculation only is concerned in it; but the heart is concerned in the latter. When the heart is sensible of the beauty and amiableness of a thing, it necessarily feels pleasure in the apprehension. It is implied in a person’s being heartily sensible of the loveliness of a thing, that the idea of it is sweet and pleasant to his soul; which is a far different thing from having a rational opinion that it is excellent.”

What is the distinction is Edward is saying that when we hear about God’s grace, you feel loved. You hear about God’s holiness, you feel a deep affinity to be a holy person yourself. In other words, when the Holy Spirit is actually warming your heart, it’s not just you hear about God’s love, you hear about God’s holiness, you grip it. It grips you. It comes in. It changes you.

Right now you say, “I know God loves me, but this person has criticized me,” or this person says you’ve failed and you’re devastated. That’s because you know it rationally but you haven’t grasped it. You haven’t been gripped by it.

So as we enter into a new year, may we grasp this as a community. As we seek in our community groups, let’s consider if we have a wide love that extends to others in the church as well as outside.

Prayer Prompt (taken from the Worship Sourcebook)

Almighty God, Father of all mercies,
we, your unworthy servants, give you humble thanks
for all your goodness and loving-kindness
to us and to all whom you have made.
We bless you for our creation, preservation,
and all the blessings of this life,
but above all for your immeasurable love
in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ,
for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory.
And, we pray, give us such an awareness of your mercies
that with truly thankful hearts we may show forth your praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives,
by giving up ourselves to your service,
and by walking before you
in holiness and righteousness all our days,
through Jesus Christ, our Lord,
to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit,
be honor and glory throughout all ages. Amen.

Thank you for joining us in praying where you are today and I hope to see you soon as we worship each Sunday as a body rooted in the love of Christ serving our Flushing community.

Remaining in Him,
Peter Ong

Portraits of Grace: Lily

Portraits of Grace is a snapshot into the lives of the people at King's Cross Church. As "kingdom minded, kingdom people," we recognize God's work in every detail of our lives. We invite you to meet the people of our church.

Photo by Albert Cheung

For college I attended an art school. Art school in general is a very hostile environment to our faith. A lot of my classmates would create art that was very against and offensive to Christianity, and it didn’t help that professors also encouraged it. Not only was I the only minority ethnically, but I felt like the only Christian. I felt so alone, and couldn’t connect with anyone. I became homesick and looked forward to visiting back home; but when I did come home, I felt disconnected from the church members because I had been away. Even in my home church I felt like an outsider. Coming to King’s Cross, I joined the Welcoming Ministry because I know how if feels to be the outsider, yearning to find community.