"If you want to get close with God, there's one thing you can do -- pray," says Rev. Arnel Tan. Rev. Arnel Tan is the station manager of Far East Broadcasting Co. in Davao City, the Senior Pulpit Minister at Davao Chinese Baptist Church and the Senior Pastor at Immanuel Baptist Church. He was one of the guest speakers in FCCF One Thing Youth Conference last May 22 to 26, 2011 at BE Resort Mactan, Cebu.
Once upon a time, Rev. Arnel Tan was given a responsibility to head a six decade old church. After sixty years of existence, only 12 people were attending its weekly praying meeting. Rev. Tan was puzzled and disheartened with the fact that the church is supposed to be a house of prayer but how come only few are willing to come and pray? Then he realized, there was something wrong with the church. Together with the church leaders, they acknowledged that the church had problems, it was dry bordering to dying, in spite of all the activities they had held onto to keep the church moving.
There was only one thing they could do; that was to pray a very dangerous prayer. They knelt down on their knees, and uttered a simple yet extremely scary prayer...
"Lord, please cleanse this church or close it."
God answered their prayer. God chose to cleanse the church and, as a result, a great number of people --members and nonmembers-- realized the need for God and communing with God. Soon, the number of members grew exponentially. Rev. Arnel Tan emphasized that this growth was not because of his or the church's strengths; it was truly by the power of the Spirit.
He shared with us some insights on prayer within his two-hour talk.
Six lessons on prayer:
1. The role of problems may be God's invitation to prayer. God uses problems to make us vulnerable.
It is only when we are really helpless that we are really praying. It is at the point of helplessness, a full and life-long dependence on God, that we see Him at work. Hannah desperately wanted a child, but was helpless when God closed her womb. Through this instance, Hannah was moved to utter a breath of prayer in the house of God.
What problems are you experiencing lately? Have you talked to God about them?
2. The reward to prayer is not the "YES" from God. Rather, is it the very privilege of talking to God.
Rev. Tan shared about church members who had asked him to dedicate their businesses and pray for the sick. Many were disappointed because some of the businesses closed down and some of the sick died. The purpose of prayer is not for God to fulfill your will. Rather, is it a beautiful bonding moment with God, through Jesus Christ. It aligns your heart to His, at the end of the day, you might just discover God's amazing purposes.
If you want something from God (i.e. for God to bless your plans, to make your ministry to grow or your business to flourish), that is not Christian, that is Chinese. It is called investment
Have you prayed for God's will? Pray also for the strength to pursue God's will.
3. Cruise on a sailboat and not on a speedboat.
The Holy Spirit leads a person or a church like how the wind blows a sailboat. Throughout the journey, one is not only awestricken taking in the view but also experiences the soft gentle breeze caressing on one's skin. However, our sinful, selfish, self-reliant, shortcut-loving nature would rather sweep the waters through a speed boat which is stirred by man and is moved at a desired pace. In the speed boat, although one can surely feel the strong gust brushing across one's face, there is no room for appreciation. The focus, is on the destination rather than the journey. And the destination of our churches is marked by the attendance, the budget, the building or the cash and not the believers' experience with God.
God's work cannot be done by men. When men attempt to do God's work in their own limited strength, and not by the power of God's Spirit, the church will become like a dry and parched land. Instead of a rich bountiful vineyard, we find.... no love, just work; no fruit just chaff.
The moment you depend on God, it is effortless. You will see the difference. Are you cruising on a God-dependent sailboat or a self-dependent speedboat? How about your church? Do you see God at work? Or does it seem dry?
4. Pour out your heart to God.
In Rev. Tan's words, we can actually "shake, rattle and roll" as we pray. Hannah probably looked like that when she was praying, and surprisingly, she was judged by a priest named Eli. He accused her of being drunk. There may be people like Eli in churches today who remain prayerless, and judge other people who are praying. Perhaps they think when a person prays and cries, he is weak, weird or emotional.
Do you pour out your heart to God? Do negative thoughts come to your mind when you see people shaking, rattling and rolling while they pray? Is your church encouraging this type of prayer?
5. While in prayer, surrender.
Many times when we pray to God, we already have a made-up plan at the back of our head. Instead of pausing for a moment to seek Him, we continue on with the "tried and tested" plans of leading our church, and even our lives. At the start of every year, we pack the church with scheduled activities that must be performed, thinking these are the very demands of God's covenant. And you may be wondering why your church is not growing even with your prayers. This is because you are not really praying! You are simply planning and asking God to bless your plans.
Perhaps, it is time to surrender all the plans to God and clean the church of its activities until God fills the church back with His plans and purposes again. Make the congregation know that your church is a house of prayer, not a house of camps, of events, of practices, and of meetings. Encourage -- no, I think this is still a very light word -- drive the church to trust God for His leading amidst the coming uncertainty.
No more shortcuts, you surrender
No more demands, you surrender
No more hurry, you surrender
No more envy, you surrender
No more manipulation, you surrender
No more regrets, you surrender
No more revenge, you surrender
When you surrender, you will have the surprise of your life. It's a beautiful, overwhelming experience.
Have you surrendered your life to the Lord? How about your plans and your dreams?
6. When God gives you a surprise, you will be fully prepared to enjoy it.
Many times, God will prepare you until you are ready to face the surprise of your life. God will let you undergo a process before you receive a blessing. What are considered God's surprises? God's surprise is to enrich your faith. God surprise is to glorify Himself. God's surprise is connected to the purpose of God.
Now, there is one greatest surprise that God has given. That is Jesus Christ Himself.
More than healing, the healer. More than salvation, the Savior.
No blessing, no gift, no surprise can fill you completely.
Only Jesus Christ can.
Are you filled with Jesus? Or are you more preoccupied with your goal setting? Have you had any surprise from God? What did you go through to discover it?
'The Lord is close to all who call on him, yes, to all who call on him in truth.' ~ Psalm 145:18