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Of Valentine’s Day, Ash Wednesday, and Lent

SSP Prayer Bulletin Reflections
February 11, 2015

As we move into the second month of 2015, the red and green of Christmas transition into the black and purple of Ash Wednesday and Lent, and the red or pink of Valentine’s Day. This year, as often times occurs, Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day fall very close to one another.

I suppose it might sound like I’m putting equal weight on the celebration of Valentine’s Day and our observance of Lent. In fact, I’ve wondered if there is a way that the two special days might complement one another.

Though it has some secular association, actually I think Valentine’s Day can offer a great opportunity to encourage the affirming of relationships with our loved ones. It’s not only a day in which love for a special person is expressed through gifts of cards, flowers, chocolates and a meal shared with each other.

On the other hand, Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Lenten season of preparation for Holy Week and Easter. It encourages Christians to examine themselves, repent of their sins and be renewed in the forgiveness of sins through the crucified and risen Christ. In the typical Ash Wednesday observance, worshippers are invited to receive the imposition of ashes upon their foreheads in the shape of a cross. Ashes have long been an outward sign of repentance, and, of course, the cross is a beacon of hope for believers through the forgiveness of sins.

So, can Valentine’s Day, Ash Wednesday and Lent coexist? Is it possible they can even complement one another? The pessimist in us would normally ask “How can the indulgence of Valentine’s Day offer anything to the penitence and denial of Lent and Ash Wednesday?”

There is however, one obvious and common denominator: Love.

On Valentine’s Day, we celebrate the love we share in those special relationships with our loved ones. Ash Wednesday and Lent point us to the greatest act of love, when Jesus Christ gave up His life on the cross that we might be forgiven and live. His victory over sin and death is revealed mightily on Easter.

Whether you choose to celebrate Lent, Ash Wednesday, Valentine’s Day or all three, you can surely celebrate the gift of love.

Take a moment and tell your love ones you love them. Most importantly, take a moment to tell the Lord how much you love Him and give thanks to God for the greatest gift of love in his Son, Jesus Christ, by loving others as He loved you.

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What Prayer Is Not

SSP Prayer Bulletin Reflection
February 4, 2015

How often have we asked ourselves these questions? … When should I pray? … What should I say? … Where should I pray? … Why should I pray? … Will my praying really make a difference? … and … What is prayer? By examining God’s Word, we can discover “what prayer is” and “what prayer is not”.

From my own experience, I know prayer doesn’t come naturally to most believers – for some, it is learned as it is modeled by others, taught, and put into practice. But we have Jesus as our perfect example for prayer, and it is my prayer that like Jesus, all of us will develop such a love relationship with our Heavenly Father that we will pray without ceasing as we bring glory to God and see Christ’s Kingdom work accomplished here on earth.

  • Prayer is not to be feared.

Prayer is living in the presence of God as we engage in intimate conversation with a Heavenly Father who is always pursuing a love relationship with His child. It is a means of intimate communion, fellowship, and dependence upon God the Father who has promised to work in and through us through His Son, just as God worked through Him.

  • Prayer is not primarily about you.

Prayer is focused on God, who He is and His desires. Approaching God must be on the basis of His nature and character. We must approach God with “godly fear and reverence” because of who He is (Hebrews 12:28-29). We can only pray when we know Him. God revealed Himself to His people through the revelation of His name. Yahweh (Jehovah) – God revealed Himself as the Lord our provider (Jireh), our healer (Ropheka), our banner (Nissi), our peace (Shalom), our shepherd (Rohi), our righterousness (Tsidkenu). Jehovah Shammah – the Lord is there.

  • Prayer is not having to wonder what to pray.

Prayer is listening to God speak through His Word and the Holy Spirit directing us to pray back to God His Words so His will is accomplished on earth as it has already been in Heaven.  The priority of prayer is the will of God. It’s a means  of claiming God’s promises and knowing and becoming abandoned to God’s will.

  • Prayer is not about giving God a wish list of wants, nor is it not an “Aladdin’s lamp” where we can rub ever so often to let the genie out to grant us our wish.

Prayer is a moment by moment trusting and believing that God knows what is best for us in every situation. He wants us to depend on Him daily for our needs. But our first and foremost desire should be to “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you.” Matthew 6:33

  • Prayer is not passive.

Prayer is actively engaging in a battle against the enemy for souls and Christ’s Kingdom. Satan doesn’t want us to have an intimate love relationship with our Father. When we are identified with Christ, we become the enemy of Satan – “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” Ephesians 6:12 Therefore, as a soldier in God’s army, let us stay alert in Spirit and persevere in prayer to set captives free from the enemy.

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When God Says “No”

SSP Prayer Bulletin Reflection
January 28, 2015


“And He is the head of the body, the church; He is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.”                         Colossians 1:18

     他 也 是 教 會 全 體 之 首。他 是 元 始,是 從 死 裡 首 先 復 生 的,使 他 可 以 在 凡 事 上 居 首 位                                                   歌 羅 西 書 1:18

The life of Jesus provides the model for our prayer lives since He is the head/leader of the Church. God is seeking to mold us into the image of His Son. If we are to act like Christ, our prayer lives must be conformed to His. Many Christians are unwilling to pay the price that Jesus paid when it comes to interceding with God. Jesus prayed early in the morning and all night and His prayers came with vehement cries and tears and, “because of His godly fear,” he was heard by the Father (Hebrews 5:7).

Why then did the Father refuse His request? It wasn’t due to any sin in Jesus’ life, nor was it because the Father did not love His Son. The Father said no, despite the unfathomable love He had for His Son, because He know He could not spare His Son and save a world. Likewise, the Lord cannot always spare you and your family and complete His redemptive work in those around you. Remember Pastor Justin Fung’s pulpit message last Sunday (Jan. 25th)? We ought to examine the grounds we’re on and to take root, not just serving the Lord in the Church but especially in areas where we are placed.

Are you then willing for God to deny your pleadings? Will you intercede with the Father so deeply and intimately that even in the midst of your tears you are able to say, “Nevertheless, not my will but thine be done?” The Father will always relate to you out of the context of His love for a lost world. Has God said no to one of your requests recently? Accept His answer. Have you been learning obedience through what you have been suffering? If you have, God may choose to make you a source of salvation to others even as He did with His Son.

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Deep Prayer Lives

SSP Prayer Bulletin Reflection
January 25, 2015


push I mentioned previously that the best way to build a culture of praying here at St. Stephen’s Parish or in any other church should begin with the Church Leaders, that is, they should lead by example. Praying is part and parcel of a church leader’s life. A church leader cannot go about his service unto the Lord without praying. I doubt that you can find a maximally effective spiritual leader in the Bible or in history that was not a person of prayer. This is the reality today as much as it was two thousand years ago.

God’s desire is for men to be on their knees in full subjection to Him. Leaders should not boast nor think of themselves as having the strength and the spiritual gifts to serve the Lord and His people. They need rather to humble themselves and recognise their weaknesses; to depend fully upon the Lord to help and to grant them the grace to overcome their weaknesses. Remember that we ought not to lead by our own might, nor by power, but by the Spirit of the Lord (Zech. 4:6)

In order to lead well and to make good decisions, leaders need to pray and wait upon the Lord for His guidance and the Spirit to empower and enable them. They ought to show dependence upon the Lord through earnest prayers before they even make important decisions in doing the Lord’s work.

Solomon was young when he was appointed king but he humbled himself before the Lord and readily prayed and asked Him for wisdom at the beginning of his reign in order to enable him to rule the mane people under his charge. He acknowledged his inadequacy and showed his dependence upon the Lord God Almighty.

Prayer was a consistent feature in the life of our Lord Jesus. We read in the gospels how the Lord would always pray early in the morning and all night, and taught the disciples to pray always. Besides the Lord’s pattern of a deep, earnest, enduring and constant prayer life, another great example of one who preaches on praying always and practising it himself is none other than the great Apostle Paul. If our Master and the great Apostle prayed so much and so earnestly, then how much more we ought to pray?

It is well noted that many great church leaders had deep lives of prayer. Martin Luther and John Wesley prayed for hours each day. The great reformer, Martin Luther, said: “I generally pray two hours every day, except on very busy days. On those days, I pray three. It was said of C. Spurgeon that he never prayed more than five minutes at a time, but he never went more than five minutes without praying. E.M. Bounds was devoted to praying three hours a day beginning at 4 a.m. in the morning, and his books are a wonderful example of the power of a praying man. 19th Century Christian leader Andrew Murray said that prayer in the life of the leader should be regarded “as the highest part of the work entrusted to us, the root and strength of all other work…there is nothing we need to study and practice as the art of praying alright.”

An effective leader must have a deep prayer life. A Christian leader must discipline himself to continue to grow and to lead in prayer always. The Christian leader should set the example of devotion and prayer in the church,  at home, and in his life day and night. Do you measure up to these?

It is certainly the will of God that as leaders, our lives must be characterised with the discipline of prayer. As we pray, we show dependence upon the Spirit of God to help and to guide us in our leadership. We need to be praying constantly in earnestness and perseverance for the work, for the people and for ourselves that we may not fall but rather be effective in the work of God’s Kingdom. As leaders in the ministry of the Lord, let us therefore examine our hearts before the Lord if our prayer life is sufficient and appropriate enough. May God help us, especially, as leaders to give ourselves unto the habit of continuing instant in prayer and supplication in the Spirit! Now, we note that leaders are also unceasing in their prayers. How often do we pray and how much time do we spend before the throne of grace as God’s appointed leaders for His work and His people?

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Developing a Culture of Prayer

SSP Prayer Bulletin Reflection
January 18, 2015


 As we turn our calendars to a new year, we instinctively make plans to give attention to what matters. As Christians, it is my fervent hope that when we think about our priorities, prayer is right at the top of the list. If not, rearranging your priorities to reflect such might be a wise thing to do at this time of the year.

Developing a culture of prayer in a church takes time. The critical thing is to begin the process and take the steps necessary to build a prayer culture. In this respect, it is the goal of the Parish’s Prayer Committee to focus on building a community that prays and not just build a prayer meeting; to strategically develop prayer so that the congregation grows in prayer while also growing in relationship, in the Scriptures, and the other elements of community life. We want a congregation that is praying and growing together not just attending meetings as individual intercessors.

How and where do we start? I believe that the best way to do things is to lead by example. So, a prayer culture should begin with the leaders. The best way to build a culture of praying in the church is to get the leadership praying together. This foundation must be laid first if the congregation is going to catch the vision of prayer. They may begin a daily prayer meeting for the staff at the church. The senior leader in the church must lead this. That person cannot delegate his responsibility to lead prayer meetings. It must be held in a way that is very participatory, having the feel of praying together and not just one person praying. It should be the first thing on the daily schedule in the mornings since staff will be distracted with other pressing issues later in the day.

Next, teach a culture of prayer. Most people do not have a good theology of prayer and most often people feel they should pray, and have been told they should, but very few have a vision for prayer beyond obligation and personal needs. This year, the Prayer Committee have appointed a couple of Prayer Ambassadors who were given the task of serving as a liaison and promoter of the ministry between the congregation, the different fellowships, care groups, choirs and the Prayer Committee. They are tasked to give people understanding of why a prayer culture is important. They are to ensure that prayer is encouraged, engaged, and integrated into every ministry and department of the church. 

Once the leadership of the church and the congregation are growing in prayer, then establishing a House of Prayer should be next in our agenda. Engaging students and young adults, mothers, retired individuals, and others who do not work, to lead prayer meetings strategically added during the week. This would tremendously strengthen their lives as well as the parish.

In the end, our ultimate goal is to build a Community of Prayer. Much patience is needed with the process of growing a praying church and so we ask the Lord for wisdom and guidance. The first steps are for our leadership to commit to a daily life of praying together, then begin teaching a sound theology of prayer, and then begin very approachable prayer meetings for the congregation.

“The life of the church is the highest life, and its office is to pray. Its PRAYER life is the highest life, the most fragrant, and the most conspicuous. When God’s house on the earth is a house of prayer, then God’s house in heaven is busy and powerful in its plans and movements. ‘For mine house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations’ (Isaiah 56:7b), says our God.         ~E.M. Bounds

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