Chris got to take a short trip to the tribe this month to work on some translation projects and to check in with the Bible teachers. He made good progress on the translation side of things–2 Corinthians, James, 1 John, and Jude are all another step down the path toward being finished Scripture–and any time spent on the ground, face to face with the believers and church leaders is precious to us and our team in these days of living apart from the church there.
He spent one long day hiking for an hour and a half to visit believers who were off in their garden homes and who had agreed to help him do some translation work. After visiting and work were done, it was a long ninety-minute hike home again. All in a day’s work for a jungle missionary.
A couple of days later, he hiked for two and a half hours to attend a graduation ceremony for the most recent literacy class in the village where a church was started in 2019. The graduation ceremony went as planned, and when it was over some leaders from that community stood up and publicly gave some “sorry talk” to the representatives from our home village about a dispute between their two clans over a piece of land. Both sides had claimed ownership of the land and accused the other side of lying, cheating, and stealing. Angry words had been exchanged, threats had been made, and bad feelings that go back generations had been reinforced. Unfortunately, the “sorry talk” ceremony just put a nice gloss on the surface; the problem is still alive and well underneath.
Fighting over land, accusing each other of being unbelieving sinners, gossiping, fighting for position in church and village hierarchy–when we hear about these things going on in the tribe, and especially in the church, we feel sad and frustrated and helpless because we aren’t there with them and can’t address the problems in the way and at the time we would like to. We have to piece together information from rumors we hear from wildly different sources, and our only means of contacting people is an unreliable cell tower signal which may or may not reach their unreliable phones. In times like these, I tell myself that we can only pray.
“We can only pray.” Why is it that I have come to believe that prayer is the thing I do only when all the other things I want to do can’t be done? Why is it that I resort to prayer only when I feel like I can’t do anything that is actually helpful? Why do I feel like praying is tantamount to giving up–like a Hail Mary pass or some kind of last-ditch effort when all else has failed? I have been deceived into believing that praying is second to doing. Doing is action; prayer is inaction. When I do something I feel like I’m accomplishing things–like I’m in control. Prayer is quiet. It is still. It is an acknowledgment that I can’t do it myself. And the fact that I have preferred doing to praying for so many years is yet another testament to my stupid, sinful pride.
Jesus prayed before he did things. He prayed and fasted forty days before he began his ministry. He prayed before he appointed his twelve disciples. He prayed before he went on trial. And he commands us to pray. “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful” (Colossians 4:2). “Pray continually” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer” (Romans 12:12). I, however, have been acting as if I knew better–as if I didn’t need to draw strength through prayer the way Jesus did, or receive guidance through prayer the way Jesus did, or trust God to act appropriately the way Jesus did. I have not prayed devotedly, or continually, or faithfully. Instead, I have wondered and worried and planned and spoken and acted, and then when everything goes sideways I decide that I might as well pray about it. I have treated this amazing, mind-boggling gift that God has given me–the ability to come into his presence, to approach his throne–like a child who gets socks for Christmas. It’s like a diamond that I’ve been keeping covered up in a pile of dirt in the backyard instead of putting it on display where the light will catch it and bring out its breathtaking beauty–beauty that can enrich my life and the lives of others in so many ways if I will stop disregarding it.
When I think about the power of prayer, I like to think about the Israelites and the Exodus. God brings them to a place where they are hemmed in by the Red Sea on one side and Pharaoh’s army on the other. It is a place where they cannot possibly do anything to help themselves. And in that position, they cry out to the Lord. Then, if you skip the part where they are sarcastic and whiny to Moses, he tells them, “The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent” (Exodus 14:14). You cannot do anything, or plan anything, or find a solution. You prayed, so now be silent and watch, and God will show you what he can do.
I have been making prayer a priority lately. I have started to think of it as part of my work instead of as something to find time for in my day. Prayer is not empty words but an avenue for aligning myself with God’s will and accomplishing His plans. Please join us in praying for the Pal church. Please pray for the leaders to be loving and not judgmental. Please pray for the believers to value the souls of their neighbors above their worldly possessions. And pray that they would be burdened with the desire to tell others about God’s love for them.