Our Prayers: Driven by Passionate Emotion or by Thoughtful Planning?

In some Psalms David just dumps his opinions and feelings on God like a woman upending her purse on the table and scattering the contents higgledy-piggledy while trying to find a key.

Sometimes he rants on and on about his enemies and, in great passion, asks God to do horrible things to them. In others, he is in a calm mood and paints lovely word picture prayers of enjoying God’s care like a sheep in the care of a shepherd. These are examples of emotion driven prayers.

We can all identify with David and the other psalmists. We all pray emotional prayers when we, or the people we love, are in trouble, or sick or in pain. Or when everything is going well and we feel well cared for. But David also prayed much more thoughtful, more cerebral prayers. Sometimes he was like a businessman, carefully arranging items on an agenda for an important board meeting.

When I pray, I tend to pray the business-like way he describes in Psalm 5:3. “In the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation” (NIV). The phrase “lay my requests” is not simply an emotional outburst dumping a hodgepodge of needs before God. Several other versions translate the term as, “set in array” (YLT), and, “lay out the pieces of my life on your altar” (MSG).

Altar2The picture is that of a Jewish priest approaching the altar to make a sacrifice, and carefully placing the kindling, then laying the right amount of wood in precisely the correct way to make a fast, hot fire, then laying the pieces of the sacrificial animal on it exactly as prescribed. The Amplified Bible states this clearly, “I prepare [a prayer], [a sacrifice] for you.”

I’m a writer, and I find that I think best with my fingers on a keyboard. About 25 years ago, using my first laptop computer, I started experimentally writing out my prayers as letters to God. Sometimes I just rattled off whatever popped into my mind, but more often I found that the act of writing pushed me to array and arrange my “agenda items” neatly and thoughtfully though not without passion. I wrote my prayers neither often, nor regularly until about twelve years ago when I committed to write several times a week. For the past eight years I’ve written almost daily.

The physical result is thousands of pages of prayers which make fascinating reading months or years later when I see the spiritual results of prayers answered, situations improved, lessons learned, ministry accomplished, and relationships restored.

I believe MartinLuther prayed thoughtful prayers as, pen in hand, he outlined an agenda for his day. At least that is how I understand his famous quote on prayer, “I have so much to do today; I will need to spend the first three hours in prayer.” I imagine him sitting down and prayerfully organizing his day, fervently praying through each appointment on his schedule, and each item on his To-Do list.

The last part of Psalm 5:3 says, “. . . and wait in expectation” (NIV). Another version has, “ . . . and wait for you to speak to my heart” (AMP).


Praying Hands

That is the neat part. Frequently two things happen as I write out my requests, carefully listing the items on my agenda for God to check out. One, I get a bright, brand new idea for dealing with a situation which I immediately put into words and thank God for putting it into my mind. Sometimes I can hardly wait to put it into action. Yes, prayer can be exciting. Two, I look at an item, and hear myself saying, “You don’t need to do this today.” At such times I delete it and jot it down to consider later in the week. When I do, I enjoy a sense of relief, a release of pressure.

When I sign off my morning letter to God, I know I’ve just had an intense session with my Boss, who has listened to my arguments, helped me think through my day and outline a plan of action. What’s more, He always promises the help and strength I need to accomplish the tasks. What a great way to live!

The Survey, The Problem, A Solution, and an Ad

First Some Boring Numbers
I just completed another Wycliffe Associates promotional banquet speaking tour. Here are some numbers: 5 weeks, 6 states, 24 cities, 5,600 kilometres/3,500 miles. We started in North Dakota on the border of Minnesota, an hour’s drive south of the Manitoba border, then traveled south into Iowa and south-west to Colorado, 30 kilometres/20 miles from New Mexico, and as far west as 40 kilometres/25 miles from Utah.

The Reason I Bored You with These Statistics
Every night after I speak, I offer my books for purchase by guests as they leave. And every night people happily buy whole sets of the three printed books and the two ebooks. Very nice. Good for them. Good for me.

But what bothers me is that in city after city, along the entire route, many hundreds of people shake my hand and say,
“Your stories are so inspiring! Thank you so much for coming!” but when I invite them to buy my books with even more inspiring stories, they give me any number of reasons why they won’t.

Favorite Reason for Not Reading
A frequent one is “I am just so busy, I just don’t have time to read.”
I sometimes joke with them, “Buy my books and for only $10 more, I’ll pray ten times a day for ten days and ask God to give you time to read them.”

Others, especially older folk, mention poor eyesight, or extreme light sensitivity that makes reading difficult. Some tell me they love to learn by listening, but just can’t get anything from reading. A few confess they loved reading as a child but learned to hate it during their school years.

By far the most popular reason given is, “Sorry, I have too many books on my shelves already. I just can’t buy any more.”

A Suggestion That Will Work
I know what they mean. My wife and I, too, used to have many books on many shelves. But a few years ago, we asked ourselves, “Are we readers or librarians?”

We decided that we were readers and that books existed to be read and enjoyed, not just to sit on shelves and gather dust.

We started by pulling out books we had read and probably wouldn’t read again. We also culled books we had once thought we might like to read, but which had been sitting there for a long time and we probably were not going to read.

Two Out for One In

Two Out for One In

We are still working at it. Our current policy is, for every book we acquire we give away two books. This “two books out the door for each one coming in” is an excellent downsizing measure. Not only that, it keep us opening and reading books we really do want to read.

And have you noticed, when you open a book, it tends to open you?

***This is the end of my column***
Now here is the advertisement.

Just In Case You Got Inspired to Buy Books
My second ebook will be published this summer.

The Why and How of Bible Translation: What Every Christian Should Know, but few do . . . very few. In this ebook you will

  • Discover why in some instances Mark and Luke did not quote Jesus exactly as Matthew did, and why today’s translators need to follow their example.
  • Find out why it is sometimes essential for translators to clearly state explicitly in the target language what is merely implied in the Greek text.
  • Read why support for Bible translation would skyrocket among Christians if linguistics was taught as widely as biology, chemistry or physics.

Here are the links to my books—three printed collections of 52 easy-to-read, true-life stories, the kind of inspiring books you definitely will read. Order them through these links, and while waiting for them to arrive, make some room on your shelves by giving away some other books.

A Poke in the Ribs: http://www.thewordman.ca/jacks-books/a-poke-in-the-ribs.html
A Kick in the Pants:
A Bonk on the Head:
A Tickle in the Funny Bone: my first ebook, read it on your Kindle, Nook, Kobo, iPad, tablet, laptop, or computer. Download it as many times as you want in whatever format you need. Yes, it is funny. It needs to be to counteract all those physically abusive titles of the print books.

Allah and Culturally Relevant Bible Translations

Wycliffe Bible Translators has been accused of producing “Muslim friendly” translations of the Bible in which Allah is used as the name of the Supreme Being and Creator of all. Critics point out the blasphemy of implying that Muslims and Christians worship the same Supreme Being. They claim that Allah, as described in the Qur’an, matches many of the descriptions of Satan in the Bible.

IslamTrue, but it’s not the whole story. Consider these facts:

  • Although the Allah described in the Qur’an falls far short of the description of God in the Bible, the Allah as described in the Bible matches 100% the description of God the Creator and Father of our Lord Jesus.
  • The name Allah does not belong to Islam. It was used in writing more than a thousand years before Mohammed was born.
  • Many, if not all, ChristianArabic translations of Scripture since the 8th century have used the term Allah for God.
  • There are 35 distinct Arabic languages in the world today. Many of them use Allah as the primary term to describe the Supreme Being.
  • Christianity arrived in Malaysia and Indonesia at least 300 years before Islam arrived there and Allah was the name used to describe the God of the Bible.
  • In Bible translations and other printed material in the Malay and Indonesian languages the word Allah has been used continuously since the 1600s. Allah was used in the first printed edition of Matthew’s gospel in Malay in 1629, only eighteen years after King James Version of the English Bible was published.
  • Allah was used in the complete Malay Bible published in 1733, two-hundred years before the founding of Wycliffe Bible Translators.
  • Millions of Christians in many countries like Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, and other areas in Africa and Asia whose languages are in contact with Arabic people, have been using the word Allah as Creator God and the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ for many centuries.
  • When in 2009 the Muslim dominated government of Malaysia passed a law prohibiting Christians from using the term Allah for Creator God, Christians went to court and won the right to continue to use the word Allah on the basis that they had been using it long before Islam came to their country.

Even with this long history of widespread usage by Christians, many people still question the actual origin and meaning of the name Allah. This mystery vanishes, however, when you understand the way in which Arabic joins words together. The word Allah is a simple contraction of the Arabic article al- “the” with a second word -ilah “god”. When combined, they form the name Allah meaning “the God” – that is, the one and only creator God of the universe. Allah is therefore the Arabic linguistic equivalent to the English word God.

Bible and CrossSo, how do translators select a word for “God” that is culturally relevant, while remaining true to the full meaning of the Scriptures? In general, there are three ways Bible translators choose a name to use for the Supreme Being in their translation of the Bible.

  1. Use the name of the local high deity – the creator god. This was the method used when the gospel was brought to northern Europe. All the Teutonic/Germanic languages used the word Gott to describe the local deity. Gott was in common use and everyone knew what was meant although not all the attributes of the Creator described in the Bible were present in the term Gott.Wherever the local indigenous name for the high deity was adopted and then filled with all the true attributes of the God of the Bible, Christianity has flourished and God is worshiped as Gott, God, Tupan, Hananim, Magano, Imana, Yala, Koro, Io, Kalunga, and many hundreds more.By the way, Gott comes from the Teutonic tribal name, Ghu-tio; which comes from the old Germanic Tiw, (the name of the ancient German deity for which Tuesday was named); which comes from the Latin Deus; which comes from the old Latin, Deiw-os.
  2. Use a name already in use in neighboring languages. This was done when the gospel was brought to southern Europe. All the Romance languages, French, Spanish, Italian, Romanian, Portuguese, etc. used the word Deus or Dios from the Latin/Greek words Deus/Theos, which stems from the old Latin, Deiw-os, which comes from the ancient Indo-European word Diw-os meaning “to shine”, the term used to refer to the chief sky-god, that is, the sun.So both the words Deus and God trace back to the name of the same pagan deity, the sun god.
  3. Use a name transliterated from one of the Semitic languages of the Middle East. In languages like Hebrew, Aramaic and all the other northern Semitic languages the word El is used to describe the Supreme Being. Often this word is combined with a Hebrew adjective to describe some specific aspect of God.For example, El Olam: Everlasting God; El Roi: God Who Sees; El Elyon: Most High God; El Shaddai: God Almighty; El Gibhor: Mighty God. The word Elohim (simply translated as God in English) occurs 32 times in the first chapter of Genesis: Elah is the Aramaic word for God used by the prophet Jeremiah. Lastly, all the southern Semitic languages, like Arabic, use Allah as the word for God.

When my wife and I needed to choose a word for God to use when we translated the Bible for the Canela people of Brazil, we studied their creation myths. We found that the Canelas believed that they had been created and then had been abandoned to fend for themselves as their creator left to go up into the sky and shine as the sun. They called him Pahpam, meaning “Our Father,” since he created them.

Obviously the meaning of the term Pahpam was sadly lacking, but as we translated part of the Old Testament and most of the New Testament into Canela, we took this nearly empty sausage skin of a term and stuffed it full of the solid meat of truth about God. The result is that now the Canela know that far from abandoning them, their Creator loves them and sent His Son to die in order that they might become true sons of God and live with Him forever.

So did we translate a “Canela friendly” Bible? Yes, of course we did. That is the whole point of translating into another language and culture! Are Pahpam to the Canelas and God to us the same Supreme Being? Yes, they are now, though at first Pahpam certainly was not.

That is the beauty of God’s plan: to guide translators to produce language and culture-friendly translations of His Word so that all the peoples of the world can understand His message of life and hope.

Statistics That Bring Shame to Churches

“I have some good news,” the elder said as he came out of the congregational meeting, “we just voted to ask you to serve as our pastor for a second year.” Then he added, “This time the vote was 100% in favour.”

“What was the percentage last year, when you first asked me to be your pastor?” I asked. The elder smiled and said, “Actually, it was only 51% in favour of you.”

Pastor and Mrs. Jack  Popjes & Valorie, starting 2nd year of ministry.

Pastor and Mrs. Jack Popjes & Valorie, starting 2nd year of ministry.

Whew! Was I ever glad that the elders were kind and loving enough to keep that statistic from me! It would have been hard to stand there and preach to a congregation when I knew almost half hadn’t really wanted my wife and me in that position. I was also glad that during the year my “approval rating” had gone up to 100% in spite of all the changes I was leading the church into, including a move to a different location and a building program.

That was over fifty years ago and today pastors are still vulnerable to what their congregations think of them and how they treat them. My wife and I were fortunate for several reasons. The elders board was encouraging, helpful, appreciative and backed us up when some congregational members made complaints about the many changes that were being made. We also knew that this pastoral service was only temporary—just three years to get some ministry experience before becoming cross-cultural missionaries.

Unfortunately, many churches are not treating their pastors the loving way my church treated me. They fail to encourage their pastors, do not show their appreciation, and have elders boards that leave the pastor dangling when he makes an unpopular decision. At least that is my take when I read the troubling statistics about evangelical church pastors, in LanceWitt’s book, Replenish: Leading from a Healthy Soul.

  • 1,500 pastors leave the ministry permanently each month in North America.
  • 80% of pastors and 85% of their spouses feel discouraged in their roles.
  • Over 50% of pastors are so discouraged they would leave the ministry if they could but have no other way of making a living.
  • Over 50% of pastors’ wives feel that their husband entering the ministry was the most destructive thing to ever happen to their families.
  • 30% of pastors said they had either been in an ongoing affair or had a one-time sexual encounter with a parishioner.
  • 71% of pastors stated they were burned out, and they battle depression beyond fatigue on a weekly and even a daily basis.
  • Only one out of every ten ministers will actually retire as a minister.(Research compiled from The Barna Group, Focus on the Family, Fuller Seminary, and the Institute of Church Leadership.)

These statistics would be prevented if all Christians, everywhere, obeyed the instructions given by the apostle Paul 2,000 years ago.

“And now, friends, we ask you to honor those leaders who work so hard for you, who have been given the responsibility of urging and guiding you along in your obedience. Overwhelm them with appreciation and love!” 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 (MSG).

Okay, here’s where you stop reading and start praying for your pastors and plan to do something to honour them and show your appreciation. At least send them an encouraging email.

Really, take the next five minutes to do for your pastor what you are thinking about right now.


Been There, Done That, I Understand

Back in my hotel bed after yet another productive time spent in the bathroom, I tried to remember when I last had such a severe case of diarrhea. Hmm, Indonesia a few years ago, I thought, and of course Brazil, nearly every work session in the Canela village.

I then started a mental conversation with Jesus, first asking Him to heal me and give me my strength back, and soon. I also reminded Him I was supposed to be in a suit and tie, giving a story packed speech that evening and every night that week before an audience of nicely dressed banquet guests who would be severely distracted if, in the middle of the speech, I had an accident or had to rush out to the nearest bathroom.

I was still mentally explaining my suffering to Him when the thought came, “Yes, I know.” And into my mind popped a vivid picture of Jesus grabbing some leaves and hurrying behind a boulder along the Jericho road to relieve Himself for the umptieth time while the disciples grinned knowingly.

Yes, the divine Jesus was also fully human and suffered the same problems we tend to suffer. “We don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin. . . . Though He was God’s Son, He learned trusting-obedience by what He suffered, just as we do” Hebrews 4:15, 5:8 (MSG).

Jesus2Meaning He was tempted to complain about being afflicted with infections and the resulting weaknesses especially when He was busy in ministry.

The next mental picture I got was of Jesus rejoining his disciples and laughing at his predicament.

I, however, was not laughing. I was not only tempted to complain, I did so, frequently, bitterly, and at length. I also claimed healing faithfully, but then doubted His willingness to instantly heal me since day after day nothing positive seemed to be happening. No, not a pretty picture.

It’s now a week later and after a five-day liquid diet, I’m happy to report my digestion is back on track. I’m thankful that there were no distracting accidents or interruptions during any of my five speeches although my presentations were noticeably weaker and less peppy.

I’m also thankful that I got a clearer view of the humanity of Jesus. He was not the thoroughly healthy figure in impeccably spotless white robes, wearing a halo and a devout expression so often pictured in paintings and biblical illustrations.

He looked and smelled a lot more like a Brazilian peasant farmer trudging back from his field to his village at sunset. Sweat stained shirt, dirt streaked pants, and feet the color of the soil they had been tramping since dawn.

Jesus traveled and ministered out in the open air. He also lived there. He and His band of young men slept on the ground, the grass, or the sand many nights, close to the dirt and dust of the earth. That showed on their clothes. He had dirt under his fingernails, and in many other places. He was often dead tired, falling to sleep instantly and soundly even in a tossing boat during a storm.

You know how when you go camping for the weekend you tend to feel gritty and grunky, smelling of sweat and campfire smoke? Then, when you get home, one of the first things you do is have a shower and put on clean clothes, right? Now think of going camping without a tent, sleeping bag, pillow, propane stove, lamp, flashlight, or canned food, and hiking 15 miles a day, week after week for months. That’s what it was often like for Jesus and His band.

In comparison, my problem was a mere inconvenience. Instead of having to walk everywhere, I rode in a van. I slept in an impeccably clean hotel bed every night, and most afternoons, instead of in the sand off the side of the road. I had clean clothes, plenty of liquids, food, medicines, and  . . .

Oh, Lord, forgive my complaining!

Are you complaining about something today?
Jesus says to you, “Yes, I know, I’ve been there too.”