Why Does Our Almighty, All-knowing God Want us to Pray?

It was Wednesday evening at the Bible translation centre in Belem, Brazil, the night when all the missions personnel gathered to share stories and pray for each other. For nearly two decades, whenever we returned from the Canela village for a consultant break on the centre, our whole family attended these prayer meetings. Now, however, we were within a few years of finishing the translation program, and our daughters had left Brazil for university. Valorie studied in Los Angeles, Leanne in Edmonton, and Cheryl in Capernwray, Germany.

The Story
Our neighbour and colleague, Marj, had something to share. “I just got a letter from our son Ken in Texas. A few weeks ago, he was riding home on his motorcycle around 1 a.m. after working late at his part-time job. He was exhausted, very drowsy, and suddenly collided with another vehicle. The impact threw him off his motorcycle, but he landed unhurt on the lawn of somebody’s house.

Then I remembered how a couple of weeks ago, I suddenly woke up around 4 a.m. feeling anxious about Ken. I immediately prayed for him until the fear left; I was at peace and went back to sleep. Today, when I read Ken’s letter, I checked the date and the time zone difference. Sure enough, God woke me up to pray for Ken on the very night and time as he was riding his motorcycle home.”

Does God Need Our Help, or What?
Hearing that story, Jo and I felt a firm assurance that God was taking care of our children as well, and we committed to be sensitive to his urging in our hearts to pray for them, not just regularly in our devotional time, but when the urge to pray hit us. Marj’s story also reminded me of the term the apostle Paul used to describe himself and his team in his first letter to the Corinthians. In 3:9, “We are co-workers with God.” In 6:1, “We are working together with God.” Paul was writing poetically about planting and watering, and that it was God who made things grow.

God had awakened Marj and given her the urge to pray for Ken who was in danger while riding his motorcycle 6,000 kilometres away. Why did God need her to pray? Because He wants His people to work together with Him. As we pray, He works to answer the prayer.

Two Stories From Long Ago
The fact that the outcome of God’s work somehow depends on our prayers is vividly illustrated in Exodus 17:8-15. The first battle after Israel’s escape through the Red Sea was an attack by the Amalekites. Joshua fought them on the open plain while Moses stood on top of a hill and lifted his staff to God as a symbol of prayer. As long as Moses lifted his staff high, Israel was winning, but when he got tired, and his staff sank and wavered, Amalek prevailed against Israel. Aaron and Hur found a rock for Moses to sit on, then held up his arms on either side, for a full day, until sundown and Israel won the battle. Verse 14, “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Write this on a scroll as something to be remembered and make sure that Joshua hears it.’” Joshua needed to know that God had won the battle working together with Joshua’s army and their swords, and Moses and his staff of prayer.

Many centuries later, the people of Israel had abandoned the worship of God. Ezekiel the prophet kept urging the people to return to God, warning them of disaster ahead. At the end of a long description of how He planned to destroy the nation, God said, “I searched for one man among them . . .  a man who could advocate for the land, a man who could convince Me not to destroy it; but I found no one. Ezekiel 22:30. The next verse starts, “So, I will turn my anger loose on them . . .” The nation was destroyed, but even just one person interceding for mercy could have stopped the judgment.

God Does His Part; We Need to Do Our Part
Did God limit himself to work in this world, mostly in response to His people’s prayers? It seems like it. We do know he wants us to keep in constant connection with him. Maybe something is going on in the spiritual realm we know nothing about, like the story of Job. Let’s be sure we do our part and pray about everything that comes to our minds. Be in constant contact with God’s Holy Spirit and pray at ever urging. As the apostle Paul said, “Pray without ceasing.”



How To Doubly Please God

The Question
A pastor friend and I were chatting about our personal prayers. “I write out my daily prayers,” I said. He looked surprised and said, “Why would you take time to write them out? When did you start doing that?”

“I find that writing out my prayers helps me to focus,” I said. “I have records of a few dozen prayers per year starting when I was fifty years old. But then something happened when I was fifty-five that clinched the value of praying by writing. I’ll tell you the story.”

The Story
A few years after Jo and I returned to Canada from our decades of Bible translation ministry in Brazil, Wycliffe Canada assigned us to work in a program to help young people become members of Wycliffe. Since Jo is by nature deeply interested in people and is gifted with the ability to discern personal problems, she served as a confidential interviewer and counselor with young women.

One morning I walked into the room where Jo was studying the responses to a highly personal questionnaire. As soon as she saw me, she closed her confidential file, and looked up at me with tears in her eyes.
“What’s the matter, Hon? I said.
“I need to interview this girl and will need to discuss some painful things. I just don’t know how to handle this situation.”

The Promise
With that, she picked up her folder and stood up to leave for the interview room. I hugged her and impulsively said,
“I will pray for you the whole time you are talking with her.”
“Thanks, Hon” she said, we kissed, and she walked out.

As the door closed behind her, I thought, What have I done? This interview will last an hour. I have never prayed for a whole hour about one thing in my whole life! Besides, I know nothing about the situation. I don’t even know who the girl is.
I knew, however, that I could write for an hour, so I sat down with my laptop, and started a letter to God.

 The Letter
“Dear God, Jo just walked out to interview a girl and I promised to pray for her the entire time she is with her. I have never prayed for any one person for that long my life, so please put thoughts and ideas into my head that I can bring to you in prayer.”

As I wrote, thoughts did come into my head. I wrote, I thought, I reread, I cried a few times. I kept writing, thinking, and writing some more. Suddenly I heard the door open. What? Jo had returned! The hour was over, and I wasn’t done praying yet!

 The Result
Jo read my prayer from my laptop screen, then looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, “Wow! This is amazing! God led you to pray about the very things we needed to talk about. And our interview went perfectly. She is going to be okay.”

“About that same time,” I said to the pastor, “I saw the movie Chariots of Fire and was struck by the words of Eric Liddell, the famous Olympic Christian athlete, ‘I believe God made me for a purpose. He made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.’

“I knew God had made me a writer. Then I read Proverbs 15:8, ‘The prayer of the upright pleases Him’ and I put the two concepts together. I please God when I write, and when I pray, my prayers please Him. I thought, From now on, I’ll do both at once, and doubly please Him.

The Pastor’s Story
Sometime later I saw this pastor again. “I had been counseling a young married couple,” he said. One spouse needed to confront the other in private, so as they entered another room I promised I would pray for them during their private conversation.

“I remembered your story, Jack,” he said, “so I sat down with my laptop and wrote a letter to God about the couple and the confrontation that was going on at that very time. It took a long time, but God just kept me writing by putting ideas into my head.”

I was delighted to hear that my story had helped him to pray in a focused way over an extended period of time.

The Journey Into Praying by Writing
For about five years I wrote a Midweek Report. Each Wednesday I wrote a report to the President of my life. I thanked Him for the things I had been able to accomplish, brought problems to Him to help me solve and wrote to him about whatever came into my mind during that time: people, situations, finances, health, relationships, and mechanical or electronic problems, etc.

For the past fourteen years I have been writing daily prayers. I started off with five days a week, and eventually this habit grew to daily written prayers. Not everyone is a writer, for those of you who are, I hope these stories will encourage you to “double please God” through your prayers and through practicing the skill you are good at.

What About Non-Writers?
And what about those of you who confine your writing to making a grocery shopping list and signing birthday cards?  You are not left out. You, too, can please God by doing what He made you good at–cooking, baking, carpentry, sewing, painting, and caring for people, etc. God has given each of us one or more talents and when we use them, we will feel His pleasure. When we use them prayerfully we will doubly please Him.

The 30th Anniversary

A few days ago, on Monday, August 10, Jo and I celebrated a significant anniversary of a major life event that took place on this date in 1990, 30 years ago. It was a Friday, and the location was on the central plaza of the main Canela village in Brazil. The occasion was the distribution of the newly printed partial Bible, which Jo and I translated for and with the Canela people.

A Major Investment
Starting in 1957, we spent 11 years in studies, training, and preparation for the ministry of linguistics and Bible translation in Brazil. For the next 22 years, we focused on producing a literate society and a partial Bible in the Canela language. It was a 33 year-long investment. A long time, but it was worth the effort!

Eternal Results

A generation growing up learning about God from the Canela Bible

We are thrilled to think that of the several thousand Canelas now living in the main village, a whole generation was born and grew up in homes where a Canela Bible was present. These 20 to 30-year-old parents are now themselves raising families that have access to God’s Word in their language.

Our Heartfelt Thanks to God
Our hearts are full of thanks to God for choosing Jo and me, and our family, to be involved in this significant task. We especially thank our daughters, Valorie, Leanne and Cheryl, for being part of our team. They played a vital role in developing deep relationships with Canela friends, playmates, and families. Right from the very beginning of language learning, they helped us sort thousands of slips of paper with Canela words and definitions to produce a dictionary. During school vacation, they spent many hours helping adult Canelas learn to read. And they prayed with in-depth personal knowledge for the Canelas and us.

Our daughters had to sacrifice much: the loss of grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins back in Canada with whom they connected only briefly every five years. During their school years, they spent up to three months at a time in a boarding school on the mission centre separated from us while we worked in the village. When they graduated from high school, they left Brazil, and we were apart for years.

But God is no one’s debtor. He gave them dozens of uncles and aunts and life-long friends from among our fellow Wycliffe missionary families, also living on the mission centre in Belem.

The Large Team Back Home
We thank God for our extended families and for the friends we made during our decades of preparation and active ministry. Many became long-time faithful prayer warriors, encouraging correspondents (even with paper mail), and essential financial partners. We thank God for all of you, and we thank you for your part in bringing the Word of God to the Canela.

Our Co-Labourers in Brazil
Our thanks go up to God and to our fellow missionaries in Brazil on the centres, also the administrators, the teachers for our daughters, the pilots, the mechanics, the radio and computer technicians, and the PhDs in several academic disciplines, all freely sharing their expertise with us. We could never have completed this task without them. Frankly, we would never even have dared to start it without them.

We are also thankful for Bernard and Elke Grupp, the missionaries who have worked among the Canela for the past 18 years. They continually encourage us by sending reports of baptisms, Bible classes, the production of the Canela Illustrated Children’s Bible, and multiple productions in audio and video media like The Jesus Film in Canela.

Good Things From The Hand of God
Canela life has changed much since those long-ago days in the late 1960s when Jo and I began living with the Canela. Life expectancy has vastly increased. Infant mortality has drastically decreased. Most Canelas now can read and write in their own language. A whole generation has been going to school in town to be taught in Portuguese and is now growing up fluently bilingual.

Hundreds of people have prayed, given, assisted, encouraged, sacrificed and worked to make possible the Word of God in the Canela language.

Every one of us looks forward to that great worship scene in Revelation 7:9. “There was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.”

Look! Yes, there they are! The Canelas!


After more than 20 years of meeting in the open air, the Canelas built a fireproof, waterproof church building patterned after local Brazilian churches.

Baptisms with plenty of witnesses

Adult believers baptisms take place frequently

Lots of children at special teaching sessions for them.

Many times the church just won’t hold everyone wanting to attend a teaching session.


Just a Little Bit Pregnant?

Currently I’m writing the God-stories of my life to publish in several books. Researching my diaries some time ago, I read how concerned Jo and I were for the Canelas during the first year we were back in Canada. Here is the story from nearly thirty years ago.

The Story
We had planned for a missionary family to live in our village house and continue to teach reading and present Bible studies. But they encountered many delays. Instead of a missionary, a well-funded community developer from Germany arrived with medical personnel, teachers, and other workers. The leader kept ridiculing the Canela believers. “Why are you reading that book?” he would ask whenever he saw a Canela reading his Bible. “That’s not for you people.” The Canelas wrote us these bits of disconcerting news in sporadic notes we received from the village.

A Reassuring Visit
We prayed much for them and God gave us His peace, but we kept longing to see them again. We returned to Brazil eighteen months after we had left to renew our permanent residency visas. During the few days we were in the village many Canelas came to tell us how they loved reading the newly translated Bible—great evidence of God’s work among them.

“I just love reading God’s Word.”
“I read it every day.”
“I read it through once right from the beginning to the end, then I read it through again, and now I am reading it for the third time.”
“People in my house are always asking me to read it to them.”
“When I read, I understand.”
“I pray the songs of King David every morning.”

The Note That Made Us Cry
The day we left, a young woman handed me a note as I pushed through the crowd with a bag to load into the jeep. I glanced at it then gave it to Jo in the back of the house, saying, “This is from Jirot”, and walked out with another bag. When I came back into the house Jo was crying. “Read this” she sobbed, holding out the note. I read it, sat down with Jo and cried too.

Here is the note translated from Canela:
Hello Prejaka and Tehtikwyj, (our Canela names)
Listen to my short thought. You are now going back to your children, Pjekar, Tehtyc and Kwyrxomkwyj. (our daughters) May the Creator of this earth, who also is our Creator, take care of all of us. We Canelas are always together with each other. And we, including you, will surely someday be together with each other again. To that end I surely pray for you like this:
“Good Father, look after all of us here. And my relatives, Prejaka and Tehtikwyj, who are the ones who revealed You to me, look after them, and also look after me.”
Yes, that is the way I pray. Done.

We had received many hundreds of notes ever since the Canelas learned to read and write in their own language. But this one was special since it not only contained a prayer, it had the words “who are the ones who revealed You to me” showing deep spiritual understanding. And it was the only note we ever got that didn’t end by asking us for something.

That note was a tiny evidence of a growing Church—almost insignificant. But a woman who is just a tiny bit pregnant will surely give birth to a baby in due time. In the same way the Canela church is alive and growing, nothing tiny or insignificant about it.

Whose Church is it Anyway?

The New Canela Children’s Bible

Jo and I need not have been so concerned during those eighteen months. We should have remembered that Jesus said “I will build my Church.” Not “Jack and Jo,” or “a strong denomination.” He, Himself, will build His own Church, among the Canela, and every other people group that is reading and hearing His Word in their own language. Yes!

Now nearly thirty years later, Jesus’ Church among the Canela is thriving. Instead of an atheist German development team leader, a godly German missionary family has been there for well over a decade, What a contrast! A whole new generation of Canelas has grown up gladly reading God’s Word.

Halloween, the Celebration of Fear

This week, fear-inducing scenes surrounded us. Figures of demons, devils and ghosts startled us as we walked in the mall, ducking to avoid spider filled cobwebs hanging in doorways. Theatres advertise horror films, Halloween costume parties are replete with vampires, witches and warlocks. It’s Halloween, the yearly celebration of things we fear.

We usually think of fear as a negative emotion. Jesus kept telling His followers, “Don’t be afraid.” But there is also a positive side to fear. 

Fear Is Not Always Negative

Our bodies are important to us therefore we dread suffering a crippling accident or debilitating disease. That’s why we fear, or at least profoundly respect, loaded firearms and powerful machinery, why we look both ways before crossing busy streets, and why we submit to the doctor’s probing during our annual medical check-up. These fears motivate us to actions that keep us alive and well.

What we Fear Shows What We Value

One of the most positive aspects of fear is that it helps us to understand ourselves better. What we dread shows us what we value. To determine what things I value the most, I recently listed some of the things that frighten me the most.

  • I fear committing “moral lapse” sins. I hear of fellow Christians speakers and writers who, through pride, abuse their power as communicators. Others, through greed and envy, embezzle ministry funds. Others, through lust and gluttony, sin by inappropriate sexual conduct, overeating or drunkenness. I value my fellowship with God and my reputation with those who know me. I value being respected by my wife, my family, and my colleagues. I value my public ministry as a speaker, writer and former Bible translator.
  • I fear suffering a crippling physical or mental injury or disease. I value being able to exercise choices and options. I hate being boxed in. I value serving God with my mind and body. I also value physical comfort and freedom from pain.
  • I dread messed up relationships with my family, friends, and colleagues. I value our interdependence, helping each other to succeed. I value mutual respect and appreciation.
  • I fear poverty. I value having the financial resources to live where I need to live, to travel to places of ministry, and to meet my needs and those of my family and of my ministry.
  • I cringe at the thought of losing all my computer data, my creative writing, personal history, my fifty-plus years of daily diaries, a lifetime collection of photos, etc. I value the written record of what I have done and experienced in the past because I constantly tap into it for my writings.
  • I fear that our children and grand-children and their spouses may lose their close relationship to God, drifting into low moral and ethical behaviour, or suffering major losses of health or relationships. My prayers for my wife and our extended family touch on these fears. I agree with the old apostle John who wrote, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” (3 JN 4)

So What?

During this Halloween week, let’s remember that no matter what happens to our bodies, our finances, or our goods, our soul is infinitely more important. As children of God we can sing, “Though trials should come . . . It is well with my soul.”

Unfortunately, hundreds of millions of people continue to live in fear, beset by Satanic forces. They don’t know that Jesus, the Son of God, has overcome Satan. They have never heard Jesus say, “Don’t be afraid.” They never will hear, unless we, His children, translate His Word into the language each group understands best.

The PE and TE Puzzle

“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

I wish we had taken Mark Twain’s philosophy to heart way back at the beginning of our Bible translation and linguistic research work in Brazil. If we hadn’t been so sure, we would not have made such a big mistake. Here’s the story:

The Discovery
In the first year of studying Canela, back in 1968, we made the interesting discovery that Canela verbs seemed to have two past tenses—one to indicate the recent past, the other the distant, long ago past.

Here is an example showing the differences in CAPS:

  • When a hunter returns from a successful deer hunt, he would say,
    Wa iTE po curaN = I past deer kill = I killed a deer.
  • When he sat by the fire telling stories of previous hunts, he would say,
    PE wa po cura = distant-past I kill deer = Long ago I killed a deer.

The immediate past always seemed to use the longer form of the verb, curaN instead of cura as well as a little word TE preceded by a 1st, 2nd, or 3rd-person prefix.
All the legends and myths of long ago started off with PE and the shorter form of the verb, cura.
It was a very clear, easy-to-see distinction. It had to be easy, of course, since we would never have discovered it so soon in our research if it had been difficult.

During the next few years, we wrote and published some learn-to‑ read booklets and printed well-known legends for the Canelas to practice reading. We even published a beautiful 150-page illustrated Life of Christ book. Naturally, since Jesus lived long ago, we used the distant past time marker, PE and the shorter form of the verbs.

The Problem
There was only one thing that bothered us. Once in awhile the Canelas told us stories about things that happened in the distant past. And there – right in the middle of all the distant past PEs – would be a string of regular past TEs. But, we had other, more confusing aspects of the Canela language to study, so, thinking that maybe the storyteller had slipped and made a mistake, we decided to concentrate on these more complicated aspects and leave the PE-TE problem for some other time. Bad decision!

Several years later we participated in a linguistic workshop taught, as usual, by a Ph.D. linguist. “What aspect of the Canela language are you going to study?” he asked. “Well,” I replied, “We should probably get this little PE-TE problem cleared up before we go on to more important things.”

The Research
He agreed, gave us some instructions, and we equipped ourselves with some highly sophisticated linguistic tools – two highlighter pens, one orange and one blue. We then coloured our way through a huge stack of distant-past stories. All the distant-past PEs and short verbs we circled orange and all the inexplicable TEs and long verbs we circled in blue. By the end of the day, we realized the problem was not rare at all. Every single one of the stories started off in orange, turned blue towards the middle and then went back to The Solutionorange at the very end.

So, we sat down with our linguistic consultant and asked the important linguistic question; “Why do these orange stories turn blue?” After many days of pondering, praying, and testing, we got the beginning of an answer.

The Solution
It turned out that in stories set in the distant past, the orange parts, the ones with PEs and short verbs, tended to be descriptions, settings, bits of explanation, background information, and summary, etc. The blue parts, those with the TEs and long verbs were the important story-lines, the main actions, and the climax.

What an eye-opener! We were very glad for the break-through, but were sad to realize that our beautiful Bible-story book was orange from cover to cover. All background, all settings, all description, all supporting explanation. No main actions, no vitally important things happening. No climax, not even in the story of our Lord’s resurrection!

The Prevention
Linguist-Bible translators don’t need to make these types of mistakes anymore. In the past forty-five years, vast amounts of linguistic research have been gathered and are now taught at places such as the Canada Institute of Linguistics (CanIL). A summer training session will be held in Trinity Western University. Check it out here https://www.canil.ca/summer/