Posts Tagged ‘prayer’

Soda Money

soda_moneySince we are serving in Uganda for one year, we decided not to hop in and out of the country just to extend our visas.  Instead, we decided to go with an agency to help obtain a work visa for Wai Jia and a dependent pass for me.  Doing things the right way is sometimes long and expensive.  It took five months here and nine months in Singapore beforehand to compile all the necessary documents.  I won’t even talk about the fee they charged us for us to volunteer here.

Yesterday I went to the agency to pick up my passport.  Here in Uganda, before you enter a mall or a plaza, it is common for guards to search you and your vehicle to make sure you don’t have a bomb or firearms.  I’ve been there so many times the security guards recognized who I was and let me in. As I pulled my car into the parking lot, one of the security guards came up to me and told me he reserved this spot for me and he would look after my car for ‘soda money’.

Soda Money.

The term ‘soda money’ is a nice way of asking for a bribe.  As Mzungus (foreigners), we are stopped frequently by the traffic police and other guards asking us to get them a soda.  We talked to the locals about these. They don’t like it as well.  Part of the reasons is that their salary is extremely low (or so we are told) thus they look for a way to make an extra buck.

For this security guard, ‘soda money’ was 3,000 Shillings.  That’s equivalent to about a dollar. In Uganda, a bottle of soda costs 1,000 Shillings. With this knowledge, I asked him why he needed so much just for a soda.  He replied, ‘you get me a big soda.’ That’s true, bigger bottles do cost more.

For Wai Jia and me, we don’t pay bribes.  Yes, life can be much easier and faster if we give ‘soda money’ to get things done.  And it is really a small amount.   A dollar is not much.  But the principle still stands.  We don’t pay bribes.

I offered I would go buy a soda for him and for me.  It was a hot day and a long drive and I wanted one as well.  I didn’t want to give him money but I could get him a soda to make his day a bit better.

He said, ‘No.  If they see me with food, they will fire me.’


After collecting my passport and before I left, I asked him for his name.  Emmanuel.  I explained to him it means “God is with us” and that’s the name they gave to Jesus.  He looked surprised.

As I walked back to the parking lot after taking my passport, I wondered what I should say to Emmanuel regarding his ‘soda money’.  I couldn’t tell him I have no money because that would make me a liar.  I also didn’t want to give him money.  If I gave him ‘soda money’, that would reinforce the system of corruption.

As I walked back to my car, I told Emmanuel I couldn’t give him ‘soda money’. But I told him that I came here to Uganda to serve as a minister.  Since I couldn’t give him soda money, I suggested I could pray and asked God to bless him instead.

He looked at me with a shocked look and was quiet.  He probably didn’t expect that answer.

“Emmanuel. I can only give you one soda.  But God, He can give you 10,000 sodas.”

He smiled a bit.  I asked him if he was a believer and if he would be offended if I prayed with him.   He returned my keys and said ‘I believe in God, too.’

“Great, let us pray.”

So in this busy parking lot, both Emmanuel and I bowed our heads and I said a quick prayer.  I gave thanks to God for Emmanuel’s work and prayed for God to bless him and his family so they would not lack anything.

Then I left.

As I looked back at the decisions we made in coming to Uganda, especially with regards to getting the work permit, I felt we did the right thing.  When God looks at our works, He doesn’t merely look at just the works but also considers how we do our work.  If we do it in such a way that doesn’t glorify Him, there will be consequences.  There are many times when Wai Jia and I are tempted to take the easy (and less righteous) way to get things done.  We had many talks and had to take time to discern whether we were doing things rightly in His eyes.

We always concluded: The work doesn’t justify the means.  Both the work and the means are important in His Kingdom.

Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:16 (KJV)

Prayer is stupid

Prayer to us is not practical, it is stupid, and until we do see that prayer is stupid, stupid from the ordinary, natural, common sense point of view, we will never pray. But that is what Jesus says He will do. It sounds stupid, but it is a stupidity based on His redemption. The reason that our prayers are not answered is that we are not stupid enough to believe what Jesus says. It is a child, and only a child who has prayer answered; a wise and prudent adult does not (see Matthew 11:25). We have to be as natural as children in our relationship to Jesus Christ and He does His work all the time. Jesus Christ is our Master and He lays down His orders distincly, “therefore pray.”Oswald Chambers – So I send You & Workmen of God

This is a wonderful section we read this morning for our devotion. The quote, therefore pray, is from Matthew 9:38.

It says: Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.

We pray to the Lord of the harvest. There can be many things we pray for. But the emphasis is to the Lord of the harvest. Noticed that it is the Lord of the harvest that sends out the workers. The workers didn’t decide themselves where to go and what to do. The Lord of the harvest have the plans. The workers are to follow from the Lord. This the nature of relationship between the master and his labourers. Or between us, follower of Christ, and the Lord of Lords!

There are many times we want to pray but get distracted. I have many things on the to do list (I have one right now). If I don’t do the work, no one else will. The whole mission project depends on me to get my work done. But this shouldn’t be the case. Oswald Chambers says that prayer is the work. Prayer is not to prepare us for the work.

Prayer is the outcome of our apprehension of the nature of God, the means whereby we assimilate more and more of His mind, and the means whereby He unveils His purposes to us.Oswald Chambers – So I send You & Workmen of God

“Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father. And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in My name, I will do it.John 14:12-14 (NKJV)

I remember a long time ago, some of us joked whether Jesus said in John 14 is ever going to happen. Really? I pray anything I want in Jesus name and He will do it for me? This is actually immature thinking. What Jesus implies is that when we are so connected with Jesus, He will do the things we ask because it is the thing He wants to do. The prayer is not what I want but rather what He wants.

Personally, I believe that I need to be as Oswald Chamber says, more stupid. It is not about great ideas I have in my head for His Kingdom. But rather the works He wants me to do for His purpose. And the work is done through prayer.

Being In Christ

I wrote this post a few weeks ago.  It just took some time to publish it.

Today’s morning prayer we studied Colossians 2:6-7.   Our homework from yesterday was to bring an object that symbolize this passage.  As each of us brought different items and explain to others what they stand for, someone brought this model to represent our walk with Christ.


In Christ model

 So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.Colossians 2:6-7

As I looked at the model, I realize we can actually do Christian work without the need of Christ.

You can use your skills without being in Christ.

You can learn language and culture without being in Christ.

You can have Biblical knowledge without being in Christ.

You can even have bits of Christlikeness without being in Christ.


In the past few months as Wai Jia and I are exploring where to serve after OMF next April, we met up with missionaries from various mission organizations.  It seemed that the first question they ask is not about our walk in Christ.  Rather all the questions related to the outer most circles, what can we do.

What can we do on the field?  What ‘practical’ skills can we help the field?  Wai Jia can do medical work.  I can do IT work.  Everyone assumed that we are in Christ.  I think this is a dangerous assumption.  I realized that this is a period for me to draw closer in God.  To commune with Him.  To be able to discern His voice.   To walk with Him.  We need to go back to the way how the Gospel is shared in the New Testament.  That is, to be led by the Holy Spirit.

It is tempting to focus mission as mainly a ‘practical’ activity where we can plan and dictate our steps without following the Holy Spirit.  It maybe because this is not commonly what we do.   It maybe because we love to take control of our future (even when we say we follow the Lord, we are really following the plans we want to make for the Lord).  It maybe because we are scared where the Holy Spirit will bring us.

What I learnt and still learning is that when I speak with a brother or a sister in Christ, I don’t want to assume the inner circle is there.  I don’t want to assume someone who profess they are Christian and want to do missions when they are struggling to walk with Him.  Rather than focusing on what skills they can bring to the field, I rather ask them how are they walking in Christ.  When we are in Christ, the other circles will overflow. But without Christ, what we are doing, even in our most sincere acts for Christ, is hollow.

The key to the missionary problem is in the hand of God, and that key is prayer not work, that is, not work as the word is popularly understood to-day because that may mean the evasion of concentration on God. The key to the missionary problem is not the key of common sense, nor the medical key, nor the key of civilization or education or even evangelization. The key is prayer. “Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest.” Naturally, prayer is not practical, it is absurd; we have to realize that prayer is stupid from the ordinary common-sense point of


I lived in Hong Kong until I was eight before my family moved to Canada.  Hong Kong has a special place in my heart.  I have fond memories of my relatives and cousins gathering together during Chinese New Year and other holidays.  For Christmas, I would stay at my grandparents (my mother’s side).  They would put up a Christmas tree filled with ornaments.   One type of those ornaments was a small present tied together with a bow.  Even though the inside was nothing more than a styprofoam cube, I would unwrap one of them each visit.

Earlier this year, New York Times published an article describing those who know their family background fare better in life.  By understanding our heritage, we become more resilient in lives’ uncertainties.   I am beginning to realize there’s certain truth in that as I reflect my family heritage.  

With Wai Jia and I looking to serve overseas next year and then going back to Canada to renew my Health Care, we figure we won’t be able to visit Hong Kong for a few years.  With this in mind, last weekend we went back for a short visit.  Being in Singapore for the past two years, I had the privilege of going back to Hong Kong more often than when I lived in Canada.  Each time when I go back, I gained gain another piece of my heritage.

My visit in Hong Kong always include seeing my 90 year-old Grandma.  She’s a fragile old lady with immense joy, peace and full of faith.   Since most of my relatives are not believers, it was a special moment for me to spend time with the same faith and raised me when I was young.   She had a simple faith. There’s no deep doctrine discussion.  Nothing about Calvinist vs Arminian.  Nor Reform vs Charismatic.  Nothing about mission methods.  Simple and yet, deep faith.

Her church gave her Chinese poetry.   Each line contains only three characters.  But these three little characters will contain a piece of divine truth.  Every morning she will go for a walk in the park.  As she stroll, she will recite the poem.  It will take her thirty minutes to recite the whole poem.  Despite her age, her mind is very active.  She knows that 30 minute = 5,000 steps.  Since her walk takes one hour, her walk to the park will take 10,000 steps.  Afterwards she goes back home and exercise some more.  While exercisinng she will recite Scriptures as well! Wow, what an active phsyical life and spiritual life!

It was such a joy and frill to hear her daily prayer for us.   It is seeing my grandma to have such a deep hunger for prayer that re-ignite my own prayer life.   It is also an encouragement for me out here in Singapore to have a family interceding on my behalf.  With all the things we worried when going on the field, medication, financial support, enough clothes for our back, at the end or at the beginning in following Christ is prayer and faith.   All the other things are secondary, we need to stay close to God.  He will guide us and open the door for us.

I don’t know if I will see her again.  I wish I will (at least on earth).  I often wished I have more time to hold on to to spend time with my family, my relatives and my love ones.  But given the short two years in Hong Kong, we do the best that we can.  With lots of hugs and farewell, we left the little unit and said good bye to my grandma and my aunt.



Between knees and tears

I had a revelation a few weeks ago.  It came after praying with much fear and tribulation.  I usually don’t pray on my knees.  I only do so when I really need to hear from the Lord.  One time after such prayers, I had the following thoughts…

How come I always have to beg the Lord to answer?  Doesn’t He understand my needs?  Can’t He feel I am in so much hurt? I am tired of praying like this all the time.

As I got up and wonder when I will grow up, that’s when I realize the idea of growing up is actually the idea of self-dependence.  I could actually hear myself talking to God, ‘can you give me more strength so I don’t have to ask you anymore?   Do you think there will be a time when I am mature enough that I don’t need you?

I don’t need you…..

…as those words trailed across my head, I realize I am prideful.  This is spiritual prideful and it is sinful.  God does want us to be spiritually mature.  He desires us to be fully mature in Christ.

He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in ChristColossian 1:28 NIV

This maturity doesn’t mean we become independent from the Lord.  This reminded me of a story in 2 Kings 5 about Naaman.  Naaman was a great commander from Israel’s enemy and he was sick with leprosy.  Through a servant girl, he heard that the prophet Elisha could cure him.  Not only Elisha didn’t come out to meet him in person.  In that culture, it is very disrespectful to Naaman.  Instead Elisha sent his message to tell Naaman to wash in the filthy water of Jordan seven times.  Naaman was outrage and said,

I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his handover the spot and cure me of my leprosy.  Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?2 Kings 20:11b-12a NIV

Humility.  That’s the name of the game.  The water of Isarel is worst than the rivers of Damascus.  But it isn’t about the water.  It isn’t about the great prophet, Elisha.  God wants to demonstrate to Naaman that it is Him that saves.  God will be glorified and not the water or the prophet.

The Lord didn’t want me to be less dependent on Him. He wanted me to depend on Him more and more.  As I recalled my life, those times when the Lord answered my prayers or spoke to me were times of desperation. I had nowhere else to go.  I hit a dead end.   Then I was down on my knees and full of tears, laying my life problems before the Lord.


I wonder why we don’t lay down on my knees as much these days.   Maybe it is not in today’s culture.  But maybe we don’t think the fear and tribulation of the Lord is important anymore.  Or maybe we just lost the skill of intense prayer.

Underneath it all, my desire for independence is spiritual pride.  I am prideful because I want to be a strong Christian without God’s help.  Ironic isn’t it?  Those who are used by God are those who fully dependent on the Lord.  In fact, it requires more faith to trust in the Lord in ALL things.   He alone is sufficient.  There’s no need for plan B or plan C or ‘be practical’ against world’s worries.

And so, I am back to where I am before.  Down on knees and before the Lord.  Praising and worshipping. Humble on my knees with tears of joy and fear.

A devotion on prayer brought this revelation ever more clearer:

Ask and God will do. Give Jesus Christ the opportunity and the room to work. The problem is that no one will ever do this until he is at his wits’ end. When a person is at his wits’ end, it no longer seems to be a cowardly thing to pray; in fact, it is the only way he can get in touch with the truth and the reality of God Himself. Be yourself before God and present Him with your problems— the very things that have brought you to your wits’ end. But as long as you think you are self-sufficient, you do not need to ask God for anything.Oswald Chamber’s Utmost entitled The Purpose of Prayer