My agenda v His agenda
7 April 2017, 9.15am: Similar to my morning routine, I arrived at the office and settled into my seat. I emptied my bag of everything required for the day, drank a cup of water, and readied myself to begin working.
9.30am: As a full-time staff in my home church, I had 30 minutes to prepare for a team prayer meeting. I did not feel ready to pray at all — my mind was cluttered with many things, such that I had no capacity to still my thoughts. This was one of the dreadful mornings where I was completely uncertain about tuning into God’s voice.
10.00am: During the prayer meeting, a colleague urged us all to put aside any agenda and simply ask,“God, what is on Your heart this morning?” I decided to discipline myself and sift through my thoughts — there were many personal and church-related needs that came to mind.
After a few moments, I realised that my heart was myopic. I was unwilling to pray for anything beyond my self-centred needs, as if prayer existed for my pleasure. Laying down these needs before the Lord, I positioned my heart to hear His. Like a compass finding true north, I began to take steps deeper into God’s heart.
What happened next shocked me.
“Ethiopia” flashed in my mind.
I couldn’t even identify this country on the world map, let alone know or understand what was happening in the horn of Africa. I conveniently ignored the prompting and began to agree in unison with my colleagues’ prayers.
But my mind couldn’t shake off “Ethiopia.” Moreover, a burden for the nation began to well up within me. This stirring simply refused to leave. I eventually gave in, and picked up my phone to conduct research on this particular country. “Why did God strongly impress Ethiopia on my heart?”
I found article after article on anti-government protests, violence, and injustice in the African nation within the past few years. As God unravelled the needs of a nation I didn’t care about, my heart started to feel a tangible ache.
As if this was not enough, God proceeded to say loud and clear, “Ethiopia, I love and care enough about you that I would burden someone in Singapore to pray for you! You are not forgotten. Your cries have not gone unheard!”
God, Himself, was partnering with my spirit to pray for a nation that was 7,052 km away! Ethiopia is dear to Him. A deep cry arose in my heart to boldly pray and declare the Lordship of Christ over Ethiopia. There was such a combustion of strength and weakness at the same time, so much so that I felt overwhelmed by the words that left my mouth.
I learnt two lessons through this episode:
#1 In prayer and intercession, our feeble desires gracefully collide with God’s purposes.
When we, believers, approach God in prayer, we often choose what we want to pray for — our heart narrows into topics, places, or people that we care for. For example, I would often ask God to fill the inadequacies and gaping holes in my life, or to intervene in situations where I found a dead-end. Otherwise, I’ll pray for people in my life or ministry who are struggling with their circumstances.
I have found that these personal preferences can actually act as barricades that we erect in our prayer lives, confining God to our prayer lists, rather than making room for Him to show us what is weighing heavily upon His heart. Every believer would admit that it is relatively easy to call on the name of Jesus for help when struggles are aplenty, yet tough to call on Him when our agenda is an empty canvas.
We must become a people who will love His presence and devote time to prayer regardless of whether we have one or a hundred things to pray for! Surely this is why David wrote Psalm 27:4 (NKJV), that in the time of great need, he remembered that it was of first priority to “dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of (his) life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in His temple.”
When we will our heart to pause and inquire of Him, a graceful collision occurs in His presence, breaking apart every barrier of self-absorption. Our prayers should be fuelled by God for His kingdom purposes and not for our own pleasure.
Would you surrender your agenda to the Lord each time you enter the place of prayer, making room to first hear what’s on His heart before you utter a single word?
#2 We cannot fathom how much God loves and desires for nations to be saved.
Throughout the Bible, it is evident that God has His heart set on nations — not just on Israel. In the book of Haggai, the command to build the second temple for God to dwell was issued. The prophet foretold the coming glory of God’s house as well as the coming of Jesus Christ — the redeemer and salvation for all nations — in Haggai 2:6–7 (NKJV): “For thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Once more [it is a little while] I will shake heaven and earth, the sea and dry land; and I will shake all nations, and they shall come to the Desire of All Nations, and I will fill this temple with glory,’ says the Lord of hosts.” Here we hear the heart’s cry of God that every nation will come to know Jesus Christ.
Charles Spurgeon adds, “Christ is certainly the desire of all nations in this respect: that we desire him for all nations. When will it come that all the nations shall know him? Let us pray for it: let us labour for it.”
Matthew 24:14 (NKJV) then foretells the end: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, then the end will come.” God promises that His gospel will reach all nations and He will return. No nation shall be overlooked. As disciples, we must let the urgency resound and grip our hearts for the salvation of nations, as this is the pre-condition for Christ to return. Until the gospel reaches all the world, would you give your heart over to pray for the nations rather than merely praying to get through another school or work day?
In Singapore, our lives are often wrapped up in our petty desires or first world problems. I’ve come to realise that the more consumed I am with my needs, allowing a negative spirit of complaining to overwhelm me, the more I am unable to carry a heart for other nations, simply because there’s no space in my heart for them!
On a particular day in 2015, I remember experiencing inadequacy to pray for the nations; I told the Lord, “I just don’t know where to start and how to pray.” He answered, “Begin with your neighbour, Malaysia.” Singaporeans are well-acquainted with chirping “cheap cheap” — celebrating the good exchange rates, inexpensive food, and affordable transport while in Malaysia — but when have we prayed for the gospel to run swiftly and be glorified (2 Thessalonians 3:1, NKJV) in our neighbouring country?
Today, I’m carrying a conviction that my prayer life must not remain myopic. I pray that your prayer life will be ravished by the love of the Father over His children. If God has placed a specific nation on your heart to pray for, would you continue pressing on even when your physical eyes have not yet seen breakthrough? If not, would you ask of the Lord to reveal one nation that you can begin praying for? Let us be plugged into God’s heart for nations beyond Singapore!