a strange spirituality

This week I have been in Chiangmai at the OMF base for the Mekong Region. It is my first venture in my job with Langham Preaching, working to help pastors with their biblical preaching.

As I have moved around this Mekong Center I have encountered plaques and pictures (under photos of heavily whiskered men, it must be said!) that speak of a strange spirituality. It is a spirituality about which I am unaccustomed to hearing in the conversation of Christians back home in New Zealand.

In a world where I spend much time with people talking about the absence of God in their lives on the one hand OR the presence of their own career plans on the other, I encountered this unassuming plaque by the front door:

In a world where we dare not act until we have researched carefully and strategised fully because this is what opens the door to the resources we need to achieve our mission, I encountered this statement from Hudson Taylor right near the administrative hub:

In a world which is active and proactive and reactive and is really too busy to pray (something to which I can readily testify myself), I encountered this statement in the seminar room:

In a world which thinks habitually in terms of finding personal significance and leaving a legacy - and which is far more aligned with "it is all about me" than it cares to confess, I encountered this statement on a wall in a lounge:

Maybe here in the heart of God's mission into the tribal areas of South East Asia we find being exposed some of the glaring omissions in the spirituality we cultivate back home? Maybe we are too self-sufficient and too central in our dreams for God? Maybe here is an example of life in a post-Western Christianity pointing the way ahead for the post-Christian West? Or maybe it is heavily-whiskered idealistic and out-dated nonsense that needs to be muzzled? Hmmm...

nice chatting



Mark Maffey said…
Hi Paul

Each of the plaques has something for us to reflect on, Fraser's priority on prayer is one that challenges me. Western faith seems to be so lacking in people who are prepared to commit to prayer, prayer is not so much about speaking but in listening to what God may be saying and then praying in accordance with his will

Jeremiah 29 v 13, calls upon us to call upon God:
Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you
When you search for me, you will find me, if you search for me with all your heart
Seek me and my entire kingdom first, as you do this you’ll keep me in view
And as you do I will be faithful to you, from me you’ll never be apart
Worship me with all you are heart, mind, body, spirit, of your praise I am due
For in doing this you will know my presence and my peace warming your heart

Hi Paul,

As someone who has one eye on finishing college at the end of this year and one eye on the future in full-time ministry, your words were a timely reminder of my need to totally and utterly depend on God. That is not always easy to do. The temptation is always, as you say, to force results, work extra hard, make things happen yourself, mistreat people along the way...the dangers are endless.

I think the antidote is gettting back to the basics of Prayer and Word. I know it is the typical answer but it really is the best answer. Life seems to flow out of and work best when Prayer and Word are in their rightful place as core spiritual practices in the Christian's life.

But I have noticed, more and more people are calling our generation, at least in Sydney where I am from, a prayerless generation. More and more people are praying less and less. If this is true, it really is a sad state of affairs. But is there more sustantial evidence for this claim? Is this just something we feel is true, or is there more to it? Why do we have this problem where prayer is so weak and insignificant in our lives?
Mark Maffey said…
I wonder whether we are living in a quick fix generation where people want things NOW, the concept of waiting on God is anathema to this thinking. Yet when we look through the Bible we are peppered with passages which call upon us to meditate upon the word (Psalm 1, Joshua 1 being two examples), to wait on God, Isaiah 40v31) To come to God, (Isa. 55 v 1, Jer 29 v 13) To pray and seek God's Kingdom (Matt 6v6ff, Matt 6v33, Matt 7v7, Phil 4 v 6ff)the list could go on.

God desires to be in relationship with us, to speak to us, to guide us, right from Genesis we find God's intent with Adam and Eve. It's no coincidence that the times where I've grown the most in my 35 year walk is when I have given time to spending time both in the word and prayer.

The little poem below was written at a Prayer day at the beginning of my second semester of study at BCNZ, and was God reminding me that I needed to keep him in focus and not get lost in my study. It is drawn from Psalm 139.

Have you got a second?

Have you got a second?
Sorry just off to a meeting
Have you got a second?
Sorry I’m just in the middle of reading the paper
Have you got a second?
Sorry I’m on the telephone
Have you got a second?
Sorry I’m off to pick up the kids
Have you got a second?
Sorry I’m in the middle of something can’t it wait?

Dear God haven’t heard from you lately
Where’s my life going, why aren’t you saying anything?
I’m busy, but I need to know what you’re doing
Aren’t you out there, are you listening?
My life’s blurry, whirring, going before my eyes
Can’t you see me, are you there God?

My dear child, I am here, I keep knocking
My dear child, I keep saying, have you got a second?
Have you got a second? Have you got a second?
You see I have something to say to you today
Have you got a second? Have you got a second?

Child I have searched you and know you,
I know when you sit and rise
I perceive your thoughts from afar
I discern your going out and your lying down
I am familiar with all your ways
I know even before you say a thing what it is completely

I created your inmost being
I knitted you together in your mother’s womb
I saw your unformed body as it was weaved
I have ordained all the days of your life
You are fearfully and wonderfully made
My thoughts of you my dear child are precious
They are without number, my dear child I know you
I know your every need, have you got a second?

Mark Maffey, 1994
I find it very interesting that you wrote that poem in the middle of your studies, because theological students who know the importance of prayer for ministry, mission and personal growth seem to be the worse culprits in lacking a substantial and focused and frequent prayer life. I am very guilty here!!!

Now I don't want to induce lots of guilt upon us who struggle to pray, because it really is an immense spiritual struggle, and God's grace is sufficient to cover our lack of prayerfulness. We all love the fact that Jesus is in heaven interceding for us as part of his ongoing ministry in heaven.

But at a time when students are meant to be the closest to God they seem to be the furthest away from God. A theological degree can be a very similar experience to the corporate world where you feel you are part of a large sausage machine. I think it gets back to being too busy to pray. I know this to be true from my experience. Mark, you expressed this so well with your piercing question - have you got a second? Doesn't sound like much, yet we are reluctant to give it to God.

Any other reasons?

Theological - God will work despite our prayers (love God's sovereignty), prayers don't really work (God is not sovereign)

Church - poor examples of prayer in services, prayer not built into church life, people don't pray for one another

Leadership - leaders don't lead church in prayerfulness (lead in lots of activities instead)

Pesonal - too busy to pray (must be a big problem in our culture), don't know how to pray, leave it to the leaders to pray, pray in church so no need to pray at home, too hard to pray

A friend of mine made this comment - I get up in the morning and there are so many things to get done that I struggle to find the time to pray, but then I realise that if I am a Christian I should be praying, and so I pray because that is what a Christian should be doing - in this case I wonder about the motives for prayer. What should be the right type of stance or motive in prayer?
Good stuff, guys. Enjoyed this interaction.

The classical Western seminary model did fail badly in these areas through the 70s and 80s. The formal curriculum did not give expression to these concerns (can it really?) - and then the 'informal' and 'nonformal' learning contexts, where these issues develop best, were not given enough priority. But they are in many colleges today.

I wonder also if we are just too competent - and therefore too self-sufficient and well-resourced - for the cause of God in the world.

I've also noticed a move away from reading biographies of people like Hudson Taylor. The spirituality is unreal, impossible, untouchable. It depresses people and turns them into cynics, rather than inspiring them. 'God did it once - maybe he can do it again.'

Reminds me a bit of Nike's Michael Jordan advertising campaign over the years. When he was a superstar it was all about "Be like Mike". Then when his abilities began to wane, it was more "Mike's like us" ... and the campaign was just as successful!!

Today our growth in godliness is restrained by preferring our saints to be "like us" - approachable and possible. The end result is that we end up with the spirituality of this post sounding strange. It should not be so!

Kim said…
Hi Paul

I am a Kiwi who has worked with OMF in Thailand for the past 10 years, we are Church Planters working among the 55 million Thai Buddhists. We have stayed many times in the Mekong Centre. My wife and I appreciated your blog very much.

I think prayer and the word need to be combined with obedient action or response. Much of what God requires of us pretty straight forward but is not convenient and requires time we don't have!. It hurts our wallets so that we are not able to consume at the malls of worship to the level we desire. (There are no shortage of malls in Thailand here either!)

Chiang Mai is a nice place but touristy so I hope you get an opportunity out and experience the real Thailand.

Gob bless
Kim Robertson
(PS: Hi Mark M.)
Hi Kim - I remember you!

I couldn't agree more with you. Obedience is the very essence of the appropriate response to Christ. As he makes clear at the end of the Sermon. And - as you say - it is a combo of prayer and the word that helps understand what to obey.

I return to Chiangmai in October DV. I have a couple of invitations to visit pastors in the outlying areas. I hope I can make one of them happen. The (many - 2000?) missionaries are quick to tell us how atypical Chiangmai is - but some of the pastors with whom Langham/OMF is working in this initiative are from rural, tough areas and do not have a syllable of English. It was a privilege to be with them.

The ambience of the Center impacted me. There was a consistency between the current lives being lived among us and the sayings written on the walls from older lives.

Nice to hear from you, Kim.
God be with you...

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