I have a friend in Japan who provides resources to the underground church in
China and often worships among them. One day I asked her, "How do Chinese
Christians pray? Do their prayers differ from what you hear in the U.S. or
Japan?" She replied that the prayers closely follow the pattern of the Lord's
Prayer. The church has spread most widely among the lower classes, and when they
ask for daily bread and deliverance from evil, they mean it literally.
She continued, "I've heard Chinese Christians pray for the leaders of their government, but never for a change in the government-even in areas that persecute the unregistered churches. They pray very practically, thanking God for today's grace, asking for tomorrow's protection. They tell us visitors, `Don't pray for me to get out of prison, please pray for courage and strength so that I can witness boldly in the prison and not lose faith."'
When I visit places like Nepal and China, I come upon a paradox of answered and unanswered prayers. On the one hand, I hear remarkable stories of miracles. For example, the first Nepalese became a Christian in 1950. Now the church numbers more than half a million, and Nepalese church leaders estimate that 80 percent of the converts have resulted from physical healings: a Christian prays for a sick neighbor who then gets well. I have interviewed European and American doctors who work there as missionaries, and they admit that they have no scientific explanation for some amazing recoveries they have seen. David Aikman's book Jesus in Beijing reports a similar pattern of apparent miracles in China.
On the other hand, Christians in Nepal and China tell horrific stories of oppression, imprisonment, and torture. My Japanese friend introduced me to a Chinese pastor revered as one of four patriarchs in the unregistered church, a giant of faith who spent twenty-three years in prison because he refused to halt his church activities. Pastor Yuan told me with great excitement of a miracle: during his long sentence in a prison near Mongolia, he worked daily outdoors wearing nothing but a light jacket in the harshest winter weather and never caught a common cold or influenza. I marveled at his story, but inwardly I could not help wondering why God answered that prayer and not the thousands of prayers from church members pleading for his release.
I asked my Japanese friend how to reconcile this strange combination of miraculous answers to prayer in the midst of intense persecution. If God can heal sick people or prevent illness, then why not protect suffering Christians? (As soon as I phrased the question, I had to smile, for that replicates the pattern of the book of Acts.) She thought for a moment and said, "I know this is a `textbook' answer, but everything is in our Lord's hands. And he shows his glory in each occasion:'
In all my prayers, whether I get the answers I want or not, I can count on this one fact: God can make use of whatever happens. Nothing is irredeemable. "Teach me, O God, so to use all the circumstances of my life today that they may bring forth in me the fruits of holiness rather than the fruits of sin," prayed the British author John Baillie…
I have a book titled Prayers of the Martyrs, which reproduces actual prayers of martyrs from AD 107 (Ignatius of Antioch) to 1980 (Archbishop Oscar Romero). I find it shocking how few prayed for deliverance as in the background lions roared, gladiators sharpened their swords, or, in Romero's case, assassins fastened ammunition clips onto their automatic weapons. The martyrs prayed for families left behind, for steadfastness of faith, for strength to endure death without shame. Some thanked God for the privilege of suffering, surprised they would be counted worthy. Some forgave their persecutors. Very few asked for a miracle.
Yancey, Philip. Prayer, Does it Make Any Difference? Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006, p. 238-240.
The Illustrator: This daily newsletter is dedicated to encouraging everyone to look towards Jesus as the source of all the solutions to our problems. It contains a daily inspirational story, a Bible verse and encouraging messages. HTML and plain text versions available.
The Nugget: Published three times a week, this newsletter features inspirational devotionals and mini-sermons dedicated to drawing mankind closer to each other and to Christ.