When God Answers Prayer

One of my goals this summer holiday was to write a blog post / life update – not just for all the people out there that care about what’s happening to me – but as a form of thanksgiving to God.

Today I felt the urge to write after I read the featured article on Desiring God.com. Definitely a nice reminder – a recommended reading: “When God Messes With Your Life Plan” (click to read here)

Life plans and I have always had an awkward relationship. 

I enjoy running. Mostly on my elliptical. But on some days when I’m feeling adventurous, I like to run out on the tarmac alongside many of Ma Wan’s running community (and at night, there are MANY). Only, whenever I choose to do so I am reminded of how incredibly awkward it is to see the same familiar faces “waving” at me as they pass by. I always have this “yes-no-maybe” reaction to whether I should wave back or not. Weird. Awkward.

I’ve never had a “life plan” per se. Not for lack of wanting. By nature, I am a fixated person. I tend to focus on details, one thing at a time (which means: multi-tasking is NOT my forte). The longest “life plan” I have is for the next couple of months. Why? Because. 

When I was 13, my youth pastor told us to pray for God to show us his plan for our lives. We closed our eyes and began to pray. I prayed in earnest that day. There was nothing I wanted more – nothing that appealed to my personality more – than to KNOW what God wanted for my life. So I prayed and I cried and I cried and I prayed.

After that meeting, everyone was talking about visions they had seen – and years after the fact, some of those people DID actually see those visions come to pass. But on that day, I was surprisingly quiet. Because. God showed me nothing. 

Not to say that God never shows me anything. God does speak to me.

When I was 16, I was desperate for God to “speak” to me. I even went so far as to go to a prophetic conference. That day, I stayed at the back – I closed my eyes and waited if there would be a word for me. And it came…

At that moment, the “words” didn’t matter so much  (note: I still have it on cassette tape – if only, I could find a cassette player on which to play it HAHAHA). It didn’t matter because God had answered my prayer for affirmation — he touched me.

Some of you remember a little over five years ago, when I decided for my 25th birthday to change from being called “Agatha” (my first name) to “Xaris” my second name. What you may not know is that this came about because of a dream I got. In it, God impressed on me that I should go by “Xaris”. I had to learn to live by grace, to know what it means to truly be good (Agatha). So yeah, that wasn’t my idea. He incepted me (LOL).

A little over a year ago, I found myself on a weird pilgrimage to Israel.

I came, because I could – I had the means, I had the availability. But mostly because I was in need. I was turning 30 and I had no idea what to do with my life. I went to Israel hoping that God would speak to me. A sycamore tree attempt, if you will.

So anyways, there were only two things I knew I wanted to do there. One, I was going to get baptized at Jordan River and two, I was going to pray at the Wailing Wall/Western Wall.

When we got to the Wall, I prayed. I told God, “I’m turning thirty this year. I have finished most of the things I wanted for myself in the past decade. I finished and paid for my education. I have a job that I love and enjoy. I am active and serving at church. Now what? I’m ready for what’s next. Even Jesus began his ministry at 30, please tell me that something new is coming in my life as well. You have to do something. Please…”

And just as when I was 13, I cried as I prayed in desperation – and God said nothing. 

A pigeon did end up pooping on me though. The Jews around me told me that this was a sign of good luck. That God had answered my prayer. I was… unimpressed.

Today is Day 8 of my Annual Cleanse and today I realised:

God did answer my prayer.

Shortly after coming back from Israel, I signed up for my first theology course – studying under my own father as a professor. There, I affirmed that I was my father’s daughter in more ways than one. I took to theological study like fish. After that, I signed up for and passed the Exhorter’s exam. Now, people call me P.X. – short for Pastor Xaris (because the title “Pastor” still makes me cringe). I’ve begun to regularly preach at the pulpit of my Church – something that I still struggle with every time. What can a woman say to a church of 98% women? Surprisingly a lot. But that’s another blogpost for another day.  And OH, my parents are finally moving on from Hong Kong which means that by the end of 2016, I will live all by myself for the first time in my entire life.

If that isn’t complete life change, I don’t know what is.

God answers prayer. It’s not a question of if but when.

Sometimes the answer is definite – he speaks, he shows, he reveals. Other times, it is subtle – he beckons, he whispers, he touches. But most of the time, at least for me, he is silent. But even then, he is working.

Because we know God will always answer, all the more we must respond in faith and hope.

Faith looks to God not only for affirmation that what we’re doing is right but looks to him in supplication for every single aspect of life. And no, it isn’t coincidence that supplication shares a root-word with “supply”. We put our faith in him because he is our supply, our source.

Hope. Isn’t that why people have “life plans?” People make plans because they hope their plans will get them where they want. They hope that by building up the resolve to accomplish something, it will happen – maybe? hopefully?

But a Christian hopes because he/she is built on the assurance of God’s sovereignty. We put our hope in his plan, his providence and his power. We may not see it, we may not understand the hows, whys or whens, but we grow to learn that nothing stands in his way.

Perhaps, life plans are overrated. Especially, if those life plans are built on yourself. But In Christ, we have the Ultimate Life-Coach who not only has a plan, but the power to make all those plans work. That’s what it means to live in Christ everyday.

Thank you for reading this far in. If you have, please keep me in your thoughts and prayers. This year is only the beginning. And while I am scared, I am also excited to see what’s next. This is what I prayed for AND MORE. God has answered in a way that is beyond what I could ever imagine for myself.

I pray with all sincerity that God does the same for you.

Let us continue to expect great things from God and continue to attempt great things as well – for the glory of His name.

Reflections: End of the Detox 2014

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“…things always get worse before they get better…”

That’s the quote that best describes what happens during my detoxes.

Oh, most “detox survivors” (hehe) will happily tell you the euphoric experience that is THE END of the detox. The end almost makes up for the shizznit that they just subjected themselves to. Almost. 

By day three, I find myself asking, “Why do I do this to myself? Why?!” Still, I press on – reminding myself of what I know is waiting for me — in the end. But this year, it didn’t get better after Day 3 – “THE worst day” supposedly. No, it most definitely got worse.

Abstinence from food gives you time. Time that gives you sensitivity to the other things that clog and clutter up your life. This year, I threw out a lot of things, arranged a few more, bought some (okay, a lot more) and brainstorming ideas for storage. Its even carried on to the rest of the house. Such fun!

After so many days spent on the porcelain throne (brown gunk coming out of you), you begin to think on other things in your life that might as well be categorised as faecal (i.e. sh*t).

Trite as it may sound, things started getting better once I heard the sermon at Church on “Knowing God” and decided to renew my commitment to spending quality time with God. So, one morning, I found myself soaking in meditation, reading His Word. I was especially invigorated when I found that the devotional was hooking up with the text that I had been fixated on (since Sunday) — Philippians 3 — “to know Him and the power of His resurrection”

That morning, I was surprised by the depths of my hunger – spiritual hunger that is. People often ask me how I am able to sleep on an empty stomach during the cleanse. I tell them, after three days, your stomach goes “dormant” – hunger is forgotten. When you start breaking the fast, your body starts to remember and hunger is “rediscovered”.

Well, that morning, my spirit rediscovering hunger – how long its been starving? I hate to imagine.

God speaks and I usually take to weeping.Tears came and it felt like so much crap was coming out of me. As I poured out my heart to God, he began to fill me…

What’s the difference when a non-Christian goes on a cleanse/detox and when a true believer goes on a fast?

A cleanse/detox/fast all have an element of abstinence. A non-Christian will feel “loss” – loss of food, loss of weight… but only a true Believer will feel full… of God’s love, his sufficiency.

There’s nothing as truly fulfilling as receiving a Word you know was meant for you. The Words were just so rich and full – though I was still fasting from food, I was feasting in the Spirit.

This morning, Day 10 of the detox – I went to weigh myself and had to quell myself from feeling disappointed. I hadn’t reached my goal of losing at least 10 pounds within 10 days. Shy one pound. (sigh)

Still, hadn’t I decided that this was not about weight loss?

Disappointed, I began to confess my petty feelings to God. I confessed to Him that feeling “thin” made me feel beautiful because people kept telling me, I “looked great” even when I knew that it was superficial. Then, the harder admission: I confessed to Him that it was easier for me to be dedicated to my body than it was to be dedicated to my spirit – to my relationship with Him.

After that initial confession, I began to pray in earnest that I would not just be physically lean but spiritually “lean”… Just like in Hebrews 12 (MSG)

1-3 Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honour, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!

I was harbouring parasitic sins and had spiritual “fat” that needed shedding – these were hindering my spiritual running!

So many things had to go but I didn’t have the strength – so I prayed the text of my devotional in Psalm 25:11, “For your name’s sake, O Lord, pardon my guilt, for it is great.”

So here I am in the aftermath of Detox 2014 feeling refreshed and renewed. I have no doubts that I will probably gain back most of the weight I lost but I plan to get back to my workout routine (was able to start again yesterday!)

But this year, I also feel redeemed and reinvigorated to run this race well. To be physically and especially spiritually fit.

I pray that in the future, I will look back at this blog post feeling happy – not regretful. This is not a resolution – this is a covenant where the Holy Spirit himself is the Coach, the running partner and ultimately the one who will carry me to the finish line. I am reminded that we are all training in grace – training every aspect of ourselves to be obedient to the Spirit. I cannot lose – so long as I am dependent on grace.

“It is the pleasure of God’s people to contemplate the graciousness of this covenant. They see that the law was made void because it was a covenant of works and depended upon merit, but this they perceive to be enduring because grace is the basis, grace the condition, grace the strain, grace the bulwark, grace the foundation, grace the topstone.” { C.H. Spurgeon }

In the words of Christ, “it is finished!”

Are We Free?

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On this, our Day of Independence, we must ask ourselves the all important question: { Are We Free? } or make it even more personal { Am I Truly Free? }

In reflection this morning, two things permeated my thoughts:

  1. It seems we only trade one master for another – one shackle for another. Whatever freedom is, it is not earned through human struggle.
  2. Those who fought for our freedom did win (and praise God for that!) But eventually, they died – succumbing to the ultimate tyrant.

As I walked to work, the Lord began to reassure me by reminding me passages in His Word – I would encourage you to go through them with me. I feel strongly that these words are intended not only to encourage me but others as well.

He reminded me of { Galatians 5 }.

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.  For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.  Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality,  idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions,  envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

He led me to 2 Corinthians 3:17-18

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

And finally, fire seems alight in my blood as I read Romans 8 (Please go and read it in its entirety! Here I am including the parts that really spoke to me)

So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh.  For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

He has set me free to live in true freedom – freedom through the finished work of Christ and through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit (NOT through my own effort.) Freedom does not come from struggle. We are not merely called to “abstain” from the flesh but to abide in Christ. He is our only hope for salvation.

And from these readings I feel a mighty roar from within me to say these words:

I am no slave. Sin and death have no claim over me. By His blood and resurrection, the chains were broken and I was reborn into freedom. 

I am no orphan. I am a Child of God – daughter of the Most High – CO-heir with Christ. By His Spirit, I call the God of the Universe “Abba” and of this I am sure, He will answer me.

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It is sobering and a little strange to be reminded that although our forefathers won the battle against “foreign invaders”, that freedom was short-lived for they all eventually died anyway.

Furthermore, as we look at our people, can we really say that we have been freed from slavery? In our corruption and greed, we have bound ourselves to an even worse master.

But CHRIST fought our Ultimate Enemy { Death } and defeated him. He died but on the Third Day, rose again in victory – and now, in Him, we live!

On this, our Day of Independence, we must ask ourselves the all important question: { Am I Truly Free? } — and if you are in Christ today, let me tell you the resounding answer:

Whom the Son sets free is FREE indeed!

John 8:36

Spirit Speaks by All Sons & Daughters

Shackles by Mary Mary

Break Every Chain by WorshipMob

Forever by Kari Jobe

Sin and Snakes

Come Away With Me - Agatha Villa
Come Away with Me

It was another one of those hot Saturdays, I just needed to get a breath of fresh air. So, I packed my camera bag and set out to retrace some of my old photo-venture trails. Somehow, I found myself along the rocky side of the island and I felt like taking a turn I had never tried before. Then, I had an encounter (too close for comfort) with a snake – not just any kind of small worm-like garden snake – it was a nice, fat, HOODED snake – yes, a cobra.

Words cannot even begin to describe the panic that set the moment I saw it. Yes, I had always known that in an island (such as the one I live on) full of trees, boulders and crevices, there would be untold numbers of creatures lurking, hiding. In fact, part of the thrill of photo-venturing was the reminder that there were dangerous things out there. The only thing was, now that danger was all too real.

So, when I saw that scaly body not even a foot away from where I was standing, all I could think of was to run.

“Snakes… you either kill them or you run away from them – fast…”

Sin, is like that too in many respects.

I’m not saying that snakes are inherently evil – but sin definitely is. No matter how people might want to view it sin is despicable, ugly and destructive. It is anything and everything that separates us from God.

I used to be in bondage to sin. I could not stop doing the very things that I hated, the very things that brought me so much pain and suffering. All my attempts at ‘cleaning up’ were in vain. I was but a slave and sin my master.

Today, in many ways, I am still the same person I was before – the same proclivities, same inclinations, same carnal desires — but after having repented and returned to God I am convinced now that I am a ‘new creation’ (as the Bible puts it). I am no longer in bondage to my sinful ways – I can say no.

But just because it is possible to say ‘no’ to sin, doesn’t mean we should just willingly waltz into situations wherein we know we can ‘fall’. In Matthew 26 we are told, “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” In James 1, we are also told that we are tempted by ‘natural desires’.

We live in a world that glorifies sin. Temptation presses on us – from all sides. We should not, therefore, be surprised by it. At times, its harder to resist especially when my humanity weighs on me. But the Bible gives me hope, it tells me

“No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13)

There will always be a way out.

We need to realize that falling into temptation is not an ‘oops, I did it again’ sort of thing. Often, we make several unwise decisions before we are trapped into sin again. In that case, we must be aware of our weaknesses — of things, places, times and even PEOPLE that may lead us to sin.

So, I tell myself. “Agie, you know you shouldn’t be here – you know where this road leads.”

1 Peter 5:8-9 tells me:

Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.”

Life for every Christian is a constant struggle – its why I decided to make this blog. Even if we are no longer who we were – we still have that sinful nature in us – THAT WANTS to sin. It is not, however, the end game – if and when we fall. If and when you fall into sin (just like I have in many occasion), the best thing really is to look to Jesus again — don’t be discouraged by your failings, rather – repent and return to God our Father.

1 Peter 5:10 reminds us

“And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.”

God is not finished with us yet…

“…Trust deep. Aim high. Work hard. Live Well. Die Laughing…”