Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Real Power of Prayer

Prayer is the only thing that is easier done than said. We say it. God does it.

Let's pray more people will pray.
(Photo above: Butterfly explosion)

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

The Rain and the Wind: The Good and the Bad News

(Anatomy of an Answered Prayer)

Swirling over the Northwestern Pacific Ocean, as this is written, are three tropical storms (International Names: Saomai, Maria, and Bopha) that formed successively on August 4, 6 and 7 (See photo above from NASA Earth Observatory Website).

Last week, the headlines in Manila ironically splashed with news on the drought in Northern Luzon and the dwindling water supply in Metro Manila and other places. Commentators, in a shrill chorus of complaints, chided authorities for the lack of a water conservation program to address the crisis which occurs annually. The concerned agencies countered with their own official lines, ending with the assurance that the drought problem would end in a month with the arrival of typhoons.

In the meantime, people are encouraged to take shorter baths or, maybe, bathe every other day and wash cars every other week to conserve water. Blessed with abundant water, unlike some nations, Filipinos have always been known to take baths everyday. In fact, some Westerners who come here for the first time acquire the habit when they realize not doing so can be quite unpleasant to the nose. To ask Filipinos to miss a bath is like asking them not to eat. So, most of those who live in cities do not mind warnings of drought or water shortage.

Surprisingly, the news of Typhoon Chedeng (local name for Bopha) did not cause TV networks to raise up people's hopes. On the contrary, they harped on the typhoon’s inability to fill up the dams. They reported that instead of raising water levels, the stored water even dwindled. The spokesman from Pag-Asa Weather Forecasting said that the dams were allowed to flow continuously. Why, the news did not follow up on the issue. Still the agency said that the effect of Chedeng is to suck in clouds from the southwest and bring more much-needed rains. Good news! But being hopeful before a cynical TV network or public is a difficult act; you could end up being blamed for nature’s inadequacy. You want real good news? Look up much higher -- to the sky.

In Proverbs 30:16, the Bible mentions people who are like the “land that is never satisfied with water” or, for that matter, rain. Like fire, it never says, “Enough!” News reporters not only feed us a lot of negative news but they seem never satisfied with a real blessing when it comes. Not even a public acknowledgment to the God Who gave us the rains, at last! And we call this a Christian nation?

The government system with its line agencies could only manage resources – fuel for energy or water, for instance – if they are available and could not therefore be called upon to create air from nothing. Only God can make miracles; governments make do. Or some, perhaps, just simply fail to do their task, justifiably or not. Some dam projects have been shelved indefinitely because of strong public opposition. Thus, with its hands tied, the government – and, it follows, the people -- will have to wait for each rainy season to wipe out any water deficit. God indeed always provides but humans must learn to devise and not divide.

Early on, my friend Imanoel had seen this recurring problem not as a purely political or social problem but as a spiritual one. Most problems are; but people are not so, well, spiritual enough. Anyway, he took the matter into God’s hand again as he did twice before, in 1990 and 1996: He fasted and prayed for rain. Both times, he got his request. Again, last week he was challenged by a friend to go down on his hungry knees for rain, which he did.

So last Saturday, August 4, he fasted and prayed for rain. As before, rains came on the third day. Unlike before, however, he saw three typhoons form over the Pacific Ocean. Not one but three! Is this an effect of global warming? Weather forecasters say it is “unusual” but “not unprecedented”. Whatever it may be, he was able to prove to himself that such answers to prayers could not have been merely coincidental in the sense that it is the typhoon season anyway. For it was exactly on the day that he fasted (together with many other people most certainly) that the first typhoon formed, followed by another typhoon two days after, and finally by a third on the third day.

With eyes filled with joy and wonder, he looked at the satellite photo with those water-bearing cyclones he had yearned for. No, the awesome answer to his prayer and proof of the continuing powerful presence and provision of the Creator. And he felt satisfied, truly satisfied. Hallelujah! Once again, he had unequivocal evidence of God’s faithfulness in these times of unbelief and skepticism.

James 5 mentions the story when Elijah prayed that it would not rain and it did not rain for three and a half years and when he prayed for rain, it rained. Any ordinary man like Elijah can do the same if he has fervent faith. What makes prayers effective is not us but our extraordinary God Who answers them because He "works" for us.

Perhaps, if we had enough faith in God, His creation and the institutions He has established, we can have a more progressive nation. Otherwise, we would become so depraved to the point that even God will not be able to satisfy us or, much worse, we might end up blaming Him as well for all our problems – and that includes ravages brought by typhoons. It has been known to happen.

What was that again? Land that is never satisfied with water, or fire that never says, “Enough!” Murmuring or complaining is as natural and destructive as the howling winds. It is the boisterous part of the process of raising up waters from the ocean and dumping them on the land. It is the noisy clanging of the empty drum of water. Murmuring, like the storm, can kill. An answered prayer, on the other hand, can be as refreshing, reassuring and reviving as the rain that falls on parched land.

Moses once lost his temper at the Israelites’ constant griping at the lack of water in the desert.After forty years of hearing their complaints, he finally let go of anger. He thus struck the rock and water gushed out at Meribah. Now, that -- water in the desert -- is a good story and good news! Was it a miracle? What do you think: Is God real? Does the Earth rotate? More than the “bad” weather, bad people sometimes make life unbearable. Moses knew it so well.

But there is no such thing as bad weather. Every good thing comes from heaven as a blessing from God.

Thank You, dear Lord, for the rains!

Thursday, August 02, 2007

There Is Nothing Hidden From The Sun

Think about what the Sun does to nature and to us humans.

It rises in the morning and signals our day – the time to awake and come out of the cold and dark night. We greet the light and shed the stupor from our muscles and brains; we arise renewed and clear-minded to face life for another day.

That is normally what we do upon waking – or unconsciously do so every time. But what does the Sun actually do to our lives? How far-reaching or compelling is its influence upon us?

Even at night, the Sun reaches us. The Moon reflects the Sun’s light to give us enough light to walk about or just simply sit or lie down in wonder. Is the Moon glorious? Not when it’s hiding in the darkness. It owes its changing appearance of splendor from the Sun King. Otherwise, it’s an arid, desolate and unfriendly place a few humans visit only for its plain, lifeless rocks.

And what if the Moon cannot be seen? Is the Sun totally out of reach? Never. There is Venus soaring visibly and brilliantly from the horizon with reddish Mars, both Sun-reflectors, like all the other tiny twinkling planets. If we only look hard enough, we never lose sight of the Sun’s presence. A ray – even a single tiny shaft -- of light somehow touches our being (we don’t even have to look at Venus or Mars) reminding us silently of the ever-present energy behind the whole massive globe of the Earth.

But what if the clouds obscure all the planets and the stars and we dwell in the total darkness of midnight? How could the Sun still affect us?

A simple illustration would be the waters of the sea and the moisture in the atmosphere which absorb enough of the Sun’s heat during the day and retain it longer than most gases and other solid matter, thus, sustaining life. This process also prevents the extremely low temperatures that exist on Mercury’s constantly dark face.

Furthermore, as it revolves, Earth remains attached to the Sun in its orbit due to gravitational attraction. Yet the Sun plays us like an expert dancer bringing us close or far from the warmth of her heart and providing us with varying lengths of days and, together with the Earth’s tilt, the changing seasons -- a continuing reminder of the Sun’s magnificent influence.

What about the fish that dwell in the abyss? They definitely need no light for they have their own. They seem to need no plants to feed on for they have food down there to satisfy them in the blackest portions of the ocean. Their food? Detritus or decomposed debris of living beings that fall down to the abyss or they eat one another.

The Sun synthesizes proteins in plants with its light and provides food for every living being. What we actually eat is light metamorphosed into complex carbons – electromagnetic energy turned into bio-chemical substances. We are, in our entirety, products of the Sun -- no, children of the Sun. Every single cell carries the energy that once crossed the space between the Earth and the Sun and captured by a complex system of nature whose main purpose is to give and preserve life and, in the process, also to satisfy our various senses.

Nothing escapes the heat of the Sun. Nothing escapes the energy that the Sun generates.

In the presence of the colossal Sun, our planet is but a little more than a speck obeying the commands of the real star of the show, putty in the hands of a magnanimous master. The precision with which changes in our planet conform accordingly to the Sun’s movement (relative to the Earth) is beyond the scope of our scientific knowledge and technology. We are only beginning to comprehend how we benefit from or hang our very own existence on the mere presence of the Sun.

Many years before the Age of Modern Science, a prophet once wrote down this singular statement: Nothing escapes the heat of the Sun. How much we know now that proves beyond doubt the factuality and truthfulness of the statement is presumably enough to prove the presence of a wise Creator Who thought it all out even before He inspired that prophet to write those words.

Who has more knowledge or wisdom, he who sees with the eyes of faith and writes down a fact that he knows did not come from him but revealed to him, or he who seeks much knowledge without faith and concludes that everything works by chance (or by science, which is sometimes synonymous to some) and that ultimately what nature does is a product of “intelligent chance”? Fat chance!

In the end, the main issue in human education is not the amount or the sophistication of what we know but the validity of what we believe as Truth. Yes, science leads us closer to the truth of nature but it can sometimes lead us away from the source of true knowledge.

Psalm 19, from which the statement comes from, begins this way: “The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament shows His handiwork. Day unto day utters speech. And night unto night reveals knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their line (or sound) has gone out through all the Earth, and their words to the end of the world.”

What we might discover without faith may blind us from seeing God’s glory in creation – for we are all blind to God at the start until He shows Himself to us. As such, we come to erroneous conclusions about life and nature. Still the goodness of God encompasses all. For like the Sun whose influence reaches all things, God – Who is definitely greater than the Sun, no, all the stars and galaxies for He created them all – also has everyone in His oversight, power and rule. That is why we worship Him and exclaim, “Yours, O God, is the kingdom, majesty, wisdom, honor and power.”

True faith and perfect knowledge lead us to complete satisfaction and eternal life. Unbelief and limited knowledge, on the other hand, only give momentary pleasure and do not assure us life for they hold no promise of life -- just, well, the possibility of existence. That’s like thinking the Sun will “not shine” tomorrow.

With such overwhelming evidence bearing down on us, whether we are awake or not, how could we still miss the Truth? The real paradox of “God-less science” is that it seeks to discover the limits of the Universe but is totally blind to the infinite proofs of clear and present realities.

(Photo above: Sunset over South China Sea in Luna, La Union.)