Tuesday, January 24, 2017

What About Praying?

I recently heard conversation about a pastor who said basically that he doesn't sit down to pray any more and wanted to change up the traditional mid-week prayer meeting at his church to not include any sort of small prayer groups or an open public request time.  Why?  His reasons included some of the following - God's almighty and will do what He wants regardless of my constant nagging, group prayer times are mostly gossip sessions, public request opportunities often get long and detailed with one or two hogging the time.  Wow!  Whoa!  Okay?  No Way!

So is group church prayer out of date?  Does prayer make a difference for God?  Or, can we change an infinite God's mind?

1.  Is the traditional group prayer meeting out of date?

Maybe!  In our little Brazilian congregation on Wednesday nights we have a short devotional Bible study and a time for spoken praises and prayer requests, then we divide into small groups for a period of joint prayer.  Sometimes the praises are old news and the requests are long accounts of  the details of some unknown to anyone's cousin's disease.  Sometimes the small groups are too big and sometimes there's more chit-chat than actual prayer.  How do you fix that?  You could just cut out the prayer time.  Or, you could train the people involved to do their job more efficiently.  Yeah, it takes some work and there will be "off task" moments, but the rewards of sharing praise and problems with the church family are worth it.  Set some rules for requests.  Repeat them frequently.  Let people know that if their request goes on for more than so many minutes the leader might say  "Thank you, very much" and move along.  But think about, how are younger Christians going to learn to pray, if they never hear an older man or woman do it?  How can the family, the members, be better "knit together" as a body in Christ without participating in the joys and griefs of others?

I can remember the men and women in the little Free Methodist church where my family attended in Baltimore, Maryland kneeling down between the pews to pray on prayer nights.  I can still see many of their faces with eyes closed as they prayed for strayed youth, sick family, the church work, missionaries.  Seeing older Christians in fervent prayer for others had a big impact on my life as a young girl.

Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms.  Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.  And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up... James 5: 13 - 15

2.  Does prayer make a difference for God?  Can we change God's mind?

Is the future set in stone?  The Bible says that God is the same yesterday, today and forever.  Does that indicate that everything is already written in the great annals of time and cannot be altered?  I'm a big fan of science fiction and some of my favorite works and movies have to do with time travel.  But here and now, through prayer, can I really make a difference in what is supposedly or seemingly going to happen?   If God is really the holder of the keys of that great book of all events, can my feeble human prayers have any effect at all?

Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.  Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit.  James 5:16 -18

I don't think you could find a clearer passage then this!  Confess your sins and pray and God will answer.  Will we always SEE those answers in our life time?  Maybe not,  God is on His own time line, but these verses do indicate that good prayer of fessed up believers AVAILS.  It doesn't say how long it might take.  It just says that God will answer.  That's good enough for me.

Lastly, prayer is our time to speak directly, one-on-one with our creator God.  So many times in my life, just telling my problems to my Daddy without his even saying much at all in return, put me on the right path.  It's almost like I knew what I needed to do, but after sharing my burdens, I was ready to act.  Perhaps prayer is partly that - looking to our Great God for the wisdom to put into action what needs to be done.  It's a time to rest on God's wisdom and ask for help.

Let's not give up on talking to God - individually in private and collectively at church.  God is still answering prayer in big and small ways all around the world.  Having problems with your church prayer times?  Change it up!  But don't give it up!

Dalton Atha, left, was saved in 2016 after people all over the world had prayed for the past three years.  Doug Reiner, middle, was diagnosed with terminal cancer in April 2016.  For the past year hundreds of people have been participating and continue in round the clock prayer for him and his family.  Today he is still alive and seen some improvement.  William Atha, right, is a faithful, effectual praying man!

Friday, January 20, 2017

Long Haul Prayers

Have you ever wondered how long you should keep a certain person on your prayer list?  A year, 5 years, 10?  How long is enough?  Take a moment and hop over to my other blog to read about one man that was on a prayer list for twenty some years and another for just three.  When you're done, think again.  How long is really enough?  If God's in control, do our prayers make some difference?  In my next blog post here at the Cactus Flower, I plan to consider these questions.  The big blue link will take you to my story post for my nephews about praying for a uncle...


Stories by Aunt Michele: Long Haul Prayers 


1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Rejoice always,  pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.



Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Counting My Blessings

2016 was an incredible year for the Atha household.  We have seen God's hand working in our lives all through each of the 365 days.  Listed below in chronological order are our top ten blessings of the year, in my humble opinion...


ESL Students
I was remember by all my little ESL students.  This one even brought a cake!
God brought students to my door this year after Byron and I decided going into the big city was just not working out with that long bus ride.  Needing the money to help pay off a debt, I began to pray.  I very specifically asked God to bring them in and that each would be a good fit.  BTW, the debt was paid off before the end of the year.

 Our Sweet 16
Our youngest turned 16 this year and yeah, he's a guy, but this year he has blossomed and bloomed in so many ways.  Little whiskers on that chin, more outgoing, more finese with more instruments, and more mature in Christ.  Byron and I are very grateful for this young man in our house.

More Kids in Church
In February we were privileged to catch a group from the States that was in other areas churches for a Bible School campaign.  This big event saw several hundred children coming through our doors over the three days.  This great beginning to our year was the impetus for another Bible School campaign in July and a big Children's Day program.  We currently have 15 - 20 children coming to our Sunday School and 20 - 40 involved in a Saturday Bible Club.
Spunky and Wishbone
At the end of 2015 we lost our two dogs Tiny and Girl to a mosquito borne tropical disease.  I couldn't even think about getting new pets.  Once again God brought things to our door.  Just before Christmas of 2015 The Cat showed up and then Wishbone - both strays and then little Spunky was literally thrown out the door of a car with some other unwanted puppies at the end of our street.  There were three little pups.  One ran off never to be seen again.  We gathered up the two others.  Another missionary took one and we got Spunky.  She almost died after she'd been here about two months.  She came down with something like Canine Parvovirus.  I nursed her day and night force feeding broth and liquids and anti-vomit  and anti-diarrhea meds.  Amazingly she lived to grab things and chew things up another day.  She's lived up to her name!  We love them all.
 Olympic Torch Relay
In May the Olympic Torch came through our little town of Sobradinho!  It was a wild event.  We waited for hours in the hot sun to see the actual torch.  By the time it arrived, rushed in and was swooped away, we hardly even got a chance to see it.  But we made a bee-line for its next location - the big dam and canal and we got to see it and Byron even got to touch one that had been used in the relay.  Who'd have ever thought in the middle of nowhere this would happen?

William and Kerri's Visit
The summer of 2016 found us traveling to Salvador, Fortaleza, Madeira Cortada and doing all kinds of things around Petrolina and Sobradinho with William and Kerri for six incredible weeks.  They helped with one of our three day Bible Clubs, sang at various churches, and helped out with this and that around town.  All in all we were positively blessed.


Got to see old friends
 While William and Kerri were here we got to go to Fortaleza.  Our last trip had been over five years back.  Facebook and Whatsapp keep us somewhat current but there is nothing like a real hug and kiss.  My pal, Claudia, was actually involved in a kids' camp the week of our trip.  But we got to spend about four hours of precious time together.  We got to have Valdo, her husband and a dear friend, as our personal guide as we trekked the streets of Fortaleza.  Having been gone for so long it was great to have him with us.  He drove buses in the big city for years.  Valdo and Claudia were waiting for their day to come up on the docket for a kidney transplant.  Valdo was going to receive a kidney from his very own wife.  Their life is a real life love story with this as one of the greatest chapters. A few weeks after we were there, they finally were called up for the surgery.
 
Quilting
 In September I wrote about the quilts I was making for grandbabies.  It was such an incredible experience to design and make two quilts for the children of Dalton and Destinie.  And God worked out a way for the quilts to get from NE Brazil to NC safely and securely before the new baby was born.  You can read all about it on another post @

Quilting for Love

I hit The Big 5-0
 And here's the man of my life doing the dishes on my birthday in November.  I have to say that it was one of my best birthdays ever.  Just to wake up and have peace and joy in my heart, not to mention being treated like a queen by Byron and Greyson!



Dalton and Destinie
Our biggest blessing of the year came in the fall when Dalton called to tell us of his salvation decision.  That call was the realization of many prayers of friends and family all around the globe.  Not a day has gone by since that moment that I haven't woken up praising and thanking God.  To extend our joy we have been blessed with two lovely grandchildren - Chase and Mariya.  Our hearts truly overflow after each video phone call with this family and to know they are in church, in Christ and in fellowship!  Thank you, God.

2017 will have to do a lot of work to pass the blessing level of 2016 but our God is great!  Pray with us as a family as we consider where God would have us minister in the future as we look to move on to a new location after our furlough at the end of this calendar year.  May God bless each one of you in this new year!

My buzz word for this new year is... 

JOY!

Those who sow in tears,
 Shall reap in joy.

 Psalm 126:5





Natal 2016 - Eis dos Anjos Harmonia


Tuesday, December 20, 2016

What Does Christmas Mean to Me?

After I posted this last night, Dalton and Destinie were already on their way to the hospital for an early Christmas gift!  Baby Mariya Jane Atha was born early this morning in North Carolina!

Christmas traditions in Brazil look a little like home when you go to the big city malls.  You may see some blinking lights hanging on a porch.  Most cities have some sort of decorations.  Churches have presentations and maybe even some parties.  But overall it's just not the same.  Even after 20+ years of living overseas, my longings for all the things that make up a good old traditional American Christmas are strong if not visibly muted.


This year at a new mall in the big city
We decorate a "real" fake Christmas tree.  And yes, it came over in a container from the USA quite a few years ago.  It's slap full of decorations that mostly came from America with some handmade things, some things from Brazil and even one thing from Niger!  I put out my nativities and some angels.  My tree lights come on every night and stay on all night long on Christmas eve.


2016

I play Christmas music every day of December.  You won't find a Christmas radio channel around here, although this year I did find an online mix of "Brazilian" holiday music.  Most of the songs are sung in English!  I miss going to big Christmas cantata presentations.

I always make Christmas cookies and even get some of my English students to come over to help and learn.  I cook traditional dishes and we usually get together with other American expat missionaries in our area to share a holiday meal.  But the smells of Christmas aren't there with that fake tree and our always open and windy house.



We try not to go overboard on the gifts since most of our children's friends may not even get anything on Christmas.  It's not because they are all poverty stricken it's just not a part of all families' traditions.  Children's Day is a holiday in October where all kids get a gift.  Some do on Christmas, some don't.  Yes, some just don't because of a lack of money.

So what brings that joy of the season?  It's not the temperature!  December is usually our hottest month of the year with temps always in the upper 90's and sometimes hitting 100 easily. 


Last week on a 100+ day

So what is it?  It's a day to remember the love of God for us.  To consider that first Christmas and be reminded of Christ's great sacrifice for us.  It's a day of family and taking a time to be together with much love.  It's a day to be thankful for the blessings of God during this year.  Even though we can't be close to all of our family, we can show that love with calls, mailed gifts, messages - and plans for those big furlough Christmas reunions!

This year I am very thankful for all of the gifts God has given to my family.  In just a few days our first granddaughter will be born joining our middle son's growing family that already contains the cutest little boy you have ever seen.  And we still rejoice every day for the salvation of this son earlier this fall.  He and his family are in church every Sunday and growing in Christ.

This year we enjoyed a month long visit with our oldest and his steady girl!  It was an incredible time together.  Also this year we've seen our youngest in full time participation in our church work and growing leaps and bounds in his music.






Thank you, God, for all my gifts!


"The only gift I'll ever need is the joy of family
Oh, why? 'Cause that's Christmas to me..."


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