What is prayer to the Christian? Among many topics, prayer is one regarding which countless sermons have been preached, endless conversations had, and classes taken. It is a preponderance of endless measure inspiring awe, questions, and praise. Though many can discuss what prayer is, I have yet to meet one who can authoritatively discuss how it works. Prayer is, in part, a mystery and one that is worthy of every Christian's thoughts.
If there is one thing I have learned through my time overseas, it is that prayer is a great privilege. Consider it. In prayer we are talking with God! I think often times we as Christians take very much for granted the fact that we have this unbelievable gift of approaching the throne of the Almighty Creator of the universe and speaking with Him.
For Muslims, the Christian concept of prayer is far off and far fetched. For these, prayer is a meaningless repetition of vain words spoken five times a day at scheduled intervals facing a particular direction. They will tell you that in prayer they are not, truly, speaking with God. They will also tell you that God may or may not hear them, he may or may not care, and he may or may not respond. I had a friend once look at me utterly flabbergasted when I told her I spoke with God on a daily basis. Her response to my statement was, "No! No man can speak with his God!" Needless to say, we went on to discuss how this was, in fact, very possible.
For many religions, prayer is an instrument through which one hopes they reach God. For others prayer is a cleansing ritual or an act of obedience in hopes of avoiding the wrath of God. For yet others prayer is a mystical exercise by which the self is aligned with the universe. ONLY in Christianity is prayer actually sitting at the foot of the Creator and receiving His listening ear!
Prayer is not vain repetitions or memorized words. It is not petitioning a genie who you hope will grant your three wishes. It is not an overture to a harsh and unloving God. How devastating prayer would be if it were so! The fact alone that prayer, boiled down, is simply "talking with God," ought leave us in awe and wonder. We are talking with God! My mind cannot fully comprehend such an incredible mystery but let me tell you, I will exercise my right as a child of God and embrace this precious privilege!
The gospel is a marvelous thing, is it not? To think of the GOD of the entire universe taking MY sin and MY punishment upon His own holy and pristine back all because of love! LOVE! How great it is! How marvelous. It shows me how depraved my own soul sits, unashamedly admitting I would never have done such a thing. Die for my enemies? Forgive those who put a spear to my side? Make a way for permanent relationship to those who would come in the future, the multitude of whom would rather I didn't exist? No way. But that is exactly what He did!
God. In. the. flesh. Came down. Lived perfectly. Died miserably. Rose triumphantly. Oh what glory! The mighty vindicated. The wretch justified. The sinner sanctified. The righteous purified. The blood of Jesus poured out.
Many people write in with comments and questions to thespiritofislam.com, a site managed by Arabic Bible Outreach Ministry. My job on this site is to answer the comments and questions sent in on a daily basis. A few weeks ago, a lady wrote in and since that time, her comment had become my favorite by far.
Her first sentence was, "It does not make sense to say that Jesus died for our sins."
The statement, written in confusion and frustration, made me want to rejoice. Why? BECAUSE SHE IS RIGHT! What sense does it make for a PERFECT, HOLY, JUST God to DIE for MY sins?? It makes no sense whatsoever! But that is the unutterable and marvelous mystery of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Does it make sense? No. My own death for my own sins - that makes sense. Horrific and justifiable extermination of all rebellious creation - that makes sense. Jesus, God in the flesh, perfect, all-knowing, fully God and fully man, Jesus, who had legions of angles at his beck and call if only He spoke the word, Jesus, dying - that truly does not make sense.
The commenter went on to say, "All the people who were involved with that killing were unjust. How does an unjust killing wipe out my sins?"
I longed to speak with this woman in person. She was so close to the Gospel! Jesus' death WAS unjust. Because He never should have died in the first place. I should have. She should have. Every single being to ever draw breath upon this planet should have. That would have been justice. But God decided to be unjust and take the punishment upon Himself. His death was the most "unjust" act of justice to ever take place. Because it wasn't fair. It wasn't right.
Justice demands a price paid by the law breaker. He never broke a law. But He paid the price justice demanded anyway. It does not make sense. It makes me stand back in awe and wonder. How great a God, how merciful a God, how gracious a God we serve!
How can something so ugly be so beautiful? Countless times in conversation with Muslims, the subject of the cross has arisen. Typically, the grand total of understanding as to what the cross is will amount to the misguided notion that the cross is simply "haram" or bad. It is not something to cherish or sing songs about. It is something to scorn.
One day, I was speaking with several friends when one of them caught sight of a cross. Each then began saying the cross was "haram" and shouldn't be displayed. Seizing on the opportunity, I asked them why it was haram. They simply continued stating the fact that it was. I asked if they knew what the cross meant. A few admitted they did not, one said it was where someone died. That was it. The grand total of their understanding. When I next asked if they wanted to know what the cross was all about, they eagerly said, 'yes!'
In order to speak of the cross, I told my friends I needed to ask them a question. I asked them if they thought God was perfect. This question was easy. Of course God is perfect! Muslim or Christian, we can all agree on this point. I then asked them if we as human beings were perfect. This question produced a bit more thought but, in the end, each friend decided that humans are not perfect. We went on to discuss the fact that because God is perfect and we are not, separation has been created between us and God. I continued through the following questions in a lead-up to discussing the cross.
Me: So can we make ourselves perfect?
Friend 1: We can do good things and pray.
Me: But can we make ourselves perfect?
Friend 1: No.
Me: Who is the only one who could make us perfect?
Friend 3: Well, God! Got can make us perfect!
We then talked through the principle of punishment needed as a result of our imperfection. Just like in our family relationships, when a child disobeys his parent, punishment is needed to restore the relationship.
Me: What punishment could be good enough to completely remove the bad from inside us?
Friend 2: (a bit dramatically) DEATH!
Friend 1, 2 and 3: (Stunned silence)
Me: But can we die for ourselves?
Friend 3: No. Because then we'd all just be dead.
Me: Exactly. So who is the only one who could die for us?
Friend 3: God. But how could God die??
Ah, now we reach the beauty of that cross. I explained that God loves us and He wants us to have a relationship with Him. So He came down to the earth, called Himself Jesus, lived the perfect life we could never live, and died the rugged-cross death we deserved. I excitedly shared the fact that the story didn't end there! Jesus rose from the dead three days after he had been placed into a grave, proving once and for all that He was God. He had taken the punishment of sin we deserve and if we trust in what He did for us on the cross, we could have a relationship with Him! Through faith in Jesus Christ, our sin is removed and we are considered children of God.
Each friend reacted to our conversation differently. Friend 1 stated she thought the information was interesting then quickly changed the topic of conversation to dress shopping. Friend 2 joined Friend 1 in discussing the latest fashion trends. Friend 3 stayed silent for a long while. Then she caught sight of yet another offensive piece of wood. This time, instead of calling it haram, she turned to me, pointed toward the very symbol she so recently despised, and whispered, "The cross!" with tears in her eyes. In those two breathed words, the entirety of her world view shifted 180 degrees. The vile became desired, the despised became loved. The old, rugged, rejected cross became accepted whole heartedly as the object of salvation suddenly worthy of song and praise.
The Old Rugged Cross. The beautiful, despised, rejected, ugly, tragic, wonderful, longed for, praised, sung about, life changing, soul-inspiring Old Rugged Cross. May we continue to share its beauty with those who despise it!
"Tolerance" is a pretty hot buzz word these days. It basically amounts to a cultural understanding that we are to be nice to everyone, say nothing that might "offend," live at "peace" with all humanity, and otherwise keep our mouths shut.
The problem with this picture, however, is that to create any lasting change in the world "tolerance" must be set aside. If we want safe streets, we must not "tolerate" criminals which roam them. If we desire a good economy and prosperous trade, we cannot possibly "tolerate" those who would launder money or siphon it from our bank accounts. On all of these issues, the majority of America would shout a rousing, "we agree!" but when it comes to the most important matter of all, the majority of America is silenced.
Thousands of people are going straight to hell all because of "tolerance." That sounds harsh, probably even cringe worthy. But it's true. Thousands are trudging through life, longing for something to offer hope, but are not given the answer because the answer might "offend." Christians, we cannot possibly "tolerate" this norm of culturally-induced silence in reply to false beliefs if we desire that the lost be found.
Never before has the Muslim mission field been so accessible to the church. It was not that many years ago that pioneer missionaries such as Samuel Zwemer had to go to Arab lands, facing persecution and hardship, in order to bring them the good news of the gospel. Today, Muslims are coming to us by the thousands! They are shopping in our stores, attending our schools, and making America their home. While there will always be a place for missionaries to go overseas, if we are not careful, we are going to miss out on an opportunity to step into the mission field that is literally right outside our front door.
Just as any lost soul needs the light of Christ, Muslims desperately need the gospel. Some will be open to it, some will not. But all need to hear it! "How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?" Romans 10:14. We MUST risk the thought of *gasp* offending someone! We MUST reach out in love and sincerity and share the gospel! Do we not care that these precious offspring of Abraham have no other eternity than hell if they do not believe? This is not a matter of being politically correct! This is a matter of LIFE AND DEATH!
My fellow Christian, please cast aside the notion that we will all live in peace if we simply stick our head in the sand. Cast aside the idea that the best thing you can do for a Muslim is to be "tolerant." I challenge you! Be intolerant and share the gospel! Do not allow mainstream America to so affect you! The gospel is foolishness - "for the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness" I Cor. 1:18a, but it is also the power of God to those who are saved! I Cor. 1:18b. Yes, the gospel is offensive but if the one offended is won to Christ, how beautiful is that offense!
The gospel must be lived out. It must be spoken and taught and preached. It must be given in a spirit of meekness and love and grace. But most importantly it must be given!
I will leave you to dwell on this quote from a former Muslim:
We have a HUGE problem in America today. A mosque-sized problem.
Mosques are popping up in every major city across the country. Chances are, if you live in a populous city or state, there is mosque coming to a " street corner near you." The number of mosques rose a whopping 74% in the 2000-2010 decade, growing from 1,209 to 2,106! There are mosques in every state in the union and in each of our territories. There are 246 mosques in California alone! New York wins out as having the highest number in the nation with 257 and Texas is well on its way with 166.
But is this really the problem? I am going to take a bold step here and say a very emphatic NO!
The building of mosques at an exponential rate is not the problem. Muslims coming to our shores and integrating into our society is not the problem. This, my dear friends, is an opportunity!
The mosque-sized problem is that generally we in the western church are doing a great big nothing about it. I say "generally" because certainly there are ministries and churches which do, indeed, reach out to this growing populace living in darkness and in dire need of Christ. By and large, however, we as a church turn and look the other way, refusing to acknowledge the Muslim walking down the grocery aisle let alone say "hello."
I say these things with the full realization that there are a few major obstacles in the "way" of reaching out. Firstly, there is the "fear factor." Considering everything seen on any news station around the country, most Americans equate "Muslim" with "9/11" and now "ISIS." The other issue is a lack of understanding in the "how-to" realm. The oh-so common question of, "What if I offend him/her?" swirls around our heads before we even get up the nerve to say hello. Combine these two issues, and the typical Christian turns the other way or simply ignores the Muslim walking opposite them in the grocery store.
How many "well-meaning" Christians turn away instead of engaging the Muslim who has come to our shores? So many that in only 10 years the number of mosques "grew" by seventy-four percent! They are not afraid of offending us, my friend. How dare we let "fear" keep us from potentially "offending" them!
I want to challenge you today. Our problem isn't Muslims or mosques. Our problem is our own lack of reaching out with the glorious gospel of the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Having lived overseas in a Muslim context, I can promise you, not all Muslims are going to want to murder you in your sleep. Yes, there are "extremists" who would be more than happy to do so, but may I also be so bold as to say they need Jesus too! Throw aside the fear and doubt the devil would so love to hinder you with and the next time you see a Muslim walking down the street, gather up the courage to say hello! As far as offending them goes - "Hello" is not a very offensive word.
Here are a few "how-tos" for those of you who have Muslims living in your neighborhood.
1. If you are going to say hello and introduce yourself, make sure you say it to the correct gender. Men socialize with men and women socialize with women. Period. In a husband/wife situation, the socialization rules are pretty much the same. Husbands speak with each other, wives speak with each other.
2. Let your beliefs infiltrate your speech. Including things like, "God brought me to this town 12 years ago..." and, "Lord willing..." are great ways to let a Muslim know you worship God and aren't afraid to show it. And while we're on the subject, don't be afraid to show it! For the most part, Muslims live, eat, and breathe Islam. We should live, eat, and breathe Jesus Christ!
3. If you are able to strike up a conversation, offer a way for further contact. If you just met these people, give a phone number (again, remember #1) or your street address and invite them over! Muslims are very hospitable people and though they may not seem super friendly at first, they will warm up to you through a genuine offer of friendship. Remember, they are largely ignored and ostracized due to media attention and the fact that most people would rather they just leave instead of adjust and fit into our society.
I cannot possibly overemphasize #2. LET YOUR LIGHT SHINE is a commandment, not a suggestion. Muslims are won to Christ by seeing and hearing about the love, grace, mercy, and light of the Lord Jesus through His Gospel. Speak of Him, love Him through your actions, let Him affect and flavor every single thing you do. Be the salt of the earth. Reach out with the love of Christ. In Jesus' day harlots and Samaritans were the ignored and ignoble people of society. But many of them are in the kingdom of God because Jesus purposely spoke to them about redemption, their need for it, and the way they could obtain it.
Let us reach out, let our light shine, and speak the glorious news of the precious gospel!