The Scary Prayer (The Prayer of Jabez)

I spoke in church a few weeks ago and the text I chose for the occasion was about a few lines of prayer embedded in between a historical narrative of names in 1 Chronicles 4. This prayer can be found in verses 9-10 and in many Christian circles is called The Prayer of Jabez.

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At the pulpit

“And he prayed to the God of Israel: Oh that thou wouldst bless me indeed and enlarge my border and that thy hand might be with me, and that thou wouldst keep me from evil, that it be not my sorrow!”

This is The Prayer of Jabez.

But who is Jabez? 1 Chronicles 4 is a chapter that chronicles the lineage of the family of Judah. Of all the dead men’s names mentioned -Perez, Hezron, Carmi, Hur, and Shobal (among so many others)— the most remarkable name of all is Jabez. Jabez, according to the Bible was born of pain and sorrow. In spite of this 1 Chronicles 4:9 says that Jabez was more honorable, more remarkable, and more successful than his brothers. Why? It’s because he prayed a very specific (and to me, a very scary) prayer. I believe that it takes guts to pray the prayer Jabez prayed.

First, Jabez sought God’s blessing. In the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, to seek means to search for and to ask for something. This verb requires both an actor and a receiver of the action. Here we are told that Jabez TOOK ACTION and went directly to God and to humbly acknowledge his need to be blessed by a higher power—by the God of Israel. Many of us are afraid to acknowledge our weaknesses, our needs. But Jabez humbled himself and prayed; this simple act itself takes courage.

The second reason why Jabez’ prayer is a scary prayer is because he asked God for #blessing. No, this doesn’t mean that Jabez asked God for a nice cabin up in the mountains, for a cool new Montero Sport, or for an all-expense-paid trip to Bali. All too often, we imagine blessings to be of the material kind: money, a promotion, or perhaps new shoes or clothes. But if we look back, these material and monetary blessings are really not the blessings that are talked about in the Bible.

In the dictionary, a blessing means “an approval that allows or helps you do something.” It also means “help and approval from God.” Other texts also define a blessing as a thing conducive to happiness and welfare. When we think of a blessing in these terms, our entire idea of what a blessing is expands! It is no longer just a physical, material thing we take photos of and post on facebook or thank our benefactors for. A blessing encompasses so much more—the approval—God’s approval of our entire life and being—and this despite our sinful and broken nature—that God will bless us, approve of us, and bring us things thay are conducive to our welfare and happiness.

Asking God therefore for a blessing means that we acknowledge our brokenness—that we do not deserve anything he bestows on us—and yet we NEED his blessing.

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Little children kneeling and asking for blessing from the older members at a church in Thailand. This was such a moving Songkran experience.

The third reason why I believe Jabez’ prayer is a scary prayer is because he specifically asked God to enlarge his borders. A border is a boundary between places or a line that separates one country, state, or city from another. Borders are, for the most part, imaginary and man-made, but borders tend to keep people within certain areas and boundaries. Borders are usually protected and controlled and anyone who wishes to cross this border would have to show identification, a visa, and other such paperwork.

When we travel, we cross borders. When you step out of your houses to attend church services, you cross the border of your home and step into the borders of church. But imagine if you can expand ALL your borders—the limits of your abilities, the limits of your relationships, the limits of where you can work or serve, the limits of how much you can give, the limits of where you can go—just imagine what you can do with expanded borders!

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Crossing borders...

But border expansion entails some risk and a good amount of courage because this means stepping out of what we are used to and comfortable with in order to discover more of the unknown. In expanding our borders, we may have to overcome fear, to undergo change, to offer a sacrifice. This is what Jabez so courageously prayed for.

Fourth, Jabez’ prayer is a scary prayer because he was willing to harness hinself to God’s power. He prayed: “That thy hand might be with me…” To harness ourseves to God’s power means to put it to use much like we harness the power of tje sun for solar energy or the way we harness our homes to electrical energy providers like MERALCO. Bing connected to such high voltage power sources is both a danger and a privilege. It can be dangerous when used incorrectly. But when used in the right way, being connected to such a power source can light up entire homes, cities, countries. In the same way, being connected to God, we are asking that we be agents of his mighty power, for his glory. Again, this is what Jabez prayed for.

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Bangkok is lit up at night, with homes harnessed to their electrical power source. With Mommy Ghie.

Finally, Jabez prayed: “That it be not to my sorrow…” Jabez himself was sorrow and pain, thus, Jabez himself was the epitome of pain and sorrow. In his prayer, not only was Jabez clarifying that his blessings not be paired woth pain and suffering, but that Jabez was also letting go of himself, letting go of pain and sorrow. This is a scary thing, letting go of one’s identity. And yet Jabez knew that by letting go of who he was, he can do new things, work on expanded borders, and receive God’s approval—only if he let God work through him.

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From Pinterest.

So, if I truly believe that Jabez prayer is a scary prayer, then why in the world am I telling you about it? One of the reasons I chose this text to share is because I remember how it felt to realize that I could actually ask God for the same things Jabez asked God for. I remember how liberating and exhilirating it is to realize that it is possible to break away from the mundane and the boring, and possible to break away from pain and suffering the way Jabez did.

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Exhiliration. Islas de Gigantes, April 2016

Yes, breaking away can be scary as I feel the prayer of Jabez is scary. But the most beautiful thing about Jabez’ scary prayer can be found in 1 Chronicles 4: 10: “God granted him what he requested.”

Once we, once you and I, as Christians, as children of God realize that we can pray such a prayer, our God —the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of the Gentiles, the God of Jabez—will grant our prayers just as he did to this man who was more honorable than all his brothers.


The question and challenge therefore is: “Are you willing to pray Jabez’ prayer?”

Video Clips

Part 1
Part 2

I Do

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Avana Hotel, Bangkok

“I, with a deeper instinct, choose a man who compels my strength, who makes enormous demands on me, who does not doubt my courage or my toughness, who does not believe me naïve or innocent, who has the courage to treat me like a woman.”
— Anaïs Nin

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Songkran, 2016, Bangkok

(Content skimmed from Berlinartparasites. Photos mine.)

Kiddie Crew Day

We decided to have breakfast at a nearby McDonald’s branch today.

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Ordering cheesy pan de sal with hot choco!

To be honest, I rarely (if at all) go eat at McDonald’s because I try my best to avoid junk and fast food. But today, there was a tiny little crew member we wanted to support.

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Ordering with Sam at the counter

Sam, our little friend, signed up to be one of McDonald’s Kiddie Crew members this entire week.

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Sam and I with her Kiddie Crew Trainor

I think being part of the crew, being trained to greet customers at the door, man the counter, and learn to serve others is a good way to instill work and responsibility for children as early as possible.

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Kiddie Crew

They also get to make friends and have fun in the summer months.

Hope you enjoy being part of the McDonald’s Kiddie Crew, Sam!

(All photos from Mom.)

Red Hot El Diablo Peppers

I love spicy food.

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Spicy Thai food at Khaosan Road, Bangkok (April 2016)

I don’t remember when I first started eating spicy food, but I know I have always enjoyed spicy meals: Bicol Express (green finger chillies cooked in pork fat and coconut milk) Kinilaw (fresh fish cooked in spicy vinegar with herbs), Kimchi (korean spiced cabbage), sashimi with wasabi, Urap (spicy Indonesian salad) and many other spicy meals, Thai food included.

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Sinamak at home, with El Diablo peppers

At home, we always have a bottle of hot spiced vinegar. The ones we have today have been spiked with the El Diablo pepper, not a native of the Philippines, but lovingly cultivated in their backyard by my spice-loving cousin.

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El Diablo peppers on fresh scallops, Northern Iloilo April 2016

He made a special El Diablo dipping sauce for me when I was in the countryside, and we soaked fresh scallops in this piping-hot sauce. Woohoo!

The heat of the El Diablo pepper starts with a subtle kick that slowly builds up as it heats up your tongue and the rest of your body. It has a strong pepper smell that I love as well. It is not for the faint-of-heart, though. If you even so slightly despise pepper-heat, this pepper is not for you.

I have been trying to find its Scoville heat index, but I’m not sure this is the real name of this pepper. It is definitely hotter than the Siling Labuyo (bird’s eye peppers?) and much more than the Jalapeno (which I enjoy eating as well).

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Peppers from my cousin's backyard in Northern Iloilo

Thank you for this spicy experience, cousin. I would love to use my spicy vinegar to dip green mangoes into, as well as a dipping sauce for fish and other meats. Yummy hot!

Ask Me How!

Tonight was the last round of meetings for Scripture Union East, West, and South Asia for 2016. Hooray!

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East, West, and South Asia Delegates with SU International

Sitting down for long periods (especially for meetings—the horror, hihihi) is difficult for me, but I have tried my best to absorb what I can, to learn from other countries, and to share what SU Philippines has been working on from our side of Asia.

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Photo from Kuya Jory of Pen Malaysia

Am excited to rev up the engine for what SU Philippines can do! Your churches might want to partner with us in promoting Bible-reading to children, youth, and families.

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Hello from Bangkok!

If you are a writer, graphic artist, IT professional, marketing person, church worker, pastor, teacher, or simply have a passion to promote Bible-reading, you might want to join us as well. Ask me how!

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Scripture Union Ministry Partners from Pen Malaysia, Hanoi, Sarawak, Cambodia, and the Philippines

The Power of Words

As an educator and a leader myself, I feel so sad and frustrated. Filipinos are now saying words will be forgotten, that the words of our would-be leaders are words that just come from a bad mouth, not necessarily a bad person.

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Graphic from the interwebs

But words DO HAVE POWER. As a teacher and as a language professional, I know this: WORDS HAVE POWER. That is why we pray; that is why we write essays, read the Bible, have rallies, issue decrees, acts, laws. Words do have power and what comes out of your mouth is a reflection of what is in your heart and mind.

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From the interwebs

Fellow Filipino Citizens, friends, Christians, please think about these things as you choose our leaders on May 9:

“For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45)

“But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person.” (Matthew 15: 18-20)

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Think diffently. Speak differently. Do differently.

My Iloilo

Haven’t been to the land of my birth in almost three years. My last visit was on my granny’s birthday and wake, during the time of Haiyan.

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We were in Iloilo when the supertyphoon stuck, and it was only two days later that we could find a way to get back to the northern towns; cut through the fallen trees, displaced people, confused animals, debris.

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Rice fields and power lines

We came home to a town devastated, to my granny’s remains kept dry through a miracle, to people hurt and confused and fallen.

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Family chat

This visit is about making new memories and forging more family love in spite of the loss of two loved ones over the course of two years.

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Up on our little hill

This is my Iloilo, my family, my roots.

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Niece and nephew playing in the summer sun

Election 2016: Sex, Money, and Power

( I’m no political analyst. Nor am I a media commentator or a political strategist. I’m just a simple citizen who registered to vote on May 9. I will not tell you who to vote for, but I would like to share how I simplified my voting decision.)

There are so many commentaries, debates, analyses and histories and recent events that are supposed to help us decide whom to vote for in the coming May 9 Presidential Elections. Each event tends to sway us differently; each new commentary brings to light a different side of the story. Even the candidates themselves offer no help in ultimately making the decision of where our votes should go. Truth be told, I am as confused as any other registered voter about whom to choose, especially for our president. This is the closest I have been to deciding who my president will be.

I want a leader who will not get drunk on power, because more than drugs, there are three things a leader should never get addicted to: sex, money, and power.

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Image from http://cornerstonechurch.co.za/sex-money-power-series/

I want a leader who is not drunk on sex. A leader is expected to maintain respect for all members of society, men and women included. A leader drunk on sex and who violates the institution of marriage and the family code not only corrupts his morality, but he distorts society’s morals as well. According to Executive Order 209, marriage is the foundation of the family, and a leader who violates the family is not worth the value of my vote and the respect of the people.

I want a leader who is not drunk on money. Money itself is not evil. But the love of money is the root of all evil. It is the foundation on which all sorts of evil and corruption may grow. I am tired of leaders that are drunk on money, our money, specifically. It is the citizen’s money they get drunk on and they have absolutely no right to this.

For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows. 1 Timothy 6:10

Finally, I want a leader who is not drunk on power. It is inevitable: power has a tendency to corrupt people.

The worst part is that “…absolute power corrupts absolutely.” We already have a history of such corruption in our country. Have we not learned from experience? I would prefer a leader who is willing to step down in order to let someone else run, for the good of the country. How ironic (and ideal) that I want a leader who is okay with the idea of not winning, with not being idolized and popularized by media, as long as that leader is working (albeit in the background) for the good of the people and the country.

Beware of would-be leaders who are drunk on sex, money, and power.

SWEET DARKNESS

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Coloring page I filled in during the Holy Week

When your eyes are tired
the world is tired also.

When your vision has gone,
no part of the world can find you.

Time to go into the dark
where the night has eyes
to recognize its own.

There you can be sure
you are not beyond love.

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At Mount Sea Resort, coloring on the grass.

The dark will be your home
tonight.

The night will give you a horizon
further than you can see.

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Sunrise at Angkor Wat, my birthday in 2015.

You must learn one thing.
The world was made to be free in.

Give up all the other worlds
except the one to which you belong.

Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
to learn

anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive

is too small for you.

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Green frog at The Moon Garden, 2015.

‘Sweet Darkness”
From River Flow
New and Selected Poems
©David Whyte and Many Rivers Press

Christian or not, the time between Good Friday and the dawn of Easter Sunday morning is the precise mythological and psychological representation of the breathless giving away all human beings feel when they must let go of what seems most precious, not knowing how or when it will return, in what form or in what voice. Sweet Darkness was written in a kind of defiant praise of this difficult time of not knowing, a letter of invitation to embrace darkness as another horizon, and perhaps the only horizon out of which a truly new revelation can emerge. DW
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This poem has comforted me during those days of sweet darkness. I found it on one of the pages in a magazine at a home I was tutoring in, the home of my friend, J Reyes.

I thank the Lord those (sweet) dark days are over. God will never be too small for me. He is the Alpha and Omega, beginning and end.

Amen.

(All photographs mine, unless stated otherwise.)

Alopecia is not a Joke

Alopecia is not a joke.

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My friend Sam at our Alopecia Philippines get-together, September 2015.

Tonight, a friend from my Alopecia Philippines community talked about how her co-worker has been trying to bully her and put her down by making jokes about alopecia, commenting on the appearance of her hair, and even *gasp* tugging on her wig.

All of these actions are offensive, demeaning, and insensitive to anyone, even to someone without alopecia. One does not joke about another person’s appearance, one does not make jokes about another person’s illness, one does not broach the personal space of others. Why make an exception just because a person/man/woman looks different from your idea of beauty, strength, and grace?

It gets worse. According to this friend of mine, her co-worker showed signs of disgust when she tried to explain her hairloss condition.

Alopecia is not a joke. The loss of one’s hair is not a thing to be disgusted about. 
What should disgust us is ignorance and insensitivity and narrow-mindedness and this is what we who have alopecia have always been fighting against.

The lack of hair does not mean we are less human, less moral, less clean, less beautiful. Alopecia is not a communicable disease. You will not lose your hair just because you touched us or have come near us. Neither do we have a terminal disease. None of these things will ever make us less beautiful. One’s beauty does not rely on one’s hair.

Beauty is seen in one’s strength to overcome bullies, in one’s gentleness of spirit that graciously forgives those who deliberately hurt us, and in one’s ability to create joy and fulfillment in spite of one’s losses.

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Trying on something new.

We who have alopecia constantly battle all three. And most days we succeed. What we constantly strive to do is to win the battle against ignorance and narrow-mindedness about what real beauty is all about.

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How we deal with alopecia. Or any other conditions whatsoever.

I have alopecia and I am beautiful. I have alopecia and I am strong. I have alopecia and I am productive. I have alopecia and I am accomplished. I have alopecia and I am fulfilled. I have alopecia and I am happy. 

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Pink Dolphins at Ngong Ping 360, November 2015

Alopecia is not a joke. Some things certainly are, but not alopecia.