The Life and Work of a Saintly Priest

The Life and Work of a Saintly Priest

Scene 1

Dawn breaks over DRC campus. An elderly man faithfully makes his way to a room which was occupied for years by the first director of Divine Malayalam. It is a daily habit. He folds his hands in prayer and pays his respects quietly to the room’s previous occupant. Then goes back to his daily business. Every single day. People say that he is among the many who miss the dear priest who stayed in the room for many years, giving all of his time to the poor and needy who knocked on his door. The priest moved on. But the poor remember. And they come whenever they miss his presence.

Some things never change.

Scene 2

The elderly occupant of that room is meanwhile in the UK. He is new to Kent and is walking all the way to the new retreat centre there, hoping to save a few pounds of taxi fare that way. He meets a sex worker on the way. He brings her home to the centre, feeds her and shares Christ with her. She accepts his care and salvation – both freely given. Eventually her husband who comes drunk to the centre to question why his wife left her way of life and source of income – is touched by the love of God emanating from every pore of that elderly priest’s being.

They are now frequent visitors to the centre.

Scene 3

It is the 90s. Crowds are thronging to DRC for healing and deliverance in the mighty name of Jesus. One little girl watches every move of an older priest closely and follows him about. She sees him pray over the sick and dares God that if He still heals people today, please show her a sign by healing a sick person she knows personally. God does the impossible; the sick man comes out of the chapel waving the Bible using his once paralysed hand. The girl bursts into tears and commits her heart to God.

That little girl grew up to be the writer of this story…

Three scenarios. One godly man. An amazing missionary and a simple, caring, committed priest. Fr George Panackal, who is one of the stalwarts of the Potta Catholic Charismatic Movement in Kerala. A man who went about tirelessly and even barefooted to every poor who needed prayer. A missionary priest responds faithfully to the mandate of Jesus Christ entrusted to His disciples: “Go out into the whole world: proclaim the Good News to all creation.” (Mark 16: 15) He still does that. But in the UK. And he marks his 70th birthday on Feb 2, 2019.

Fr Panackal was born to devout Catholic parents in Kerala, but was not a religious boy in the traditional sense. He fondly recollects how he literally ran off from his first Holy Mass when he was forced to serve as an altar boy. The call from God was too strong to leave and he did eventually enter the seminary. But even then another challenge cropped up when he could not be ordained a deacon as planned, along with his batchmates. Fr Panackal calls it his desert experience, when he learned to receive solace only from the Word of God. Eventually, this led him to becoming more sympathetic to those who went through hardships like the ones he faced.

After becoming a priest, Fr Panackal began to be immersed in the Popular Mission Retreats held by Vincentian priests across Kerala. It was the 90s when Kerala began to see a revival like no other. Known for his fiery preaching and kind hearted ways, he walked the paths angels feared to tread. Retreats that began with tens and hundreds soon saw thousands flocking to DRC. He was instrumental in helping DRC set up homes for the aged, for AIDS sufferers, for abandoned women and children. Today, DRC Kerala is the largest Catholic retreat centre in the world with retreats held in 7 different languages, 365 days a year.

His move to the UK as director of the Divine Retreat Centre in Ramsgate, Kent, was peppered with many challenges. Strengthened by his unwavering faith in God and supported by a small team of committed people, he began laying the groundwork for a centre, which today offers counselling and support to people from all walks of life. Weekly retreats are held on campus, as well as special conventions in both English and Indian regional languages. As his inner circle jokes, he would probably hold the record for preaching the maximum number of sermons across the nations. Today, DRC UK has two centres, thanks to the commitment of this on-fire-for-God priest – one in Ramsgate and the other in Darlington.

Anyone who meets Fr Panackal even once will never forget his charming smile and caring attitude. From bishops to laymen, to children to the sick, he treats each one with love and respect. Even when Kerala was drenched by the floodwaters in August 2018, Fr Panackal was in the fore front of rescue operations. He hired a boat, went hunting for food and delivered it all to the needy.

He is Panackal Pappa to one and all he meets. “I cannot rest until my own are fed and comforted” was his byword then and even today.

That is what makes a saint.

And that is what makes a simple unassuming priest from Kerala one of the finest missionaries the world has ever seen…

Joseph’s tears…

Trusting God means trusting Him when darkness threatens to defeat what God revealed to you in the light. Trusting God means not knowing why, how, what, when or where. The Bible tells us the story of Joseph, a young man – who went from being the father’s pet to the pit to Potiphar’s mansion to the prison to the palace. A hero who trusted God even when darkness overwhelmed him.

Joseph was the 11th son of Jacob; a young man who was a dreamer and a blabbermouth. He TOLD people (his family and later, strangers) what God revealed to him. In his naivety, he revealed to his brothers (who already begrudged him for being his father’s pet) that God had told him that his family would one day serve him.

Being a person who is so awed by what God does in this world, and very vocal of how he uses ordinary people like you and me, I have my sympathies for that young man who was so awed by everything that God had told him and he shared it to anyone who would listen. I wonder if Joseph would have had a different fate if he had merely pondered over God’s promises for him. He was 17, innocent and happy that God was showing him prophetic visions. And he blabbered again and again to his brothers – no doubt trusting them. Evil cannot tolerate the happiness of another – especially when that other is blessed in areas where one thinks he should be blessed in. Joseph’s own family resented him for his tales – which they saw as ‘pride’ and bragging. His father rebuked him. His brothers hated him to the point of plotting murder but GOD did not permit that to happen. God will always see to it that good cannot be destroyed by evil.

Anyway, his innocent revelations were adequate fodder for a lotttt of criticism and personal attack – for his own flesh and blood who eventually sold him a slave.

The Word says that ‘God looked favourably on Joseph in ALL that he did’. Potiphar, a man who did not know the Yahweh of Israel, still recognised His favour on Joseph. Ten years of dedicated service and again, Joseph was judged again – this time too, despite being a young man of impeccable integrity.

What amazes me in this whole story is how the youth went through enough mental anguish to break anyone – rejection from his own, anger, false accusations and wrong judgement even while doing good, ungrateful attitude of those he helped and a seemingly-absent God. It amazes me that his own could want to tear a young man down for sharing and rejoicing in his visions from God. Their jealousy amazes me. Their spite amazes me. The rants, cheap advances and lust of Potiphar’s wife amazes me. How dejected and insulted would that young man have felt when his trusted master threw him into prison? It was a woman of high ranking who had accused him; it was a trusted higher up’s words against a slave’s – a good and faithful slave, but nevertheless, suddenly a pariah. Potiphar chose to believe his family – over the faithful man who served him and his house, more like a friend.

Joseph was sent to prison. He was under God’s favour there too! I feel saddened that the one chance Joseph got to get out of prison was squelched when the Pharaoh’s cupbearer forgot to put in a word for the man who chose to be a blessing to him, even when surrounded by his own misery.

Joseph – that young Hebrew suffered from the age of 17 to 41. Before heavens opened and the vision manifested itself.

Joseph’s story teaches us many things: we have a clear picture of GOD’S FAITHFULNESS. He does not forsake His children, even in the midst of suffering: “the Lord was with Joseph” (Genesis 39:3, 5, 21, 23)

Joseph’s up and down journey tells us to RELY ON GOD AND WHAT HE SAID, NOT PEOPLE. Proverbs 16:9 says, “A man’s mind plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps and makes them sure”. Proverbs 20:24 says, “Man’s steps are ordered by the Lord. How then can a man understand his way?” When God directs our paths, He sometimes leads us in ways that don’t make sense to us or even to anyone in our inner circle.

It teaches us that what GOD SAYS, WILL COME TO PASS. When the famine strikes, even Canaan is affected, and Jacob sends ten of his sons to Egypt to buy grain (Genesis 42:1-3). They meet their long-lost brother, and bow down to him, fulfilling the earlier prophecy.

We have a good example in Joseph of HOW TO HANDLE SEXUAL TEMPTATION – he ran! (Genesis 39:12; cf. 2 Timothy 2:22)

He teaches us to BECOME A BLESSING TO OTHERS and DO WHAT GOD ASKS US TO DO – even when we are in the dungeons of gloom.

Joseph teaches us LOVE, MERCY AND FORGIVENESS. The way he forgives his brothers’ wrongdoing and covers their flaws – without exposing them to Egyptian ridicule and possible ‘eye for an eye’ treatment. He did not advocate revenge on his own or anyone who wounded him. Who would have blamed Joseph if he had turned his brothers away when THEY needed help? God desires that we exercise mercy above all other sacrifices we may offer Him in our lives (Hosea 6:6; Matthew 9:13)

Perhaps most profoundly, Joseph’s story presents amazing insight into how God SOVEREIGNLY WORKS TO OVERCOME EVIL and BRING ABOUT HIS PLAN. After all his ordeals, Joseph is able to see God’s hand at work. As he reveals his identity to his brothers, Joseph speaks of their sin this way: “Do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. It was not you who sent me here, but God” (Genesis 45:5, 7-8). Later, Joseph again reassures his brothers, offering forgiveness and saying, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good” (Genesis 50:20). Man’s most wicked intentions can never thwart the perfect plan of God.

Joseph’s story teaches us that what the BIGGEST BATTLE OF OUR LIFE CAN TURN OUT INTO A GREAT BLESSING FOR OURSELVES AND FOR OTHERS. Joseph had walls erected around him by fate and people – to contain his progress in life. Like Joseph, you shall surpass every limit imposed upon you and in the most difficult circumstances of life, if you persevere.

The young Hebrew’s story teaches us NOT TO OFFEND GOD even when we are pushed to it…He was removed from his position and thrown into Pharaoh’s dungeon. For two years, he was given just enough bread and water to survive the hardships of the prison. Joseph did not question what God showed him. (Is this how a loving, faithful God cares for those who obey Him? He gave me a dream of leadership and now I am a slave? I fled from sexual immorality, and yet I was called a rapist and thrown into prison by one who was actually the culprit?? Why does my life get harder and lonelier? Why am I rejected AFTER I remain faithful in my service to God and man?)

Joseph taught us HOW TO RESPOND TO OPPOSITION BY WAITING ON GOD. He was 17 when he was sold into Egypt. He was 30 when he was made the second in command in Egypt. He was 39 when his brothers first came to Egypt (second year of the famine, nine years after being made overseer) He was probably 41 or so when the brothers came a second time.

The Word describes in detail how much Joseph struggled. Surprisingly, HE never cried. He did not cry out when he was sold into slavery or thrown into prison. Potiphar’s wife cried out when she didn’t get what she wanted. As we often face in our own lives, the wicked cried out to the people in authority – enough to get the innocent judged and punished. Joseph’s father Jacob mourned for his son and vowed to mourn for his son unto his grave. Reuben cried when he found that Joseph was missing. Not once does the Word speak of this broken slave crying. Joseph in the pit , Joseph in prison and Joseph in the palace was the same. Uncompromising, unflinching, adamant, hanging-tough Joseph. Yet, when the prophesy – made more than 21 years ago was fulfilled, Joseph cried. Cried like a baby – when he realised the awesomeness of an Almighty God who will bless those faithful to HIM at the cost of losing everyone and everything – ultimately. I have been there. I pray for those among you who are there.

May your tears be the tears of Joseph daily. Tears – of being faithful to the point of breaking, of being wounded by your own, of being insulted, abused, lied against, judged, rejected and finally forgotten even by those dearest to you, for doing good. Those tears which flow when you obey GOD alone – are really precious to God. Those Joseph-tears matter! TO GOD.

Fighting the good fight…

This week, Christian media circles are abuzz with the news of Rory Alec, Co-Founder of GODTV, leaving his ministry, wife and children for an adulterous relationship with a fifty-year-old woman. Which sane man would abandon everything valuable and reject his calling, without thinking of the ramifications on his family, friends and organisation? Most importantly, why would a man of God want to break the Heavenly Father’s heart by deliberately walking away from His purpose for his life?

Judas Iscariot was among the twelve who walked with the Lord. He, like many Christian leaders today was among the chosen to cast out demons and heal the sick. He was in the right place; he began well. But the devil (he is not very creative by the way – he lured Eve by showing her how beautiful the fruit was, he did the same to Judas – he painted a lie, put a thought into his heart (John 13:2 says, “And supper being ended, the devil having already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray Him) The demon of oppression soon became the demon of possession in Judas’ case. Christians don’t have side conversations with the devil. Speak to JESUS.

Once a human being has accepted Jesus as his saviour, he has become a spiritual dynamite by free will – he has the voice of God and angels on one side and satan and his demons on the other. We commune with God and worship Him in spirit and truth (John 4:23) Anything unholy or false has no place there. Many Christians today are seduced by angels of light (1Timothy 4:1, 2 Cor 11:13-15) Every child of God must constantly live in the protection of Christ’s blood; consciously covering and protecting yourself and your own with His blood. Just like how we wash our bodies with soap, we need frequent cleansing of ourselves with His blood. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Eph 6:12)

We often underestimate the battle of demonic forces or we are kept ignorant of them. Or we are fooled by deceivers. Matthew 24:24 warns, “For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect”. Demonic spirits can, sadly, enter people who have the gifts of the Holy Spirit. You have to be willing to resist or in the worst case, be humble enough and willing to be delivered. No amount of lip service can deliver; only His blood and diligent battle can deliver. Else it will be a temporary respite.

Ecclesiastes 10:8 says, “Who so breaketh an hedge, a serpent shall bite him”. Job had a nice hedge of protection around him; later when God permitted him to be afflicted, may be Job’s own fear (For the thing which I greatly feared is come upon me, and that which I was afraid of is come unto me (Job 3:25) helped break that hedge and let satan enter with the affliction. A radio receiver can tune into what it likes. Similarly, we can tune in to God’s voice or His promises in His word, or connect to unwanted satanic voices that make us feel disillusioned, doubt our salvation or fear our future. It is not wrong to hear satanic voices, it is wrong to OBEY them. Retune more into the Word and do it immediately. Put on the full armour of God (Eph 6:11-13) and FIGHT the devil.

These admonitions about spiritual battle should be etched into our souls:

Submit yourselves therefore to God. RESIST the devil, and he will flee from you (James 4:7)

Do not give the devil a chance (Eph 4:27)

Be alert, be on watch! Your enemy, the Devil, roams around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Be firm in your faith and resist him, because you know that other believers in all the world are going through the same kind of sufferings (1 Peter 5: 8-9)

A Christian on his/her knees can break any stronghold of the devil. Acts 19:15 (Jesus I know and Paul I know…”) shows that demons recognise not only the authority of Christ, but also HIS authority EXERCISED BY a man/woman of God. A Christian who is sentimental or sorry does not get results, a Christian who prays and acts gets results.

The walk with God after deliverance from demonic oppression is very narrow. No matter how exemplary your life has been in the past, you can still be attacked – in fact, if you are serving Him full time, or if you are a man/woman of prayer, you are in the frontline of the battle field already! The same verse which ask us to be innocent (innocent (harmless, guileless, and without falsity) as doves, admonishes us to be wise as serpents. Serpents are predators who wait silently and subtly for an attack against them. Do not give the devil a chance. Do not be like the demoniac who got rid of one demon and had 7 more coming to torment him. Do not end up like the demoniac of Gadara who had a legion (almost 5000 demons) in him. If you fall, put each case of wilful disobedience under the Blood of the Lamb and confess them immediately to Jesus. Do it at once. If you do not get all those old yokes under the Blood of the Lamb, they will come back seven seventy times and attack you!

There is nothing automatic about salvation. We have to receive it in faith daily, by embracing His promises daily, and resisting the devil diligently and alertly. Good and evil cannot dwell together. The Holy Spirit is like a gentle dove; do not drive God’s Spirit away. We are called to be temples of the Living God. If carnal Christians don’t get delivered, there would be no new power in the church. Simply being saved and filled once with the Holy Spirit must not be considered a guarantee that we will remain so. Become men and women, who work out their salvation with fear and trembling. THAT is victory!

There is nothing more beautiful, more wonderful on earth – than being a cleansed vessel constantly, living in ‘heavenly places with Christ’ :O) Hallelujah!

Hannah’s prayer and the Eli encounter

1 Samuel 1:10, 11 – In her deep anguish Hannah prayed to the Lord, weeping bitterly. And she made a vow, saying, “Lord Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and REMEMBER ME…”

One of the greatest challenges to our Christian maturity is to stand by and wait when we feel blessings are passing us by. Time is passing by. And you feel the bursting point pressure when you have hit and hit against heaven’s wall for an answer and YOU don’t get blessed in that area, but someone else does :O) That’s really stretching our maturity levels and pegging it up, isn’t it? Especially if you feel rejected because of things beyond your control – your gender, age, location, family status or physical ability.

This morning, I read that heartbreaking prayer of Hannah’s in 1 Samuel, “Remember me”. Her cross was not easy. Being childless is sheer misery for a young woman, for her husband, friends and relatives. But in a way, her grief was her own. Her husband Elkinah, though loving, just did not understand. To add insult to injury, Hannah’s counterpart, Elkinah’s other wife Peninnah, had ‘sons and daughters’. Not one, but many! Whenever childless sisters have spoken to me, they have always broken down uncontrollably at some point, moving me to deep sorrow for them. Its not easy to understand why God denies a blessing which seems almost a birthright, why others who seem so undeserving are blessed abundantly, why your wait alone is long and seemingly meaningless. Especially so when you that feel your walk, though wobbly, has been blameless. So why is the blessing denied? And when you feebly voice your doubts, you are slammed by self-righteous Christians for a lack of faith, lack of courage, lack of good judgement and worst, for jealousy. Sometimes well-meaning family and friends may try to understand and offer some balm (Elkinah gave Hannah double portion of the meat sacrifices – but what is meat to a troubled soul? :O)) He probably had no idea of the extent of Peninnah’s taunting of Hannah either (1 Samuel 1:6) Sometimes the ones who care the most chide you the most, shoot their mouths off (you could be the giver here too :O)) in their sheer helplessness, great concern for you. You struggle to explain, you struggle to forgive God and people, you struggle to make sense out of it all, you are mad at yourself for feeling depressed each time a blessing passes you by, you struggle to explain to a loved one that you are not jealous or dumb, just plain sad. And then you beat yourself up for feeling that way.

One thing remarkable about the heroes and sheroes of the Bible is the way they handled their crosses, their chance encounters. You cant control your crosses or what life throws at you or people. You can only control yourself. So your problems are not your problems, your reactions to your problems is your problem. Hannah was crying her guts out, mingling her tears with her silent prayers. Eli was the high priest, and a judge in Israel. An old and righteous man, already worn out by the sins of his sons, Eli is, sadly, very harsh, plain wrong and quick in his censure of her. (A personal warning to us to stop judging someone while we have not walked in their shoes? Censure while the matter is doubtful and unproved?) The lesson to learn from this Godly woman is that – Hannah did not walk off in a huff or chide Eli over the wicked conduct of his own sons. When we are at any time unjustly judged, we have to set a double watch before the door of our lips, that we do not return censure for censure. Hannah thought it enough to clear herself, and so must we – speak up for ourselves. Eli, a just man of God, bless him, was willing to acknowledge his mistake. Eli went a step further – he offered a prayer for her. Hannah went back home with her heart and her countenance brightened. Prayer and fellowship with another Christian should soothe the brows of all of us. We should be welcoming many Christian brothers and sisters to the mercy-seat of a reconciled God in Christ Jesus, not chasing them away with the last shreds of their hope torn. That encounter of Hannah’s and Eli’s turned out to be one of a lifelong friendship, which proved to be the backbone of the strong spirituality of Hannah’s son Samuel.

I do not know what your cross is. For how long you have carried it. But whatever personal struggle you are going through, may you sense His presence in your grief today. May He help you keep the cool, when everything comes crashing. May God send you His angels today and may you have the grace to make your encounters ‘right’. And may HE make your chance encounters with other human beings, a blessing for life. For them first, and for you.

The Nehemiah method of prayer…

Tucked deep into the Old Testament is the Book of Nehemiah – the notable record of a simple man and his persistent prayers. Almost all the chapters have Nehemiah praying the heavens down.

What can we can learn from him?

Nehemiah cared for God and man: Nehemiah was among the Jews exiled to Babylon, the royal cup-bearer for the Persian king Artaxerxes. Living 800 miles away, in the comfort of a palace, Nehemiah still cared enough to want to fortify the walls of Jerusalem. The Word records that he mourned and fasted for several days, remembering the plight of his own people (1:4)

Nehemiah prayed FIRST, acted second: Nehemiah’s boss – the king – had the nasty reputation for cutting off the heads of anyone who offended him. Nehemiah prayed BEFORE he met the king and correctly – he praised God for his goodness, acknowledged sin, pleaded day and night for God’s favour in the eyes of his king (1:5-10)

He was bold enough to PRAY while he was in front of authority and boldly ASK: Four months of fervent prayer later, the king noticed Nehemiah’s sad face. Nehemiah was afraid (2:2) sent up an arrow prayer right then and there (2:4) He then ACTED on it. He explained his need, boldly asked for – long leave, letters to ensure safe travel and timber from the king’s own forest! God came through so powerfully that Nehemiah announces, “It pleased the king to send me”!!! (2:6)

He saw strength in numbers: Nehemiah travelled with horsemen and army officers, later gathered companions to share his burdens with (2:17,18) and assured them the God of heaven would give them success (v20) Nothing like other believers to fight your battles along with you.

He delegated the chores well: If there was someone who could get the whole town cracking, it was Nehemiah – he got the priests to build the Sheep Gate (3:1, 22, 28); a goldsmith (v8) and a perfume maker (v8), women (v12), merchants (v32) were all working!

He closed his ears to the critics and KEPT going: Nehemiah faced criticisms from Sanballat, Tobiah and Geshem. First they laughed at him (2:19, 4:1) He prayed. There were complaints among his workers (5:1-13) He prayed more. The men plotted to attack Jerusalem and create confusion (4:7-12). Nehemiah KEPT GOING.

He protected himself and his own: A wise leader will never let his subordinates or friends feel rejected or alone. He kept guards on duty day and night; he and his friends prayed together (4:9) He armed them with swords, spears and bows (4:13, 17, 18) and SPOKE words of encouragement (4:!4, 20)

He stopped his vulnerable from being oppressed: Nehemiah was technically the governor of Jerusalem, along with Ezra the priest. When he noticed the opression of the poor, he reacted – strongly, fairly and quickly (Chapter 5) He warned the leaders to stop harming their vulnerable ‘brothers’ and made officials forgive all outstanding debts.

He did not seek vain glory: Every governor before Nehemiah had demanded 40 silver coins as wages and even their servants were a burden to the common people. He used his authorty to feed the hungry (5:15-18) and didn’t take advantage of food and land allotments (5:14–19)

He refused to succumb to cheap rumours: The biggest challenge for a Christian is to face unfair, and often false, rumours. Sanballat and friends sent word to Nehemiah for a meeting four times – he refused. Then they sent a fifth message suggesting that Nehemiah was plotting a revolt against the king. He refused to be enticed.

He did not submit to popular politics: A believer stands for God, not what is popular. Nehemiah’s enemy Tobiah had a political figure for a father-in-law and a rich daughter-in-law. Many told Nehemiah how great Tobiah was (6:18, 19) but Nehemiah did not flinch. When the priest Eliashib gave a room in the temple meant for incense and offerings to Tobiah, Nehemiah chastised the priest, threw Tobiah’s belongings out and purified the place (13:1-9)

Nehemiah reformed his people and brought order into the chaos: Nehemiah appointed officials and set guards at the gates; had a census taken (chapter 7) Nehemiah had Ezra read God’s law to the people and got a whole nation to “Praise the Lord, the great God” and kneel in worship, with their faces to the ground!!! (8:6) They made penance (9:1) confessed their sins for 3 hours (9:3) and made promises about tithing, business, farming, marriage (10:30 – 39) Nehemiah kept merchants out on Sabbath (13:16-22) After 12 years (chapter 13); he came back to Jerusalem, found backsliding and took measures to enforce his earlier reforms.

That man never stopped praying! :O)

The prayer that sums up Nehemiah’s heart’s deepest cry is “Strengthen my hands” (6:9)

- Prayer was his lifetsyle. He fought his battles on his knees. Prayer was not a last option. He always prayed BEFORE the battle began, during and after.

- He did not ask God to wipe out his enemies. He asked for wisdom to deal with them.

- He asked God to strengthen his hands, to keep him equipped. And God complied. The work of rebuilding Jerusalem’s walls was completed in just 52 days (6:15) Even his enemies saw the hand of God in it. Now THAT is victory!

Nehemiah lived up to his name, meaning ‘Comforted by God’. His motive was to repopulate Jerusalem: “my God put it into my heart” (7:5)

It was Jehovah who accomplished it. True.

But all because one man persistently prayed his way through…

Hanging tough

I realised the other day that one of the hardest things in life is to continue pulling while everybody else seems to enjoy standing still and has a whale of a time.

Ever heard the one about a man who drove his car into a ditch in a desolated area? Luckily, a local farmer came to help with his big horse named Buddy. He hitched Buddy up to the car and yelled, “Pull, Nellie, pull!” Buddy didn’t move. Then the farmer hollered, “Pull, Buster, pull!” Buddy didn’t respond. Once more the farmer commanded, “Pull, Coco, pull!” Nothing. Then the farmer nonchalantly said, “Pull, Buddy, pull!” And the horse dragged the car out of the ditch.

The motorist was very curious. He asked the farmer why he called his horse by the wrong name three times. The farmer said, “Oh, Buddy is blind and if he thought he was the only one pulling, he wouldn’t even try!”

We’re a lot like Buddy. We don’t like to do something if we think we are worthless and alone. Need an example?

Ever said, “Why should I pour my time and effort into raising my family? No one seems to appreciate!” Or, “Why should I put forth the extra effort to do a good job at work? No one else does and nobody remembers that I exist anyway!” Or, “Why should I be nice to him? He’s certainly not going to make any effort to be nice to me!”

See what I mean? We have those moments when we think, “I alone am left. Nobody else is trying and what I do is worthless.”

Maybe your marriage isn’t exactly a dream come true or your child isn’t turning out to be Edison – in fact, all he is thinking of is spending time with his friends. Or your dream career has turned out to be a dead end – no raise, no recognition. You try to cheer up. Then you start looking at some travel brochures – you really long for a month in a scenic cottage near the beach, you want to feel one with nature and try fishing or scuba diving. But you end up with a five-day visit to your dad’s second cousin’s friend’s brother who visited you when you were three, because he is going to be offended if you do not take the time off to see him. Not just that, you have to remember the names of everybody in that family, starting from the maid, because they are going to ask you if you remember everyone and it will show your dad in bad light if you fail. You do make an effort, but end up feeling that somehow, you have bungled it all. And all that money you had saved up has just paid for your family’s air tickets. Life just doesn’t deliver.

For the zillionth time you have made the same mistake, worried endlessly over something that you have no control over. You wonder if something is wrong with you. You wonder if anyone else struggles like you do. You beat yourself up about it. Guilt is about to eat you alive. To add to that, what appeared to be a good day at work or at home, turns into one of the worst in recent history. You get blamed for something that was not your fault. Somebody judges you. Or you say the wrong thing. You know the second you hear the words come out of your mouth that you would regret saying them. Still, they come out. “That’s not what I meant. You’ve misunderstood me.” You try to explain but it does not help. You bungle some more.

The truth is, life is long from over. So take one more shot. Remember it is the next effort that makes the difference to someone. Believe that you are not alone and everything you do affects somebody. And you are not worthless or alone. God is with you. Your family is with you even though they might be miles away and your friends are, even though they might have forgotten to call. Some do not have a family to be thankful for. And it is a consolation when you realize that others around are going through the same tensions that you have. And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.

John Milton may be remembered best for his Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained, but to me, his masterpiece is a little poem, On His Blindness.

Milton laments the fact that he lost his sight just when he was keen to do something in this world. He is sorry that his life is filled with darkness. Then he questions God. He wonders why God is so unfair, when his only desire is to serve Him through his poetry. Soon, reason returns and he realises that a kingly God who has angels waiting on Him does not need man’s works. Those who serve God best are the ones who bear their yokes well. The ones who are doing great things in life are not the only ones that matter. There are those who accept their humble chores with grace. Those who are willing to just stand by the sidelines and wait. They serve God and mankind best.

If you are a reputed banker, that’s good. If you are a sweeper and happy to do your share in this world, that’s even better. Like GK Chesterton once said, “The most extraordinary thing in the world is an ordinary man and an ordinary woman and their ordinary children.”

As Galatians 6:9 states, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give”.

So hang in there, and keep pulling! Your pull counts too. Jesus would never want you to stop living life fully. Life’s not meant for quitters or whiners…And it was never about anyone else, except God.

His joy, His season

It’s funny that I should be writing a blog that’s filled with Christmas cheer, feeling rockbottom. But evidently, that’s where Jesus comes alive. When you sense rockbottom, 50 feet of mud and then you.

A priest who marked the 45th year of his ordination recently, defined JOY as Jesus, Others and You. It should be in that exact order :O) All of these relationships need to be in perfect shape for you to be in JOY.

This Christmas and New Year, focus on Him who died for you. Do things that will bring you closer to Him and strengthen yourself with His power to walk in His plan for you, not yours.

Do anything humanly possible to bring joy to your family, your friends and the stranger you meet. It is in giving that we truly receive. Love overcomes everything.

Take care of yourself. Jesus did. A break, quality time with God and loved ones, recharges one beyond compare.

May His joy be yours this Christmas, New Year and  may it stay until eternity!

And in your darkest moments, always look for the hidden blessings.

I promise they are there :O)

Love never fails

Just one word that changes our hell to heaven – LOVE.

Any time your heart is disturbed, your day is going wrong, you mind cannot keep your emotions in check, do a quick check to see if you are at loggerheads with someone and IMMEDIATELY clear the love channel. With your best friend, spouse, children, friends, parents, siblings, neighbours, priest, pastor, church mates, boss, colleagues or even strangers.

Bible asks us to believe the best of people (1 Cor 13:7), give them seven times seventy chances (Matthew 18:22) and love without keeping a record of wrongs(1 Cor 13:5) Love does not EXPOSE your flaws to others, but covers your transgressions (Proverbs 10:12) Forgive those who expose your flaws too ;) – its a two-way street. There is no Biblical justification for ANY unforgiveness, whatever may be the sin. ‘He/she did that to me, how could he/she, you have no idea, God’ are the lines Satan will repeat to us, over and over. For every foe, God promises His friendship. Or that good Christian friend might still be loving you, warts and all. Don’t forget that, while stewing and festering in resentment and pain. Forgive, be the bigger person. Then the battle belongs to the Lord. We have to clear the air first, because we are given chances daily by an all-forgiving God. Take it to the Lord in prayer and then AFTER that, take it to the person concerned. Murky waters and wounded souls are healed by His Spirit, but it begins with YOUR LOVE, YOUR EFFORT. Don’t give the enemy a chance, cos he is prowling around like a roaring lion, waiting to see whom he can devour (1 Peter 5:8)

Ninety percent of the time, people who wound us don’t even realise how much or if even they have hurt us. It’s their own high expectations, desire to see us do things their way. And we hurt for the same :0) Our expectations of niceties/ support from them, our desire that if only they would understand things our way :0) Satan blinds both sides!

Christians are to live exceptional, joyful, fulfilling lives, NOT dead or lethargic or bitter. Even a ministry – is not more important than love. Sometimes we are so busy serving God or keeping up an image of our ministry that we have no time to love Him or His people.

God is available, to fill your love tank DAILY. One broken cistern cannot fill another. Jesus can. As Blessed John Paul II said, you cannot conquer evil by evil, but only by love. He knew the secret and he practised it faithfully, with friends, even with babies, his enemies and with people of other faiths.

Pray, pray and come out of the bitter tank with the Holy Spirit’s help. Don’t waste another day. DO IT TODAY. Do yourself a favour right now. FORGIVE. Ask for forgiveness. Make that phone call, write that email, visit that person. No more pain, replaying lies from Satan. The Word says, the truth will set us free. May the truth set US free. Not them/him/her who wounded me, but ME :0)

1 Corinthians, Chapter 13

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.

If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.

If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,[b]but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.

It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.

It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.

For we know in part and we prophesy in part,

10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears.

11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.

12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Facing those Brook Besor moments…

I believe all Christians face something Max Lucado referred to as a Brook Besor moment :O) When even your dearest abandon you and you are in total shock.

David and 600 men came to Ziklag after winning a fine victory, but they found the camp looted by Amalekites, their town razed to the ground and their wives and children kidnapped (1 Samuel, Chapter 30) David’s own women were not spared. Worse, the same men who had elevated David to king minutes ago, now wanted to stone him. Anger, grief and resentment was directed at the wrong man – David – who then ENCOURAGED HIMSELF IN THE LORD (Verse 6) David then turned to his priest Abiathar for Godly counsel.

His strength regained, David lead his men back to battle, but at Brook Besor, 200 of them gave up completely. But the rest led by David won the battle, got their women back and David chose to play fair – when the men did not want to share their loot with those who did not go back to fight, David stood for justice, saying families did not do that sort of thing and men could not do that, to what the Lord had given them.

All alone, friendless and without a spouse by His side, David still encouraged himself in His God :O) Better still, he went the extra mile and proved his friendship to those who had deserted him. He who was deserted and accused by his trusted friends, just prayed, regained his strength and chose to be a friend :O)

Move few centuries later to the New Testament. Paul tells his beloved son in Christ, Timothy (2 Timothy Chapters 1 & 4) about how all his friends left him in his hour of pain – Phygelus, Hermogenes, Demas, Crescens, Titus. He speaks of how a man did him much harm and ALL DESERTED ME (Verse 16) But THE LORD STAYED WITH HIM and gave him strength :O) WOW.

You must be at your own Brook Besor moment today – when crisis has hit repeatedly and those who promised to stick close have fled and you have zero stamina left.

But remember, David won his friends back. By praying first and persistently remaining a friend :O)

Paul loved his young assistant Timothy and remembered his tears and wanted to see him (2 Timothy 1:4) He refers to Onesiphorus, who ‘cheered him up many times’, ‘was not ashamed’ that Paul was in prison and actually went looking for Paul all around Rome until he found him!

Praise God for friends like that. Who go the extra mile with you even when tired.

But all praise to Him who never left. Even on a hard-hitting Brook Besor day.

May HE be your own strength today! :O)

A believer at any cost…

One of the hardest things to do as a believer is to just believe :O)

That – ALL things, not just the good things, but the good and the bad – both, work together for good for those that trust in the Lord (Rom 8:28) That all our fervent prayers, and waits – on Him, will bring us exceptional gifts. We should pray and try – even staggeringly :O) and if unable to battle on our own, ask our Christian brothers and sisters to lift us up immediately – to believe at all times – that God is a good God who keeps ALL of His promises even when we are buffeted by crises, wounded by people or when our emotions are at their lowest.

One of the countless examples of God’s promise-keeping: When Elijah was going up to heaven, he asked his successor Elisha what he wanted. Elisha asked for a ’double portion’ of his master’s blessings. Traditionally, the double portion anointing belonged to the ‘first-born’ (although God has sometimes preferred the second to serve Him like in the case of Jacob over Esau) Elisha was not even Elijah’s son. But the Lord’s power was given to Elisha. Elijah had done 7 miracles during his lifetime and Elisha is credited with 13 in his lifetime.

Wonder why one less of double? :O)

God is NEVER wrong. After Elisha’s death and burial, a man’s body was thrown into his tomb - when the bones touched Elisha’s remains, the man came back to life (2 Kings 13:21) So we can see that God is never too late, never lies – Elisha did get EXACTLY double of what Elijah had – exactly what was promised to him was given to him. Amen.

When you don’t know what to do next: just believe.

Believe in the Lord Jesus.

When things go wrong, still praise God through it all – the depression, the insults, the rejection, the broken promises of the world, the tears, the whys and still cling on and believe Him. Raise up an army of friends to pray and believe with you when you get weary of the wait, and don’t quit.

BELIEVE. That our God is awesome, good, holy and that at least He keeps each and every one of His promises TO THE WORD! :O)