Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Uncomplicating prayer

We hear these expressions all the time: "Pray about it," or "I'll pray for you." When someone tells us to pray about something, how many times do we actually do it? When you agree to pray for someone or vice versa, do you really? Sometimes when someone shares their struggles with us, our automatic response is the offer of prayer, without much thought. Prayer is such a vital part of our Christian faith, yet it has become overrated and mechanical. This week, my Bible study covered the topic of prayer, and it prompted me to reflect on this in my own life. In the study guide, a quote by Emilie Griffin struck me: "There is a moment between intending to pray and actually praying. It is as dark and silent as any moment in our lives. It is the split second between thinking about praying and actually praying. For some of us, this split second between thinking and actually praying lasts decades. It seems then that the greatest obstacle to prayer is a simple matter of beginning to pray. How easy it is and yet between us and the possibilities of prayer, there seems to be this great gulf, an abyss of our own making, that separates us from God." Guilty, I confess.

Why is it such a struggle to actually pray? What gets in the way? I have narrowed it down to 3 reasons: expectations, limitations, and impatience.
1. EXPECTATIONS. I often come before God already with an idea of what I want the result to be. This totally clouds my judgment because I am not open to listening. I am in fact talking at God rather than to God. I quote the great Oswald Chambers, "Is the Son of God prayung in me , or am I dictating to Him? ...If the Son of God is formed in us by regeneration, He will press forward in front of our common sense and change our attitude to the things about which we pray." Most of the time, my expectations aren't even within reason. Praying with any expectations other than the reality that He does indeed hear you and will answer you, can be troublesome. Once we get the mentality that He is going to hear us and answer us according to what we hope for and desire, we cannot see God's plan. I can almost assure you that thinking this way will result in disappointment. Then we start to tell ourselves that God is not there because He has not met our expectations. Perhaps we should meet His, by simply quieting our demands and letting Him work. "Be still and know that I am God," Psalm 46:10.
2. LIMITATIONS. Do you ever think that your prayer is impossible, as you're praying for it? Sometimes I am just in disbelief at God's abilities and I box Him up. As a result, I am stunting His power to move. Ironic how we ask for a miracle but shake our head at the possibility that He could actually make it happen. God is bigger than you and I. Let go of your reservations when you pray, and be amazed at His power. I can be a competitive person sometimes, but when it comes to God, I welcome the opportunity to let Him blow me out of the water. His ways are higher than our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9).
3. IMPATIENCE. This is the one I struggle the most with. I want immediate answers. It's my time or no time. How foolish it is for me to think that I can tell God when to move! God will move in our lives when the time is right. He is the only one that knows what's best for us at every particular moment in time. Impatience has led me to set deadlines for God and when my expectations are not met by then, I am hurt or angry thinking that He has ignored my prayer. When I look back at my situations in my life, the greatest blessings have often come at the most inopportune hour. Now that time has moved forward, I can see how it was exactly the right time.

Praying is uncomplicated. It simply involves talking to God, having a conversation if you will. Like any relationship, constant conversation is what allows it to blossom. I can't write about prayer without bringing up E.M. Bounds. He wrote, "The goal of prayer is the ear of God, a goal that can only be reached by patient and continued and continuous waiting upon Him, pouring out our heart to Him and permitting Him to speak to us. Only by so doing can we expect to know Him, and as we come to know Him better we shall spend more time in His presence and find that presence a constant and ever-increasing delight."

While I think praying away from distractions (people, noise, etc.) is a good thing, the setting for prayer doesn't always have to be sitting in an empty room (unless that's what works for you). Sometimes prayer is our heartfelt reaction when we drive past a car accident, see a story about a child kidnapped, witness a friend getting married, or hear about a loved one who made it out of surgery safely. It can be the discussion we have with God as we see how different each person that walks by is. It is rejoicing in the diverse human race. Prayer can also be prompted by nature and taking in God's creation. Maybe, like typical good friends, you can communicate non-verbally with God. Have you ever just stood by a waterfall and was amazed at it's strength and beauty? You didn't need to actually speak words to the Lord, you just closed your eyes, felt the water sprinkle across your face, and smiled with joy. In those moments, you knew the Lord was with you in perfect communion. All without uttering a word.

Examine your motives when praying. Pray with an open heart. You may be sorry to get an answer you didn't want, but you'll be even sorrier if you miss out on the truth God wants you to know. If you truly seek to follow and obey the Lord, ignoring what He is trying to say to you will be a regretful decision...sooner or later. When you pray, find God's voice and lose your own. Be willing to accept any response from God, even if it's not what you want, but what you need to hear.

I hope these verses will elicit reflection in your own prayer life.
"When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures." (James 4:3)

"But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted." (John 15:7)

"For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them." (Matthew 18:20)

"In the morning, O Lord, you hear my voice; In the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation." (Psalm 5:3)

"Pray without ceasing." (1 Thessalonians 5:17 KJV)

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Know doubt

Questions. Lots and lots of questions. My mind has been bombarded with them recently. There's an expression, "All roads lead to Rome". Lately, it seems more appropriate for me to say, "All questions lead to doubt". Perhaps I'm not the only one that feels that way. The good thing is, IT'S OK. I would never pretend to have a perfectly unshakable faith. If we profess to, we leave no room for spiritual growth. The beauty of God lies in His amazing grace, His acceptance of us despite imperfection.

I've been asking a lot of questions as a result of my current situation and the confusion I feel. This tells me I need to trust more. I pray earnestly but give no time for God to answer. This tells me I have zero patience. When we face challenges in life that cause us to question what we know of God's character, we ask God "Why?" and start to doubt Him. But doubt won't get any of us through challenges, so how should we respond?

This has been a really difficult post for me to write. I don't claim to know all the answers and have struggled with how to approach this topic. The other day, I read the transcript of an online sermon called "The Suffering Elephant". The speaker, Heather Zempel, said, "It is ok for us to come and say, 'God, I'm second guessing your perfect will here just a little bit,' and I know it is ok because Jesus did it." This is true. On His way to the cross, Jesus prayed to God asking Him to "remove this cup" (Luke 22:42). I think this is Jesus' eloquent way of being unsure about whether the road to the cross is really the only plan. Now focus on how Jesus handles his doubt. Christ follows up with, "Nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done." This clearly defines a difference between doubt and unbelief. As Zempel said, "Doubt is the thing that causes you to question, and to wrestle, and to seek out, and to fight...which means that you are still coming to God. Unbelief is when you just walk away from God." Even in Christ's doubt, He held on to His belief that it is ultimately all about God's will.

If you find yourself doubting the execution of God's plans for you, know that that does not make you a bad or ungrateful person. Do not be troubled; doubt does not mean you lack faith, nor does it mean you are testing God. In fact, doubt allows you to search within your own heart to examine why you believe what you believe. Embrace it as an opportunity to grow and get to where God wants you to be. Again, it's not about unbelief. I find comfort in 2 Corinthians 13:5-7 (NIV): "Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you--unless, of course, you failed the test? And I trust that you will discover that we have not failed the test. Now we pray to God that you will not do anything wrong. Not that people will see that we have stood the test but that you will do what is right even though we may seem to have failed." So we should pray. I cannot recall often receiving an answer to my "Whys". According to Zempel, this is because, "God doesn't speak to us in these situations necessarily in the language of logic for our brains to be healed. He speaks to us in the language of the heart [through love] so that our souls can be healed." The proper response to challenges contradictory to God's character, is to come into His presence and ask Him to speak to our hearts.

Pastor John Ortberg wrote a book titled, Faith & Doubt. Apparently the two are surprisingly alike and necessary. According to Pastor Ortberg, faith is important in our walk with the Lord because evidence is not sufficient without belief. Doubt is necessary to grow and exercise our ability to discern between truth and error. The conclusion is: doubt is part of faith because uncertainty can lead to trust. Now hope is something many of us cling to. Pastor Ortberg writes about how we cannot hope without faith, and doubt can strengthen our faith. But hope is not found in anything or anyone other than Christ Himself.

I cannot reiterate enough that no matter how hard we try, you and I will never be perfect. Sorry to break it to you. We will have our good days and our bad days. God expects this. There will be moments where we seem to have all the faith in the world. These are moments when we can muster up the courage to declare His goodness even in the most trying times and say, "God help me. I am going through something that doesn't make sense, but I still trust You to bring me through it. You are forever good, even when everything around me is not. So God help me." Then there will be days where we throw tantrums and demand God to answer, "What are You doing in me? What are You doing in the lives of the people I love? Why can't I hear You?" It is my prayer for all of us to seek the Lord when we doubt (and know that it is ok to doubt!), find answers in The Bible, and be assured that He wants the best for you and those you love. Keep on praying and never give up hoping, for as long as it may take. Press on--I trust you will find the strength to live with eternity in focus.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Music for the hurting soul

Over the past few days, I have wrestled with if and how I would write this post. I think I'm ready. It's part of Christian fellowship to share our struggles with other believers, and trust that our friends will pray for us. However, I want to share these thoughts because I woke up today knowing that someone out there is going through a similar situation as me, and needs to be encouraged.

I am in a deep valley. Over the past couple months, my faith has been challenged in ways I did not expect. I have loved beyond my own understanding. I have put selfishness before obedience. And I have never been left with this type of numbing pain. What an oxymoron. I always thought pain meant a tearing apart at the seams that rips your heart into shreds. I've experienced that kind of pain. This is new, and I don't know what I think about it. In many ways I am just thankful that I have been able to put one foot in front of the other. I can feel God's presence with me, and I know it is the comfort I find in Him, which holds me together. I feel God especially at night, when I struggle to shut my eyes, because my mind always wanders back to the same thoughts. That's when tears burn, and I tell myself over and over again, "Stop it. No more. No more (tears)." As a whole, I'm doing much better than I thought I would be. I know I have no one but God to thank for that. While I am grieving a loss (which does not necessarily mean a death, in my case), God is putting me back together again, in His timing. When things in life don't seem to go how we envisioned and things we've come to know, love, and get comfortable with, are taken away, it is no punishment. It is no mistake. Besides, we are instructed not to get comfortable in this life. Even if we lose everything here on earth, finding truth in knowing God is worth it all, because it comes down to our soul. God ONLY wants the best for us. Yes, God can use even our pain and suffering for something better than what we thought was possible. This may be a hard concept to grasp, the idea of "bad things" happening to "good people". Rest assured in the knowledge that God is bigger than you and I. If we knew how God intends everything in our lives to turn out, would there be a place for faith? I may never know His reasons for every trial I go through, but in many cases, I know they are self-inflicted. He is a just God, rewarding us for our obedience and teaching us when we have abused our freedoms. The lessons He teaches are hardly ever easy. Today, I hold tightly to the belief that I am exactly where God wants me to be. Exactly where I need to be in order for him to mold, purify, strengthen, and teach me. Through it all, I ask the Lord to grant me the perseverance and diligence to never give up hoping through prayer. No matter what it is you are going through, seek to find Jesus Christ and He will be the light during your dark times.

God has been using music to touch my heart, ever since I can remember. I know God reaches everyone in different ways, and I am grateful that in addition to prayer and scripture, He speaks to me through music. Below is the playlist of songs serving as a reminder to me of God's sweet mercies and amazing grace. I apologize for the ads and how some of the songs are only 30 seconds long. Apparently you need an IMEEM account to hear full songs from certain artists. I recommend doing it; IMEEM is my personal source for music (it's great) AND I want you to hear these songs! I want to also share a little about certain favorite parts, what they say to me, etc. That can be found below the playlist if you don't feel you've had enough reading yet.

Lastly, if you find yourself in a deep valley today, trust in the Lord and be encouraged; you are loved without condition.

"I don’t want to be safe tonight...I need You like a hurricane. Thunder crashing, wind and rain. To tear my walls down; I’m only Yours now. I need you like a burning flame. A wild fire untamed. To burn these walls down; I’m only Yours now...I am Yours and You are mine. You know far better than I. And if destruction’s what I need, then I’ll receive it Lord from Thee."
Biblical inspiration: Hebrews 12:7-11, Psalm 51:17
The story behind the music: ”Though it’s an uncomfortable thought, before God can really begin to use a person for His purposes, He must break that person. Brokenness is not a popular idea in our culture, but there is usually no sweeter time of intimacy with God than when He takes our life, our sinful habits, and destroys them so that He can build us up again. Yes the LORD is a loving father; yes He is our savior and help in time of need, but sometimes, He shows up as a hurricane. May we embrace Him when He does.” – Jimmy Needham

I don't even know where to begin. This song has comforted me and spoken truth to my heart for months.
"When my life is like a storm, rising waters all I want is the shore. You say I’ll be ok and make it through the rain; You are my shelter from the storm. Everything rides on hope now. Everything rides on faith somehow. When the world has broken me down, Your love sets me free."

"Sweet Sweet Sound" by Sarah Reeves
This song is so beautiful to me. This veteran Christian artist has such a breathtaking voice, and despite the simplicity of the lyrics, they get me every time.
"So I will testify, even in the fire, I live to praise my Savior. Hear the song of my life. Let it be a sweet, sweet sound."

Biblical inspiration: 1 Corinthians 13.
I was recently made aware that the KJV talks about "charity" in this passage. Charity goes beyond the romantic love we often attach to this chapter. Charity is about goodwill, generosity, benevolence, and how we exercise those things in our lives toward others, God's creation, and all of humanity. When I listen to this song, I replace every presence of the word "love" with "God", because He is the ultimate example. "God never fails you". That's comforting.

I first heard this song about a decade ago. There's a lot of uncertainty as to why things happen the way they do and when they do. Trials are about refinement. We do not know all the answers, but faith prompts us to press on. When you feel alone in life's difficulties, remind yourself that God is holding your hand and walking right next to you.
"The pathway is broken, and the signs are unclear. And I don't know the reason why you brought me here. But just because You love me the way that You do, I will go through the valley, if You want me to...So if all of these trials bring me closer to You, I will go through the fire, if You want me to. It may not be the way I would have chosen...But You never said it would be easy. You only said I'll never go alone."

She has made a huge impact in my life through her lyrical genius, and meeting her in January was such a wonderful experience. I know for a fact that I am not the only one who has been touched by hearing her music. I pray that person is still listening.
"But even perfect days can end in rain. And though it's pouring down, I see You through the clouds, shining on my face. Like sunlight burning at midnight, making my life something so beautiful, beautiful."

"I'll always be amazed at You and who You are. I love the way You take and heal my broken heart. I need You every day and night. You are life, You are life."

"O I tried and tried to rectify my hopeless situation. But I bought the lie I still have work to do. Now I’m working nine to five like I can earn my own salvation. But there is no condemnation in You...O He died, He died to rectify my hopeless situation, and His blood commands my guilt to leave."
Biblical inspiration: Romans 8:1, Ephesians 3:17-19
The story behind the music: ”You can’t give what you don’t have. The thing I struggle with most in my relationship with God is the ability to receive His love and forgiveness. For some reason, I have this crazy notion that if I work really hard I will finally put a smile on the Father’s face. What I have failed to understand is that the only thing that truly pleases God is God himself. It’s true that there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus, but the amazing part of that statement is that it is not based on our deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy. May each of us as believers be able to say with confidence that we are in fact forgiven and loved.” – Jimmy Needham

Philippians 4:6-7 comes to mind. Too often, I want to know all the answers when I need to just let God be God. I want to do things bigger than myself, and I forget that there are some things better left to God. HE is the one that saves. HE will reveal Himself to the lost. Our job is to be ever faithful in prayer before the Lord.
"I’ve been trying to find a way to understand. When I can’t see the picture of God’s plan. Why would He let us hurt so bad? Could anything good come of these feelings that I have?...It’s taken so long but now I know. I had to find out on my own. When nothing could convince me, Your love it convinced me. That it’s gonna be ok."

Psalm 8:3-4 and Psalm 33:6-9 come to mind when I think of the Lord's great holiness.
"I’ve tried to hear from heaven but I talk the whole time. I think I made You too small."

Thanks for reading. Feel free to leave a comment and let me know your thoughts and/or how I can pray for you. Keep looking up... Jollene Kuo

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Accessorizing politics

Regardless of how you look at it, today is monumental. I was awake by 5am, flipping between different news stations AND live streaming on the web. I kind of made it my task to observe the coverage of the Inauguration of our 44th President. I was on ABC for a long time, until I made my way back to my favorite, MSNBC. In my opinion, they have the best videography. Not to mention, Brian Williams is witty and easy on the eyes. I also like MSNBC reporter, Kelly O'Donnell, a lot. She has a very intelligent, compassionate, and thorough reporting style. Local news coverage in my area was seriously disappointing. Two of the anchors for a Fox News station actually sang "Hail to the Chief" live on air. SANG IT. And badly.

I found it interesting the way all the political figures accessorized their outfits. Did anyone else notice? Obama had on a red tie, Bush II had on a blue tie. I thought the reversal was kind of cool. Most of the others seemed to wear their political party. The colors purple and yellow, were apparently neutral. Former President Bush and his wife both used purple scarves to complement their outfits. Our new First Lady wore yellow. Sorry, these are things I would notice.

It was also noticeable that no two (Former) Presidents recieved the same kind of attention during their procession out to the masses. Did I imagine booing mixed with cheering during Former President Carter's entrance? Hmm. I think our 41st President (Bush Sr.) is so cute! I feel like he'd be fun to hang out with, nice guy, and the crowd was decently welcoming to him. Former President Clinton's expression was unreadable as he stepped outside with Sen. Clinton. He seemed...uncomfortable, but was received warmly. My heart goes out to W in many respects. Regardless of what he did or did not do, he is a good man. I don't think he was given the appreciation he deserved when he faced the American people today. (We'll get back to that.) President Obama looked ironically alone as he walked out towards the people, but once he reached the opening of that hallway, he was anything BUT alone.

It was beautiful to see so many people come together for a common goal, one cause, and united without regard to race or status. And to hear God's name mentioned throughout the event, was refreshing. Interesting how people are less prone to object to the mixing of church and state, when they are in favor of the leader. The invocation by Dr. Rick Warren was a bold, bold prayer. And that musical performance by Itzhak Perlman, Yo-Yo Ma, Gabriela Montero, and Anthony McGill was so moving. That was the first time I shed tears during the Inauguration coverage. (The only other time was when I thought about the criticism Bush II faced during his term.) Music does that. Yo-Yo Ma's cello was made from carbon fiber. How BA is that? People tend to describe President Barack as one possessing an inner and outer peace and calm. I'd say that disappeared briefly when he was sworn in this morning. Slight oops, hm? I listened intently to his Inaugural Speech. He kind of speaks as if he were preaching. I want to know what Obama defines as the "demands of a new age" that he hopes colleges and universities will meet. Elucidate on that.

I recieved Rev. Lowery's benediction with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I loved it when he prayed, "In the complex arena of human relations, help us to make choices on the side of love, not hate. On the side of inclusion, not exclusion. Tolerance, not intolerance." On the other hand, it bothered me greatly when he said, "We ask You to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get back, when brown can stick around, when yella will be mella, when the red man can get ahead, man, and when white will embrace what is right." To my fellow Asian-Americans, is that really ok with you? Those statements alone, are just a whole bunch of stereotypes jumbled together and I am NOT ok with it. I asked myself, "What was the point of that whole thing?"

Back to Former President George W. I wish I could know what was going through his head today. His body language and expressions demonstrated a gracious leave. I'm curious about what Mr. and Mrs. Bush said to their son at breakfast and during the helicopter ride back to TX. I think it's easy to scrutinize others and criticize mistakes, when it is the general opinion. I can't object to the status of the current economic crisis that we are left with today. But is the blame all on President Bush, or should we examine how people's greed is at the root of it. President Bush has made certain decisions in error, but no one is perfect. I also believe he loves our country and tried to make decisions with what he thought were our best interests in mind. I feel his motives have been correct, and he has not acted out of selfish ambition. The fact that he acknowledged making mistakes, shows humility, and I give him a lot of credit for that. He was not dealt an easy hand from the beginning, but he never gave up...despite great lack of support from many Americans. Even if I didn't vote for or like a particular President, I will still respect whoever steps into that role. For me, it is no different with President Bush.

I want to end on President Obama. His quiet confidence and assured words have been inspiring to many. In fact, shortly after the November election, he had already turned many cynics into believers. It only bothers me when people play the race card all too often with Obama, or support him because he's black. It definitely says a lot that our new President is African-American, but I don't think that should be the only reason some people are his supporters. I also don't think it shows much intelligence when all someone can say is, "My President is Black". But don't get me wrong, I am not callous to the historical significance of it all. I hate bandwagon supporters that are too often young Americans. All this to say: know who our President is and the current state of affairs in our country. I hope that most of those who support Obama do so because of his professed dedication to reform. He is charismatic, I give him that. Charismatic in a way that you can't help but want to listen and root for him to turn things around. So my open-mindedness says, today we have a 44th President and whether or not I voted for him, I am willing to give him a chance. He promises hope and change. I want to see results.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Hello New Year, goodbye past.

2008 was a roller coaster ride. The highs made me feel on top of the world, the lows made me feel buried six feet under. I had some of the best and worst times of my life, but I am without regret. My 2008 experiences shape who I am today, and I have changed big and small in many ways. Each year's turnout is all about attitude, and this year, I am excited to find out what 2009 holds. I think old self would be proud.

New Year's Resolutions: (in no particular order)
1. Cut back on sugars. Ha.
2. Purchase a ****.
3. ***** a ****, even if it's unedited.
4. Work on getting a more defined 4-pack and sculpted (in a non-masculine way) arms.
5. Leave grudges at the door.
6. Find love and keep love. Be found and be kept.
7. Start my own *******.
8. Weed out the bad apples in my life.
9. Model for a ********.
10. Cook more. I'm getting pretty good!

As for 2, 3, 7, and 9...when I achieve them, you'll hear about it. ;) They're probably the most exciting resolutions on my list, but I make them in secret as motivation. Sorry to be cryptic! What's on your list? We have just 364 days left to accomplish everything! Go, go, go.

Here's my personal In & Out list of 2009. Some are a given.
"It is what it is."

"It's all good."

Cupcakes and milk

Cookies and milk



$1.39 and less for gas

Arm and leg for gas

Lipstick Jungle

Sex and the City

Las Vegas



Harry Potter

Animal prints

Animal skin

Eating green

Eating mean

Slide phones

Flip phones

Jewel-toned thigh highs

Lame leggings

Sweater dresses

Sweater vests





Chai soy lattes

Caramel macchiatos

Swim fast

Slim Fast

Reading books

Watching movies

Wii fit

Gym fit

Caribou Coffee

Starbucks Coffee

entertainment districts

entertainment centers

"It's ok"

"You're fine."

Sweet potato fries

French fries

Digital TV

Analog TV

Aston Martin




Baltimore Ravens

New York Jets