Pastoral Perspectives

Right place at the right time

Recently, an acquaintance texted on our Whatsapp chat group with mutual friends the following message – “What a God we have! I just witnessed an accident involving 2 cars and 2 larger vehicles. Right next to me as I drove… Thankful to pastor who always pray Psalm 91 over us and for us to be in the right place at the right time!”

Although I can understand her feelings of relief and thankfulness, I admit I am somewhat concerned by how she credited her pastor’s praying of Psalm 91 over the worshippers as the reason why she was spared from the accident. To some extent, it reveals how she perceives God’s sovereignty and goodness and how she thinks Scripture is to be understood and applied.

To be sure, God’s people should pray for each other and referring to Scripture helps us to be mindful of God’s nature and promises. Here at True Way, I hope we are encouraged by how our church leaders seek to set aside every Tuesday (as pastoral team), Wednesday and once a month on Saturday morning to pray for people as well as ministry concerns. Even though I was hit by a bicycle, I am confident that it had nothing to do with a lack of prayer on the part of Boys’ Brigade or our church.  

I hope you can understand why I have reservations towards my friend’s pastor for highlighting the fact that he is always praying a particular Bible passage over them. In my opinion, it would have been pastorally wiser and biblically more faithful if he simply shared that the church is being regularly prayed for. Judging from my friend’s response, it appears that Psalm 91 is almost being treated by some as if it is a talisman or some ritualistic practise to ward off any misfortune or undesirable experiences. 

Consider this for a moment. If it is remotely true that praying Psalm 91 “works”, what would it reveal about God? Is He a God who has favourites and only protects Christians and more specifically those who utter certain prayers? How would this be consistent with Jesus’ teaching that says God “sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt 5:45)? Furthermore, why would praying Psalm 91 suffice and would our prayers be more efficacious if believers include a few more Bible passages? For that matter, if any of those who were involved in the accident were Christians, does it suggest that no one had been praying for them or that they were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time?  

When I was recovering from my head injury, I recall posing to my wife this thought experiment. I asked her if Christians have a personal guardian angel, was mine sleeping at his post? Or did my angel do his job well and that is why the MRI showed nothing of concern? But if it was so, it still begs the question why was I knocked out of action for about two weeks? Especially when I was looking forward to worshipping with and preaching at our Thai service the next day and preparing for other ministry commitments. Without going any further, what you need to know is that we had a good laugh over this even as we gave thanks to God for His mercies and protection.

I trust that you realise by now that when we have an unbiblical or skewed worldview about God’s sovereignty and goodness, it will put us on all kinds of rabbit trails and can easily burden us with guilt and anxiety. After all, if whatever happens to us is solely dependent on the fervency of our prayers, this would be a load that none of us can bear. Indeed, many would probably be crushed under its weight when difficult times persist and we continue to experience pain and anguish. We may also end up on a witch-hunt, trying to discern if there was something spiritual we have failed to do or if there were some spiritual forces out to get us.

On the flip side, it may lead us to spiritual pride. This is because when things are going smoothly, we may conclude that God is pleased with our prayers and that we are being rewarded for our bold declaration of faith. Here, Hebrews 11:35-40 reminds us that even those who were commended for their faith did not receive what was promised since “God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect”.

Through this episode, I am once again reminded to look at Christ and to rest in God’s promises and to surrender my life and the outcome of my prayers unto Him. As one writer puts it, if all we do is to say “Thy will be done”, it may be indistinguishable from a pagan stoicism. However if all we do is claim God’s promises without surrendering, what we are doing is merely trying to dictate to God. Thank God indeed, He is far more sovereign and loving that we could ever ask or imagine (Eph 3:20). Even if it meant a stay at Tan Tock Seng Hospital, I was still the right place at the right time.

Rev Edwin Wong

May 14, 2017