EC Testimony vol. 1 : Grace and Prayer by Michiya Arakida

I am truly grateful for being able to participate in the Equipper Conference for the first time this time, and for receiving so much grace and healing. First of all, receiving this EC scholarship was the greatest blessing of all.  Transportation, accommodation, and other various expenses were obstacles for me to come from Oregon. But through prayer, I was provided with accommodation and transportation, and I was reassured that there is nothing impossible with the Lord. This EC was the most fruitful conference I have ever attended, where I was prompted to consider my Christian faith and witnessed many works of the Lord. Here, I would like to share some of the blessings I witnessed.

I joined in prayer team and also shared a testimony for the first time at this conference. Since becoming a Christian through baptism in the United States a year and a half ago, I have attended Christian conferences about four times, but I had never involved in a volunteer work at the conferences before; I had always attended as a participant. Through serving this time, I was able to experience the love and grace of the Lord in tangible ways.

When I was recruited for the prayer team, although I had been prayed for by others before, I hadn’t prayed much for others, so honestly, I thought it would be enough to just pray. Since it was also my first time participating in EC, I couldn’t imagine the overall flow or content of the prayer team. The content of the work mainly involved listening to prayer requests from participants during the EC period. Although prayer was the main focus, we faced various attacks from the enemy while gathering as a team to pray for participants and the EC. Despite this, I witnessed prayers being answered and experienced moments of fruition multiple times. Being busy with work from morning till night, I often couldn’t find time to rest properly and sometimes fell ill, but naturally, I found myself adopting an attitude of wanting to pray for others and for the EC, and the experience of my body moving was truly mystical, beautiful, and a sensation I had never experienced before. Before participating in EC, when I prayed, it was mostly formal, just uttering words, but it gradually transformed into a heartfelt prayer to truly convey my prayers to God and to connect with Him.

In sharing my testimony, although I had shared many times at conferences before, since it was mostly done in English, it was my first time sharing in Japanese since my baptism. The theme was about Calling, and I intended to share as I had done before, but from the moment I stepped onto the EC stage until the final applause, I don’t remember much, and even now, I don’t recall what I shared. After it ended, I was alone and fearful, worried that I might have said something wrong, but I received feedback from many people saying they were “encouraged” and “moved,” not because of myself, but because it was a testimony from the Lord.

The learning and fellowship in small groups were also very enriching. My group consisted of people in their twenties, all close in age, and they were the most fervent in faith and knowledgeable group I had ever seen. Even after returning to the dormitory after the evening session, Bible studies continued until two in the morning, and even now after EC has ended, there are online study sessions. Having had such deep interactions with Christians of the same generation brought me great joy, and I am truly grateful to the Lord for providing me with this group.

EC 23 was truly filled with many blessings and fruitfulness, despite facing attacks from the enemy at times. I am very grateful that we were able to face the Lord together with all the participants and welcome the year 2024. After EC, I returned to Oregon and the new semester began at university, but through this EC, I became aware of the beauty of praying for others and received a vision for Japanese international exchang students, leading to the initiation of a new campus ministry to connect Japanese exchange students with Christians on campus and to provide a place to know God through the Bible together. This fellowship has been greatly blessed, resources and places have been provided, and both non-Christian Japanese exchange students and Christian students have been provided. I pray that more non-Christian Japanese exchange students who desire to know God and more resources and Christian students will be provided. I am truly grateful to have been able to participate in EC 23.

Pureppu Devotion ④ Prayer is like incense

Revelation 8:1-5

“When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.  Then I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them.  And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne,  and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel.  Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth, and there were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake.”

As we enter December, approaching the end of the year, we have received some prayer requests from those who have been through spiritual battles. Prayer is still needed for us.

This message is to help us understand that our prayers are reaching God.

The passage we read is from Revelation 8. Before this, the book describes a grand chorus of praise to God by a multitude of angels. However, when the Lamb, Jesus, opened the final seal, there was silence in heaven. The word translated as “silence” here is the Greek word “σίγη” (sige), meaning a hush or stillness.

In that stillness, something significant happened – the sweet aroma of incense was offered. The smoke of the incense ascended before the throne of God, symbolizing the prayers of the saints. In the Old Testament, the priests used to burn incense in the temple as part of a ritual to symbolize the acceptance of the people’s prayers by God. This concept is also found in the Christmas story when Zechariah encounters Gabriel in the temple.

Luke 1:8-12

“Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense.  And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him.”

 

During the burning of incense in the temple, the people outside were praying.

Astonishingly, in Revelation 8, John sees the smoke of the incense ascending to heaven, and he understands that it represents the prayers of Christians on earth.

The idea is beautiful: our prayers, like the fragrance of incense, ascend straight to God. Martin Luther, the Protestant Reformer, emphasized that even groans and inexpressible prayers ascend to heaven and resound loudly in God’s ears.

Prayers ascend from below to above. Our prayers “stand before God.” And in response, there is a reverberation from above to below. The incense that ascended before God descends to earth, causing thunder, lightning, and an earthquake. This signifies the powerful judgment of God, where justice is executed, evil is destroyed, and the arrival of God’s kingdom is heralded.

The crucial point is that these events occurred after the prayers of the saints, symbolized by the incense, were received before God. Indeed, prayers have the power to move heaven and earth.

The vision that John saw in Revelation is something we can imagine when we close our eyes to pray. Our prayers truly ascend before God. Revelation, written to encourage the persecuted church facing challenges from the Roman Empire, reminds us that encouragement is needed in difficult times.

The eighth chapter of Revelation, which we read together today, encourages our prayers. It conveys through the vision that our prayers are not only reaching God but are also like the “smoke of incense.” Our prayers are a pleasing fragrance to God. The Lord desires to joyfully hear our prayers.

Now, the heavens are still open. Let us desire to lift up the fragrance of our prayers, like the smoke rising to heaven, before the presence of God.

[ec23] Pureppu Devotion ② Bread is needed for the traveler.

Last time, I shared a message from the Book of Jonah, “God, too, has concerned.”

Just as Jonah regretted and lamented when the gourd withered, we too, when we lose something, realize how precious it was and mourn. However, the purpose of that experience was for us to understand that God also regrets for the people of Nineveh and the souls of the Japanese, to the point that God is distressed by the reality that those returning to Japan may drift away from the church. God wants us to stand in that gap.

That was the message from the last time. Indeed, God is inviting us to serve for the sake of those departing for Japan. Now that we understand this, the question arises: What can we do?

…What can we do? …Many believers who have encountered the Gospel, known Jesus, and received faith in the love of the cross, which is not present in Japan. They, as travelers, encounter various gaps upon returning and end up drifting away from the church. God regrets such events, and we have come to understand that feeling. But what can we do? What are we capable of doing?

In today’s reading, there is a portrayal of someone unable to provide the necessary bread for a traveler. Although this person cannot do anything for the traveler who needs bread, they go to seek help from a certain person. That person is a reliable friend, probably affluent and possessing abundant wealth.

He asks this friend to lend him three loaves of bread. He clings to the idea that if it’s that friend, he will give it to him. He thought, “I cannot do anything for the travelers, but I can ask that friend to provide the bread needed for the travelers.”

Think about it, everyone. How many friends can you ring the doorbell at midnight? Such a thing is possible only with the closest and most intimate friend.

This parable is told after the disciples asked Jesus to teach them about prayer, following the teaching of the Lord’s Prayer. In this parable, Jesus is teaching us that He is the rich, reliable, only friend we can always seek help from.

In today’s scripture, it is mentioned to ask that friend for the bread necessary for the traveler.

Such prayers are called “intercessory prayers.” It is a prayer offered by someone who knows their own powerlessness.

And this scripture also teaches that such prayers should be offered fervently. Be persistent in prayer.

Why does Jesus ask for persistent prayer? The Greek word translated as “persistence” is ἀν•αιδεια (anaideia). Interestingly, the first part of the word, “ἀν” (an), conveys a sense of negation. For example, the English word “unbelievable” means “not believable.” The word ἀν•αιδεια (anaideia) translated as “persistence” means “not being shameless.”

Because it’s just three loaves of bread. It’s ringing the doorbell loudly at midnight. Jesus is teaching us to be bold in prayer and become skilled at asking. If you are interested in what skillful asking in prayer looks like, please learn from the prayers of Abraham and Moses in Genesis 18 and Exodus 33.

Surprisingly, this friend initially refuses, saying, “I want to sleep, so don’t bother me.” This is a parable, and we know that Jesus does not have such a character. So, what does He want to teach with this initial refusal?

I think Jesus wants to convey that He delights in our attitude of not giving up, continuing to believe, and waiting for the answer to prayer. Why? Because the relationship where we ask and the Lord gives is the bond between us and God.

For the men here, when a woman asks for something, when a favor is requested, when you’re begged for something, you’ve probably answered like this: “Hmm, what should I do?” Any experiences like that? No, there must be. (LOL)

It’s not a feeling of wanting to be mean; it comes from the desire to deepen the relationship between the two. Yes, Jesus is inviting us to become more fervent in prayer to deepen our faith and trust in Him.

So, what happens? What did this reliable friend give? Three loaves of bread? No, far beyond what we desire and think, this friend gives “anything needed.” This illustrates the need for us to realize our powerlessness when we cannot do anything for the travelers. When we realize that, we can be transformed into those who rely on this friend, who can provide everything needed, through prayer.

Now, let’s serve as intercessors for the returee ministry.

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