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.

Pureppu Devotion ③ The house of prayer breaks the horns

Zechariah 1:18-21:

“When I lifted up my eyes and looked, behold, there were four horns. So I said to the angel who was speaking with me, ‘What are these?’ And he answered me, ‘These are the horns that have scattered Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem.’ Then the Lord showed me four craftsmen. And I said, ‘What are these coming to do?’ He said, ‘These are the horns that have scattered Judah so that no man lifts up his head, but these craftsmen have come to terrify them, to throw down the horns of the nations who have lifted up their horns against the land of Judah to scatter it.'”

Through the PREPPU platform, I am grateful to share a message for the third time today.

In the first message, we discussed a story from the Book of Jonah, emphasizing that God cares for the souls of those returning to Japan.

In the second message, we explored the question, “What can we do for returnees?” Drawing from Luke 11, we learned that even if we cannot provide the necessary bread for the traveler, we can ask a friend for bread, highlighting the power of intercessory prayer.

Today’s third message is titled “The House of Prayer Breaks the Horns.” In the Bible, the term “horns” symbolizes power. For many saved Japanese returning home, the challenge is not just the lack of necessities but the various difficulties they face upon return. Sinister forces work to prevent them from leading a life of faith, causing many to drift away from the church.

So, what can we do? Today, let’s turn to the book of Zechariah for guidance.

Israel, once held captive in Babylon due to their departure from God, repented in Babylon and turned back to faith. Through God’s miraculous guidance, they were able to return to Israel. Joyfully arriving in Jerusalem, they began reconstructing the temple, intending to center their lives around worship.

However, obstacles arose. The Samaritans, neighboring Israel, envied their new beginning and sought to hinder the reconstruction. Through threats and deceit, they tried to obstruct the rebuilding of the temple.

As a result, the people’s spirits waned, and the flame that should have burned bright dwindled. Facing difficulties upon their return, they were unable to engage in worship. To encourage the desolate Israel, God sent the prophet Zechariah, who presented visions.

One of these visions, the one opened today, depicts the scene of four horns, representing the threatening powers of Assyria, Egypt, Babylon, and Persia—the nations that posed a threat to Israel. The horns symbolize various forces that surrounded Israel, posing a threat to God’s people.

When we think of animals with horns, we may imagine deer, rhinos, or goats. When these animals fight, what do they use? Their “horns.” Thus, in the Bible, the term “horns” is used to symbolize a formidable power.

As those rebuilding the temple faced hindrances, horns approached from the north, south, west, and east. Forces opposed to the temple construction exerted pressure on those starting the work.

Similarly, in the journey of faith in Japan, various forces often hinder progress through worries, temptations, trials, and persecutions. In such times, what should one do? Should they rely on military strength, as Israel did in the past? Or should they seek help from a reliable kingdom?

No, that’s not the solution. God showed Zechariah a vision of four craftsmen breaking the horns in a way that was not accomplished by warriors or kings but by craftsmen.

It was the hammer wielded by these craftsmen that could break the horns. Upon waking from the dream, Zechariah likely heard the sounds of construction continuing outside his window. Quietly, the voice of God may have reassured him: “Do not be afraid; just build the temple.” Above all, build the “house of prayer.” This is the key to breaking every horn. God, through the vision, had already shown the victory.

In Israel, there were craftsmen building the temple to break every opposing horn. Therefore, prayer could be offered.

For EC, who are the builders of the “house of prayer”? It is us, isn’t it? So, let us, as God’s craftsmen, pray for the scattering of the souls returning to Japan, breaking every horn that seeks to hinder them.

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