• 11 Apr
    The god who spoke

    The god who spoke

    On Aug. 15, 1945, a ‘god’ spoke. When Emperor Hirohito of Japan directly addressed his subjects for the very first time, life came to a temporary standstill around the world. Hirohito’s announcement of Japan’s unconditional surrender not only ended a war and brought peace, but it also ended the myth that the emperor of Japan was divine. He spoke and the world changed.

    Because of this historical event, much changed in Japan as well. A new constitution was adopted and war was renounced. Democratic ideas took root in Japan and the emperor was reduced to a figurehead. Japanese industries flourished and a new middle class emerged resulting in a booming economy. The phrase “Made in Japan” stamped on manufactured goods was no longer derided as symbol of cheapness or inferiority, but esteemed as a mark of quality and success. Expensive vacations, quality education, designer clothes, and the latest electronic gadgets could be purchased by the masses and it seemed the lone threat to a peaceful, prosperous society was the legendary Godzilla!

    Certainly much changed after the emperor spoke, but in some regards nothing changed. The god of war had only been replaced by the gods of materialism and education. At the same time, the traditional gods of Japan continued to be venerated through worship at Shinto god shelves or Buddhist altars in homes throughout the country. Japanese still make periodic pilgrimages to the local shrines or temples for various life events and rely on purchased good luck charms for success and protection. Such things continue to retain a strong grip on the Japanese heart so even though the Only True God has spoken, few in Japan seem to be listening.

    On May 1stof this year, a new emperor will ascend the throne, replacing his elderly father, and inaugurate a new era. This assures that the oldest monarchical house in the world will continue. But, unlike their predecessors, post-war emperors now frequently appear in public as the traditional shrouds of secrecy surrounding them have been partially lifted. Their voices are now familiar, but when will the voice of God break through to Japanese hearts and inaugurate the coming of God’s kingdom rule upon this land?

    Let’s plead with God, like the Israelites did in Egypt. Plead that God would speak to Japanese hearts and that there would be an outpouring of the Holy Spirit like we’ve never seen before.

    By Mike, an OMF missionary

    Will you pray for Japan?

    • Pray that Japanese people will hear and seek the only true God.
    • Pray for spiritual breakthrough in Japan.
    • Pray for the leaders in Japan, that they would also know and follow the true God.


    Download resources to help you pray for Japan.


    Learn more about OMF Japan.


    Find out about serving with OMF Japan.

  • 26 Mar

    Worshipping God through Suffering

    Mission Round Table Vol. 13 No. 3 (Sep-Dec 2017): 35-39

    Walter McConnell

    Walter directs OMF International’s Mission Research Department. An American, he has previously served in Taiwan as a church planter and theological educator, taught Old Testament at Singapore Bible College where he also directed the Ichthus Centre for Biblical and Theological Research, and served as pastor at the Belfast Chinese Christian Church. This article is adapted from a chapter in his forthcoming book, An Introduction to Biblical Worship.

    Life does not consist of nothing but warm sunny days and peaceful ease. Suffering, in some form, affects us all, causing us to cry out in pain or scream that life is unfair. Many things—the loss of a spouse through death, divorce, or dementia, inability to find a marriage partner or conceive a child, failure to find or keep a job, psychological or sexual abuse, physical pain, depression, etc.—rob us of the joy we desire. Equally they impact our relationship with God, particularly with regard to worship. How can we worship God in and through our suffering? If worship is all about celebration and praising the Lord for all the good things he has done, how can I approach him in my grief and pain? Do I have to “fake it” and pretend that things are OK when they’re not? Do I need to quit attending Christian activities until I can get it together again and I feel like praising God?

    These questions show how difficult it is for many of us to come to God in worship in the midst of personal suffering. They also show that our understanding of worship is often inadequate. Worship is not merely a matter of singing from a joyful heart about the wonders of who God is and the marvelous things he has done. At its most basic, worship—as it is developed in the Bible—consists of bowing down before God in submission to his will, fearing him for his majesty and power, and serving him in our daily lives whether by specific acts of worship or by simply doing that which pleases God. As our relationship with God encompasses all of life, it is possible, indeed essential, that we learn how to worship God through the rough times when mumbling, “Praise the Lord, anyway,” simply won’t do. Thankfully the Bible not only alerts us that we can worship in times of pain, it also helps us along the way by telling stories of people who called out to God in their need and preserving literary forms designed to be used by those bringing laments to God. It thus provides models and materials to be used by those who grieve or otherwise experience trouble.

    The Bible nowhere disguises the reality that life can be difficult. In the beginning Adam’s sin forced him from the blissful garden to face an existence of painful, sweaty toil in order to have food to eat. His son Cain, after killing his brother Abel, was driven from the land and forced to wander from place to place as the ground refused to yield its crops to him. In these examples, suffering came as the result of one’s sin. But this is not always so. Noah, the righteous and blameless man, was required to build an ark in order to rescue his family and the animals of the world from the great depravity of other people in his time. Though chosen by God, Abraham and Sarah lived a nomadic existence and felt the pain and shame of not being able to bear a son until old age. Concluding that Joseph had been torn apart by wild animals, Jacob refused to be comforted and cried out that he would descend to Sheol in mourning for his son. Hannah’s inability to bear a child, compounded by the provocation of her rival, prompted her to cry out to God that he might give her a son. David experienced the sting of sin when his adultery with Bathsheba was uncovered and when the child she bore died despite his fervent prayers. Later in life he had other reasons for calling out to God due to personal attacks from his associates and family members. Many of the writing prophets were caught up in the sin of their people to the extent that they were carried off into exile, or, in the case of Jeremiah, to Egypt.

    These Old Testament stories are but a small sample of the Bible’s instruction on how people respond to difficulties in life. Far from exhausting the biblical testimony about trouble and lamentation, they are supplemented by numerous New Testament accounts of broken people seeking Jesus for healing and of the apostles suffering for their testimony that Jesus was the Christ. According to Paul, the apostles faced pressures that were so far beyond their ability to cope that they despaired of life (2 Cor 1:8; cf. Rom 9:2). As he saw it, this situation had a positive angle that forced them not to rely upon themselves but turn to the God who answered their prayers and the prayers of the churches they founded.

    Not even Jesus was preserved from life’s pressures and trials. Indeed, the “man of sorrows” (Isa 53:3) faced rejection throughout his earthly ministry and ultimately suffered the cruelest of deaths after his agonizing vigil in the Garden of Gethsemane during which he informed his closest disciples, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death” (Mark 14:34). As he hung on the cross Jesus cried out to the Father, not with praise, but with words drawn from one of the lament psalms: “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?  . . . My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt 27:46; Mark 15:34; cf. Ps 22:1). His final words were likewise drawn from a psalm of lament: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46; cf. Ps 31:5). The hour in which Jesus performed his greatest act of worship was marked by sorrow, suffering, and prayers of lamentation to God.

    That both testaments frequently acknowledge that people face pain and distress[1] and that they bring them before God through prayer in open worship contrasts greatly with the way many Christians face it today. While everyone suffers grief and disappointment, many apparently believe that followers of Jesus should only express joy and praise. This common reaction is deceptive, as it downplays our personal experience of pain and contradicts the biblical testimony of how the saints of old and the Christ responded to their troubles. As Brueggemann has pointed out, in the modern church “we have believed that faith does not mean to acknowledge and embrace negativity.”[2] This may be because we have been inordinately influenced by a success driven and forward looking culture that thinks all negatives can and should be overcome.[3] Or it may spring from a misplaced conviction that followers of Jesus should experience no problems in life. However, where our experience and the testimony of Scripture differ from our practice, we must ask some penetrating questions that will help us get back on track. To help us find our way to worship God in the midst of suffering, loss, and disappointment, this paper addresses biblical teaching about the nature and use of lament, particularly in the psalms of lament.

    What is a lament?

    As used in the Bible, a lament can be an action associated with mourning (such as wearing sackcloth or beating one’s breast) or a poetic or musical composition (e.g., a dirge) that would be recited or sung during a period of mourning. In Old and New Testament times laments were practiced by all people in society and were commonly led by the king and prophets, both of whom might write the dirges that would be sung (2 Sam 1:17–27; 3:33–34; 2 Chron 35:25). Any situation that causes a person or group to mourn can prompt a lament. Even potential tragedies can be seen as a reason to bring a lament to God. Although the Hebrew words are immediately associated with the actions of lament, the composition is more important for our purposes as we study the biblical texts. The biblical laments, however, exist to guide us through the actions.

    The most accessible biblical resource for those facing difficulties is the psalms of lament.[4] The psalmists experienced all the seasons of life. They knew what it is to rejoice and they knew what it is to grieve. In every experience they would turn to God, let him know what they felt, and ask him to help them through. No matter that suffering was God’s punishment for personal sin or the result of someone else’s sin, the psalmists acknowledged that life can be extremely difficult and that it is right for a believer to bring their pain, confusion, and frustration to God. Their psalms of lament provide models of the right way to complain to God. Lest someone think that these psalms were a rarity, it is commonly noted that around sixty of the 150 biblical psalms are laments, making it the largest grouping of psalms by genre.[5] Moberly states,

    Such predominance of laments at the very heart of Israel’s prayers means that the problems that give rise to lament are not something marginal or unusual but rather are central to the life of faith…. Moreover they show that the experience of anguish and puzzlement in the life of faith is not a sign of deficient faith, something to be outgrown or put behind one, but rather is intrinsic to the very nature of faith.[6]

    Since more than one-third of all the psalms fall into this category, we are presented with a tremendous challenge. Why would God place such an emphasis on lament in the Bible? Could it be that they were included simply because Israel specially needed this type of psalm due to their regular persecution and because they frequently fell under God’s wrath due to sin? What is true for the Old Covenant community is equally true for the church. The New Testament testifies that Jesus, his apostles, and the early church faced major opposition and persecution. As Jesus told his disciples, “In the world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33). He similarly informed them that, “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also” (John 15:20). And whether trouble comes from without or within, lament, as a God-given resource, empowers us to present our needs to God and ask him to resolve our difficulties and bring us back to praise.

    One other thing we should learn from the amount of space given in the Bible to lamentation is that, “The lament itself is a form of worship.”[7] While many will find this contrary to everything they have heard about worship, the prominent place lament has in biblical narrative and its key position in the Psalter make it clear that saints have long considered lament to be an important means of worshipping God in difficult times. It is our way of entreating him for mercy in times of difficulty. It is our means of reassessing our situation in light of God’s power and grace. It is how we should approach God with honesty and hope that he will meet us in our pain, sympathize with us in our confusion, and enable us to praise him again. Note that the connection between lament and worship gives us grounds for reassessing our understanding of what worship is and does. Far from being limited to singing songs of praise, worship takes hold of all of life as we live it out in humble service before God.

    The psalms of lament are, from an emotional point of view, the opposite of a hymn of praise, as they are experienced as “psalms in a minor key” that provide words for those in trouble or despair so that they can raise their complaints and petitions to God.[8] Though commonly divided into individual psalms of lament and corporate psalms of lament, there is an additional distinction between them, as some locate the source of difficulty in one’s circumstances and seek God’s deliverance while others identify God as the one who brings the trouble and entreat him to withhold his hand. No matter what circumstances prompted their composition, these psalms acknowledge that life can be most troublesome and that the affairs of life often make it difficult if not impossible for God’s people to express joy and sing his praises. Laments are therefore primarily intended to help people present their needs to God and ask him to resolve their difficulties and bring them back to praise.

    Lament psalms are prayers addressed to God as the one who understands our difficulties and who is entreated to intervene. By praying these psalms we are directed to identify the source of pain and to look beyond it as God leads us through our trials and heartaches and restores our ability to praise. They thus become models to follow, guides that lead us from pain to praise, from fear to faith. Indeed, as the believing community acknowledges that life is fraught with danger and disorder, these prayers become “an act of bold faith.”[9] No matter what brings our difficulties, these prayers give us the opportunity to express tremendous confidence in God. The way the laments restore us to praise anchors them in communal worship, for it is only in the presence of others that one can rightly praise God. Though most Christian worship is bereft of lamentation, we would benefit from its rediscovery.

    Psalms of lament make it clear that pain and difficulties come from many sources. Enemies (whether military or political) threaten (Pss 13:2; 22:6–8, 12–13, 16–18, 20–21; 44:10–16), rulers abuse their authority (Ps 58:1–2), illness weakens, and death seems imminent (Pss 38; 41; 88). Even so, lament psalms do not identify the enemies or illnesses with any detail. In this they contrast greatly from laments found in the historical books of the Bible that expressly state the circumstances in which they were uttered (e.g., Josh 7:7–9; Judg 21:3). Even so, their lack of specificity greatly helps those who use the psalms as they can be adopted to suit many different circumstances. This allows modern worshippers to read their problems into the psalm as they use it for prayer.

    The psalms of lament—particularly the communal laments—also benefit worshippers by showing them that the psalmists could feel that God was absent. They express their experience that God has rejected (Pss 43:2; 44:9), abandoned (Lam 2:7), or forgotten (Ps 42:9) them. At times it seems that he has hidden his face (Pss 13:1; 44:24) or fallen asleep (Ps 44:23). God’s perceived failure to help prompts them to ask the questions “Why?” and “How long?” “Why, O Lord, do you stand afar off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” (Ps 10:1). “O God, why do you cast us off forever? Why does your anger smoke against the sheep of your pasture?” (Ps 74:1). By asking “Why?” the psalmist demonstrates his feelings that God is in some way responsible for his trouble. Could it be that God doesn’t care about his plight? Is he impotent to deal with the problem? Or is he punishing the lamenter for some reason?

    The same thing happens when the psalmist asks “How long?” The difference is that this question “implies distress of some duration.”[10] The difficulties keep going on and on. In spite of the passing of time, it seems that God will do nothing to deal with the problems his people face. “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?” (Ps 13:1–2). When trouble and grief continue without end, it is imperative that one confesses his feelings of abandonment and unease to God and then expresses his trust that, despite his circumstances or feelings, God will surely intervene (Ps 13:5–6).

    The place of lament in the Psalter indicates that God is interested in pain as much as he is in joy. This should give us hope to approach him for help during a time of difficulty. Even more, we should be encouraged that even as God has helped people in the past he will help us now. The words written by the psalmists encourage us that we too can dare to approach God in anger, fear, and doubt because that is how we feel at the time even if it does not reflect our reasoned theological beliefs. One who comes to God in grief or pain does not have to pretend everything is alright or come up with the “right words” that God will accept. Rather, they can know that they can trust God to accept their feelings even when they don’t know what to say. And even though we may not receive a speedy answer to our questions, the fact that we address God as the one who hears and will answer indicates that the light of faith has already begun to penetrate the clouds of despair.

    Even so, simply praying a psalm of lament does not ensure an instant solution to all problems so that God’s people will only experience praise. Those who have lost a loved one cannot, by prayer, bring them back or be rid of the grief that will ever pursue them. Raising a lament to God does not free a person entering the early stages of Alzheimer’s from facing a future of fear and forgetfulness. A woman who cries, “How long, O Lord?” as she agonizes over an abusive relationship may not be instantly freed from her assailant. It is therefore essential that we never consider lament psalms to be magical formulas that ensure praise will immediately fill the lives of those who pray them. As the crisis that leads to the lament may last for a long period of time before it is resolved, we may need to pray the psalms of lament over and over again as we face our trials.[11] But as the form of biblical lament indicates, those in trouble need to be steered in the direction of hope. God hears our prayers, cares about our situation, and will come to our aid. Since God will certainly intervene, we can be sure that praise will follow.

    Lament and the church

    Lament is rarely given a substantial place in the church, as worship is usually equated with joy and celebration. Expressions of pain, fear, or grief are regularly viewed as symptoms of unbelief or treated as embarrassing abnormalities that should be politely ignored. Strangely, this sidelining of the hurting is similarly present in many modern funerals which have replaced ministry to the grieving and proclaiming the gospel message that death has been overcome in Jesus Christ with a simple recounting of what made the deceased special. This situation is unacceptable because it marginalizes suffering and those who suffer and because it ignores a great body of biblical material that was written to help people through difficult times.[12] When we leave no room for lament in our worship we may well give the impression that people struggling with grief, trauma, and abandonment are either substandard Christians or that they have been left to plough through their difficulties on their own.

    Few Christians have experienced relief from grief or pain through a liturgical use of biblical lament. The closest that most of us have to experiencing relief from grief or pain through lament comes through praying prayers of confession and absolution. While some may simply mouth the words and fail to experience any change, the prayers are designed to lead us from despair to joy as we acknowledge that in spite of our sins, God forgives us and assures us that we receive pardon through Jesus Christ. In many services, the prayer of absolution is followed by a hymn of praise to emphasize the joy that one should feel after being forgiven.

    Although the words used in these prayers are often taken from the New Testament, they reflect themes that reverberate throughout the psalms but are most closely related to the seven psalms of penitence which have been recognized from the early Christian centuries—Psalms 6; 32; 38; 51; 102; 130; and 143.[13] Although the early church often reserved these psalms for those who were sick or dying, they quickly became an integral part of personal piety of those seeking deliverance from sin and guilt. Modern Christians who are burdened by sin can similarly employ this ancient biblical pattern. If one of these psalms was read and commented on during confession, the congregation could more intelligently adopt the words of the lament while bringing their needs to God. Similarly, a sermon based on one of these psalms could help a congregation understand its purpose in ancient Israel and how to use it today when confessing sins.

    In addition to serving as an aid in confession, psalms of lament can be used in many other ways. Since God is the great physician, prayers for the sick can be meaningfully incorporated into worship. Individuals who are ailing can come forward so that hands can be laid on them and prayer offered up for their healing. As many of the lament psalms were written for those experiencing physical illness, there is great pastoral value in making them part of our prayers. Not only do they provide the suffering with words to express their feelings and fears to God in faith, they also point them to the hope that God will hear their prayer, intervene for them, and give them reason to praise his name again. Learned in public worship, these words from the Bible can be taken home so that a person can address God again when praying for oneself or someone else.

    Psalms that can be prayed for the sick include Psalms 20; 38; and 41. One should be careful in the use of these psalms as some of them relate illness to personal sin. Such a psalm should be used in a case where sin is present but perhaps exchanged for another when sin is not an issue. Another caution in the use of these psalms is that the words uttered should never be considered a magical formula for physical healing. Long ago the Jewish Rabbis warned that the Psalms were only for spiritual healing and that those who used them for physical healing were guilty of sorcery and should be considered heretics.[14] While they may be overstating the case here, their warning should be heeded lest we descend into sub-Christian practice.

    While psalms of lament should be used when praying for the sick, to limit them to that function implies that those suffering from other problems are less significant. The welcome that Jesus showed as he embraced the world of his day should impel us to welcome everyone in need to come for prayer. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt 11:28). The weary, the burdened, the abused, the ignored, the unemployed, all need Jesus and all can be strengthened by praying the psalms of lament and searching for God’s hope that is an integral part of the prayers.

    Reaching beyond the individual, when a church, a nation, or the world is facing a crisis of some sort, services of lament are in order. People throughout the world are suffering for any variety of reasons—natural or manmade. Earthquakes, typhoons, tsunamis, wildfires, and volcanic eruptions strike without regard for one’s religious orientation. The same can be said with regard to war and social disorder. In other cases, Christians can be singled out for direct attack by governments or other members of society. When disasters of this kind hit, it is only right to demand of God, “Why?” When evil is constantly perpetrated, how can one not ask the Judge of heaven, “How long?” and then plead that he put the evildoers in their place and destroy their works? When trouble or disaster hits a large body of believers, the appropriate response is to bring a corporate lament to God whether during the main weekly service of a church or a special service.

    Services of lament are particularly needful when it becomes impossible to take part in a service of praise that contradicts personal and corporate feelings and experience. At such times, bringing heartache and confusion to God may be the only thing that makes worship possible. Joining their brothers and sisters in lament gives sufferers an opportunity to take hold of the faith of others who are grieving along with them or have grieved in the past. When the group has worked through the time of trouble by bringing it to the Lord of all mercy and receiving his answers, it becomes possible for them to return to God with words of praise.

    The use of lament in worship need not be reserved for exceptional times of tragedy. It can, and arguably should, become part of our regular worship of God as we traverse the seasons of the year. One of the best ways that this can be done is to integrate lament into our celebration of the Christian Year. As this cycle of feasts developed in early church history, two penitential seasons—Advent and Lent—took prominent place. Sadly, for many churches today the penitential longing of Advent and Lent has been eclipsed by the glory of Christmas and Easter (and often obliterated by the glitter of commercialism). Even so, our desire to experience the joy of Christ’s birth and resurrection should not deprive us of time to consider the wonder of the incarnation that brought on our Savior’s suffering. By becoming man, the Creator faced obscurity, the Almighty experienced rejection and ridicule, the Righteous One endured temptation without giving in to sin, and the eternal Lord died for the sins of others. These sober realities require somber reflection. As the seasons of Advent and Lent are designed to give us time to consider these themes, we should avail ourselves of this opportunity.

    This does not mean that the seasons should only focus on fasting and solemn thoughts. Advent and Lent, while not designed to follow the structure of the psalms of lament, work in a similar direction since they begin by focusing on sin, suffering, and weakness, and end with celebrations of hope and joy. Like the laments, both seasons are imbued with eschatological hope. As the Old Testament saints remembered God’s past salvation while awaiting deliverance from their times of trouble, those who celebrate Christmas and Easter remember what God accomplished by sending Jesus as they await the second coming when Christ will fully establish his kingdom, judge the world of sin, and allow us to experience the resurrection life for ourselves.


    Restoring lament to our worship clearly benefits the church in numerous ways. In recognition that life is not always joyful, it allows us to live through the difficult times in God’s presence. This is true whether the difficulty is the result of a natural disaster, traumatic experience, or chronic illness. The inclusion of lament may allow those who may have felt marginalized due to their problems to enter into worship in a new way. It can help us come to a new perspective about sin and the hope we have that Christ has sufficiently dealt with it on the cross. As we follow the pattern set out in the psalms of lament, we learn that we can boldly bring all of our troubles before the Lord who will hear us, intervene for us, and give us the hope that we will praise him again in this world and be freed from trouble in the next.

    [1] For an argument that distress is a dominant motif in the book of Psalms, see Philip S. Johnston, “The Psalms and Distress,” in Interpreting the Psalms: Issues and Approaches (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2005), 63–84.

    [2] Walter Brueggemann, The Message of the Psalms: A Theological Commentary (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1984), 52.

    [3] Brueggemann, The Message of the Psalms, 53.

    [4] In addition to the lament psalms, other biblical examples of lament include various passages in Job (especially 29–31), Jeremiah (11:18–12:6; 15:10–21; 17:12–18; 18:18–23; 20:7–18), Lamentations, and Habakkuk (1:2–4).

    [5] Bernhard Anderson lists forty-eight individual laments, thirteen communal laments (with two more questionable), and several psalms of mixed genre that include lament. Bernhard W. Anderson, Out of the Depths: The Psalms Speak for Us Today, 3rd ed. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2000), 219–23. Evidently using slightly different criteria, Broyles finds roughly thirty-nine individual laments and twenty-three corporate laments in the Psalter. Craig C. Broyles, “Lament, Psalms of,” in Dictionary of the Old Testament: Wisdom, Poetry and Writings, Tremper Longman III and Peter Enns, eds. (Downers Grove: IVP Academic and Nottingham: IVP, 2008), 388–9, 391.

    [6] R. W. L. Moberly, “Lament,” in New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis, Willem A. VanGemeren, ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997), 4:879.

    [7] Roland Murphy, “The Psalms and Worship,” Ex Auditu 8 (1992): 25. See also Michael Jinkins, In the House of the Lord: Inhabiting the Psalms of Lament (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical, 1998), 33.

    [8] Though generally categorized as psalms of lament, some scholars refer to them as psalms of complaint or psalms of petition. It can also be reasonably argued that they could be categorized as psalms of prayer. See Broyles, “Lament,” 386–87. Since all of these motifs are present in some but not all psalms that follow the genre, the use of one term as a label should not diminish the importance of the others.

    [9] Brueggemann, The Message of the Psalms, 52. His italics.

    [10] Claus Westermann, Praise and Lament in the Psalms (Atlanta: John Knox, 1981), 177.

    [11] John D. Witvliet, Worship Seeking Understanding: Windows into Christian Practice (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003), 46–47.

    [12] Allen Verhey, Reading the Bible in the Strange World of Medicine (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 123.

    [13] Of these, Psalm 32 is usually categorized as a psalm of thanksgiving rather than a psalm of lament. According to Broyles, only Psalms 32; 51; and 130 are chiefly concerned with sin and forgiveness. Broyles, “Lament,” 389.

    [14] Shevuot 15b; Rambam, Hilchot Avodat Kochavim 11:12.

  • 28 Jan
    A New Way to Pray –

    A New Way to Pray –

    OMF is passionate about sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with East Asia’s peoples, but knowing what to pray can be hard. has our latest prayer resources in one place.

    Will you join us in prayer for East Asia’s people?

    #ANewWaytoPray #TheTaskUnfinished

    By commsassist Prayer
  • 05 Dec
    Partnering in the Task Unfinished

    Partnering in the Task Unfinished

    Partnering in

    the Task Unfinished

    5x5x5 Prayer:

    Five Minutes, Five Days, Five Topics

    Digital Prayer Guide

    Read the prayer guide online on any device with an internet connection.

    We invite you to pray for partnership in the Task Unfinished —for just five minutes a day, for five days, for FIVE STRATEGIC AREAS. Your prayers will open doors for the gospel, transform situations and bring great glory to God.

    Printable Colour PDF Prayer Guide

    Left-click to open in browser or right-click and click “save link as” or “download linked file” to download to your computer.

    Printable B&W PDF Prayer Guide

    Left-click to open in browser or right-click and click “save link as” or “download linked file” to download to your computer.

    Digital Prayer Guide

    It’s been said that the ‘the Great Commission is too big for anyone to accomplish alone and too important not to try to do together.’

    So partnership is a vital part of cross-cultural missions. Much more can be done together than if God’s people all go their separate ways and work independently. But good partnerships take time, effort and continued commitment if they are going to be fruitful and effective.

    This is why we need to pray for gospel partnerships in every area, from sending out cross-cultural workers, to teams laboring together and partnerships with local churches. When done well, gospel partnership can be a great encouragement to all parties and itself be a good witness to the gospel as people see how Christians work with one another.

    Day One


    When cross-cultural workers are sent out with OMF they are sent out in a partnership between the organization and their sending churches. This partnership is vital for the workers’ effectiveness and also benefits their sending churches. Through good sending partnerships, the gospel is spread widely and God is glorified.

    Lord, we give thanks for sending churches, partnering with members working cross-culturally. Help them to be good gospel partners, serving their members well, providing for their needs and helping them bear much fruit for you.
    Lord, please help cross-cultural workers to partner well with their sending churches, both before and after they go out. Help them see ways they can serve and encourage these churches.
    Lord, we pray for partnerships with Bible colleges and student organizations to bear much fruit. May these partnerships help raise awareness of the continued need for cross-cultural mission and help take the gospel to new people and places.

    Day Two


    The Apostle Paul was thankful for his co-laborers in the gospel who worked alongside him in planting churches and sharing the gospel. His letters also show there were sometimes difficulties and disagreements in these partnerships, but that by working together much more could be done for the spread of the gospel. Missionaries today still need prayer for good partnerships with their fellow workers.

    Lord, thank you for how you bring together people with complimentary skills in your mission. Though one may plant and another water, it is you that gives the growth. Please make these seeds of the gospel grow.
    Lord, we pray for missionaries to work together well and consider how they can best support one another in ministry.
    Lord, we pray for increased fruitful cooperation between cross-cultural workers so that your kingdom would be built.

    Day Three


    Local Christians often have the personal skills that are essential for engaging with people in their communities. But it is often missionaries who can provide the vision, training and resources that local churches feel they are lacking. So when churches and missionaries partner together well, the gospel can be shared more widely and effectively.

    Lord, we pray that missionaries and local Christians would want to work together and would see the benefits of partnering together.
    Lord, please help local Christians and missionaries to partner together well. May cross-cultural workers enable and strengthen the initiatives of local Christians rather than always leading ministries themselves.
    Lord, wise missionaries and churches see that they have much to learn from one another. We ask that missionaries and local Christians would be able to learn from each other and be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.

    Day Four


    Partnerships between Christian organizations are a great way of bringing people with different gifts and skills together to reach an unreached people group or location. But bringing the parties together can take a lot of time and effort and crosscultural partnerships bring extra challenges.

    Lord, thank you for how you can use partnerships between different organizations to bring the good news about Jesus to new people and places. Please help leaders as they look at partnerships to invest in.
    Lord, may there be good attention to detail in developing partnerships between different organizations so that they can be as effective and fruitful as possible.
    Lord, we pray that organizations would be willing to put in the effort to develop lasting, fruitful gospel partnerships. Please help these partnerships to be sustained beyond the initial enthusiasm for them, that they would bear much fruit.

    Day Five


    A shared vision and mission can bring Christians together, but shared biblical values are needed to keep a partnership together in changing circumstances. As partnerships develop, tensions may emerge that need to be resolved. And as partnerships are watched by the wider community, good biblical partnerships can be an excellent witness to the goodness of the gospel.

    Lord, we pray that each missionary who wants to partner with others will regularly examine their own life and spiritual health in order to be a good gospel partner.
    Lord, where tensions emerge in partnerships, we ask that these would be resolved well through prayer and that reconciliation would be the objective. —–
    Lord , we pray that all gospel partnerships will be a powerful testimony of Christian love to those who observe them. Please help gospel partners to be self-effacing and Christ-exalting.
    Lord, thank you that you are the God who gives endurance and encouragement. Please give gospel partners the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice they may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 15:5-6).

    Next Steps

    Is God drawing you to more focused prayer or involvement in gospel partnerships? Consider these next steps you could take:

    LEARN. Discover more about our partnerships by visiting
    GO. Is God leading you to serve East Asia’s unreached peoples personally? For more information visit the OMF Opportunities site.
    PARTNER. OMF’s long-term workers in East Asia are committed to sowing seeds of the gospel among unreached peoples. Partnering with a worker is an amazing way to see God’s work unfold in real-time. Visit the Contact page to request more information from your local center.

  • 09 Nov
    What Do Prayer Walks Achieve? A Church’s Birth Story

    What Do Prayer Walks Achieve? A Church’s Birth Story

    The Sunny people are hard to reach. Not just spiritually, but physically. Living in remote mountains and valleys in East Asia, straight, well-paved roads can be hard come by if you want to visit a Sunny village. And so you have to improvise. Maybe ride a dirt bike or a bicycle or a pickup truck. Sometimes kayaks are necessary.

    All of these modes of transportation have been used by John* and the prayer walking teams he led as part of taking the gospel to the Sunny.

    Numbering more than 100,000, the Sunny are poor, subsistence farmers. Traditionally, they hold a mixture of Buddhist and animist beliefs. As of 2012, there were no churches amongst the Sunny and less than 10 Sunny Christians. That’s when the prayer walks began.

    The Harvest is Plentiful?

    John had been in the area for a few years by that point, learning about the Sunny culture while working with a business. The idea of using prayer walking teams stemmed from reading Luke 10:2, where Jesus says, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” John knew that other Christians, from all around the world, needed to be involved with the Sunny if they were to experience spiritual breakthrough. Workers of all kinds and durations, including short-term prayer warriors, were needed for the Sunny.

    Between 2012-2016, more than 45 prayer walking teams visited John in Southeast Asia and prayed amongst more than 200 Sunny villages. Most of the teams came from the U.S., but groups from Singapore, Australia, Thailand, and other parts of the world came as well. The trips lasted from three to 10 days.

    Michael Williams, Prayer Mobilization Manager for OMF U.S., notes the special role that prayer walking can play in working amongst an unreached people group. “There is something that awakens when I am in the geographical context in which I am praying,” he says. “When you pray onsite, you get to smell, taste, and see what you are praying for. It inspires greater prayer with more depth and insight.”

    you get to smell, taste, and see what you are praying for. It inspires greater prayer with more depth and insight

    Preparation for prayer walking trips usually often takes longer than the trips themselves. John was constantly in contact with trip leaders coming to pray for the Sunny, suggesting ways the group could begin praying before the trip as well as providing logistical details. The teams were required to begin prayer walking in their home country before coming to Asia to do so. Once arriving, the team was given at least a full day of orientation, during which John would explain God’s heart for the nations and the role that prayer walking could play in God’s work amongst the Sunny.

    Praying in Person

    Having been prepared and oriented, the group would then set off to pray. The format for prayer was pretty simple, John explained. The group used each hand as a way to remember how to pray. On the five fingers of the first hand the team would pray for “open hearts, open heavens, open homes, open highways, and open hands.” The other hand reminded the team member to focus prayer on five different types of locations: government, education (e.g. schools), marketplaces (businesses), community places (parks, restaurants etc.), and place of worship (temples).

    Persevering in Prayer

    As the groups went along, they would not only pray, but also build relationships with the villagers. Sometimes, they would pray for various medical or spiritual needs that some of the Sunny people they met had. One year, a team met a guy who had problems breathing; they prayed for him and it got better. The next year, another prayer walking team went back to his village and the man wanted to be baptized. Others in the village did the same. Later, John went back to train a small group of believers. It was the beginnings of a Sunny church.

    Groups encountered a variety of challenges while prayer walking. Occasionally, mechanical issues with a dirt bike could arise. John related the story of how a screw fell off one of the team member’s tires in a remote area. Soon after, a mini-van pulled up and had the exact screw that was needed to fix the bike; the group was able to continue on the prayer journey. Sometimes, however, the challenges were more serious. There were times when the village leaders didn’t trust the foreigners visiting their village or when police asked them to leave.

    Spiritually, one of the challenges was to persevere in prayer. John notes how there was one area that prayer walking teams visited multiple times over a two year period before seeing anyone place their faith in Christ. Over time, though, more and more Sunny became followers of Jesus in that area, as well as throughout Southeast Asia. Today, there are nearly 250 Sunny believers and six Sunny churches. John credits God’s work through the prayer walks as a major reason for the growth.

    “Every significant place where we’ve seen spiritual breakthrough had been prayer walked before,” he says.

    John’s work has now shifted from leading prayer walking teams of mostly foreign Christians to discipling Sunny believers, who are now doing prayer walking themselves amongst unreached people groups in the area. God has answered John’s prayer from Luke 10:2 in multiple ways – by raising up prayer walking teams, of course, but also by mobilizing longer-term workers from amongst the prayer walking teams, as well as people supporting the work financially, and now raising up Sunny believers to take on the work themselves.

    Will you pray for Workers in New Communities?

    • Give thanks for how God has answered the prayers of those on the many prayer walks, which have prepared the ground for a Sunny church.
    • Pray for other unreached people groups that need prayer like the Sunny people.
    • Pray for more Christian to go on prayer walks in unreached areas and make a real impact through their prayers.
    • Pray for those who went on prayer journeys among the Sunny; that they might continue faithfully praying, perhaps go on other prayer trips or become involved in other ways.


    Explore how you could serve in reaching new communities with the gospel.

    The Task Unfinished

    Be a part of helping bring the gospel to the unreached in Asia.

    Pray With Us

    Will you pray with us for workers in new communities?

  • 10 Jul
    Over 30 years in Japan

    Over 30 years in Japan

    Experiencing over 30 years of OMF history in Japan

    My wife and I have served with OMF in Japan for over 30 years.  When I first joined in 1987, there were no computers, internet or mobile phones.  First term missionaries weren’t even allowed to have a land line phone.  How times have changed!  Now it is hard to imagine living and ministering here without these modern conveniences.

    The Gospel of Jesus Christ, however, hasn’t changed, and it is on that basis that our work has carried on through the years.

    Planting Churches

    As OMF we believe that a long-term sustainable way to reach Japan with the Gospel is to start churches.  Indeed since 1951 OMF Japan has been planting churches here in places where there was no other viable witness.

    We personally were able to help build up a church plant in Hatazawa, a community of about 20,000 people located on the Chiba coast opposite Tokyo.  Hatazawa is an old farming and fishing community that also has one of the world’s biggest steel mills.  By the time we arrived, other OMF missionaries had already started the church and worked hard in the area for about 10 years.  

    In the following two decades through lots of prayer, proclamation of the Gospel and pastoring believers, by God’s grace the church grew to where about 40 people were worshiping together every Sunday.  The church was able to put up its own building, and then 5 years later call its own Japanese pastor.  We rejoice to say that Hatazawa Church is now a faithful, established Gospel presence in a place where just a generation ago there was no witness at all.

    Creative ways of doing mission

    In OMF we not only have missionaries involved in church planting but also those who focus on evangelism and partnering with Japanese churches.  After handing over Hatazawa Church to others, my personal burden grew to focus on widespread evangelism that could reach the next generation.  My wife and I have been involved in chapel weddings at hotels, writing tracts, Christian social media sites, street performance, and sports ministry among other things.  

    In 2020 Tokyo will host the Summer Olympics.  We have been networking with various agencies involved in sports ministry to organize a coordinated outreach.  The eyes of the world will be on Japan in 2020 and we want to see God use this unique opportunity to bring great blessing to the country.

    One Japanese man who has been reached through recent sports ministry is Mr. Tanaka*, a former rugby player who survived a life-threatening head injury on the rugby pitch.  When Franklin Graham came to Japan with his Celebration, our sports ministry hosted a special satellite event for athletes.  It was there that Mr. Tanaka made his profession of faith.  He is now a strong Christian and helps our ministry by networking directly with other athletes.

    The Unfinished Task

    After witnessing 30 years of mission work in Japan, I know that the task is still unfinished.  In the areas of Japan where OMF works, nearly 500 communities with a population of 3,000-50,000 still have no church. Fewer than 0.5% of the people in these areas are Christians.

    God is at work in Japan, but we long for many more to be reached for Jesus.  Please be part of what God is doing and join us in praying for and serving the Japanese.

    *Name has been changed

    by Ralph, an OMF missionary

    Will you pray for Japan?

    • Pray for more missionaries like Ralph to commit to long term mission in Japan.
    • Pray for Japanese churches to grow, be established and revitalised, reaching out and planting new churches.
    • May there be a vibrant church impacting every community in Japan!


    Download resources to help you pray for Japan.


    Learn more about OMF Japan.


    Find out about serving with OMF Japan.

  • 03 Jul
    Who is OMF Japan? What are we doing?

    Who is OMF Japan? What are we doing?

    “What will the church in Japan look like in 2030? What role does God want us to play in its future?” 

    These are the questions our leadership team has been considering. Over the last months they have spent significant time praying and discussing our aims and direction up to 2030. We long to see God greatly glorified here in Japan. We long to see many Japanese people coming to know and love him. 

    As we grapple with these questions, our heartbeat is the same as it has been over many years. We want to preach the gospel to those who have not heard; and we want to do it in their language and fitting in with their culture as far as we can.

    When OMF missionaries first arrived in Japan in the 1950s they started by surveying the state of church and missions in Japan. They found out that the least work was being done in the north, so that is where we sent most of our workers, especially to Hokkaido. In those early days, a lot of work involved church planting in small towns. Then, as the cities grew, we responded by starting more urban work. 

    What are the pressing needs now? 

    The bare statistics about the state of the church in Japan paint a depressing picture. Church numbers decreasing, baptism numbers dropping, missionary numbers falling, and pastors getting older with not enough replacements for them. But God is not bound by these statistics. In faith, OMF wants to build for the next generation in Japan.

    We are committed to prayer: praying for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit’s power in Japan, praying for the next generation of workers who will join us, and praying for the next generation of pray-ers who will labour on their knees.

    Japan needs many more churches if people are going to be reached for Jesus. OMF is committed to playing our part in building the next generation of churches. In some places we plant churches on our own, in other places we delight to work in partnership with Japanese Churches supporting their church planting initiatives.

    OMF is also committed to working with current Japanese churches—helping them to spread the gospel to many and helping equip Christians for evangelism and leadership. Alongside this we have members in student work and theological education; and OMF Friends who labour in the marketplace and witness for Christ there.

    OMF family

    But this is only one part of the answer of who we are and what we do. We often talk about the “OMF family” because we want to be a Fellowship that cares for and loves one another as we serve the Lord together. The OMF family in Japan has 120+ missionaries from 16 nationalities and many different church backgrounds. God has blessed us with many children who are part of our family too.

    As you can see, we are diverse and the work we do is diverse, but in it all we are united in our passion to build God’s kingdom here in Japan.

    By OMF Japan’s Field Director, Chris Pain

    Will you pray for Japan?

    • Pray for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit’s power in Japan
    • Pray for the next generation of workers to join us here in Japan
    • Pray for the next generation of prayer warriors to intercede for this needy country.


    Download resources to help you pray for Japan.


    Learn more about OMF Japan.


    Find out about serving with OMF Japan.

  • 25 Jun
    How’s your prayer life?

    How’s your prayer life?

    Kimie* became a Christian while in her teens and had been attending church faithfully for over a decade, but she still hadn’t really experienced how Jesus could help her in the problems of her daily life.

    “I’m struggling with something at work,” she confided in me, “and I’ve prayed about this for over a year now, but I still can’t see any change. Actually, the problem is with me—I often lose my temper. My boss has even scolded me a few times about my attitude. And I’m the only Christian at my workplace! What should I do?”

    “How have you been praying about it?” I asked her.

    “When I drive to work in the morning, I ask God to give me patience. At night as I lie in bed, I ask God to forgive me for losing my temper yet again, and I ask Him to change my heart. Then I fall asleep.

    ”The door was open to talk about prayer. I encouraged Kimie to devote time each day to listening to God through reading His word and also to just sit with Him and wait for Him to respond to her. I recommended she treat him like a person she loved: to give Him the best of her time, lots of it, not just the bits squeezed in here or there. I explained that only through spending more time with Jesus can we become more like Him.

    I was really excited when we met a couple of months later and Kimie told me that not only had her heart grown, changed, and become softer; but that even her boss had noticed and praised her for her changed attitude.

    It’s so wonderful how God can change us! It’s also wonderful to be here in Japan, to be available to have conversations like the one I had with my friend, to be part of what God is already doing in Japan.

    How can you be part of what God is doing in the nations? And by the way, how’s your prayer life?

    *Name has been changed

    By Christina, an OMF missionary

    Will you pray for Japan?

    • Pray for Japanese Christians like Kimie who are the only Christian in their workplace to be good witnesses to their colleagues.
    • Pray for those who struggle to find time to spend with God when they work such long hours.
    • May we all prioritise time for prayer each day, whether praying for Japan or for the people we meet at work.


    Download resources to help you pray for Japan.


    Learn more about OMF Japan.


    Find out about serving with OMF Japan.

  • 19 Jun


    Before I came to know Christ, I lived in a world where everything was relative. My sense of worth always depended on something or someone. Deep down, I was always seeking to be loved and approved. When you have no understanding of God’s love and the truth of his Word, that is what life is like.

    I grew up in Chiba, in the suburbs of Tokyo. I had a happy childhood in a family of four, with my parents and older sister. We traveled to the countryside every summer and spent lots of time outdoors. At elementary school, things went well for me. I was often in the spotlight— I excelled at study, sports, and making friends—life was good. 

    However, when I entered a brand-new private junior high school in the middle of Tokyo, a drastic change occurred. Shortly after entering the school I realized that I was no longer special—my peers were much smarter, cooler, and more mature than me. I started striving to win their acceptance and approval. After about a year of trying to become someone I was not, something cracked in my heart. Suddenly, I felt so insecure that I could no longer smile or face people. I started running away from everyone and hid in a toilet cubicle each recess. Every night, I cried myself to sleep, wishing that tomorrow would never come. I felt like I was thrown into the dark tunnel and there was no way out of it.

    Seeking a fresh start in a new environment, I become an exchange student in the US in the first year of high school. Did I have a rosy life after that? No, going to US actually showed me that I was still my own fearful self and that I could not escape myself even though I literally crossed to the other side of the earth. But the great news was that I eventually saw that I had built my life on the wrong foundation.

    Long story short, upon hearing the story of a man building a house, I made a decision to follow Christ as Lord and Savior. Luke 6:47–48 says, “As for everyone who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice, I will show you what they are like. They are like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock” (NIV).

    I felt the Lord say to me “Come follow Me,” and that’s when I responded to his call.

    As I look back on my life, I realize that the Lord’s hand was visible in my life from early childhood. My mother used to go to a group English class when we were little. Mr. Max Oehninger, a missionary, taught the class. At the end of each lesson he told a short story from the Bible. The amazing part was that my mom, who is still not a Christian, used to share the story with us at night and encouraged us to talk to Jesus. We were praying to God without even knowing!

    Living in a country where depression is prevalent and the suicide rate is one of the highest, I cannot help but thank God for shedding his light on me through those people who were willing to share the gospel faithfully.

    Psalm 40:2 “He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.” (NIV)

    By Kumiko, a Japanese Christian

    Will you pray for Japan?

    • Pray for God to send more missionaries like Max who will teach people the Bible.
    • Pray for those who struggle with depression and who are contemplating suicide to find hope in the Lord Jesus.
    • Pray that many more Japanese would be lifted out of the pit, with their feet set on the Rock.


    Download resources to help you pray for Japan.


    Learn more about OMF Japan.


    Find out about serving with OMF Japan.

  • 10 Apr
    Waiting patiently

    Waiting patiently

    In October, last year we were expecting our first baby, a boy. We were excited for weeks before the due date, but more or less waited patiently for this new addition to our family. We knew that there was no guarantee he would come on the due date, but still it was hard when that date passed and nothing had happened. Every day after the due date became harder for me and Kaori, my wife.

    We prayed every day that our boy will come that day, but God didn’t seem to care. Often, we walked around the block in the evening in the hope that the baby will move down and come soon. During this time we received many messages and questions like “Is he born?” This was annoying at times. We understood that our supporters and friends were also looking forward to meeting him and they were praying as well, but still we were tired of the questions. The Sunday after her due date Kaori didn’t want to go to church with me because of all the questions and comments about her “still” big belly.

    One day before Timo’s arrival we went for another check at the clinic. The doctor talked to us about when we wanted to induce labor. It was another shock for Kaori. We thank God that we didn’t have do that, and that Timo came naturally the next day.

    During this waiting time I read John chapter 3. Verse 3 stayed in my mind: “Jesus replied, ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again’” (NIV).

    Often, we try to predict a time when someone should be born as Christian. We pray and walk with him or her. We share our concerns with our prayer partners. But actually, we can’t make it happen. We can certainly do some things, but the friend needs to come to a decision on his or her own. In this way, it is like a physical birth—mostly we should wait. As much as we would like to know how long a Japanese person will take to become a Christian, there is no average, no date.

    Waiting can be stressful. We might think everything is ready, we have told our friend all they need to understand—who Jesus is and what he did. We have prayed to God that our friend will come to faith soon. Our prayer supporters will also ask us how the friend is doing, if he or she is Christian yet.

    In most cases, there are many more helpers—people who walk, talk, and share Christ with a person before they come to faith. But only some will help with the birth (coming to faith) of a person.

    I want to keep this in mind for my future ministry: that I can’t plan the time when someone should become a Christian, but I can wait and trust the Lord. And I can be ready for when it happens. Because after the birth it’s not finished—the new life starts and with it our job as spiritual parents.

    By Simon, an OMF missionary

    Will you pray for Japan?

    • For patience for missionaries as we wait for people to become Christians.
    • For our prayer partners, that they wouldn’t give up praying.
    • For Japanese after they become Christians: that they will be discipled well within the church.


    Download resources to help you pray for Japan.


    Learn more about OMF Japan.


    Find out about serving with OMF Japan.

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