Cloud-Heaven

In my Father’s house

Can you imagine a person practically fulfilling God’s commandment in Matthew 19:21“If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor… and come, follow Me.”? Many people choose to follow St. Anthony’s footsteps, not wanting any of the world’s riches, and prefer to dedicate their life to God, living in communion with Him, through continuous prayer. In return, “God is not unjust to forget (their) work and labor of love which (they) have shown toward His name” (Hebrews 6:10), so He rewards them with some special gifts, either healing of the sick, visions, prophesying, or some other gift.

Yesterday, I met an 86 year old Coptic Orthodox monk, who has been living in St. Anthony‘s monastery by the Red Sea for more than 60 years. Apparently, just like St. Paul, he has been given the blessing to see both heaven and hades, and give us a brief account of what he saw.

Heaven

“In My Father’s house are many mansions” (John 14:2) was how he started his account; “Mansions don’t mean houses”, he said, “they are degrees or levels; they are all in the presence of God, and are all wearing white, but the brightness of their white clothes represents the labor and good deeds of each of the people during their life on earth. The degrees of white start from white, as the regular white we know on earth, to a degree of white that is so bright that it looks like a robe of light”. The monk then asked us what we thought the good deeds were, we guessed, but then he referred to the last verse of the first chapter of St. James epistle, “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” (James 1:27). This verse simply summarizes the two kinds of deeds one must do on earth to be in a higher degree in heaven; the first is serving and giving to people who are in need represented by orphans and widows, and the second is laboring in our warfare against sin. We tried to get more details about what he saw, but he wouldn’t tell us, and would keep on saying, “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9).

Hades

We changed the topic asking him about hades, he said “I’ve never heard such moaning, or felt such misery; it is indescribable. Extremely large amounts of people in despair, regretting every moment they spent in life away from God.” The word that hit me was “Extremely large amounts of people” are in hades, this got me thinking of Jesus’ words, “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (7:13-14) and “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able.” (Luke 13:24)

Conclusion

A person asked the monk that living in a manner that pleases God is not easy and fighting against sin is very difficult, the monk gave a shocking reply, “Entering Heaven is not easy!” Grace and deeds go hand in hand, it is a journey where God and man work together to reach there; the gates of heaven were opened by Jesus’ crucifixion, but through our deeds we earn our entry. Since we both know that we as humans are sinners, God gave us the gift of starting over through repentance and confession, so we can sing with Micah “Do not rejoice over me, my enemy; When I fall, I will arise” (Micah 7:8), yet we know we are sinners, and however much we repent (we) acknowledge (our) transgressions, and (our) sin(s) (are) always before (us) (Psalm 51:3) that’s why we cry unto Him in all our prayers, “according to our mercy, O God, and not according to our sins.”

I pray we may all enter into Heaven, enjoy the everlasting presence of the Lord, and join and be one with all the saints who have loved and served the Lord since the beginning of time.

NOTE: Monks are usually very humble, practicing humility and meekness, so they would never reveal their gifts in public. In contrast to televangelists, gifted monks would cast out demons, or heal sick people in hidden church corners without audiences not to seek attention or honor and suffer vain-glory. In order to get such accounts from older monks, younger monks usually try tricking them to reveal the secrets which they hold, like the above mentioned account.

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Become as Little Children – 3 Reasons for Crying

Jesus with child

5 days ago God granted me a precious gift, baby “Nicole”, my first child. I never knew how it felt to be a father, until Nicole showed up. I never understood God’s feeling towards us, his children, until now.

A famous verse popped into my head, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3), and I thought I wanted to learn what God meant, practically not by reading a book. So here goes what I’ve learnt so far.

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Did God actually say …?lp

I can’t possibly count the number of times I was deceived into not believing God’s promises. Every time it happens I just hate myself. I hate myself for being so stupid to believe that all-loving, all-merciful God would just betray me.

What kills me the most is that I already took the decision to surrender my life to God, I made Him king over my entirety, so then what? why am I still doubting His wisdom and His omniscience. Or have not yet given everything to Him??

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Saints: St. Marina, who over came the devil

In 2 days the Coptic Orthodox Church will celebrate the martyrdom of St. Marina. In an earlier post about St. Nicholas, I wrote why our church commemorates the martyrdom and the departure of saints; I would recommend that you read it first.

As a test, I thought I’ll try to post the story of saint Marina in Audio format.

If you can’t follow me, or would prefer a written version, click here to read it.

There’s a lot to learn from St. Marina, a strong character, and such a determined mind. WOW!

May we learn from her life!

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On Patience

I apologize I haven’t been posting for some time now. I also apologize I interrupted the “Too Busy not to Pray” Series, to talk about patience today.

The topic of “patience” has been hitting me really hard these days, so I decided that I’ll read a bit and see what God has to say!

“But you, O man of God … pursue … patience.” (1 Timothy 6:11)

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Pain or Glory? by Pope Shenouda

This last Sunday Orthodox Churches all around the world celebrated the Resurrection of Christ!

Christians during the 50 days after the feast of Ressurection used to greet each other with “Khristos Anesti” (Christ is Risen) and the reply would be “Alithos Anesti” (He is truly Risen). Orthodox Churches worldwide still use this same greeting until now. So, Khristos Anesti!

In order to talk about the Resurrection, I need to talk about Palm Sunday first, then God willing I’ll post about the Resurrection very soon.

Our father Pope Shenouda went to Heaven, but he left behind him spiritual treasures for our benefit. He wrote more than a hundred books and so many articles. So I thought in his memory I will post an article he wrote several years ago. For the arabic version click here.

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Orthodox Christians celebrate Palm Sunday today, when Christ was received in Jerusalem with olive branches and palm tree leaves.

And on this occasion we want to reflect on an important spiritual point about which to choose: Pain or Glory?

On that day Jesus entered into Jerusalem, and his fame as a teacher has astonished many people, as well as his miracles and healing of the sick, resuscitating the dead and casting out devils, doing what no one has done before. Moreover, being known as a huge public leader had gathered around him many hearts with love and admiration.

So he was received by the people of Jerusalem as the king, with palm tree leaves and olive branches, and the loud cheering, and they wanted to inaugurate Him as their king, in order to save them from the Roman rule, and maintain for them a powerful kingdom of prestige and power, and return to them the greatness of Solomon ..

But Jesus refused to be king, and rejected the earthly Kingdom, as He wanted to form a spiritual Kingdom where He would reign on the hearts, not an earthly kingdom of the throne and scepter, of soldiers and knights…

He knew that the Jews were thinking about the earthly secular world, in pursuit of power, fame and influence. So, He came to save them and save the world from this earthly, materialistic perspective. He did not come into the world to be the king of the Jews and bring to them the world, but on the contrary, to save them from its desires.

Rejecting the idea of being the earthly King, had made those Jews reject Him, and conspired to kill him. Thus, Christ rejected the glory, and preferred the road of pain.

He preferred to be persecuted by the Jews, than to be a king over them. He never wanted to be involved with the people in their wishes and desires. Indeed, what’s the benefit of a king to them, when they are far from God and taking only the manifestations of religion and leaving its soul, so God rebuked them, saying: “These people draw near to Me with their mouth, And honor Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me” (Mathew15:8)

Jesus wanted to purify the people and sanctify them, not to rule over them, he wanted to free their hearts from sin, not to free them from the Romans who possessed them as a result of their sins.

But the Jews were far from that spiritual way of thinking, they did not think at all about their souls and their salvation, which was the thing that concerned Christ the most.

All their thoughts were limited to the earthly kingdom alone. So they were disappointed in Christ, who talked with them about spirituality and refused the earthly Kingdom. Thus they settled their minds to kill Him. And started the conspiracy about Him, on the same day that they chose Him as a king!!! Thus they rejected Him.

It’s not strange that He was rejected for it was said about Him that “He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him” (John 1:11) “And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it” (John1: 5) … He Came to light the world, and men loved darkness rather than light… They Rejected Christ, and asked for Barabbas … Their hearts were darkened, and they did not understand where their well-being was… As they sought to kill Christ, they punished themselves not Him… And Christ walked in the way of Calvary, on the way of the cross…

With that, Christ has established an important principle, which is that pain is superior to the worldly glory, or that pain is the way to the real glory .. No glory without pain … Or, that the glory of man lies in pain.

That’s why Christians have always loved the passion of the Christ, and celebrated His pain … In every age they have a week called “Holy Week” or “Week of pain” … Not ashamed but proud of the sufferings of Christ. They believe that his pain for us is a sign of love, and a sign of giving, and a sign that He refused the transient glories of the world. However, that the name of glories is the wrong name..

 The Prince of Poets, Ahmed Shawqi, was right when he said:

 The genius enjoyed the pain … The most brilliant thing in life is pain

 Everyone who walks in the way of God must suffer for Him, and should find pleasure in pain… And all virtue without pain is a cheap virtue free of giving…

Therefore, every human being on the last day, will give an account of his work, and will be rewarded by the amount of his pain for the Lord. As the Book says: each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor” (1Corinthians 3:8)… If that is so, we are entitled to ask:

What is the amount of your suffering for the Lord? What is the amount of your giving and your pain?

Apply this rule on all your deeds; If you found an obstacle in the way of virtue, give all your efforts to cross it. If you found pain in the path of goodness, endure it with joy and satisfaction. If you found a good deed that needs effort and fatigue, do not care about tiredness, and be with a strong heart…

Know that God, whom you love, can never forget the tiredness of love. Remember the stories of the holy martyrs who have suffered for the Lord, and were happy in their pain, and the people who were astonished by the strength of their endurance. No matter how much is your pain, it cannot be compared to their pain and sufferings. As well as the prophets and heroes of faith (Hebrews 11), all of them were exhausted because of their High goals, and God rewarded them for their pains, which were their way to glory.

Rest does not create heroes, neither does pleasure create saints.

And how correct were the wise words of the poet who said:

And if the souls are high, then the bodies are weary to reach this height

We in this life, must exert all our energies, and sacrifice all our comfort, for God and His kingdom, and for the ideals that we believe in, and putting before us the words of Scripture: “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (1Corinthians 15:58)

And the pains that we endure for God, we must bear with contentment and without grumbling because being discontent makes us lose the reward, which is the evidence that the inside of the heart is not responsive to external pain, and not submitting itself as a pleasing sacrifice to God. Our saintly fathers used to rejoice in pain. The disciples of Christ when they were whipped by the Jews, the book says about them: “So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name” (Acts 5: 41). History shows us that, in the first century, the prisons were full of praises and hymns and spiritual songs of the Christian people who were awaiting for their death in any moment.

The pain of the present age, cannot be measured with the glory which awaits the believer in eternity. Whoever contemplates in heaven and its glory, and in eternal bliss, and in the angels and saints, and what God has prepared for His saints in the other world, trivializes for him all the tiredness he endures for God’s sake. Trivializes for him all the waking and staying up in the night to pray, and the tiredness he bears when fasting and worshiping, and the effort he exerts to get away from a certain sin, or in order to get rid of a wrong habit.

Know that the holy pain is not a sign of weakness; it is an evidence of the strength of the heart from inside. It was never said that the martyrs were weak in their deaths and their sufferings, but they were strong in heart and in faith…

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Iwould love to thank my friend Tiya for the translation from Arabic to English.

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Pope Shenouda III Goes to Heaven

Yesterday, at 5:15pm, the world lost a true leader and a true servant, Pope Shenouda III, the 117th Pope of Alexandria and the Patriarch of All Africa on the Holy Apostolic See of Saint Mark the Evangelist of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria.

News websites and newspapers are full of news about his life, his achievements, his flaws, what people loved about him and what they didn’t, it’s as if I’m reading a history book!

No one talked about his fiery spirit, the spirit that gave glory to its maker; It’s He “Who makes His angels spirits, His ministers a flame of fire.” (104:4)

Can you believe that an 88-year-old person who suffers from lung and liver diseases, and goes through kidney dialysis 2-3 times a week would give a 2 weekly talks, would meet up with people in need and personally give them money or whatever they need, would dedicate time to listen to people’s questions and reply to them, would write and publish books (over 100 books), would travel all over the world to check on his flock as a true shepherd would do, and would travel to a quiet monastery weekly to get his personal time with God, to recharge, to be able to give with no limits? I’m 26 and I can’t!

Last year he came to visit our church, later I knew from a friend that he went through minor surgery that same day! But the love in him for Jesus and for us, his children, was more than his love for himself and his care for his health. (The source of this story is that my friend -who I mentioned earlier-‘s mom was the anesthetist in that operation)

Aside from his unconditional love, and his fiery spirit in ministry, the wisdom and power that flowed from his words were enough to illustrate the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Everybody who heard him knew he was different; just like his Master, “they were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” (Mark 1:22)

Pope in Arabic is translated to “Baba”, which other than its ecclesiastical usage, is actually the Arabic informal word for “father”, just like you would say “Dad”, instead of “Father”. Everybody who knew him, knows he was a true “baba”; he was both, the very formal charismatic leader who would meet with world leaders and renown figures, and the very humble simple dad who would sit with his children in very informal gatherings telling stories and jokes.

I don’t want to write more, because I don’t feel I’m giving him what he deserves! He deserves much more than my simple words!

As Christians we don’t believe in death, we believe in the passing of the soul from this temporary earth to our permanent home in Heaven. And since we don’t believe in death, we believe that those who passed away and those who are on earth are one living family bind together. As I would ask a living friend to pray for me, I will ask the “living” Pope Shenouda to remember us in his prayers in front of God.

Update: I was told by Dawn that the news of his holiness’ passing away is not quite spread on the other side of the world. So I thought you may want to read the article on BBC or the entry about him in Wikipedia.

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To Bee or Not to Bee!

I’m sure a lot of us heard about about Deborah, or read her story in the book of Judges in the Old Testament. I pray that this blog post would give you more insight and a deeper look into this lovely character.

Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, was judging Israel at that time. And she would sit under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the mountains of Ephraim. (Judges 4:4-5)

Although it would appear that the Bible in these two verses is introducing Deborah, the Bible is actually giving a beautiful detailed description of the New Testament Church. Continue reading

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Jacob loved Rachel

How are you all? It’s one week after Valentine’s day! :)

I wanted to share a love story from the bible that I really stand speechless every time I read:

Now Jacob loved Rachel; so he said, “I will serve you seven years for Rachel your younger daughter” …  So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed only a few days to him because of the love he had for her … Now it came to pass in the evening, that he took Leah his daughter and brought her to Jacob … So it came to pass in the morning, that behold, it was Leah. And he said to Laban, “…Was it not for Rachel that I served you? … And Laban said, “… Fulfill her week, and we will give you this one also for the service which you will serve with me still another seven years.” Then Jacob did so and fulfilled her week. So he gave him his daughter Rachel as wife also. (Genesis 29:18-29).

I think the message behind this passage is not love, it was to show Jacob that deceiving others is not the way of life. Just like he deceived his father to get his blessings, he was deceived by his father-in-law. BUT, God’s words are never limited to one meaning! Continue reading

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The Message and the Messenger (Part 1)

Guess who I’m talking about?

Yep, you got it, Jonah! :) I actually got the idea of the title from an article, you can read it here.

Jonah is a unique person, I posted about him twice; here and here. When I wrote about him earlier, I mainly focused on his anger, and how he wanted to end his life. This time I want to focus more on one verse of his beautiful prayer in the whale’s belly.

When my soul fainted within me, I remembered the Lord; And my prayer went up to You, Into Your holy temple. (Jonah 2:7)

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Timeless stories: What was his sin?

Today I won’t actually post something I wrote, but a story I snipped out of an ancient book.

This story is from a book called the “Shepherd of Hermas. It is a very old Christian book from the first or second century that people highly regarded. Some early Christians even included it in the scriptures, and bound it with the New Testament between the Book of Acts and the Pauline Epistles.

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Nativity

The people who made Christmas!

Coptic Icon for the Nativity

I know you may think why am I sharing about Christmas today, but actually the 7th of January is the Orthodox Christmas, so I’m not that late. :)

It’s awesome how you find spiritual meanings in bible stories. Those who read the Bible with their hearts try hard to learn something new from a simple passage, dig deeper, and search new meanings, because they are sure that God’s wisdom is far more than the simple meaning that jumps out of the passage first.

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The Real Santa Claus

Orthodox Icon of St. Nicholas

I usually post once a week, but after reading this article, I got so angry and felt I should do something about it.

The whole world knows Santa Claus as a symbol for Christmas, but only a few know the truth about him. Reading his biography, I fell in love with the true him, and saw him as a role model.

St. Nicholas was a true servant of God, he served in secret, as not to boast. He was also a true leader, who led by actions and not just words. And finally, a true teacher, which was apparent by his zeal towards the sound doctrine at the Council of Nicaea against Arius.

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Is It Right For You To Be Angry? (Part 2)

Coptic Icon of Christ feeding the multitudes

After posting part 1, I felt I was not fit for posting Part 2; I was suffering from what Jonah suffered from, and I hadn’t yet come out of it!

How could I have offered a solution to a problem that I couldn’t find a solution for?!

Thank God I’m out of it now .. and I think the two main things that God led me to do were:

  1. Give thanks for EVERYTHING
  2. Think more about others (Thanks to Deb‘s comment in the last post)

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Is It Right For You To Be Angry? (Part 1)

Last night I experienced a feeling that I have never experienced before!

It was the feeling of pressure and anger to the extent that I couldn’t stand my life anymore!

I understood why people reach the point that they want to commit suicide!

I used to tell myself that the people who want to end their lives are fools, sinners, and are doomed for eternity! … I still do, but I realized what makes them reach that point!

It’s all about the feeling of imprisonment in surrounding events!

It’s when one is given a responsibility that he/she doesn’t want and there’s no out of it!

It’s the feeling of not being able to refuse the current situation!

It’s the feeling when the “only door” one can see out of his/her present life, would slam shut in one’s face!

At the trough of my depression, I remembered Jonah!

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Change Is Not Easy: The Fight Is Necessary For Our Salvation

We usually take St. Paul as our role model for change, but even for him change wasn’t a piece of cake. He wrestled with change to the extent that people who don’t know him and read his words would call him schizophrenic. See what he says:

For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do … it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me … For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice.” (Romans 7:14-20)

St. Paul described how he desired to change, but could not always do what he wanted to do because the old sinful nature kept interfering. He, too, experienced the fight; he was not different from the rest of us who are willing to change or perhaps experience a change in nature yet still struggle with the old, fleshly habits.

But guess what, the struggle with temptation and with our sinful nature is actually our way to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven. Amma Theodora said, “Let us strive to enter by the narrow gate. Just as the trees, if they have not stood before the winter’s storms cannot bear fruit, so it is with us; this present age is a storm and it is only through many trials and temptations that we can obtain an inheritance in the Kingdom of Heaven.” Abba Anthony concurred with Amma Theodora; he said “Whoever has not experienced temptation cannot enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.” He even added, “Without temptations no-one can be saved.

Don’t expect that the fight between the old nature and the new nature will end soon. Your whole life you will experience this fight, but pray that God would give you victory over each round.

Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:57)

Who’s your role model for Change? Was change easy for him/her?

Is Amos the Prophet, Isaiah’s Father?

Strangely, Google has been sending me a lot of people searching about Amos. I posted about Amos only once, and it was actually on my old blog hosted on Blogger, and when I started using WordPress, I imported it. Click here, if you’d like to read about Amos’ 5 visions.

I thought I’d read more about Amos the prophet, and I discovered that some people confused Amos the prophet, with Amos, Isaiah’s father.

Q: So, Is Amos the Prophet, Isaiah’s Father??

A: No, they are two different people.

Why?

People who confuse both probably do so, because Amos and Isaiah prophesied around the same time 750BC (8th Century BC), but there are two reasons to prove they aren’t.

  1. Although in English both Amos and Amos are spelled similarly, in Hebrew they are spelled quite differently. Amos the prophet is spelled (עָמוֹס), while Amos, Isaiah’s father is spelled (אָמוֹץ).
  2. Amos, Isaiah’s father was the brother of King Amaziah of Juda (Talmud tractate Megillah 15a), while Amos, the prophet, was a sheep herder and a sycamore fig farmer.

That’s all :) I know it’s very short, and more of informational than spiritual, but I felt I should clear the confusion.

Are there other names that you think cause confusion?

A Miracle Inside the Aurora Shooting: One Victim’s Story

Mike Azer:

I came across this fascinating post .. It’s a true miracle!! A 24-year-old neurophysiology doctoral student went into a movie and shot everyone with automatic weapons. So far 13 have died from the injuries, while others are critical. But God has a different plan for a girl … You read on….

Originally posted on celtic straits:

Shooting Victim Petra Anderson

(Updates follow article)

At Columbine, I have seen this before. But not up close.  As a church pastor in Denver, I have worked as a chaplain alongside several police and fire departments. I was privileged to counsel parents just hours after the Littleton Columbine shootings. However, in this new tragedy at the Aurora Theater Dark Night shooting, one of the victims was a 22-year-old woman from my church, Petra Anderson (pronounced Pay-tra). Petra went to the movies with two young friends who are biking across America.  You and I have been inundated with news about what happened next. A joyful movie turned into bloody, unbelievable chaos. Petra was hit four times with a shot-gun blast, three shots into her arm and one bullet which entered her brain. This a bit of Petra’s miracle story.

With awesome people from our caring and pastoral team, I spent all…

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Too Busy Not to Pray – Part 2 of 15


So it’s been long since I posted part 1 of the “Too Busy Not to Pray” series. I’ll try posting the rest more frequently.

Last time I focused on the war between the Israelites and the Amalekites and I wanted to emphasize two lessons:

  1. Prayer is a channel for God’s power
  2. The secret to powerful prayer is continuity

I ended the discussion with the part of the story where Aaron and Hur helped raise Moses’ hands when he got tired, and I asked “Who are your Aaron and Hur that help you continue praying when you just can’t do it anymore?”

This week’s chapter is about God’s willingness to listen to our prayers, and the wrong perception some people have towards His rejection or unwillingness to listen.

Although the title of the chapter is the same as the book, I will try writing about it from a different point of view.

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