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Ask, Seek, Knock

Many of us share a rather unbiblical concept of prayer. We sincerely believe prayer is getting God to do what we need or want done. Actually, to pray is to invite God into one’s situation. The New Testament suggests Jesus prayed to ascertain what God the Father wanted Him to say and do. Jesus taught his disciples to pray persistently, even with impudence, yet at its heart prayer moves us into what God is doing. God’s agenda accessed by our prayers will take us places we can’t imagine.
In an interview with Fuller magazine, a Pakistani Christian relates his own prayer experience. It began during a week of fasting and midnight prayer services at his church in Karachi. During that week Eric Sarwar was gripped by a recurring dream. In his dream this classically trained musician saw himself walking through his city wearing traditional Pakistani clothes, carrying a bag filled with Psalmbooks and hymnbooks. Crowds pressed in on him asking, “Has he become a sadu (holy man)? What has happened to him?”

Every night the crowd in his dream startled Eric awake. He concluded this recurring dream was a revelation: “God was asking me to commit my music to Christian ministry. So, I prayed, ‘Lord, use me for some new thing in this generation and this country.’”

Eric Sarwar grew up in the traditional rhythms and sounds of Pakistan, playing a laptop keyboard instrument called a harmonium. For many years he played at weddings and gatherings, usually accompanied by a Muslim vocalist or Hindu tabla player. “Playing together made us a circle of friends. Muslim or Christian didn’t enter our minds.” When the music stopped, however, strict religious and political boundaries returned. “Christians in Pakistan are seen as second-class citizens, even those of us born here.”

During worship services rocks have been thrown at Eric’s church. After services Christians have been followed and harassed. Once when Eric was away, his wife, father and year-old son were threatened at gunpoint right in front of their church. “Twice I have felt the cold barrel of a gun to my forehead,” Eric reports.

Yet, strangely, churches in Pakistan often rely upon Muslim singers for recorded worship music, as Muslims have ready access to recording studios. According to Eric, “We didn’t ask why Muslims were singing our hymns and worship songs. It was just the norm.”

The book of Psalms is the primary songbook for all Pakistani Christians—Catholics, Baptists, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Pentecostals. The Psalms began to take over Eric’s personal devotions. “Morning and evening with my Bible open on my harmonium I would pray and sing the Psalms.” Still the dream, the vision kept recurring: walking in a crowd while wearing traditional clothes carrying a bag filled with Psalmbooks and hymnbooks. The crowds pressing in, asking one another, “Is he a sadu (holy man)? What has happened to him?”

Increasingly Eric turned down commercial gigs to lead worship at Christian churches in Pakistan. Through contacts among Karachi musicians Eric managed to gain access to a audio studio, and recruited a team to record Scriptural songs and Psalms in Pakistani musical structure. Between takes Muslim producers and musicians visited the studio. “Everyone knew we were working on a Christian album, but they wanted to know more. They could see we were producing high quality music, but not for money.”

Eric launched an annual Psalms festival—where Christian musicians throughout Karachi might gather and “revive the Psalms for our generation.” He established Karachi’s first school for church music & worship, recruiting Muslims to help with production. Some asked if they could sing with them, “So we used Muslims as background singers.”

Then, unexpectedly, a group of Sufi Muslims invited Eric’s band to sing Psalms for them at their 300yr old shrine. Participating could be dangerous for Christians, some of the band chose not to go. But enough agreed, and taking Muslim friends to serve as religious bridges, they went to the shrine. At the shrine they were warmly welcomed by the Sufi leader. Then they were ushered to the center courtyard of the shrine—an open plaza bustling with thousands of Sufi worshipers.

Eric was wearing traditional Pakistani clothing, carrying a bag stuffed with Pslambooks, hymnbooks, and Bibles. He found himself in the middle of a massive, pressing crowd. He heard people asking each other if he was a holy man, exactly as in his recurring dream.

The band sang songs from Psalms 145 & 148, about God’s authority over all creation and all peoples, and about His compassion and grace. “We saw these concepts as our connecting point.” The crowds applauded. It was the first time Psalms had been sung in the main courtyard of that Sufi shrine. A Sufi arranged for them to sing later that day on the local radio station. And, they were invited back as the sole Christian act in a music festival in honor of a Sufi guru.

Eric Sarwar admits praying, “Lord, what are You doing here?” All of this was beyond his wildest imagination. Eric explains, “Now my vision is for the Pakistani church to use the Psalms in music gatherings to engage their neighbors and develop friendships. This is all God’s orchestration.” ~

Dan Nygaard