Praying for the Church
PRAYING FOR THE CHURCH
You need mercy every day, and grace to help you on days of need. You feel your emptiness and weakness. You must pray.
by Geoff Thomas
Paul’s knowledge of the Philippian congregation was better than anyone else’s in the world. He was sure that God had begun a good work in them, and so God would carry it on to completion until the day of Christ. Their perseverance in grace was absolutely inevitable, like the daylight following the sunrise, like the control of gravity. If God begins to work in someone’s life, giving faith and repentance, making everything new, then that work is going to progress by a divinely initiated momentum, and it must come to its own designated climax. It will happen. God has decreed that this shall take place.
So pastor Paul can sit back and do nothing, can he? May he forget about them? Will he just spectate Lydia and the jailer and all the other church members as this work of God carries on in their lives? No! Paul writes a comprehensive letter to advise and teach them, and he also prays for them. So, God is going to carry on his own work in their lives to its very completion, and the apostle is going to pray for them. He talks about all his prayers for all of them (v.3), suggesting that he often prayed for them. Why did he bother to pray? Wasn’t it all predestinated anyway? We pray not because we have resolved the difference between divine sovereignty and human responsibility but because the Lord Jesus has said that men ought always to pray (Lk.18:1). The Christ himself, Paul’s Lord, the enfleshed Sovereignty of God, was pre-eminently a man of prayer. If ever there was a person whom you’d think didn’t need to pray it would be God incarnate, but he was on his knees speaking to his Father. So prayer cannot be redundant for us. Paul’s praying for the Philippian church, like his preaching to them, was a means God used to finish the work God had begun. What greater incentive to praying could there be than knowing this fact, that our asking God to help people is itself the machinery God has designed to start and complete his work in those people’s lives? Joseph Hart says it in such a sweetly memorable way:
"Prayer was appointed to convey
The blessings God designs to give.
Long as they live should Christians pray;
For only while they pray they live."
Here are some examples: in the country of Babylon Daniel read the prophecies of Jeremiah and understood that the time to restore Israel back to their land was at hand. What did Jeremiah do? Sit back and watch and wait for it all to happen? No. He set himself earnestly to pray for this to occur (Dan. 9:2&3). When King David learned that it was God’s purpose to establish David’s house he prayed earnestly, "Now, Lord God, keep forever the promise you have made concerning your servant and his house. Do as you promised! . . . Your words are trustworthy, and you have promised these good things to your servant. Now be pleased to bless the house of your servant . . ." (2 Sam. 7:25-29). Again, though the Lord Jesus himself knew that all that the Father had given him would come to him, and that he would raise them up in the last day yet, in his high priestly prayer, Christ prayed for their preservation. God said they would persevere, but this did not prevent Christ praying that they might. Rather it gave him encouragement that his prayers would be answered!
Paul’s knowledge that God had begun a work in these Philippian Christians and that he would most certainly finish what he had started did not create a spirit of complacency in Paul. It was the very reverse. It gave him hope to believe that his prayers were not in vain. He was praying according to the will of God. So he prayed frequently and fervently for these particular people. He knew that their times were in God’s hands, and that their future consisted of walking with God. "Help them, Lord!" cried Paul. "Encourage them to do what I’m telling them in this letter."
Imagine a man who gains the heart of a fair lady. She accepts his proposal of marriage, and one day they stand at the front of a church where she promises to take him as her husband to love and obey him until death separates them. She does not believe in divorce. She will remain faithful to him. What does that knowledge and that love do for him? Does he say, "Well, all that is settled. I needn’t pray about my wife and marriage. I can pray about my business and my country and my church and my neighbours, but I possess the love of my wife so I can ignore her." Of course not. The knowledge that God has given him this wife for all their days together will make her a special object of his intercession.
So Paul is confident that God is at work in their lives, and Paul, in all his prayers, will pray for them. Paul was a man of prayer. When Ananias of Damascus had some reservations about going to see this new convert Paul because of the evil man he had been God reassured him by saying to him that Paul was praying. The first mark of life in a newborn child is that he breathes and cries; so the first act of men and women who are born again is that they pray. The Holy Spirit who makes them alive gives them a voice and a tongue. "Be dumb no longer," God says. You need mercy every day, and grace to help you on days of need. You feel your emptiness and weakness. You must pray. What Christian in the Bible did not pray? What servant of God in the history of the church did not pray?
This last week I heard a friend tell of a member in their church who since her conversion in the last ten years has often prayed in their weekly Prayer Meeting, and in private, and at home with her husband. The extraordinary thing about that is that her husband, though coming to all the meetings with her, makes no profession to be a Christian. Yet he admires and loves her, and will say to anyone that there can be no better wife in all the world than his. Over breakfast he is reading the newspaper and she is reading her Bible. She may turn to him, "Bill, I feel so burdened for Mary" (one of their friends). "I must pray for her." "Yes, yes, dear," he says to her, and bows his head while she prays aloud for this friend of theirs. One evening recently they were in bed together and he was reading a novel while she was reading some Christian book. "Bill," she said, "I feel concerned for Rebecca, and ought to pray for her," (Rebecca is their daughter). "Fine," he said, and bowed his head and closed the book while his wife poured out her heart for their daughter who lives 50 miles away. Then he went back to his book to be interrupted again in another few minutes by the phone ringing. It was Rebecca! "Hello cariad," he said to his daughter, "your mother has just been praying for you." One feels that with such a woman of prayer as his wife it cannot be much longer before this man also becomes a true believer.
Christians pray. The Holy Spirit, who makes us new creations, works in us the feeling of adoption which makes us cry, "Abba, Father." To those of you who are not yet Christians, pray that you may be willing to be converted. Pray that you may be made very anxious to be converted. Pray that you may be made so anxious that to remain in an unconverted state will be intolerable to you. Pray that God will teach you what conversion is.
So the apostle Paul prayed for the Philippian church, even though he believed that this church was safe in the hands of God and no one could ever pluck them out. Let us give ourselves also to prayer for our congregations.
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