Jesus prays for the Church #1
15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. 17 Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. 19 For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.
(John17:15-19)We have discerned a particular need to pray for the church.
The congregation I serve (Emmanuel) is intimately involved in Grace Presby, a new congregation and MamelodiGardens Presby. I also serve as the Clerk of our Presbytery and so am fairly well “in the picture” for the 29 congregations in our care. Some of these congregations are going and growing, others are struggling and surviving.
We need to pray for the church.
But what _should_ we be praying for the church?
Over the next couple of days our daily devotionals will examine some of the Scripture-recorded prayers for the church.
I hope that over the next few weeks you would join me, not only in learning about prayer, but also in praying for the church and your particular congregation.
This prayer has an urgency about it – Jesus prays it in Gethsemane, having reached the agonizing place of choosing God’s will and not His own. The crucifixion awaits and yet He prays for the Church.
What does He pray for?
1. Not the absence of trouble, but protection from deception.
Blessing is not the absence of adversity. Peace is not the absence of trouble. Jesus doesn’t pray for an easy life, He prays for our safety. We are called to be a light in the darkness. Accordingly, as the church, if we are surrounded by peace and tranquility and the absence of trouble, then we might be in the wrong place!!! Light doesn’t shine in the light – it must shine into the dark.
2. Protection from the evil one is found in the truth. Jesus doesn’t want to see the church absorbed into the world. To be sanctified is the process of becoming more and more like Jesus. God’s Word is Truth and the Church’s level of Christ-likeness is directly proportional to its commitment to and absorbtion of Truth.
3. Jesus idea of the true church is a church that goes into the world as He did – a humble servant. As He gave Himself for us, we need to give ourselves for the world.
I pray for the church and the congregation I am in.
1. Help us to value Your will more than our comfort.
2. Keep us safe from deception as we actively serve You.
3. Help us to be centered on the Truth embodied in Your Incarnation and contained in Your Word.
4. Help us go into the world – ready to serve like Jesus did.
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. (John17:20-21)This is the heart and crux of Jesus prayer for the church: That we may be one.
Why is this so important? Later on in the same chapter Jesus makes it clear: The less united we are, the less likely it is that the world will believe Jesus came into the world as a gift of the Father’s love. Our lack of unity sabotages people’s ability to accept that Jesus died for _them_.
But what does it mean to be one? Part of the problem in reaching unity is that many think that unity is uniformity! Unity is not that we look the same, sound the same, act the same and sing the same songs. Unity means that we belong to the same body even though we are differnt parts.
Hands, feet, knees, eyes, elbows, ears, toes and fingers are all awesomely unique and amazingly diverse. They have different functions, but share one command center.
In the last two decades we’ve seen the barriers between denominations crumble and churches are working together much more creatively than in the past.
What still saddens me is when I hear a charismatic Christian talk about a mainline church as “dead” and a traditional Christian talk about a pentecostal church as “fanatical.”
We may not agree on all things, but when we make Value-Judgments (when we determine people’s value and worth) based on worship style or personality preferences, the world thinks less of our Saviour and what He did for us!
Lord, help us to see our fellow Christians as people You died for. And help us, in spite of differences, to be gracious and respectful.
17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. (Ephesians1:17)Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is often considered the “Grand Canyon” of theology as far as the letters of the New Testament go. The church in Ephesus was a strong church. They were served by Timothy and later by the Apostle John. Unfortunately by 90AD Jesus dictated a letter to them in Revelation ch.2 in which He had to confront them because they had forgotten their first love.
This is a real danger. We get so busy with the things of God that we have forgotten the God of the things. In Paul’s letter he prays three times that they will know God personally and deeply (1:17; 1:18; 3:17-20)
We know the Mary and Martha story. Martha was doing a _good_ thing: humbly serving Jesus and showing her love to Him. Mary was doing the _best_ thing: sitting at Jesus’ feet to know Him better.
Paul’s prayer in ch.3 is awe-inspiring (i’ve put it below) The crux is that Paul prays that we will have the power to understand God’s love. The bottom line?
God’s love for us is so great that we need help just to grasp it!!!
In Physics the Law of Entropy says that everything naturally drifts down to a state of rest or equilibrium if it is unhindered. In the spiritual world our sinful nature is our “entropy” and it will cool our passion for God if left unhindered.
This, then is one of the most important prayers that we can pray for the church: “Lord, let the church know You better! Let the church see how much You love them. Let the church be often and regularly bowled over by Your goodness! Amen!”
16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge–that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
1:9 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ–to the glory and praise of God.
(Philippians1:9-11)Yesterday we looked at the prayer for the Ephesians where Paul prayed that they would know God better – specifically that they could grasp the magnitude of His love for them.
Today’s prayer for the Philippians is the flip-side of the coin: It’s not about receiving love, it is about giving love.
The Philippian Church had wealthy people (like Lydia the dealer in purple cloth), poor people (like the slave-girl freed from the fortune-telling demon) and civil-servants (like the Philippian jailer.) There would be some real challenges in reaching out to each other.
For love to “overflow” or “abound” would need practical expressions of care and concern. In fact, Paul wanted their love to overflow through experience (knowledge) and wise judgment (depth of insight). Paul is talking about practical hands-on caring.
It’s interesting to flowchart the process:
Love (Experienced and Insightful)
Purity and blameless
Fruit of Righteousness
To put it in words: If we love by practically reaching out to others wisely and thoughtfully we discern better because the world doesn’t just revolve around ourselves. Because we see things more clearly we don’t make bad choices as easily and we can bear good fruit.
Just think about what we miss out on if the church isn’t practically reaching out in love.
So, our next prayer for the church is:
“Father, help us as a church and as members to reach out in real, practical love to others so that we see things more clearly and make
wise choices which will keep us out of trouble and lead to fruit-bearing.”
PS: I have a confession to make: the greek word used in vs 9 is “agape” (which implies a Godlike love) and not “philadelphia” (which is usually used of brotherly love). I used Philadelphia in the title of this devotion to get the alliteration but also to make the point that this is not “spiritualised love” but practical care for others!
I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ. (Philemon1:6)Paul’s letter to Philemon is also addressed to his friends and the church that meets in his home.
There is no rocket-science about this prayer: The more we share our faith, the more we appreciate God’s goodness! You want to know God? Work for Him!
When we actively engage in practical expressions of faith we exerience an ever-deepening sense of God’s greatness, goodness and grace.
* If I teach a Sunday School class, I grow in my understanding as I prepare the lesson and put my faith into my own words. When I watch the children and learn from them I am deeply blessed.
* If I serve on a working group that reaches out in a practical way to the poor, I am reminded to count my blessings, I am shown what is really important in life, I learn about gratitude and I learn about the all-embracing power of God’s love.
* If I am part of a planning committee that oversees the local church’s work, I get the opportunity to see how God brings ordinary people together and uses them to do some really amazing things.
* If I give my time to do some of the day to day duties in the church, I get a chance to share friendship and love with my brothers and sisters in Christ. When I serve, I have an opportunity to kneel next to Jesus and wash other’s feet.
Inactivity as far as our faith is concerned leads to:
– Insularity: It becomes all about me and my problems.
– Ignorance: I may have head-knowledge but God uses our interactions with others to give us heart-knowledge.
– Inability: Faith is a muscle – it needs exercise
– Ineffectualness: Christianity is not intellectual – it is about character and we shape character by our habits – what we do…
Get active for God – I promise you this: You will get more out than you put in!
So our prayer: “Dear Lord, let my church be a place where people express their faith through active engagement in practical things so that they can have the awesome experience of knowing that You are GOOD!”
Supplications for the Sifted
31 “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”
(Luke22:31-32)You might argue that this was a prayer for Simon Peter and not for the church, but we know the pivotal role Simon Peter was to have in the early church. Furthermore, this is not necessarily a prayer that we pray for the whole church all the time, but it is a prayer that we pray for _some_ of the church _some_ of the time!
There are a few realities to face up to:
1. We have an enemy. There are times that we are pushed, tested and tempted.
2. This enemy is on a leash.
3. Jesus prays for those who are pushed, tested and tempted.
4. Jesus prays for our restoration, even if we fail.
The church is made up of fallible, sinful people. There is a distinct possibility at any time, that we can be tempted and that we will fail. Jesus doesn’t keep us sheltered from every temptation. He doesn’t guarantee that we will be without trouble or persecution. There is no assurance that life will always be easy and “hunky dory!”
Both this passage and the book of Job indicate that this enemy is on a leash. While God is not the author or source of temptation, He allows it but He also sets the limitations. Temptations are not designed to make us fail – they are designed to strengthen us and develop our faith. Failure is not God’s plan. Jesus is praying that Peter’s faith does not fail.
If we _do_ fail, like Peter did, we discover that Jesus has already thought about restoration. Peter’s failure and recovery would allow him to strengthen others.
Dear Lord, we pray for the sifted (especially those who are leaders) in the church. Strengthen them against the temptations that come along their way. Give them the courage and strength to stand firm. If they fail, please bring them back quickly so that others may learn from their mistakes.
Concerned for the Colossians
9 For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. (Colossians1:9)The Colossian Church was under the threat of false teaching in two forms:
1.A group (we call them gnostics) who said that faith is a personal thing and that salvation comes from having “secret knowledge.” For them Jesus was more of a guru than a saviour and religions were more or less relative. What was important was that you had your philosophical framework right.
2.The other group (I call them the rabid legalists) said that everything depended on obedience to the rules and regulations of the Jewish Laws. They emphasised circumcision, kosher food, and various feasts and festivals. They argued that Jesus was Jewish and if you wanted Him to love you, you would have to be a good Jew.
Paul’s prayer is a dramatic antidote to both of these heresies.
His prayer was that they would know God’s will.
Knowing someone’s will on an ongoing basis requires Relationship. This is what makes Christianity so incredibly unique. We believe that we can have a living and vibrant relationship with God. We can know His will!!
The wisdom and understanding required to know God’s will are not found in philosophy or tomes of law. They are spiritual disciplines: we access them through Prayer, BibleStudy and Corporate Worship.
In verses 10-11 Paul outlines the benefits of knowing God’s Will:
“And we pray this in order that
– you may live a life worthy of the Lord
– and may please him in every way:
—-bearing fruit in every good work,
—-growing in the knowledge of God, 11
—-being strengthened with all power
according to his glorious might
so that you may have great endurance and patience,
and [be] joyfully 12 giving thanks to the Father.
Jesus put it another way: “I am the Vine and you are the branches, apart from Me you can do nothing!”
May the church and its members shy away from philosophy and legalism. May each member come to the courageous place of saying “Not my will but Yours.” Keep us in a living vibrant relationship with You!
12 Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. (Colossians4:12)How do you picture the typical pray-er? I think most of us think of quiet sensitive people engaged in quiet dignified prayer. Grannies in rocking chairs, sensitive monks in cathedrals and patient dignified saints kneeling at their beds.
Paul gives us another picture: Epaphras _wrestling_ in prayer.
Epaphras was from Colosse. Elsewhere Paul calls him a “fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf” and “a fellow prisoner.” Epaphras was a strong, courageous and gutsy person who shared in Paul’s suffering (and survived!) for the gospel and is now imprisoned with Paul.
What is his attitude? Is he asking the Colossians to pray for his release? Is he bemoaning his fate? Is he feeling sorry for himself? Not a chance! He is _wrestling_ in prayer.
In those times wrestling wasn’t the media circus it is now. It was about tenacity, strength and courage. Prayer wrestling was disciplined strenuous work. There was spiritual grunting and groaning as Epaphras struggled in prayer because of his love for his home congregation.
I can imagine a burly Epaphras pacing up and down in the cell, crying out to God for his congregation – passionate and compassionate. I imagine him thinking about the false teaching that threatened them and grinding his teeth with longing to be with them. Longing is translated into action and Epaphras prays!
What does he pray for? Firmness of purpose that will lead to maturity and sureness of faith.
Epaphras teaches us more about _how_ to pray than _what_ to pray. I think the secret is that he prayed hard because he cared a lot.
How much do you care about your congregation?
Thinking of Thesalonians
May God Himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The One who calls you is faithful and he will do it. (1Thessalonians5:23)There was a healthy church in Thesalonica. At the end of letter Paul prays for them. Here are the key thoughts:
* He prays to God who is the God of Peace: Our calm in the midst of the storm, our source of comfort and hope, our Rock and our High Tower.
* He prays for sanctification. In Afrikaans this word is “Heiligmaaking” (a process of being made Holy.) In essence, sanctification is the daily process of becoming a little more like Jesus each day. We cannot ever say that we have “arrived” as Christians. God is always at work in us.
* He prays for holistic blamelessness. Holistic healing and holistic approaches are very fashionable today, but Paul was way ahead of his time. The Greeks separated Body and Spirit saying that you could do what you liked with your body because it was your spirit that mattered. Paul, being a Hebrew, saw life as a unified whole. The gospel isn’t just about our “spiritual lives.” Holiness extends to how we look after our bodies and souls too.
* At the end of the day we are not left to do this by ourselves. Paul is convinced that his prayer is not in vain. God is always faithfully at work in us and Paul was sure that his prayer would not go unanswered.
“Dear Lord, even when the church is healthy we still need your help to keep us growing to be more and more like Jesus. Help us to be good “all-rounders” when we follow You! Thank you that You are always helping us!”
Remembering to pray
Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. (James5:13)James talks about prayer and praying four times in chapter 5. I’m going to go through each bit this week…
The invitation to pray when we are in times of trouble may seem like a no-brainer to us. The reality is that we are often guilty of being very slow to pray when the chaos breaks loose. The truth is closer this: We stress like crazy, we run around trying all our own ideas, often messing things up even more because we have acted impulsively, and then if we do remember to pray we are resentful of the mess we are in and skeptical about whether God will answer us.
Do you remember when Jesus came down from the Mountain of Transfiguration and found the disciples trying to cast a demon out of a little boy who was being thrown into fire and water? Do you remember how Jesus sent the demon packing and when the disciples asked Him why He could do it and they couldn’t, His answer was “This kind only comes out by prayer.”
Many people assume then that this was a special kind of demon that needed a special kind of prayer. I think this comment of Jesus is much more easily understood as Him saying: “You can’t just cast demons out with incantations – you need to pray and you forgot to pray!”
We forget to pray. When trouble knocks on our door we should make sure that we have taken the time to hand the problem to God and ask for His help.
If the truth be told, I am way too quick to take off in a direction when the chaos monster comes and before I know it, I have made the problem worse.
I’m trying to learn to pray like this:
“Father God, I’m in one of those tough spots again.
Please keep me calm and keep my perspectives clear.
Help me not to panic, but to use the gifts and talents You gave me to the best of my ability.
Keep me open to good advice from wise people.
Keep me humble enough to ask for help if I need it.
Make me courageous enough to come up with a concrete plan and to act on it.
If I’ve done something wrong, make me brave enough to make it right.
Please walk with me in this and keep my eyes focussed on You as You show me how to face this challenge. Amen”
Praying for the Sick
14 Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. (James5:14)Our eDevs this week are not strictly prayers for the church, but prayers OF the church and I have included them because I felt I had to. Yesterday we were reminded to make prayer a first resort rather than a last resort.
James now urges the congregation to pray for the sick.
Praying for the sick was something that used to fill me with dread. I always felt that I was responsible for the healing or lack-of-healing that resulted from the prayers. Nowadays I am much more comfortable. I’m not the healer – I am the pray-er and God asks and instructs us to pray.
How do healing prayers work in the church?
1.The person who is sick should acknowledge their need.
2.The elders (who represent the church which represents God) pray.
3.They anoint with oil.
When we pray about our needs (especially our illness) it is the ultimate act of dependence on God. It is even an act of worship! “Lord I need You – I can’t do this by myself – I _need_ You.”
The elders are called to do the praying – not because they are holier-than-thou but because they represent the church. This protects individuals from saying “__I__ have a healing ministry.” Healing does not belong to an individual and God chooses to use His church. Elders are representatives of the church.
We have healing services from time to time and our prayer teams consist of elders and people who are approved/selected by the elders. It is a church thing – not an individual thing.
Oil is the symbol of the Holy Spirit. We can use cooking oil or olive oil or even Castrol GTX! The point it that it connects to the Old Testament practice of anointing which was a symbol of blessing and God at work. We anoint people with oil to acknowledge that we are not the healers but that healing is the Spirit’s powerful working.
Dear Lord, help us to remember that healing is from You and that you instruct us to pray for each other. Forgive us for being so scared to pray. Teach us to pray faithfully for healing and to leave the results up to You!
When healing is forgiveness
And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed (James5:15-16)Some illness is caused by a virus or a bacterial “bug”.
Some illness is the result of an injury of the body.
Some illness is the wearing out and running down of our systems.
But some illness is the result of unforgiveness.
This unforgiveness takes two forms: We haven’t forgiven ourselves or we haven’t forgiven others.
Some forms of depression are the result of our obsession with our failures or the aftermath of things that people have done and said to us that have caused us to believe negative things about ourselves.
Some forms of arthiritis have been positively linked to grudges kept and hatred stored up.
Some forms of ulcer and auto-immune diseases have their roots in deep senses of guilt and failure.
Various stress-related illnesses are caused by a deep sense of “not being up to scratch.”
NOW THE DISCLAIMER: I am NOT saying that ALL depression is from unforgiveness. I am not saying that ALL arthiritis is because of grudge-keeping. Not ALL ulcers and stress-disorders are guilt-induced.
But some are.
James encourages confession. This is a way of letting go of our failures and the things that hurt us. God forgives the wrongs we have done and He forgives the wrongs done to us. We can be free of the guilt our own and the guilt dumped on us by others. We can be forgiven and we can forgive. We can unload our negative feelings and find spiritual healing – this often results in physical healing too.
Dear Lord. Sometimes I hang on to negative emotions when I could leave them on the cross where You have already carried them. Please help me let go. Amen
16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.
(James5:16)We believe that prayer is something that God does _in_ us. Martin Luther said: “The wonder is not that God _answers_ prayer, but that He _inspires_ prayer.” The Bible tells us that the Holy Spirit helps us to pray. When we pray we are responding to God at work in us.
How do we understand today’s verse? Does it mean that if Sally is 2% more righteous than Johnny, God will rather answer her prayer? Does it mean that only 75% of 75% righteous man’s prayers will be answered while an 80% righteous man will experience 80% success? What does that mean for the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican (one righteous in a technical rulebook sense and the other sinful) where Jesus told us that the prayer “Have mercy on me – a sinner” was most effective.
Do we have to impress God with our goodness? And is it true that we can order God around if we have high righteousness scores? Where does that leave me when I realise that I will never be perfect?
I think that the line of thinking described above is faulty and destructive to our understanding of prayer. To be sure: Sin _does_ separate us from God, but Jesus has made God’s mercy available to us. We are forgiven.
I think righteousness and prayer are linked to knowing God’s will and the best prayers are when we pray according to God’s will. The mystery of prayer is that we get to be God’s partners or co-workers. When we pray according to God’s moving within us (His will) then we experience power and effectiveness.
Sin and selfishness clouds my motives and make me insensitive to God’s leading and guidance. The prayer of righteous is powerful and effective _because_ he or she has cleared the “wax” of sin from their “ears” and is ready to hear how God wants them to pray.
Dear Lord, help me clear the “noise” of sin from my ears so that I can hear You better and that my prayers are fitting in with Your plan rather than going against it.
Warfare Prayer 1
18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. (Ephesians6:18)In Ephesians 6 Paul reminds us that “…our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”
Being the church is not like running a tennis club or organising a bridge club. The powers mentioned above don’t mind tennis and bridge. But when we make inroads into the darkness and share the love of God with a broken world then we should expect resistance!
Paul urges us to … “be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.”
We need to be resolute and focussed. We need to be “dressed for success” as Sylvia Fyfe always reminds our children with truth, righteousness, witness-willingness, faith, salvation, and God’s Word as our belt,breastplate, sandals, shield, helmet and sword.
But more than anything we need to pray courageous and consistent Spirit-led prayers for the church and one-another.
“Dear Lord. As we pray for the church, we realise that we have often forgotten that we are “deep in enemy territory.” Help us to be carefully prayerful. We pray that you would protect the church and especially our congregation – keeping us “dressed for success.”
I attach the letter below as a bit of an example of what I am talking about – my apologies to Emmanuel folk who get this twice…
Dear Emmanuel Friends
After two hectic weeks which included Presbytery, new members courses, Board and Session Meetings for both Emmanuel and Mamelodi Gardens and busy services on Sunday, I was looking forward to a day off….
It was not to be…
Our phone rang at 2h30 – ADT – there had been an alarm at the church. I got up and drove there to find our office broken into: the security gate trashed, the glass kicked out of the door and the computers used by Lentikile and myself as well as two very old machines that were going to be printservers and backup servers gone. Thankfully Susan’s machine (which is our major workhorse) was not taken.
I spent the rest of the wee hours of this morning sitting in the office in case they came back and then most of today trying to get things cleaned up and sorted out.
The loss of the machines has not been as serious as the damage to property and the loss of security while we have to repair things. All our remaining computer equipment has now been removed from the office. Lentikile especially has suffered the loss of a lot of work done in the last two weeks. (We do backups at the end of each month) This means that our productivity on all sides will take a dive and we ask all to be patient…
I would also ask for your prayers for the church. In the last three weeks someone crashed into the back of the Church car as we were on the way back from Lentikile’s Presbytery Induction giving Susan a nasty whiplash. Then someone crashed into the back of the Probationer car as Zwai was taking it to be serviced. And now this break-in at the office. Both accidents were other people’s fault so insurance takes care of it all. What is not covered is the loss of time and the loss of productivity.
Just last night I preached on the resistance Moses experienced from Pharaoh as they were doing God’s work… Maybe our planting of Grace, the work in Mamelodi and the growth at Emmanuel are making inroads! Maybe the powers of darkness are trying to slow us down. Let’s take Nehemiah’s approach to these kinds of frustrations – let’s pray!
Compliments go to:
* ADT who were superb and I am impressed with their guards demeanour and professionalism.
* Our Board members who responded with care and concern and practical solutions.
* Brenda, Craig, Susan and Lentikile who have all been stalwarts in all of this.
Let’s not let the bad news get us down – rather let us be even more determined to keep up the good work!!!
God bless and Much Love!
Warfare Prayer 2
19 Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should. (Ephesians6:19-20)Paul concludes his urgent call to the church to do Spiritual Warfare with a plea that the church pray specifically for its leaders.
We should pray, not for their wealth or happiness, but that they:
– Will speak God’s Words
– Will be fearless to speak
– Will be clear (making the mystery known) i.e. be good communicators
– Will be good ambassadors even in tough circumstances!
People are quick to criticise leaders in the church – especially pastors and preachers.
You may be upset because:
– they preached 5 minutes over time
– they didn’t visit you
– they said something that made you uncomfortable
– they are making changes to your beloved traditions.
Sometimes these upsets have substance but most times they are petty. The question is: “When last did you pray for your pastor?”
Our prayers for the church as a whole must include prayers for those who lead – especially the teachers, pastors, evangelists and missionaries. They are the ones who speak, teach and are prominent ambassadors of the faith.
Your pastor may be failing because the congregation is failing to pray! (And I’m not talking about malicious gossip thinly disguised as “prayer requests” – I’m talking about serious secret prayer that costs care and time.)
“Dear Lord. Where so many pastors and church leaders (elders, deacons, board-members, lay-preachers and Sunday School Teachers) are suffering from stress, burnout and insecurity, I pray for them. Keep them effective, clear and gracious in Your Truth, Your Word and Your Love. Amen.”
7 Now we pray to God that you will not do anything wrong. Not that people will see that we have stood the test but that you will do what is right even though we may seem to have failed. 8 For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth. 9 We are glad whenever we are weak but you are strong; and our prayer is for your perfection. (1Corinthians13:7-10)Paul is praying for the church in Corinth. It was a church that had experienced a lot of trouble: false teachers, infighting, immorality, power-struggles, gift-pride and lawsuits against each other.
Some would have argued that Paul was just embarrassed because his “children” were misbehaving. He makes it clear that his reputation as a church-planter and pastor-apostle is not his major concern here.
The crux of his argument lies in verse 8. When we fail it does not make the truth untrue. When we don’t live according to the truth, it does not weaken the truth, but it does make us liars! Paul prays for them, not because he is scared for the truth – he is scared for them.
Paul is not motivated by his reputation, he longs for their growth. So he prays with passion and devotion that they will grow in faith and live according to the truth. He prays for their perfection.
Some might argue that Paul is moving back to legalism, praying that they “may do no wrong” and become “perfect.” But we need to understand that Paul’s plumbline is not the law, but the image of Jesus. The more like Jesus we become, the more perfect we will be.
“Dear Lord. As we pray for the church, it is not so that we will look good, but rather that we will look like Jesus. We realise that the biggest casualties of our failures are us and we ask for Your help to become more and more perfect in reflecting the life and love of Christ.”
Purposes and Actions
11 With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith. 12 We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. (2Thessalonians1:11-12)This is Paul praying for the Thesalonians again. Here is his prayer in a nutshell:
-they be worthy of God’s calling
-their faith prompted purposes and acts would be fulfilled
-Jesus will get the glory (and they with Him)
God’s call is a high and lofty call – we get to share in God’s work of reaching the world. It does not require us to be high and lofty people: Jesus called some fairly ordinary “joe’s” but we _can_ be disqualified or be unworthy of being called.
Paul does not spell this out. We have to figure it out and it probably ranges around issues of faith, purpose and action as this is how the prayer continues:
– Is our Faith in Christ alone?
– Are our purposes set on our agenda or God’s?
– Are we willing to act according to our convictions.
Then Paul prays for the success of their plans – IF and only IF those plans are born of faith, focussed on God’s will and enacted in a God-honouring way.
Then God will be lifted up and honoured and then the people with them. The only time it is ok for us to be in the limelight is when God gets the glory first and some of the light reflects off onto us.
At the end of the day our best efforts are still imperfect – it is grace (God’s patient and tolerant love) that sees us get to the end of the road. That’s why the limelight always falls on Him first!
“Dear Lord. We want to be used by You – please keep our faith in You and our purposes and actions orientated by You. We want to do things Your way and see You glorified. Amen!”
I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone– 2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. (1Timothy2:1-2)This is another prayer _of_ the church rather than a prayer _for_ the church, but it is important to consider. I entitled today’s devotion “Patriot Prayers?” The question mark is important.
Paul was no fan of Rome – The Roman Governor wanted to be worshiped as a god and Paul knew that a time of intense persecution was coming. The prayers we pray for the state are not prayers we pray only when we are stirred by patriotism and a sense of love for our country. There are times when we cannot agree with decisions made by our government and our elected leaders.
But we must pray for them.
And there is no escape from this instruction – Paul uses four different words to describe our prayerful activity for the church. We need to make requests , offer (regular) prayers, earnestly pray (intercession) and offer thanks for those in positions of responsibility.
Even when they are not Christians and even if they do things that are wrong, we must pray for them. Honest and heartfelt prayer (not bickering disguised as prayer) is the best antidote for the paralysing cynicism, apathy and lethargy that plagues nations.
What should we pray for? Prosperity? Military Success? No, we should pray for quiet and peaceful lives. We pray for the fundamentals of a happy and safe society: justice, values, and equal opportunity.
“Dear Lord, I know I have been guilty of cynicism and negativity. Please help me to make real and sincere work of praying for those in responsible positions in every sector of our country. Give our leaders COURAGE, DIRECTION and WISDOM. Amen.”
What to pray for your pastor
1 Finally, brothers, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you. 2 And pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men, for not everyone has faith. 3 But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen and protect you from the evil one. (2Thessalonians3:1-3)We’ve already looked at two prayers Paul has prayed for the Thesalonians. Now he is asking them to pray for him. What should one pray for your minister?
1. Pray they will be very effective in passing on the message of Christ. Pray that in their preaching, their teaching and in their day to day words and actions they may be clear and attractive so that people will find the Gospel meaningful and attractive.
Pray that they will command respect and honour for God, even among non-Christians. Ask God to fill them with an urgency to spread the gospel so that the message will go out rapidly and meaningfully.
2. Pray for their safety.
In Paul’s time the enemies more physical and related to persecution. Today the threats are more subtle and cunning. Today pastors fall into traps of sexual sin, greed, ambition and pride.
Paul is a realist: “Not everyone has faith.” We are in a war situation. Good pastors are at the front-line – lazy ones are at the back. Pray that your pastor will stand the test of time in the front-line, not giving in to the temptations and short-cuts that abound.
Paul ends by reminding them of God’s faithfulness – not only to the pastors, but to them as well…
“Dear Lord. I pray for __________ (insert the name of your pastor). Please immerse them in the awareness of Your incredible love and grace so that their faces will shine with the glory of Your presence and fire them up with passion for Your name and Your Gospel. Equip them for effective ministry and protect them from the wiles of the devil. Amen!”
Is Paul a Perfectionist?
7 Now we pray to God that you will not do anything wrong. Not that people will see that we have stood the test but that you will do what is right even though we may seem to have failed. 8 For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth. 9 We are glad whenever we are weak but you are strong; and our prayer is for your perfection. (2Corinthians13:7-9)I had to go digging in the original Greek text to get this one clear…
On the surface of it would seem that Paul is back into legalism, wanting them to have perfect track records. It might seem as though Paul has forgotten that we are saved by grace and that he is back to trying to be saved by good behaviour.
But this is not true:
– The preceding verses talk about making sure that Christ is in us.
– Paul is very aware of his own failures and weaknesses.
– He sees Truth as a transforming power
– He sees perfection as a process.
Let me expand some of these:
Paul is aware that our failures don’t make the truth false (although our failures _do_ give people excuses to ignore the truth). When we disobey the Truth it says something about us, when we obey the Truth it uplifts the Truth. In other words, good behaviour comes from the Truth transforming us – not our own efforts.
The Greek word for “perfection” is process orientated. It could be translated as “completion” or “complete adjustment” Paul uses the same Greek root word when he writes to the Ephesians about the body of Christ being “built up” (Eph4:12)
Paul’s prayer is all about his passionate longing to see the congregation transformed in Christ. He sees them as works of art in the Potter’s hands and he longs for them to reach the finish line well completed…
“Dear Lord. We pray for our congregation. May we grow more and more like Jesus every day – not so that the pastor will look good – but that in spite of the weaknesses of earthly leaders, people may finish the race looking more Christlike than ever.”
Conclusion: The value of our prayers
8 And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. (Revelation5:8)John’s revelation is a vivid picture of the spiritual realities that are relevant particularly when the church suffers. Revelation is a picture of the gospel, history, and the persecuted church in a “cosmic perspective.” It is not only about “the end times” (things that are yet to happen.)
Revelation 5 is a scene in heaven where angels and these four living creatures bring their best worship to God. Included in this worship are our prayers.
For a long time I thought about this prayer incense as our prayers of praise and adoration and I felt guilty because my prayers are so often requests.
And then I did some thinking…
One of the hardest things in the world for me to do is to ask for help. I am so independent and try so hard to be self-sustaining that I really don’t like admitting that I need help. Then, when I do ask for help it is from someone I trust.
The same applies to my prayers of request. When I ask God for help, I am admitting that He is God and I am not. I am declaring my need for Him and I am expressing my ultimate trust in Him. When I bring my real needs to Him, there is complete honesty – I’m not just mouthing the words of someone else’s praise song – I’m saying “I need YOU!”
Revelation tells me that my prayers (whether they be praises or requests) are precious, sweet-smelling incense to God. Revelation is about the church (“the saints”), not about individuals, and God delights in the prayers of and for the church.
Let’s “burn our incense” often!