Praying with Paul: Philippians 1 [30 Days of Prayer]

Summer of Prayer Ads_Banner“In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy.” (Philippians 1:4)

It is fitting that this last day of the 30 Days of Prayer devotional ends with Philippians. This letter of Paul is jam-packed with lived theology as the Apostle writes an epistle of joy from prison to believers suffering greatly. It is not without reason that this letter of joy has lifted the spirits of believers throughout history in diverse places. Neither should it be missed that Paul’s prayer near the beginning of the letter encapsulates all the themes of the letter in one great prayer saturated with joy and concluding with praise.

Open your Bible to Philippians 1:3-11 and read this section of the letter. Take note of the gratitude and tender love which Paul expresses to the Philippian believers in verses 3-8. Paul’s prayer arises from meaningful relationships that have history and shared experiences. As you read through the entire letter you sense that the Philippian church has a special place in Paul’s heart. Maybe you could stop right now and thank God for the believers in your own life who mean so much to you. Consider the ways that God has blessed you through others and with others in your life. Thank Him for those who hold a special place in your heart.

The meat of Paul’s prayer begins in verse 9 as he asks God to increase their love. If Jesus said that people would know we were His disciples by the way we love one another (John 13:35), Paul takes this seriously in prayer. The increase is not at random, however, and is connected to a series of requests related to knowledge, insight, and discernment. All these wisdom requests are like links in a chain leading toward Paul’s prayer that the believers’ lives would ultimately be filled with the fruit of righteousness. Thus, growth in the love of Christ toward others is paralleled by growth in the character of Christ within their lives. Do we need to grow in love? Do we need knowledge, insight, and discernment about God’s will? Do we need increasing fruit of righteousness in your life? I do. Why not stop right now to pray that God would shape those things within your life, in the life of your friends, and the life of your church fellowship?

The end of Paul’s prayer here is “to the glory and praise of God” (1:11). Every time I hear this final phrase in the prayer, I cannot help but think of the ending of the Lord’s Prayer: “For yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory forever. Amen.” All our praying concludes with praising. This is not just a formula that we apply to our regular prayers. No, this is truly a theological and eschatological reality. One day, all our confessions and petitions will cease and we will, at the end of all things, be caught up in the greatest praise of the Living God for eternity. At that day, we will join in with the elders, and the living creatures, and all the hosts of heaven around the throne of God in our eternal praise: “Holy, holy, holy, are you Lord God, Almighty….You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power…To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!” (Revelation 4:8, 11; 5:13). As we conclude the 30 Days of Prayer, why not spend time now in praise of our God who deserves more than we could ever give?

[This post is part of the “30 Days of Prayer” devotional. Read other posts here.]

Praying with Paul: Ephesians 3 [30 Days of Prayer]

Summer of Prayer Ads_Banner“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.” (Ephesians 3:20)

Have you ever been so overwhelmed by a sunset that you felt you had to tell someone? Have you ever been so excited that you simply were bursting to shout about it? That is a little bit what the Apostle Paul is like in the second great prayer of Ephesians found in chapter 3, verses 14-21. He has just written about the wonders of God’s grace in the Gospel of Jesus Christ (2:1-10), specifically the inclusion of Gentiles with the Jews (2:11-22), and his sacrificial ministry in that regard (3:1-13).

In light of all those wonderful things, Paul bursts forth in prayer. His prayer encompasses a threefold movement:

  1. prayer for strengthening of the inner being as Christ’s dwelling place;
  2. prayer for grasping the ultimately unknowable love of God; and
  3. lifting up praise to our glorious God.

Paul wants the believers to not only know God but to be completely indwelt by God in Christ. He wants them not only to have knowledge of the steadfast love of the Lord, but to be overcome by the limitless love of God lavished upon them. He wants them not only to ask God for certain things but to be completely overwhelmed by the glory of God that is accessible to them because of Jesus Christ.

The beauty of this prayer’s poetic language and expansive scope is astounding. More than dividing it up for study it is necessary that we take the words of this prayer upon our own lips and into our own hearts in personal prayer to God.

Stop for a some time to pray the words of Paul back to God one section at a time. Ask Him to strengthen you as His holy dwelling place. Ask Him to stretch your knowledge of His ultimately infinite love.  Praise Him for His surpassing power and greatness. Maybe you want to write your prayer down in some form, like in a journal. Maybe you want to pray through these verses aloud with someone else. Whatever you do, let us learn to pray from Paul through actively entering into this prayer ourselves.

[This post is part of the “30 Days of Prayer” devotional. Read other posts here.]

Praying with Paul: Ephesians 1 [30 Days of Prayer]

Summer of Prayer Ads_Banner“For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.” (Ephesians 1:15-16)

There are two exemplary prayers of Paul in the letter known as Ephesians. The first prayer arises in 1:15-23 and the second in 3:14-21. Today, we will explore the first of those prayers, so open your Bible and read Ephesians 1:15-23.

Although more brief here than in Colossians 1, notice that Paul once again begins his prayer with thanksgiving before turning to his requests. Gratitude is an important entry point for prayer. It shapes our thinking and praying with an attitude of plenty, as opposed to merely an attitude of need. “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good. His love endures forever” (Psalm 136:1). There is always something to be thankful for in prayer.

As is often the case, there are many parallels between Colossians and Ephesians, and that is seen in Paul’s prayers within Colossians 1 and Ephesians 1. However, the prayer in Ephesians seems to go deeper in its request for understanding (Ephesians 1:17; cf. Colossians 1:9). This request expands with the penetrating prayer “that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened.” Paul wants the believers to have an inner revelation that comes into their hearts from God. That revelation consists of three things: 1) the hope of our calling, 2) the riches of our inheritance, and 3) the incomparable power of God at work within us.

One of our greatest, recurring problems in life is a lack of understanding. There are many times when we feel confused. Paul knows that it is not just the answer to general questions or getting some sense of direction that we most need. No, what we need even more is a deeper, “heart” awareness of all that God has made available to us through Christ. Paul’s prayer shoots like an arrow into the presence of God on the believers’ behalf toward the bullseye of divine revelation and knowledge.

Near the end of his prayer, Paul gets so carried away with the wonder of what God has given us in Christ, that his words cascade forth into a fountain of praise to God in Christ. It is no wonder that this happens to Paul. He lives in the reality which he is praying will come alive for others. Knowing the greatness of the hope, inheritance, and power of God available to the believer, and ministering out of that place, Paul finds himself regularly overcome by all of who God is and all that God has done.

May our prayers also launch with gratitude into the throne room of God. May we ask for what we most need, which is a divine unveiling of wisdom within our hearts that comes from God. And may we regularly be overcome by the goodness and greatness of God even as we approach him for what we need.

Take a moment here at the end of this devotional to personalize the prayer of Ephesians 1:15-23. Pray it back to God, inserting your own name, and then the name of your local church, into the prayer.

[This post is part of the “30 Days of Prayer” devotional. Read other posts here.]

Praying with Paul: Colossians 1 [30 Days of Prayer]

Summer of Prayer Ads_Banner“We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you…For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you.” (Colossians 1:3, 9) 

To conclude the 30 Days of Prayer, I want us to have some interactive exploration of the Apostle Paul’s prayers in his letters to churches. Today, we begin with Colossians 1:3-13. Open your Bible and read through those verses. When you do, you will notice that Paul’s prayer has two basic parts. The first part (1:3-8) focuses on gratitude to God and the second part (1:9-14) focuses on requests asked of God.

Consider what Paul is thankful for in this first section of his prayer. He celebrates the faith and love of the believers. He is grateful that their faith and love overflows to bear fruit because of their hope in the Gospel. Any form of gratitude is good, and there are many things that we can be thankful for in our lives. However, Paul chooses specific sorts of things to thank God for in the life of believers. Those themes of gratitude reflect the essence of the Christian life and the fruit of the Spirit. This shows us that Paul is watching for certain things in the churches, and also that certain sorts of things lift Paul’s prayers toward thanksgiving.

Following his prayer for gratitude, Paul strings together a series requests of God on behalf of the Colossian believers. He asks God:

  • that He will fill them with knowledge of his will (v 9)
  • for wisdom and understanding from the Holy Spirit (v 9)
  • that they might live a life worthy of the Lord (v 10)
  • that the believers would bear fruit in good works (v 10)
  • that they would grow in knowledge of God (v 10)
  • for strength within God’s power for patient endurance (v 11)
  • that they would find joy in the inheritance given by God through Christ (v 12)

Paul’s series of requests in prayer resound with a depth and focus that often does not characterize our prayers. His requests focus on the life of the believers becoming more God-centered and God-shaped in every way. Paul takes seriously the need for ongoing growth in the life of the believers, seeking that God would mature them even more deeply in Christ.

Focusing on gratitude without need can lead to unrealistic prayer that is out of touch with our lives. Focusing on our needs without gratitude can often lead to self-centered prayer that is out of touch with God’s power.

Take some time now to thank God for the fruit of the Spirit that you see in believers around you and in your church. Then, take some time to intercede before God in a way that is similar to Paul’s petitions on behalf of the Colossian believers. Perhaps you could write out a prayer to God in response to this devotional. You may even want to slowly pray the words of Paul’s prayer back to God to conclude your time in prayer today.

[This post is part of the “30 Days of Prayer” devotional. Read other posts here.]

Praying for Unity in Conflict [30 Days of Prayer]

Summer of Prayer Ads_Banner“I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:23)

In our earthly lives, we will at times falter in the battlefields of conflict. We may find ourselves raising our voices against one another in anger or bitterness. Sometimes we do this to another’s face with harsh words and false accusations, while at other times we secretly pass the sweet morsels of gossip or shards of slander into the ears of another.

No matter how it happens, when we stumble into the lands of conflict, the journey toward restored relationships and unity must be infused with prayer. Yes, we must use the best of the wisdom found in the Proverbs of the Bible and the greatest advice of wise counselors. Still, true unity will never come through human efforts alone. When conflict arises in us or around us, the best first step is to fall down on our knees and cry out to the God of the universe in prayer. He alone can speak to the hearts of others – and also to our own hearts – about the causes of conflict and remedies for unity.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes: “Christ stands between us, and we can only get into touch with our neighbors through him. That is why intercession is the most promising way to reach our neighbors, and corporate prayer, offered in the name of Christ, the purest form of fellowship.”[1]

If your heart is bound with bitterness or rolling in rage, now is the time to desert the battlefields of conflict and seek the sweet remedy of the glory of God released in prayer. As we do this, we may surprisingly find that God not only changes the other person or situation, but He changes us as well. In fact, we may find that we are the one who most needs to be changed.

Prayer is truly the pathway to unity through transformed relationships.

Father,
the conflict rages all around us
  and within us.
We need Your help
  and Your grace,
to turn away from the battlefield
and turn to Your table.
There, help us sit
  as brothers and sisters
in Your holy presence,
  sharing the cup of our salvation
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.


[1] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (New York: Touchstone, 1995).

[This post is part of the “30 Days of Prayer” devotional. Read other posts here.]

Praying for Unity through God’s Glory [30 Days of Prayer]

Summer of Prayer Ads_Banner“that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you…that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity.” (John 17:21-23)

Jesus plunges ahead in prayer to the deep place of God’s relational unity: “that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.” This is one of the great and mysterious truths of the Christian life. God is one in the unity of His substance, yet at the same time distinguished as three persons. There is a unified community of being within God that Jesus expresses here in prayer. Jesus points to God’s essential unity within diversity and diversity within unity. It is this unity within God that is the basis for the unity within God’s people seen in Jesus’ prayer.

Many times when we talk about unity, we begin to talk a lot about love. We know that love is critical to upholding unity within the church and is the essence of what it means to live the Christian life. Love is incredibly important, and we all must learn to love others more deeply and truly.

But Jesus takes His prayer for unity in a different direction. Jesus does not pray here that God would give His people greater capacity or ability to love one another. He prays about something else entirely. He prays that His glory would flow into His future followers and lead them into transformed relationship with God and, therefore, with one another. What is God’s glory? It is the fullness of God’s goodness and greatness being revealed. When Jesus’ prays for God’s glory to fill God’s people it is a prayer that the goodness and greatness of God would be manifested within the lives of His people.

Biblical scholar Raymond Brown points out that “unity is not simply human fellowship or the harmonious interaction of Christians.”  There is “both a horizontal and a vertical dimension” to unity.[1] What Jesus knew, and we need to recognize, is that our breakthroughs to unity with others depend upon the glory of God descending into our lives and relationships. The more we are transformed in our relationship with God by His indwelling presence, the more our relationships with others will be likewise transformed. The result is a glorious unity with one source in the Living God.

As we seek unity, let us pray for God’s glory – His goodness and greatness – to become even more present, yes, even preeminent, in us.

Lord, please pour out Your glory in us
that our lives might be overcome by who You are.
And as Your glory becomes more and more prominent in us
may Your beautiful unity also take root within us.
What we really want is to be more like You,
individually and corporately as Your people.
We know there is no other way for that to happen
than for You to have Your way in us.
Come, Holy Father,
Come, Jesus the Son,
Come, Holy Spirit,
Live in us!


[1] Raymond Brown, The Gospel According to John, AB (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, 1970), 2: 776.

[This post is part of the “30 Days of Prayer” devotional. Read other posts here.]

Praying Proactively for Unity [30 Days of Prayer]

Summer of Prayer Ads_Banner“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.” (John 17:20-21)

Many of us tend to be reactive in prayer. We pray for provision when our finances get tight or we lose our job. We pray for healing when we arrive at the hospital or experience emotional trauma. We pray for wisdom when we find ourselves at the crossroads of decisions. We respond – or react – to the situations that come our way. This is an entirely appropriate and powerful way to pray. Throughout Scripture, from the early disciples’ prayers when facing arrest to Moses’ prayer before the burning bush, we see people respond to their circumstances with prayer.

But along with this reactive style of prayer we need to learn from Jesus’ approach to prayer in John 17. There, Jesus proactively prays for things that are yet to come. This forward-thinking approach to prayer arises from the fact that Jesus had both the most realistic view of human life and the most active engagement with the divine life of any person that has ever walked the face of the earth. Jesus prays for all who will come and, in this moment, brings the future people of God – even you and me – into God’s holy presence through prayer. Just pause for a moment to consider the reality that Jesus prayed for us. It is amazing.

The focus of Jesus’ prayer was unity among believers. I remember a time when I was on a short-term trip with a group of students and conflict broke out within the group. People were name-calling, tensions were rising, and the leaders on the trip were completely caught off-guard. Of course, our response in the moment was to pray and ask God to heal the rifts and bring us to unity. God did graciously answer our prayer, redirecting the team so that our disunity did not distract from our purpose for being there.

What I learned from that experience is that we should expect the threat of disunity to arise within our life and ministry as believers. Disunity descends because of our sin, human brokenness, past history, and spiritual attack from the evil one. The threat of disunity should not surprise us. Jesus knows this, and so He prays for unity before disunity even has the opportunity to exist.

If we want unity in our relationships – in our church – in churches around our city,  nation and world – then we must pray proactively for God to make us one. We should not wait for divisions to come upon us. Instead, knowing that the possibility of division is always around the corner, we should pray for unity ahead of time.

There is power in such proactive prayer. Jesus understood this and He shows us – even as He prays for us – the importance of bringing things to God ahead of time.

Lord, please make us one
as You are one.
Protect us from the divisions
that the evil one sows into our midst.
Save us from the walls we often raise up
between us and others.
We admit that divisions often come,
and have already come,
and may come in future days.
Forgive us, Lord, for the ways
we contribute to disunity.
Make us more like You:
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
  who reign in glorious, Triune unity.

[This post is part of the “30 Days of Prayer” devotional. Read other posts here.]