Monday, May 17

A Few Thoughts on Prayer

I had planned to write something on a different topic this morning, but reading Mr. Standfast's post today with my first-thing-I-do cup of coffee made me start thinking about the subject of prayer, so I'm posting something I've been thinking of posting on that subject instead.

Have you noticed that in the beginning of many of the epistles he writes, Paul has a little section like this one from the first chapter of Philippians?
I thank my God every time I remember you. I always pray with joy in my every prayer for you all because of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now. For I am sure of this very thing, that the one who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. For it is right for me to think this about all of you, because I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel all of you became partners in God's grace together with me. For God is my witness that I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. And I pray this, that your love may abound even more and more in knowledge and every kind of insight so that you can decide what is best, and thus be sincere and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:3-11 NET)
Paul tells the Philippian believers that they are included in his prayers, but he tells them a little more than that. He tells them that his prayers include both thanks for certain things about them, and requests made on their behalf. In the case of the Philippians, he is thankful for their participation in the gospel, probably refering specifically to their willingness to give sacrificially to support Paul when he was in need, both now on the occasion of Paul's imprisonment, and previously when Paul had been in need during his missionary work (See chapter 4:10-19); and he is thankful that God began working in them, and is continuing to work in them, and that He will keep on working in them.

Then he tells them what specific petitions he is making on their behalf. He prays that God will cause their love will grow in discernment so that they can learn to choose the best things and in that way be pure and without offense, and that God will fill them with the good qualities that are produced through association with Christ. As we learn later in the book, despite their faithful support of Paul in the his work trailblazing with the gospel, they seem to have had a bit of a problem having the right attitude toward each other, and this may well be part of what Paul is addressing in these particular requests for them.

So, Paul does three things: he prays for them, he tells them that he prays for them, and he tells them what he is praying for them. Since I first studied this book several years ago, I have tried to follow the example of Paul in this regard, although I haven't been as successful at is as I ought to have been.

We all know we ought to pray for the other believers we know and love, and that responding to our prayers on behalf of others is one of the ways God works in the lives of people, but we forget sometimes to tell them that we are praying for them. Then, of course, they miss the joy that comes from knowing that there are prayers made concerning them, outside of their own thanks and petitions, that are reaching God's ears.

The example from Paul that we are least likely to follow, I think, is telling those we pray for exactly what sorts of things we are saying to God pertaining to them. This is means they may miss out on another way God works. Knowing what sorts of things about us others who know us are thankful for lets us know the areas in which our walk with God is more successful. It also tells us something about the talents and gifts that we have. Knowing what petitions are made for us lets us know what needs others see in us. This gives us confidence that God will be working to meet these needs, and also lets us know the areas that we ought to concentrate on as we "work out our salvation".

As those of you who read here regularly know, my family has been through difficult times in the past few years. You don't know what it meant to hear from people we knew only slightly, or even not at all, who would say or write, "We are praying for you. So is my prayer group at my church." It meant that even when I couldn't muster a prayer, I knew God was still hearing prayers made for us. It meant that we always felt cared for, even when things were at their lowest.

This is one of the areas I'm trying to work on in my own prayer life, because I know from the example of scripture and my own experience how important these three things are: praying for others in their struggles, letting them know we are praying for them, and letting them know what things we are praying concerning them.