Pressing On

with THE WORD

A study of the Scriptures to discover who God is, what He is like, and how to partner with Him now.

Filtering by Tag: praying for others

Love grows

We often say that our “love grows.” 

When we put these two words together, we generally mean that we want our feelings of affection increase or that we want the bond felt between us to become stronger.  We recognize that a loving relationship isn’t a static, one-and-done feeling, that it does develop…but I think we’re a little squishy when we try and describe exactly how this happens.

Sure, we’ll say that love grows in a variety of ways: over time, through shared experiences, and being together in the ups and downs of life.  If you talk to others about growing in love with their spouse, their closest friends, or with a group of people, what is usually identified as the main driver of growth seems to be surviving a long time without abandoning one another.

In his letters, Paul often told his readers that he was praying for them, but it wasn’t a generic “I’ll be praying for you” platitude.  He didn’t just ask God to “help” them with their “stuff”.  We’re going to take a close look at not only what Paul told the believers in Philippi that he was praying for them, but also the reasons Paul gave for making his specific prayer requests.

So for starters, let’s look at the beginning Paul’s prayer request:

Philippians 1:9
And I pray this: that your love will keep on growing in knowledge and every kind of discernment


Immediately, we see that Paul wants their love to grow in two specific areas.  We’ll take a look at the outcome of this kind of growth in a later post.  First we need to understand what he means by knowledge and every kind of discernment.

The Greek word for knowledge refers to a full, intimate understanding of a subject.  Similarly, the Greek word Paul chose for discernment speaks to how we perceive something or someone.  The word refers to something deeper than just a sensory perception – sight, touch, smell – instead this discernment relies on the intellect.

Blind love or a love that is dependent upon our emotions is not ground for the growth of a relationship.  As our feelings ebb and flow, we can end up doing more harm then good.

True Christian love isn’t shallow or squishy.  It is grounded in an clear understanding and has an intelligent direction.  This shouldn’t surprise us, because, after all, that’s exactly how God loves us.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Flashback Favorite - Sharing our prayers

One last Flashback Favorite before we jump into the next series. This earlier learning provides a great prequel to where we’ll be going.

Sharing our prayers
originally posted on July 15, 2015

People have said it to me more times than I can remember, but I’m unsure how many of them really followed through.  I’ve even promised to do it for someone else, and yet I failed to live up to my own words.

It’s just five words, and they are quite common to hear in Christian communities:

I’ll be praying for you.

I’m not sure that I can trust others who tell me that…but that’s probably because I don’t really trust myself when I say it.  IF it happens that I remember to do the praying I’ve promised to do, it’s usually a breath or two about God “helping” them with their “stuff”.  If I feel unsure how to pray for someone, then my lack of trust for other’s prayer-promises probably comes from not knowing what, specifically, they are praying to God about my life.

Fortunately for us, God doesn’t leave us to our own meandering minds.  God’s Word is full of prayer examples, especially in Paul’s letters.  At the beginning of his letter to the believers in Colossae, Paul gives us a great example:

Colossians 1:9-10
For this reason also, since the day we heard this, we haven’t stopped praying for you.  We are asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, so that you may walk worthy of the Lord

The first thing that stands out is that Paul’s not spending time praying about their circumstances.  Instead, he’s talking to God about the Colossians’ relationship with God in the midst of their circumstances.  Paul doesn’t have to have intimate knowledge of their situation…rather his emphasis is that they would know God and His purposes. 

When we are walking closely with God, we are filled with the knowledge of His will and we more clearly see His desires and purposes.  We trust better.  We relax and watch for God.  We see life with a wisdom and spiritual understanding that is most definitely God-given.  These are the things Paul continually prayed for the believers in Colossae.  Not for “God’s help” in their lives, but that they would know Him and know Him well

The second thing that stands out is that Paul told them what he was praying for them.  How encouraging would it be for someone to tell you that they were praying these things for you?  To have a person specifically tell me that they were asking God that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will…that information would be perspective-changing.  It would lift my eyes away from my “stuff” and circumstances; instead I would begin to look to God for His wisdom and spiritual understanding.

This is how we support one another in prayer.  Let’s petition God about relationships, not circumstances.  But let’s also encourage one another by sharing with others what we’re praying on their behalf.

Keep Pressing,
Ken 

Praying for those in authority

Whom do you pray for?  When you petition God the Father, which person do you talk about the most?  Given that the average person prays about 8 minutes per day, that’s not a lot of time to discuss other people.

If I were to measure, from most to least, the time I spend on the people I talk to God about it, the list would look pretty close to – myself, my wife, my kids, my job, my extended family (sometimes), people in my church (occasionally), and then a rare ten seconds for people I don’t know who are dealing with circumstances that deep down I’m thankful I’m not personally going through.

Looking back on that list, I see a whole lot of me.  Myself, my wife, my kids, my life’s circumstances.  It’s low hanging fruit to bash myself for being so self-oriented toward God.  I’ve heard many preachers, when teaching about prayer, make the point that we’re too self-focused.

On the one hand, though, it’s hard to pray for people we don’t personally know.  We don’t know their issues and hang-ups.  We don’t know where they struggle, so it feels a little hollow to continually pray “God help them…with…their stuff”.  But just because it feels awkward or difficult seems like a flimsy reason to exclude those outside of my life’s circle from being brought up before the Creator of Heaven and Earth.

On the other hand, when I look back over my list and I look at the motivation behind the ‘me’ and the ‘my’, it comes down to the fact that I’m looking for peace in my life and the world around me that I know.  I desire for life’s events to go well.  I don’t mind the work involved, provided I can see that the outcome is beneficial.  Deep down, I long for the time when sin won’t derail what God made us to do, and I’m asking God for just a taste of that now.

So which approach is better?  Praying about my stuff (which I know all too well) or praying about other people’s stuff (which I don’t know hardly at all) ?  We could talk circles around these questions for quite a while and do nothing but increase our frustration level.

Perhaps instead of getting all twisted up about what we’re bringing to God in prayer, we should focus on what subjects God tells us He wants to hear about in our prayers.  Paul gave direction on what topics Timothy and the church in Ephesus should be bringing to God.  Remember, Ephesus wasn’t a ‘Christian’ city.  It didn’t have God-focused government.  Their history, laws, and business practices weren’t Biblically rooted.  It was a cosmopolitan metropolis with people from all over the known world passing through.  Their ideas of ‘higher powers’ in the world primarily came from Greek and Roman gods, Egyptian gods, pagan gods, and Jewish myths.

So, how does the one true God expect a Christian to pray in the midst of all that?

1 Timothy 2:1-2
First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all those who are in authority

Paul tells Timothy that every subject we could possibly communicate to God – needs, discussions, interventions, and thankful acknowledgments – are all fair game when talking to God about our stuff and everyone else’s stuff.  But what I find interesting here is that Paul calls out a very specific group of people that the Ephesian believers shouldn’t forget to pray for – kings and all those who are in authority.

While I might pray that a certain candidate win an election, how long has it been since I petitioned God on behalf of President Obama?  Or prayerfully interceded on some issue between God and the President?  Or thanked God for something the President has done? 

But Paul didn’t just specify the top individual in a society as being the subject of our prayers, he said to pray for all those who are in authority.  Honestly, I don’t recall ever petitioning God on behalf of our town’s mayor or city council.  It’s very rare that I have asked God to send the gospel message to our county representatives or, for that matter, even the local school board.

Paul’s point is that those who have authority in our society need us to approach God on their behalf.  Paul is serious about this, too.  He’s urging believers to pray for leaders.

I think we’re going to need more than 8 minutes.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

The hard work of prayer

Paul would often tell the recipients of his letters the specific things he was praying for them.  In several instances, he would ask his readers to pray for him.  However, out of all his letters in the New Testament, only once did Paul commend someone for the way they prayed.

Colossians 4:12-13
Epaphras, who is one of you, a slave of Christ Jesus, greets you.  He is always contending for you in his prayers, so that you can stand mature and fully assured in everything God wills.  For I testify about him that he works hard for you, for those in Laodicea, and for those in Hierapolis.

When we think of doing hard work we immediately think of manual labor.  We associate the phrase hard work with physical activities, such as digging trenches, heavy lifting, and constructing structures.  Similarly, we identify a hard worker as a person with a “sun up to sun down” work ethic; someone who is relentlessly pursuing the completion of a project.

Interestingly enough, Paul says that Epaphras works hard in his prayers for those in and around the town he was from.  When Paul wrote the letter to the Colossian believers, Epaphras was working with Paul while he was imprisoned for preaching the gospel.  It’s possible that they were as far away as Rome.

And despite that distance, Epaphras believed there was some way for him to continue to help his home community.  So he prayed.  But Epaphras didn’t just ask God to keep them safe; he wasn’t offering up a quick “God please help them with their…stuff…they’re going through” prayer request.  Instead, Epaphras prayed, and prayed hard.

When describing the way Epaphras prayed, Paul said that “he is always contending for you in his prayers”.  The Greek word for contending is “agonizomai” from which you can see a relation to our English word “agonize”.  Agonizomai was an athletic competition term, and it was used when a person had an intense struggle or fight. 

This is how Epaphras would pray for his fellow believers.  He loved these people so much, that he was willing to regularly struggle and strive before God on their behalf.  The main focus of his prayers wasn’t asking for them to be comfortable or even healthy.  Instead, he aggressively petitioned God for their maturity and that they would be fully assured that their choices were lined up with God’s desires.

Epaphras is an incredible example for us.  Whom are we willing to do heavy lifting in prayer for?  Those in our immediate family are easy ones to start with.  However, even those we are not physically close to are worth praying over.  After all, the One we pray to is near to every believer.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Sharing our prayers

People have said it to me more times than I can remember, but I’m unsure how many of them really followed through.  I’ve even promised to do it for someone else, and yet I failed to live up to my own words.

It’s just five words, and they are quite common to hear in Christian communities:

I’ll be praying for you.

I’m not sure that I can trust others who tell me that…but that’s probably because I don’t really trust myself when I say it.  IF it happens that I remember to do the praying I’ve promised to do, it’s usually a breath or two about God “helping” them with their “stuff”.  If I feel unsure how to pray for someone, then my lack of trust for other’s prayer-promises probably comes from not knowing what, specifically, they are praying to God about my life.

Fortunately for us, God doesn’t leave us to our own meandering minds.  God’s Word is full of prayer examples, especially in Paul’s letters.  At the beginning of his letter to the believers in Colossae, Paul gives us a great example:

Colossians 1:9-10
For this reason also, since the day we heard this, we haven’t stopped praying for you.  We are asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, so that you may walk worthy of the Lord

The first thing that stands out is that Paul’s not spending time praying about their circumstances.  Instead, he’s talking to God about the Colossians’ relationship with God in the midst of their circumstances.  Paul doesn’t have to have intimate knowledge of their situation…rather his emphasis is that they would know God and His purposes. 

When we are walking closely with God, we are filled with the knowledge of His will and we more clearly see His desires and purposes.  We trust better.  We relax and watch for God.  We see life with a wisdom and spiritual understanding that is most definitely God-given.  These are the things Paul continually prayed for the believers in Colossae.  Not for “God’s help” in their lives, but that they would know Him and know Him well

The second thing that stands out is that Paul told them what he was praying for them.  How encouraging would it be for someone to tell you that they were praying these things for you?  To have a person specifically tell me that they were asking God that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will…that information would be perspective-changing.  It would lift my eyes away from my “stuff” and circumstances; instead I would begin to look to God for His wisdom and spiritual understanding.

This is how we support one another in prayer.  Let’s petition God about relationships, not circumstances.  But let’s also encourage one another by sharing with others what we’re praying on their behalf.

Keep Pressing,
Ken 

Praying for those we haven't met

Let’s face it.  Praying for God’s help is awkward when you’re not intimately involved in the situation.  Whether it’s request for prayer from a good friend, a family member, or even a total stranger…we often don’t know what to say to God about it.  I mean, He’s God, after all…shouldn’t He know what they need more than I do?  How does my few moments of a mumbled, semi-sympathetic prayer really help anyone else?

Yet we often feel the same way even when we are praying for someone we do know.  When someone we love and care about – even those we deeply care about – are in another town and not in our day-to-day lives, how do we pray for them?  Again, it just feels awkward because God knows what’s going on better than I do.

In both these cases, I usually end up praying something like “God…please help them with their…stuff…they’re going through.  I pray that they rely on You.  Amen.”  If I’m honest, that kind of prayer leaves me feeling rather unsatisfied and wondering if I have just wasted my time – and maybe God’s, too.

The Apostle Paul came in contact with thousands, if not tens of thousands, of people over the known world as he spread the good news about Jesus and ministered to those who believed on Him for eternal life.  However, Paul didn’t talk to everyone.  There were churches started in other towns by others who were also spreading the gospel. 

At some point during his journeys, Paul met a man named Epaphras.  Biblical evidence suggests that he was from the town of Colossae, which was about 100 miles inland from Ephesus, in modern-day Turkey.  Although Epaphras was away from his hometown while he was ministering with Paul, the believers in Colossae were always on his heart.  His prayers for them were full of passion and concern…so much so that Paul also joined Epaphras in prayer, and then wrote the believers in Colossae a letter of encouragement and teaching.

Before we jump into Paul’s letter, stop and think about the situation.  Epaphras hadn’t been in recent contact with the Colossae church (no phones or email) and Paul has never met them.  Certainly Epaphras gave Paul some ideas on what he could be praying…but what, specifically, would he say to God?  What would you say?  Or to ask a question that might be even more daunting – What would you write to believers who are total strangers to you?  What reason would you give that would convince them that your advice is worth listening to?

Here’s what Paul had to say about his reasons for writing the letter:

Colossians 2:1-3
For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you, for those in Laodicea, and for all who have not seen me in person.  I want their hearts to be encouraged and joined together in love, so that they may have all the riches of assured understanding, and have the knowledge of God’s mystery – Christ.  In Him all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden.

Paul’s aim is to encourage believers, even those he hasn’t come in direct contact with.  He desires for all believers to walk confident in their understanding, knowledge, and relationship with Christ.  There is much to learn from his example and from what he desires to teach the Colossian church.

For now, let’s ask God to show us how to be an encouragement to others – even those we haven’t met.

Keep Pressing,
Ken