July 6, 2014
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church
Lord Jesus, with saints throughout time we pray, “Come quickly!” And we hear Your promise, “I am coming soon.” With this hope in our hearts may we run the race marked out for us, keeping our eyes, minds, and hearts fixed on You. Amen.
This morning I would like us to go back nearly 2,000 years to the city of Rome. It is an exciting time to be in Rome, a metropolis of gladiators, chariots, & palaces. But we’re not going to stop at the coliseum or the emperor’s palace.
Instead, we’re going to look into a drab little room. Inside we see a man seated on the floor. He’s an older fellow, shoulders stooped & his head balding. Chains are on his hands & feet that are also attached by a longer chain to a Roman guard.
It is the apostle Paul. The apostle who has traveled all over the world of his day. The apostle whose message has liberated people in almost every port. The apostle who was bound only by the will of God is now bound by chains, restricted by walls, accused by enemies, & scheduled for trial in the court of the cruelest of emperors, Nero.
Paul is writing a letter. No doubt, it is a complaint letter to God, a list of grievances. No doubt, he is writing the New Testament version of the book of Lamentations. You see, he has every reason to be bitter, to complain.
But he doesn’t. Instead, he is writing a letter that now, 2,000 years later, is known as the “letter of joy.” That is the letter we are looking at this morning.
Bobby Jones, champion golfer from a generation ago, once said, “Have you ever noticed how much golfers practice? Smart businessmen have been quick to take advantage of that, developing public driving ranges where we can practice driving the ball, & putting greens where we can practice our putting.
“But why hasn’t someone developed public sand traps? Sand traps are an inevitable part of the game of golf, & every golfer ought to practice ahead of time how to get out of trouble.”
I think that’s good advice for all of us. For even as we talk about being thankful for the blessings that come our way, we must admit that problems & troubles also come our way.
I think it was Norman Vincent Peale who said, “Problems are a part of life. All of us are going to have problems right up to the moment we die. And some of you are going to have problems after you die.”
So it only makes sense, if we’re going to find ourselves in sand traps, that we learn how to get out of them. And the letter to the Philippians, written by the apostle Paul, can help us do just that.
He writes this letter while imprisoned in Rome under what we would call “house arrest.” Now that was usually better than being in a dungeon, but Roman soldiers could be cruel; yet, Paul’s letter is filled with thanksgiving. And in it, Paul writes, “I always pray with joy…” (Philippians 1:4)
So let’s look at the first 11 verses of Philippians 1, & see what they teach us about praying with joy and the benefits of partnering well. Listen to God’s Word from Philippians 1:1-11…. —-
1 Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,
To all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons:
2 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
3 I thank my God every time I remember you. 4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
7 It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. 8 God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.
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 for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.
From this we learn three things about prayer.
I. PRAYER SHOULD BE A FIRST RESPONSE RATHER THAN A LAST RESORT
Listen to verse 3, “I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy…”
Then, in chapter 4, verse 6, he says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”
What is Paul saying? He is saying that whenever anything happens to him, whether positive or negative, he prays. That’s his first response. He prays, “God, thank you for the blessings that you give me. God, I even thank you for the troubles that come my way. Now teach me the lessons that I need to learn from them.” Paul always started with prayer.
But for many of us, we wait until we’re knee deep in the sand traps of life, & there seems to be no way out of our problems. Then we call upon God & cry, “Help me. I’m in trouble.” We turn to prayer almost as a last resort.
On June 13, my Dad was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer, and less than 3 weeks later he died. I was privileged to be able to spend time with him just a week before he passed – and he showed peace and confidence, because he had been a man of prayer.
If you suddenly discovered that you had just a short time left to live how would you react? Would you curse or would you pray? I’ll tell you what you would do. You would respond instinctively. You wouldn’t think about it. You would just respond in the way that is most natural for you to respond.
Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence is not an act. It is a habit.” So what kind of habits have you developed in your life?
I read about a soldier who was doing sentry duty on the front line in WWI. After being relieved of duty, as a Christian, he wanted to pray, to thank God for protecting him, & to ask for His continued protection.
But the enemy lines were very close, & he couldn’t go far, so he just walked a little ways away from where he had been standing guard, knelt & began to pray aloud.
The sentry who replaced him heard his voice & thought he was speaking to someone in the enemy lines. So he reported him. The officer in charge said, “You’ve been accused of revealing secrets to the enemy. How do you plead?”
The soldier said, “It’s not true. I wasn’t doing that.” The officer replied, “Then what were you doing when you were out there facing the enemy & talking?” He said, “I was praying.”
“You were praying out loud?” “Yes, I was.” The officer said, “Show me. Pray right now.”
So the young man knelt & prayed. And when he finished the officer dismissed the charges. “Because,” he said, “nobody can pray like that unless he has been practicing.”
So what do you do naturally when troubles come your way? Paul says that prayer should be a first response & not a last resort.
II. PRAYER SHOULD BE OFFERED IN AN ATTITUDE OF GRATITUDE.
This is important. Nothing inhibits prayer more than a grumbling, complaining spirit. Notice verse 3: Paul writes, “I thank my God every time I remember you.”
Now that’s an amazing statement because if you go back & read in the Book of Acts about Paul’s first visit to Philippi you’ll find that some very bad things happened to him while he was there.
He could have said, “I remember Philippi & that demon possessed slave girl who followed us around & harassed us. I remember how they arrested us, & beat us, & put us in chains, & then tossed us deep into that dark & dirty dungeon. Oh yes, I remember the terrible experiences we had in Philippi.”
But no, he said, “I remember Lydia & how she & all her household became Christians. I remember casting a demon out of a slave girl & seeing her set free. I remember the Philippian jailer & his family, & all those other people who are now followers of Jesus. And when I remember, I thank my God for you.”
Like Paul, we have a choice. Positive & negative things happen every day. We can focus on the negative & become unhappy grumblers if we want. But if we’ll focus on gratitude, wonderful things can happen in our lives.
The 2nd thing we see is that Paul was confident they would allow God to continue working through them. Listen to verse 6, “Being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
God has a plan for your life, & for mine. There’s a task that He has called us to do, a place that He wants us to fill. And He’s not finished with us yet.
There is a story told about a 300 lb. man who went to his preacher & said, “Preacher, I’m so depressed. I’ve tried to lose weight & I can’t. I can’t even get a date. I feel like an outcast in society. Can you help me?”
The preacher said, “Well, I think I can. Go home & be ready at 8 o’clock tomorrow morning.”
So at exactly 8:00 the next morning his doorbell rang & the man opened the door expecting the preacher to be there. But instead, there stood a beautiful girl dressed in a jogging outfit who said, “The preacher says that if you can catch me I’m yours.” Then she took off running. Well, this guy took off after her, huffing & puffing. Of course, he couldn’t catch her.
Well, this went on for 6 months. Every morning she was there. He chased her for 6 months & lost 120 pounds, & the next to last morning, he almost caught her.
Well, he could hardly wait for the next day to come because he knew that he would catch her that morning for sure.
The next morning the doorbell rang. He opened it eagerly, & there stood a 300 lb. woman. She said, “The preacher said that if I can catch you, you’re mine.”
Now, that isn’t quite the way that I would handle the situation. But I suppose that is one way of utilizing the potential in people. Paul looks at the people in Philippi & says, “I see great potential here. I see God working in you, & He is ready to complete His work.”
Thirdly, Paul had developed some deep relationships with the people in Philippi. When you read his letter you sense that Paul really loves them. In verse 5 he thanks them for their “partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.”
And in verses 7 & 8 he says, “It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart; for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.” In other words, “I love you as Jesus loves you.”
Now listen, when you’re in trouble it is important to have friends who will stand beside you, friends who will be there through thick & thin, that you can always count on. You know they’ll never leave you nor forsake you. That’s what a church is – a people who partner with each other well, and who partner with Jesus well.
Boris Zdorovetz is an ex-underground church leader from communist Ukraine. He spent years in prison. He lost one eye to glaucoma. He lost one arm to a WWII bomb. But he never lost his faith in God through Jesus Christ.
When you look at him, he’ll look back at you with that one eye & you know you have his undivided attention. He has a personality that just draws people to him. And he’ll reach out with his one good hand, & grip your hand tightly as he exchanges greetings with you.
Boris Zdorovetz has an optimistic spirit, even though life has been tough for him. He looks ahead to the “finish” which he knows will be “good”.
There are times when we need to let go of our burdens & look ahead to the “good finish”. So we need to pray with an attitude of gratitude rather than complaining.
III. WE SHOULD PRAY FOR GOD’S GLORY RATHER THAN FOR OUR OWN
Listen to verses 9-11. He says, “This is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God.”
The lasting legacy is always in giving the glory to God. When I take the glory as my own, the legacy ends when I die – when I give it to God, God uses it to continue blessing people into eternity.
Is prayer a first response for you? Or is it a last resort? Do you pray in an attitude of gratitude? Or are you always grumbling? When you pray, do you make sure that God receives the glory, & not you?
If you’re here this morning without Jesus Christ in your life, you can change that. You can make Jesus the Lord & Savior of your life.
If you want to renew or refresh your partnership with Jesus today, you can do that as well.
In a minute we will join together at the Lord’s Table for communion – and we invite you to pray with us as we dedicate ourselves to partnering well with Him and with each other. Amen.
EXTRA THANKS TO: Newland, Melvin; “Praying with Joy”; Ridge Chapel Church of Christ; Kansas, OK; November 2011.
Psalms for All Seasons: A Complete Psalter for Worship; Calvin Institute of Christian Worship; Grand Rapids, MI; 2012; P. 429.