Monday, July 24, 2017

Praying That We Might Really Know God

As we gather together to pray together as a church, we are going to look at the first part of Paul's prayer for the Christians of Ephesus in the letter's first chapter (vv.15-23):
For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him, having your eyes enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which He has called you, what are the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His great might that He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that in named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And He put all things under His feet and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fulness of Him who fills all in all.
This truly is one of the greatest recorded prayers we have in Scripture, and if we unpacked all the glorious gems contained in this opulent mine, all the blogs in the world could not contain the glory therein. 

So we'll just touch on a few.

First, note what stimulates Paul's prayer(s) for the Ephesian believers: he prays for them simply because they are believers. As the letter unfolds, Paul tells us that all believers are integral parts of God's temple (2:21-22), and thus all play an integral part (1:22-23; cf, 4:16) in God's eternal purpose to sum up all things in the Son (cf. 1:9-10). Regardless of one's 'functional importance' in the church, all Christians have the Holy Spirit (1:13-14; 4:30) and represent on earth the Christ is who ruling from heaven. 

Of course, it is not wrong to naturally pray for those in our churches who are nearest and dearest to us. But this ought to encourage to be intentional in praying for those in our midst who might be easily overlooked or neglected. One example worth emulating is that of Mark Dever, who makes it a habit to systematically pray through the church's membership directory* throughout the year, so that none of the saints will be forgotten in prayer.

  • There are many hurting Christians in our membership that are 'falling through the cracks.' Let us ask God to bring them to our remembrance, that we might pray prayers like Ephesians 1 for them.

Second, notice when and how Paul remembers them: "in [his] prayers." The present tense of the verb and plural nouns perhaps suggest that Paul indeed had regular times of prayer that he intentionally set apart to pray for the Christians in the various churches he had planted. 
  • Let us pray for the discipline to intentionally set apart times of prayer where we pray not only for ourselves and our family and our close friends [as necessary and important as this is], but also for others in our midst who bear the badge of heaven as new creatures in Christ.

When Paul remembers these believers, he prays. He doesn't gossip about them. He doesn't remember their faults and follies. Nor does he simply 'move on.' No, when God brings them to his remembrance, he prays for them (cf. Phil. 1:3). What a glorious habit!
  • Let us pray that God would give us such a 'heavenly perspective' and love for His people that we would immediately pray for them when they are brought to our minds by the Holy Spirit.

Third, and lastly, we see the content of His prayer: that God the Father would give them "the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him."

Because the wisdom that comes from the revelatory Spirit is a gift, we must ask for it - not only for ourselves, but also for our brothers and sisters in Christ. Of all the things Paul could have prayed for - safety, riches, influence, giftings - Paul chooses rather to pray for what these Christians truly needed: a God-revealed wisdom that enables them to see the world from His perspective (cf. 2 Cor. 5:16), resulting in practical and intentional decisions that reflect this Spirit-wrought 'heavenly-mindedness', something that is diametrically opposed to the kind of mindset and lifestyle that is characterized amongst the 'sons of disobedience' (see 2:1-4). What this practically looks like is seen in chapters 4-6. 
  • Let us then simply pray that God would grant us as a church this kind of "Spiritual wisdom and revelation" that produces a "growing knowledge" (NET) of our great God and Savior. For when a Christian truly knows God,** everything changes!!

In Christ, and for His glory in His church,
pastor ryan

* It is interesting that the believers in Ephesus did not keep their faith to themselves. When Paul says he "has heard of their faith," it likely means that one of his apostolic emissaries (e.g. Timothy, Titus, etc.) had come back with a report, revealing that these Christians were going public with the gospel (cf. Rom. 1:8). We also see that their faith in the Lord Jesus is inseparably coupled with their love towards the saints. "Towards" is a great translation of the preposition, and infers more than just a sentimentality here; rather, this love was demonstrated in tangible expressions of love that could be seen flowing from the source towards the recipient. Those who confess faith in Christ and submission to His lordship will also possess a genuine and concrete love towards those who belong to Him.

** The Greek word used for "knowledge" here, epignosis, often carries the connotation of an intimate knowledge. That is, this is more than just 'head knowledge.' As important as it is to devour and learn a systematic theology textbook, this is not the kind of 'knowledge' Paul is praying for. Rather, he is praying that the believers would so "know" God - which can only come about by the Spirit's "revelation" (and not just mere study) - and be transformed in their minds and hearts and wills and lives.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Remembering the Trinity in Prayer

This week as we gather together to pray, we consider perhaps Paul's most well-known and best-loved benediction, found in the final verse of his second letter to the Corinthian church:
"The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all."
To pray to the true and living God is to pray to the God who is triune.

As the Scriptures progressively unfold, YHWH, who is championed as "one" (e.g. Deut. 6:4), is most fully revealed in the New Testament as three distinct persons. The shadows that suggested a plurality in the Old Testament make way for the light of fullest revelation in the coming of Jesus Christ.

Jesus reveals for us most fully not merely Himself, but also who the Father and Spirit are as well. In other words, we cannot know who the Triune God is unless we understand who God the Son is. And this seems to be Paul's great emphasis in His letters. As the apostle of Christ Jesus, he concomitantly shows us the eternal relationship between the Son and the Father and the Spirit.

Not surprisingly, then, Paul ends this at times awkward epistle with a benediction pleading for God's blessing upon His elect people.

As most commentators note, Paul is not trying to lay out a Trinitarian theology here. Paul simply assumes the Trinity as a fact. He is not defending the Trinity; he is delighting in it.

Moreover, Paul is not saying that grace alone is bestowed by Jesus, or love poured out solely by the Father, or the establishment of fellowship being the unique ministry of the Spirit. That is, the Son loves us just as much as the Father, and the Father bestows grace with the Son, and the poured out Spirit establishes fellowship in the Son. The Trinity, though a glorious mystery, is nevertheless a harmonious symphony.

He is, however, generalizing, and saying that grace flows to us from God through Christ, and that the Father is the orchestrator of sovereign love; and that the Spirit by and large takes the reins when it comes to establishing and strengthening fellowship within God's people.

And so, let us pray to this end:

  • That the grace of redemption, purchased by Christ for us, might be more fully experienced and cherished and esteemed in our hearts and lives.
  • That we might more deeply sense how great the Father's love for us is in Christ.
  • That the Spirit might bind and knit us together more tightly in Christ.
This is the 'secret' of overcoming the Corinthians perennial problem of disunity (see 13:11). This triune blessing of the Triune God will bring about "restoration" in their congregation, allow them to "agree with one another," and ultimately enable them to "live in peace."

We are no less needy today. 

My encouragement is to memorize this glorious verse, as well as begin to regularly employ it in our arsenal when we come before the throne of grace in prayer.

In Christ, and for His glory in and through His church,
pastor ryan

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Praying for the Realization of God's Sufficiency (i.e. Contentment)

As we gather this week to pray together, we look at Paul's famous words in 2 Corinthians 12:
"So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong."
Truly, God moves in mysterious ways. Especially when it comes to our sanctification. If we were on His throne, certainly we would not intentionally use the pains and hardships and trials that are so common to life to conform us into Christ's image. 

But like Paul - and the rest of humanity - we struggle with self-sufficiency. "Sufficiency" is a major theme in 2 Corinthians, and is used positively in some places, and negatively in others. Here, the Lord Jesus is dealing with the latter, namely a sinful, godless, proud self-sufficiency.

Robert Murray M'Cheyne once said, "God always gives us what we ask, or something better." This is precisely what is happening for Paul. Rather than granting Paul's urgent and repeated request to remove this "thorn in the flesh," Jesus grants Paul a theological epiphany: His grace is sufficient for him in his discomfort.

This is something we need to pray for. 

Often, when God doesn't answer our prayers for immediate deliverance or pain relief, we can become disillusioned and numb on the one hand, or angry and bitter on the other.

But, by prayer, we can let these trials have their perfect work. According to both James 1 and our passage above, this much desired fruit is called contentment. In 1 Timothy 6, Paul says that for the Christian this Spirit-wrought contentment is "great gain."

Therefore, we must pray for a greater trust in God, even (especially!) when His ways don't make sense to us (cf. Isa. 55:8-9). In the words of Spurgeon, "when we cannot trace His loving hand in the storm, we must by faith trust His loving heart."

Often, the greater miracle God performs in answer to our prayer is not the granting of the prayer itself, but the granting of patience and endurance and faith to bear and persevere through these painful God-ordained "messengers." Paul's last sentence is a miracle of grace: "For when I am weak, then I am strong [in Christ]."

In addition to Scripture, having a working knowledge of the great hymns of the faith can be a great help for hurting and trial-weary Christians. Two I heartily recommend, and personally return to and revisit myself, are "God Moves in a Mysterious Way", and "I Asked the Lord." 

As we gather, let us pray for grace to help in our time of need, knowing that in Christ, God will grant it to all His children who ask.

In Christ, and for His glory in His church,
pastor ryan

Monday, July 3, 2017

Thanking God in our Prayers for our Brothers and Sisters

This week, as we gather together to pray and praise our triune God, we look at Paul's first prayer in his first letter to the Corinthians:
I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in Him in all speech and all knowledge - even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you - so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Anyone who has ever read either of Paul's Spirit-inspired letters to this church knows that they had their issues. To put it bluntly, this was one messed-up church!

Paul would have been totally justified in cutting straight to the point and admonishing these wayward Christians for all of there erring and rebellious ways.

But he doesn't.

Instead, he does something quite remarkable - something we ourselves must be careful not to miss.

The first matter of business Paul gets to in this letter is giving thanks to his God for this motley crew of justified sinners.

This is something that can become quite foreign to us if we are not intentional in our prayer lives in making thanksgiving to God for our brothers and sisters a priority.

This is not Paul seeking to puff them up or tickle their ears. We know that later on in this very letter, he says some pretty hard things to these same believers.

What Paul is doing is demonstrating his genuine love for them. Or, in the words of Sam Crabtree, his is exercising the spiritual gift of "practicing affirmation."

As any good coach or parent knows, constantly nit-picking the faults of others can lead to the discouragement and despair of the very people we are trying to 'help.' However, as we all know, any kind of genuine and legitimate affirmation of any kind (no matter how 'small') of progress or achievement pays off great dividends, and helps 'soften the blow' when those rebukes and disciplines are necessary.

As I write this, I ask myself, "When have I last spent time in prayer thanking God for the growth in grace of some fellow believer? When is the last time I've come alongside one of my joint-heirs in Christ and told them I see God at work in their life? When is the last time I've thanked my gracious God for saving those who God has placed in my life and fellowship?"

Thankfully, Scripture is a lamp to my feet and life - including my prayer life.

Brothers and sisters of GCC, let us pray that this kind of thankfulness to God for others would increasingly infuse our own prayers, as they seem to characteristically infuse Paul's (see Romans, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 2 Timothy, Philemon).

Some suggestions from our very text might include:
  • The activity of God's grace at work in the lives of our brothers and sisters in Christ (both in conversion and sanctification).
  • The evidence of God's grace in "enriching" our brethren with gospel speech and knowledge.
  • God's abundant grace in bestowing various spiritual gifts (further spelled out in chapters 12 and 14).
  • God's sustaining grace and faithfulness, which will hold us fast to the end, when we will stand guiltless before our Savior.
  • God's electing grace in calling us individually and corporately into the fellowship of His Son.
As we follow Paul's own example, may a greater unity - something that seemed to be lacking in the Corinthian congregation - be fostered in our midst, to the glory of our glorious triune God.

In Christ, and for His church,
pastor ryan

Monday, June 26, 2017

Praying for God's Glory

As we gather to pray as a church, we consider Paul's final words in his letter to the believers in Rome:
Now to Him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith - to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ. Amen.
Herein we once again see Paul's obsession with the gospel of Jesus Christ. He could have easily prayed, "May our only God be glorified. Amen."

But for Paul, God's glory is inseparable from the gospel and its saving power.

In other words, we can pray that God would be specifically glorified:
  1. In the strengthening of His people through the gospel. 
  • Let us pray that the gospel never becomes a mere cliche, or a 'thing' we refer to, both individually, and as a church. Let us pray for a greater faith in the gospel of Christ, which Paul says is God's means of delivering His people from the penalty of sin, the power of sin, and the presence of sin.
  • Let us pray that we study the gospel, so that it's not just a six letter word we throw around to prove our orthodoxy to others. May we know what it means to be justified by faith and adopted by Christ. May God help us understand what it truly means to be "in Christ", and to have peace with God and power through His Spirit. May we be humbled by the doctrines of election and predestination, as we would have never believed the gospel apart from God's sovereign grace.  
     2.  Through the preaching of Jesus Christ
  • Pray for the preaching of the gospel on the Lord's Day as we gather together to sit under God's Word.
  • Pray that we would "mutually encourage one another" (1:12) as we gossip the gospel to each other whenever we meet, whether on Sunday or during the week.
  • Pray that we would be faithful to declare the unsearchable riches of Christ to our children, our families, our neighbors, our co-workers, as well as strangers who desperately need Christ.
     3.  By the salvation of God's elect around the world
  • God's glory in salvation through the gospel is global. Romans is a missionary letter written by a missionary (it seems that the main purpose he wrote this letter is that he hoped to be sent by the believers in Rome to take the gospel of Christ to Spain).
  • The gospel must be "made known to all nations." Let us pray that God would "speed it along readily" to those who have never heard.
     4.  Because of the obedience of those who believe
  • Romans 1:5 and 16:26 form an inclusio ("bookends") to the letter, highlighting a major theme that tinctures and flavors the rest of the book: obedience.
  • If faith in the gospel empowers obedience, let us pray for a greater faith in it, that God might be glorified greatly in our lives.
Though we could say much more, these four themes more than suffice as spurs to encourage Scripture-saturated prayer: gospel-strength, gospel-preaching, gospel-salvation, and gospel-obedience.

Let us pray that the result of these gospel fruits in our lives and in the life of our church would bring great glory to the only wise God. May our triune God alone get the glory that is due Him for His all-wise plan to save a people for Himself in Christ through the glorious gospel.

In Christ, and for His glory to the ends of the earth,
pastor ryan

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Praying Together for Gospel Advancement

One of the great benefits of systematically praying through the Scriptures is that we are kept from falling into and remaining in ruts - praying for the same things in the same ways with the same words.

Now of course this isn't a bad thing: it certainly is better than not praying at all.

But as we look at Paul's third prayer in Romans 15, we are given a window into the prayer life of a missionary (and evangelist and church planter):
"I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf, that I may be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea, and that my serve for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, so that by God's will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company. May the God of peace be with you all. Amen."
First, Paul's passion is seeping through again. The word he uses for "appeal" is a strong one*, and in others contexts is translated "beg."
  • Let us pray for this kind of passion for missions - whether local or foreign. 
Second, he's appealing not merely to individuals, but to the gathered church as a whole. We need to remember that these letters were not private emails, but one copy would be read to all those who gathered together for worship.
  • Let us pray that we as a church would make not only private prayer, but corporate prayer a priority in our lives. When Paul uses the phrase "strive together", it implies more than one person.
Third, he appeals "by our Lord Jesus and by the love of the Spirit." By mentioning the Lord Jesus, perhaps he is reminding us of 12:1-2, and giving us yet another practical exhortation of what it looks like to live a life that pleases the One who died for us. For the sake of Christ and His great glory in saving His people - both Jews and Gentiles - Paul says, pray for me as I seek to extend His kingdom yet farther to the ends of the earth. Also, it seems that Paul infers that if his readers do have the Spirit of Christ in them (cf. 8:1-9), then the first-fruit of love will be at work in their hearts and lives (cf. 13:8-10; cf. Gal. 5:22). And evidence of this Spirit-wrought love for Christ and His people will certainly include praying for the advance of His mission.

  • Let us pray for an eye to Christ's glory in missions, as well for an overflowing love for Christ and the lost.

Fourth, his prayer is specific: "Pray for my safety." There is nothing unspiritual about asking to be kept safe while on God's mission. Of course we know that it must be "according to God's sovereign will," but there is nothing wrong with praying this way (cf. Phil. 1:18b-20).**
  • Perhaps as we  pray through Operation World this year, we can pray specifically for the safety of missionaries, church planters, and strategic 'players.'
Fifth, he asks that his gospel ministry (and specifically the love offering he and Titus are bringing for the Jewish Christians) would be a blessing to the saints there.
  • Let us pray that all of our labors, and all of the ministries at GCC would not only result in conversions, but would greatly bless Christ's people as well.
Sixth, Paul desires to make it to Rome safely, that he might not only bless the saints there (cf. 1:11), but that he - through them - might be refreshed (cf. 1:12). Again, we see the great purpose of [true, Spirit-empowered] fellowship amongst God's people.
  • Pray that our times together - whether we gather corporately on the Lord's Day, or meet in our grace groups, or visit others individually - would truly be refreshing. This of course means "gospel talk" (the spiritual gift of 1:11 is Paul's gospel). Truly, the word of God is whole and complete, refreshing the soul (cf. Psa. 19:7).
Finally, Paul ends with a theme that has been coursing through this chapter: "peace". 
  • Let's pray that God would grant us all His peace as we strive together for His mission.
Oh what a guide the Scriptures are to help us pray God's words and thoughts after Him!

In Christ, our great Mediator before the Father,
pastor ryan

* That Paul uses an aorist for "strive together" may also stress the urgency of his prayer (in other words, "don't wait to pray...pray for me right now!!"

** At the end of his "journey", Paul realizes that he is probably going to die. No prayer request is made for his safety, for, in his own words, he knows he has "finished the race" (cf. 2 Tim. 4:6-8)

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Praying for Gospel Hope

This week as we gather corporately to pray together as God's people on and for God's mission, we look at Paul's power-packed words in Romans 15:13, as he again prays for the Christians in Rome:
"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope."
First of all, this is a great Scripture to commit to memory, as these are words we all need to pray for ourselves and for those around us.

This is because it is assumed and implied that we are very needy of these things. In a life full of disappointments and discouraging reports, we need to be filled with "all joy and peace." Without and within there seems to be anything but joy and peace.

And so we with Paul need to pray.

As the heat of persecution against Christianity was being turned up in Rome, the believers in Rome, like a pot of boiling water on a stove, were being tempted to boil over and lash out at one another. Doing so would compromise the message of Christ's powerful gospel to save His people from not only the penalty of sin, but also the power and presence of it in our lives and churches.

And so Paul prays for them.

This is because God is not only the God "of" endurance (15:5); He is also the God "of" hope. That is, there is hope to be found in this hopeless world. And this hope is found only in, and is dispensed only by, "the God of hope."

What good news for us today! The triune God offers hope to all, and grants it to those who ask.

And He does so in Christ, by the Holy Spirit, through our faith in the gospel.*

Romans is all about God's power being unleashed through faith in the gospel of His Son (cf. Rom. 1:16). As we prayerfully gaze upon Christ by faith as we ingest the gospel, the Spirit produces joy and peace to our hearts, which overflows in [this true] hope. Let us marvel at this, for it is as glorious an expression of God's power in our lives as the Spirit producing saving faith in our hearts through the gospel.

In light of this logical progression, let's pray accordingly:

1. That we would not neglect meditating and rehearsing and feasting on and believing in the gospel. Every day.**

2. Let's pray that for those in the slough of despond, that God would send an "evangelist" to shine through the dark clouds with the light of the gospel of Christ.

3. Let's pray that we would not just 'acquaint' ourselves with the 'facts' of the gospel, but that we would be believing it***, for without faith in the gospel, true joy and true peace are elusive and illusionary.

4. Some people cannot be themselves in certain environments. But when we're at home, we can be who we are. In the same way, let us pray that our hearts are a suitable "home" for the Spirit (cf. Eph. 3:17; Col. 3:16). When He feels at home in our lives, He brings the gift of God's hope in "every" circumstance of life.**** The Spirit loves the heart where Christ dwells richly. So let's pray to this end, for ourselves, and for our brothers and sisters at GCC.

5. The world is full of counterfeit hopes. What people need to see in us is true and abounding hope (cf. 1 Pet. 3:15). Let's pray not only for a little hope here and there, but for hearts and lives that are so "full" of Christ our hope (cf. 1 Tim. 1:2) that they irrepressibly "abound" and refresh this parched landscape around us.

May this be so, Lord Jesus!!

In Christ, the hope of the world,
pastor ryan

* literally, Paul says, "Now may the God of the hope fill you." Paul is not just talking about 'any' kind of hope here, but "the" hope that comes as a fruit and when we see and believe in the gospel (cf. 8:20-25).

** that Paul uses an aorist tense for the verb may imply that we need 'fresh' fillings regularly. Thus we need to pray regularly to be 'refilled.'

*** the Greek verb "to believe" is a present infinitive, meaning that as we believe on and rest in the gospel, the Spirit produces all joy and peace and hope in our lives. 

**** the Greek word pas/pan is translated "all" by the ESV, but also conveys the idea of "every", as in we need this gospel-empowered hope for "every kind" of circumstance or need.