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.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

A Prayer for Harmony and Unity in the Body

Today, we look at Romans 15:5-6 as we gather together to pray as a church body.
"May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ."
A couple of exegetical notes that could spur on discussion and prayer:

1. The genitive "of" in the phrase "the God of" could be easily translated, "who gives."
  • Obviously, these Christians needed endurance and encouragement. Why would they need "endurance"? Why would they need to be "encouraged"? Are we any less needy of these things today?
  • Since they needed them (implication: so do we, if we are faithfully seeking the Lord and His kingdom), WHAT does Paul do? Let us with Paul seek to regularly pray that God would grant us (and others) He alone can truly give: endurance and encouragement. 
  • How often do we pray for these things for our brothers and sisters who are struggling?
2. When the graces of divine endurance and encouragement are lacking in a congregation, "harmony with one another" will be lacking in the congregation.
  • The solution seems to be that we as Christians must live "in accord with Christ Jesus."
  • WHAT does this look like? (hint: passages like Phil. 2:1-8 might be helpful)
  • A.W. Tozer once said that the best way for an orchestra to be "in tune" with one another is to have them all tuned to the same tuning fork. Otherwise, all the parts will sound out of tune and disharmonious with one another.
  • HOW can we all live "in accord with Christ Jesus." Do we need His mindset? If so, how (and where) is this cultivated?
3. Despite the persecution and difficulty the Christians in Rome were experiencing, Paul says that by living in harmony with each other, they will "with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ."
  • Unity and harmony are not an end, but merely a means to an end: the glory of God!!
  • This is counter-cultural, even within the church. Community is costly. It takes work. It requires much time. Even more, it takes prayer. Living for self and by one's self is easy and really doesn't require grace or prayer. Which is why a community operating in the unity of the Spirit is a great witness to the transforming power of the gospel over the self-centeredness and individualism that pervade our dark world. 
Let us then pray to the end that God is glorified in our church's unity this evening. Pray that in our lives of difficulty and discouragement, God would fill us with His endurance and encouragement. The result will be that we live harmoniously, and that the world will see we truly belong to Jesus (cf. John 13:33-34), and that our great Father in heaven will be hallowed on earth as He already is in heaven.

In Christ, and for the glory of God in the church (Eph. 3:21),
pastor ryan

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Praying for Conversions

As we continue through Paul's prayers, we will consider one single verse found in the tenth chapter of his letter to the Christians in Rome:
"Brothers and sisters, my heart's desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved." (v.1)
When God saves His people out of their various contexts, He often leaves them with a burden for those very people whom they were called "out of."

  • For Paul, that meant that he had a 'sweet spot' in his heart for his fellow country-men, the Jews. 
  • For us today, this might look like a Christian praying for their family members who have yet to submit to Christ's lordship. Or, it could mean praying for their particular country where they were born. It may even mean praying for a religious cult or denomination out of which they were graciously rescued by the gospel.

Tonight, as we pray together as a church, let us ask God for such a "heart" (Greek: kardia) that strongly desires for the "good will" (Greek: eudokia [translated as "desire") of those who are near and dear to us. Too often, we as Christians can grow cold in our desire to see others converted to Jesus. May this not be true of us. If it is, let us pray for God to not only thaw our frozen hearts, but to warm them with evangelistic zeal for Christ!

Let us pray that this God-granted desire for the eternal well-being of others would be turned into fervent and unceasing prayers to God to do what only He can do: save lost sinners. In the Greek "my" (teis emeis) in emphatic; let us pray that we (not merely "others" in the church) would pray regularly for the lost around us to be converted.

Let us remember that "salvation" comes only through the gospel (cf. 10:5-17; 1:16-17), and pray that God would send somebody - even us! - to proclaim and embody the good news of God in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

As we gather together to beseech our gracious God who loves to hear and answer the prayers of His children, let us remember to pray for many conversions and baptisms at GCC this year. Let us pray that His kingdom come, and that His great Name be glorified as sinners come to a saving faith in the living Savior, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Soli Deo Gloria!!

Monday, May 22, 2017

Paul's Prayer in Romans 1:8-12

This summer, the elders have decided that we as a church at Grace Community work through the prayers of Paul found in his various letters in the NT. 

This week, we look at his short prayer found in Romans 1:8-12:

First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world. For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God's will I may now at last succeed in coming to you. For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you - that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith, both yours and mine.

Here are but a couple of thoughts/suggestions to ponder as we gather to pray corporately:

1. WHAT is the first thing Paul does in this prayer? Does this characterize our prayers (both corporate and private)? Cf. 1 Col. 4:2; 1 Thes. 5:18.

What are some things we can thank God for today?

2. WHY does Paul say that he thanks the Father "through Jesus Christ"? Is this part of Jesus' role as our Mediator and Advocate? Often we think only lifting our prayers to the Father through Jesus; we must also remember that even our (sin-tarnished) thanks must be "delivered" to the Father by Christ. Let us praise the Savior for this often overlooked aspect of His ministry for His people!!

3. For WHAT does Paul give thanks to God for? Remember that Paul has never personally met these believers in Rome. This ought to remind us that we must prayer for and give thanks for our brothers around the world who are "proclaiming the faith" around the world. 

HOW can we turn this into a prayer for our own local church? Perhaps we can pray that we would have this kind of infectious, passionate evangelical faith as well.

4. The verb "to give thanks" is in the present tense, which means that it is an ongoing action. It is great to pray like this every Wednesday. But perhaps we can pray that God would help us to pray like this consistently throughout the week (note the "always" in verse 10).

5. WHY is Paul so eager to see these believers in Rome? Let us pray that God would enable us to use the gifts He has entrusted us to "strengthen" and "encourage" one another in the faith (cf. Ephesians 4:11-16). Let us pray that God would give us a "longing" to see our brothers and sisters built up and sanctified in and through and for Christ (cf. Phil. 2:1-4).

6. Finally, note that although Paul eagerly desires to see the Roman believers, he nevertheless reminds himself that he will do so only if it is God's will. HOW ought this realization temper and inform our own prayers tonight? Cf. 1 John 5:14-15

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Keeping our Hearts unto Prayer, Part 8 (Praying with an Eye to Eternity)

Flavel's final exhortation to Christians regarding our duty to pray is to "consider what influence these have unto eternity."

He goes on to write:

These are your seed-times, and what you sow in your duties in this world, you must look to reap the fruit of it in another world, Ga. vi. 7, 8. If you sow to the flesh, of that you shall reap corruption; but if to the Spirit, life everlasting. O my soul, answer seriously, wouldst thou be willing to reap the fruit of vanity in the world to come? Darest thou say, when thy thoughts are roving to the ends of the earth in duty [prayer], when thou scarce mindset what thou sayest or hearest; now, Lord, I am sowing to the Spirit; now i am providing and laying up for eternity, now I am seeking for glory, honour and immortality; now I am striving to enter in at the straight gate; now I am taking the kingdom of heaven by an holy violence? O such consideration as this should make the multitudes of vain thoughts that press in upon thy heart in [prayer], fly seven ways before it.
It has been foolishly and erroneously preached from many a pulpit that there are Christians who are so heavenly minded that they are of no earthly good. 

Flavel, and more importantly, the Bible, would strongly disagree. In fact, the opposite is true: many Christians are of no heavenly good because they are so earthly-minded.

Solomon himself says, "The discerning [person] sets his face towards wisdom, but the eye of a fool are on the ends of the earth" (Proverbs 17:24), and the apostle Paul exhorts those who "have been raised with Christ" to "keep seeking the things that are above" and "keep thinking about things above, not things of the earth" (Colossians 3:1-2, NET).

In the movie "Gladiator", there is an epic scene at the beginning of the movie where the Roman army is squaring off against the Barbarians. Maximus, the leading general of the army, concludes his exhortation to his troops with a truth that is repeated throughout Scripture: "What we do in life, echoes through eternity."

Dear believer, never forget eternity before you pray, when you pray, and after you pray! 

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

pastor ryan

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