Though I have struggled to do it at times, I’ve been keeping up with the prayer commitment I made at the beginning of the year: to pray for everyone who is a part of this congregation at least once a week. I have this sheet that lists everyone’s name in seven columns, one column for each day of the week. I’ve got multiple copies of it in different places; one in my office, one in my night stand, one in my kids’ bedroom, and sometimes I’ll carry one in my pocket when I go places. That way I’ll have one available when I find a few minutes to pray and I can pray for those next on the list.
I’m glad I’ve made the commitment. It’s helping me to do as these passages tell us:
- Ephesians 6:18, “And pray in the Spirit [We are “in the spirit”. As Christians we have God’s spirit with us, so we have God’s listening ear and His guiding, empowering, blessing, hoping presence with us. And so He says “pray in the spirit”… ]on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints”.
- James 5:16, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much”.
And when I pray for you I try not to just mention the names on the list for that day of the week and ask God to just bless, generally, all the afore mentioned people. I try to bring each name before God and when I get to your name I think about you for a bit, your specific needs, and ask for you the specific things that I think would be ultimately and spiritually good for you, because…
You notice in James 5:16 that word “earnest” or some versions have “effective”. That word in the Greek text is “energeo”, from which we get the word energy. It usually means something like working or exerting energy. I think it’s further qualifying the kind of prayer of a righteous man that really can accomplish much, that it’s not just a quick effortless general request, it’s a working kind of prayer, prayer in which you’re exerting energy. You’re putting thought and effort into the prayer.
Romans 15:30-31, “Now I urge you, brethren, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God for me, that I may be rescued from those who are disobedient in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may prove acceptable to the saints…”. That word there for “strive” is “agonizomai”, from which we get our word agonize. It means to strive, struggle, fight, or wrestle. He’s saying to not just send up one quick request for these things, but pray hard, pray fervently, pray intensely, put thought and effort into it.
Colossians 4:12, Paul wrote to the Colossian Christians, “Epaphras, who is one of your number, a bondslave of Jesus Christ, sends you his greetings, always laboring earnestly [same word, “agonizomai”] for you in his prayers, that you may stand perfect [or mature]and fully assured in all the will of God”.
It appears that kind of prayer, the “hard work”, “laboring earnestly”, “thoughtful” kind of prayer, is all the more powerful.
Now, I try to pray for the unique needs that I know of for each person, if you’re struggling with a sickness I pray about that, if you’re married I pray for your marriage relationship, if you have kids I pray for wisdom and help in raising your kids, if I know you struggling with something I pray about that. But there are a number of requests that I commonly make for everyone, because as I think about each one of you in prayer, these things come to mind as things that would be really good for you. And that’s what I want to talk to you about, my prayer requests for each and every one of us. There are several of these requests that I tend to make for everybody, we’re not going to talk about them all, but I just selected four of them. I pray for these particular four things, among others, for you because, believe it or not, I care about every single one of you and actually want what’s best for you and I know that these things would be really good for you as well as honoring to God. I wanted to talk to you about them because I thought it may help you to be open to God helping you in these particular ways.
First of all, I pray that God will help each of you, and myself, to…
Be devoted to prayer
I have a suspicion that a number of you, in relation to prayer, are like I’ve been and struggle to not be still. Aside from little prayers here and there when you feel the need for something, prayer is sort of something you do when you don’t have anything else to do. It’s not something that you actually plan for in your daily schedule. It’s something you do when you’ve got all plans, work, and chores done, and there’s nothing on TV, you’ve got a moment, and so you decide, “okay I’ll just pray for a little bit”. Or when you’re driving and there’s nothing good on the radio, so you pray for a bit as you drive. And maybe you find that you often go to bed and realize that you hadn’t prayed all day and you feel like you should, so you try to pray a bit before you go to sleep. But you’ve probably discovered as I have that lying in your cozy bed is not the best posture for prayer, at least it’s pretty tough to pray very long like that, your mind will start to drift off.
Colossians 4:2, “Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving…”. To devote yourself to something means to make a serious commitment to it, to make it a top priority, to make time for it, to adjust your daily schedule for it, to sacrifice something of your schedule if it’s too full for it, maybe adjust your bed time and waking time if you need to for it. And then you persevere at it, you don’t let anything take its place. That’s what it means to be devoted to something.
Making prayer that kind of priority was characteristic of the early church in the book of Acts. That church that spread Christianity throughout the world they knew in one generation.
Acts 1:14, after the ascension of Jesus, His disciples were waiting in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit to come upon them as Jesus instructed them. And it says, “They were all with one mind continually devoting themselves to prayer, along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers”.
Acts 2:42 says of the 3000 new Christians in Jerusalem, “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer”.
Acts 6:4, the apostles say, “But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word”. In 12:5, “So Peter was kept in prison, but prayer for him was being made fervently by the church to God”.
And on and on through the book of Acts, you find them praying and praying and fasting and praying. And you find God responding and responding, empowering, guiding, delivering them, using them for the advancement of the gospel and His kingdom in the world.
I’m learning by experience how important that is. I’m learning how important that is for closeness with God, for spiritual growth, for keeping the right focus and perspective on things, for joy and peace, for growing in our faith, and the difference you see when you’ve been much in prayer from when you weren’t, and how important it is for receiving God’s help and blessings in various ways sometimes. Do you know there are some things that God requires us to ask Him for and if we don’t ask we don’t receive? James 4:2, “You do not have because you do not ask”.
So related to this request, I pray that we will see that we are not just talking to the air when we pray. I pray that we see what’s happening when we pray, that the Creator, the Lord of heaven and earth, is hearing every word and even the feelings behind the words, and our prayers ascend like sweet incense to Him (says the book of Revelation). And that God actually lets us move Him to action, drawing power and blessings from Him through prayer, and that God actually does and doesn’t do things contingent on our prayers. I pray we’ll see that and we’ll see the place prayer should have in our lives, and that we’ll have the relationship depth with God and the blessings that come with it.
Another request I like to make for all of us is that each of us will…
Delight in God’s word
I know that for some of you the only feeding on the word that you do is what we’re doing right now, just for this half hour on Sundays. And if so, that’s probably because you feel like that’s enough, you can get by with just this, and you don’t enjoy very much reading the word, or Bible class or reading or listening to the teaching of the word online or elsewhere, you don’t enjoy that as much as you enjoy many other things, like maybe TV shows and reading the paper and fixing up your yard, etc.
But I pray that you will enjoy learning the word of God like you enjoy a delicious meal, and that you’ll enjoy it much more than you may enjoy your TV shows or reading the paper or whatever. And related to that, I pray the request of Psalm 119:34, that God will help you to understand His word as you read it and hear it, because I know it’s hard to delight in it if you don’t understand what you’re reading. And I think if you start to really understand it, you will love it. And I pray the request of Psalm 119:18 that God will open your eyes to see wonderful things in His word. I pray that God will help all our teachers to be well prepared for their classes and have lessons from the word that are truthful and edifying. I pray for some of you that you’ll be able to make it to Bible class and that you’ll have your kids in class, making that very important to you; for you and your family to know and understand the word of God as much as you can.
For many reasons I pray that… Psalm 1, “How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, Nor stand in the path of sinners, Nor sit in the seat of scoffers! [So he’s not getting his guidance and values and perspectives from the world.] But his delight is in the law of the LORD, And in His law he meditates day and night. He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, Which yields its fruit in its season And its leaf does not wither; And in whatever he does, he prospers…”. I want each of you to be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, not like a struggling little sprout in the desert. In other words, I want you to be healthy and strong and stable in your faith and your relationship with God. When storms come, as storms will come, I want them to not shake you. And I want you to be fruitful, useful, not wasting so much of your life on futile pursuits for stuff that’s only temporary, but fruitful for God. I want you to be like a tree planted by streams of water, to be beautiful in your character. And I want you to be prosperous. The streams of water that will enable you to be these things, are the word of God. So I pray that you will so delight in it that you’ll plant yourself firmly beside it and be constantly absorbing it, and be nourished and strengthened by it.
Psalm 19:7-11, “The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul; The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; The judgments of the LORD are true; they are righteous altogether. They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold; Sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them Your servant is warned; In keeping them there is great reward”. I want your soul restored when it is discouraged, I want you to gain wisdom for living your life in the best way, and I want your heart to rejoice. I want your eyes to be enlightened. I want you to be warned so you don’t go the wrong direction. I want you to be rewarded by God to the greatest degree. So I pray you will delight in His word.
I Peter 2:2-3, “like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow unto salvation, since you have tasted the kindness of the Lord”. I think most of you have tasted a bit of the kindness of the Lord, and you’ve found it delightful. It’s not like the samples at Costco where you only get one taste. You can keep on tasting His kindness in the word. And by it, Peter says, you grow, you grow into His image. So I pray you will long for it as a baby longs for milk.
A third request I make is that God will help each of us to…
Be zealous for good deeds
I know if we were to line up all the people of this community, from “doers of most good” to “doers of least good”, I think most of us would be in the top half, maybe top quarter, or even ten percent. I know many of you are good people compared to most people in general. And I know if you found someone stranded in the middle of nowhere on the side of a highway, you’d help them. You give a little at church, if someone needs a jumpstart to their car and you know how to do that, you do. You do good things for people here and there. But I pray you be zealous for good deeds.
That we would be the kind of people who are zealous for good deeds, is one of the reasons Christ died for us. Titus 2:14, “our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus… gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds”. You know what it is to be zealous for something? If you were zealous for say hiking in the mountains, what would that mean? That would mean you love to hike, you really enjoy it. You’re always on the lookout for time when you can get away for a bit to go on a hike. You get excited at opportunities to go on hikes in new places and to go on long hikes, to have a whole day to summit a big mountain in the park. You’re passionate about hiking.
Part of the reason Christ gave Himself up for us, was to make us people who feel that way about good deeds, people who love to engage in good deeds, who find joy in serving and giving, always on the lookout for opportunities to do something helpful, something of a blessing to others and for the good of the church.
You remember II Corinthians 9:7, God loves a… what kind of giver? A cheerful giver. God is especially endeared to people who find it fun giving stuff away and being helpful.
I pray that we’ll be zealous for good deeds/cheerful givers for many reasons and I pray we will see these. I so want the Lord to say to each and every one of us, “Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me”. “Lord, when did we see you in any of those conditions and take care of You?” “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me”.
I Corinthians 15:58, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord”. Unlike everything else we might do for earthly gain and status and comfort and pleasure, it is all in vain. It’s all but for the moment. There’s no lasting value to spending our time and money on our own earthly welfare. But every time we encourage someone, every time you give to meet a need, every time we send a card or make a call to check on someone or volunteer to babysit, give someone ride, help someone move, help fix their house, help with a clothing drive, every time you teach someone about God, every time you do things that help people to come to know Christ or to stay faithful, it has eternal significance. It’s contributing to the only effort that is going on in the world right now that matters, the making of people into the image of Jesus. And every good deed will be remembered by God and rewarded; it’s pictured as storing up treasure in heaven.
As a great poet put it, “Only one life to live, it will soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last. And when I am dying how glad I shall be, If the lamp of my life has been burned out for Thee”. I pray that we will see that.
And I pray that God will put into our minds the thoughts of good deeds we could do that would bring honor and souls to Him and stir our hearts to be doing them. Did you know God is said to do that with people in the Scriptures? Ezra 1:1, “the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he sent a proclamation throughout all his kingdom…”. That was a proclamation that any Jews in the empire who wanted to could go back to the land of Jerusalem and rebuild the temple of the Lord, could do so. The Lord stirred up the heart of Judah and Cyrus, king of Persia, to do that good thing. Ezra 1:5, “Then the heads of fathers’ households of Judah and Benjamin and the priests and the Levites arose, even everyone whose spirit God had stirred to go up and rebuild the house of the Lord which is in Jerusalem”. God stirred people’s hearts to go rebuild the temple. A little later in Haggai 1:14, “The Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people; and they came and worked on the house of the Lord of hosts, their God”. And then later, Nehemiah 2:12, “And I arose in the night, I and a few men with me. I did not tell anyone what my God was putting into my mind to do for Jerusalem…” [Referring to the rebuilding of the walls and gates of Jerusalem that had been torn down]. God was putting that into the mind of Nehemiah and stirring his heart to do that good thing. And I pray that God will put into our minds, good deeds that will build His house, His church, and that He will stir our hearts to be zealous to do them.
And one more thing I’ll mention that I like to pray for each of us: that God will help each of us to…
Fervently love one another
Listen to these Scriptures and the emphasis they place on this.
- I Peter 1:22, “Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls unto a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart“. I hear Peter saying, “I know as true Christians you already have a sincere love for one another, but I want you fervently love one another from the heart”. The word translated fervently literally means to be stretched out. He’s saying however much you love the brethren, stretch yourself, push yourself further in your love for them.
- I Peter 4:8, “Above all, keep fervent [keep stretching yourself] in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins”. Then included in fervently loving one another, verse 9, “Be hospitable to one another without complaint. [It’s worth the extra dishes and whatever little expense it is to have brothers and sisters in Christ over to your home, especially those who are on the fringes, those who are struggling or discouraged. Be hospitable to one another without complaint.] As each one has received a special gift [As each one has from God some ability or resources or talent or something that can be used for the good of others], employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God”.
- I Thess 4:9-10, “Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another; for indeed you do practice it toward all the brethren who are in all Macedonia. But we urge you, brethren, to excel still more“. We do not ever love the brethren too much.
- I John 3:16, “We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren”. Are you at the point where you would lay down your life for the brethren? Or do you just attend church with them and shake hands with a few as you come and go. I pray that each of you and myself will decide, “Truly as the Lord Jesus laid down His life for me, I will lay down my life for His people as He wants me to”.
I pray we’ll do that not only to honor the Lord who died for us, but because there are many souls here who are struggling to be faithful. There are people here who are lonely or depressed or discouraged or they have misunderstandings about what Christianity really is or who the Lord really is or their faith is weakening; they don’t enjoy being here much; they’re on the fringes about to give up or they’ve settled down into complacency and lukewarmness. And they can’t stay there, and it is too big of a job for the elders and just a handful of others to help every single one in the way that they need. We need everyone we can get to be their brother’s keeper, their sister’s keeper, who will make the well being of the souls here their concern, who will take it upon their self to get to know those they don’t know, who will build friendships with them, who will be here when they whenever can to get to know more, to find out needs that they can meet, to serve, to encourage, counsel, teach, who will visit, call, invite over, go over, hang out, help out. We need everyone we can get who will reflect the love of Christ for His people.
My brothers and sisters, I’m not interested in just doing church. I’m not interested in just keeping you coming here and keeping these services going and maintaining our routine, because that’s not our assignment from the Lord. Our assignment from the Lord of heaven and earth, from what I understand, is twofold, or really just two sides of the same coin. It is first to personally, individually become like Jesus who laid down His life for the church, and secondly to help as many other people as we can as much as we can to also develop into the image of Jesus. So I pray that will be the passion of my heart and the passion of each of your hearts: to become like Jesus and to help others to become like Jesus.
Lord willing, I’m going to keep praying for every one of you individually at least once a week; that you will be devoted to prayer, that you will delight in God’s word, that you will be zealous for good deeds, and that you will fervently love your fellow Christians, because I love every one of you and I want you to be all that God wants you to be, and I want you to find the joy and peace and depth of relationship with God that I’m learning we can have. And I think of how awesome it will be to see each other in the new heavens and new earth and reminisce about our life on the old earth and talk about what we’re going to do together for the next million years or so.