Sermon series: Following Jesus
In his book The Antioch Effect, Dr Ken Hemphill offers insight about relationships as illustrated from the long-running and highly successful television program, Cheers. "Why did the regulars come to the local pub night after night? Was is because they were alcoholics? Actually bars discourage overindulgence. I think the theme song said it all. Everybody is seeking a place where everybody knows your name."
Abandonment, isolation, and rejection crush the human spirit. Lack of community is not limited to the lost. In the church, we throw terms around like fellowship of saints, family of believers, and community of believers, while many in the kingdom are starving for someone to know their name. One of the best ways to establish genuine or biblical community is to pray for one another.
The text for this message considers two prayers by the apostle Paul for the saints of God who were active participants in a local church. Each passage has some unique elements, but considering them together emphasizes the priority of praying for friends. We can learn from these prayers how to pray for others, which not only encourages the saints but also helps you more deeply experience love of God. Using the word FRIEND as an outline will help us remember how to pray.
I. Fruit - Phil. 1:11; Col. 1:10
Paul prays for the saints to be "filled with the fruit of righteousness" and to "bear fruit in every good work." Following Christ is a productive lifestyle. Jesus declared the Father is glorified when His followers bear much fruit (Jn. 15:8). When praying for friends, we should ask God to use them to produce fruit that glorifies God by advancing His kingdom. Pray for God to open doors of opportunity, to anoint our labor, and to grant success in ministry.
Think how much more effective our work in the kingdom would be if the saints supported each others work in prayer.
II. Righteousness - Phil. 1:11
Fruit is qualified in the Philippians passage with the clause "of righteousness." Following Christ is a productive lifestyle, but it is also a pure lifestyle. Purity, holiness, and righteousness describe a life set apart for God. The terms have subtle differences, in that righteousness is not exactly the same thing as being sanctified or made holy. But a common thread in these words being applied to followers of Christ is that we are called to be different from the world.
Through God's redemptive work of forgiveness and sanctification, along with our choices of moral purity, we develop a life that is set apart from the world for a holy God. We are not to be conformed to the world. We are to be transformed, sanctified, and redeemed, bearing the fruit of righteousness.
Pray for your friends to live in a way that expresses the unique qualities of Christ instead of being conformed to the world.
III. Insight - Phil. 1:9; Col. 1:10
The prayer by this amazing leader for these new followers of Christ continues with a request for insight. Fluent in multiple languages and an elite student in a highly respected school in the first century, the apostle Paul was a very educated man. It is interesting that two of the most educated men in biblical history are Moses and Paul. Moses was educated as part of Pharaoh's family. In the New Testament, Paul is a bright young Pharisee working his way up the ladder of social and political prestige until God intercepts his life on the road to Damascus.
These unlikely men emerge as two of the most influential leaders of God's people. Learning, growing, and developing your mind for God's glory was a common theme in Paul's writings. In our text, he prays for believers to grow in "depth of insight and to be able to discern what is best."
While I believe Paul would have supported formal education, his prayer in this text is more about divine wisdom, not academic degrees. He desires for the saints to discern and understand God's will for their lives. It is God's will for all to be saved, but remember this prayer is for those who have already embraced the gospel.
We conclude that God has additional plans for our life, and we need divine wisdom to discern and to obey God's will. We make decisions every day that can adversely or positively affect lives. Pray for your friends to gain the depth of insight enabling them to discern what is best for their life.
IV. Energy - Phil. 1:5-6; Col. 1:11
Another blessing to pray for your friends is that they experience more energy. This is a huge need in our western civilization. Even though we have more technology to make our life easier, most people I talk to are tired! Upon asking someone how they are doing, I have never had someone respond by saying, "I feel strong in the power of God. I am energized and empowered. I feel like taking on some giants today!" When people describe their life, most use terms like: busy, burned out, stressed out, worn out, fatigued, overwhelmed, discouraged, fearful, and worried. Imagine the impact of our witness to a lost world, if they saw spirit-filled, energized Christians.
Paul prays for the saints to continue their "partnership in the gospel" knowing God will complete His good work in them. Too many people give up . People quit their diets, their education, their marriage, and their faith. We need to pray for our friends to experience the power of God to endure and conquer challenges. One of the greatest gifts you could give someone today is to pray for God to strengthen them with the power of his glorious might (Col. 1:11).
Every prayer request could be classified as a need. Everyone needs to bear fruit. Everyone needs to be righteous. Everyone needs insight. Everyone needs energy. What I refer to are the specific needs a person may have at certain moments in life. For example, my daughter just graduated from college, so I prayed for her to find a job. My elderly and sick father in-law does not need a job, so I pray differently for him. The list to choose from is endless.
What are the needs of your friend today: physical healing, emotional pain, depression, marriage trouble, financial challenges, addiction, rebellious child, aging parents, job difficulties, mountains to be moved, giants to be defeated? Pray for the specific need of your friend to be met "out of God's glorious riches."
VI. Delight - Phil. 1:4, Col. 1:11
A final request to make for your friends is to experience the divine delight and joy that comes from Christ. Paul prayed with joy. He remembered the saints with joy, and he joyfully gave thanks. In Romans 15:13 he prayed, "May the God of all hope fill you with joy." Jesus prayed for His disciples to experience the fullness of joy He experienced with the heavenly Father (Jn. 17:13). Joy should be one of the defining characteristics of a believer's life when filled with the Holy Spirit. It is the wonderful news we sing about at Christmas as the angels declared "good news of great joy."
We need to pray for our friends to experience delight and joy. The life Jesus offers is abundant, a sacred delight that transcends the quest for immediate pleasure or gratification that enslaves so many. Psalm 16:11 declares that God fills us with "joy in Your presence, and with eternal pleasures at Your right hand." Do you know anyone who could use a little joy today?
Be a friend who prays. Ask God for fruit, righteousness, insight, energy, needs, and delight. You will find it in the presence of God as you pray for friends.