The Privilege of Service

January 25, 2015   

“Your wish is my command.” Wow! Would anyone ever really say this? I picture a genie coming out of a bottle saying, “My wish is your command.” But I can’t imagine anyone else wanting to make that kind of promise.

Of course in a situation in which a person deeply loves someone else, I can conceive that a person might say, “Your wish is my command.”

In Jn. 4:34 we read, “Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.” In other words, for Jesus, doing the will of God was like eating for him. Who doesn’t like to eat? Doing the will of God sustained his life. The Father’s wish was Jesus’ command

And that brings me to the matter of serving the Lord. If we are becoming more and more like Jesus then we will desire to serve the Lord. And this leads me to say that it is a most wonderful privilege to be able to serve the Lord.



The wonderful thing about Jesus Christ is that through his death and resurrection he is able to offer us real forgiveness of all our sins and bring us into a new, eternal life in the kingdom of God through a reconciled relationship with God.

But please understand that this reconciled relationship with God is not something that happens because we were raised in the church. Nor does it come about because we try to live a decent life. No one should assume that he or she is in this relationship with God. This particular relationship with God comes to us as we repent of our sin and place our daily confidence, our faith in Jesus as our Savior, Lord and King. We embrace Jesus with our heart, soul, mind, and strength. If you don’t see a need for Jesus, then you have not entered into a reconciled relationship with God. You are not in the Kingdom of God and you need Christ.

Something else: Coming to Christ is not just about having our sins forgiven and going to heaven. Coming to Christ is all about a certain kind of life. Through Christ we are brought into a new kind of life that is lived out 24/7. As someone put it, “salvation is ‘participating in the life that Jesus is now living,” in and through us.” The idea is to learn by daily experience to live like Christ in our character and conduct. Because Jesus is alive and because God dwells inside of us, we can turn to Him every moment of the day for strength and wisdom in living our lives with Christ.

It is clear from these verses that we have an ongoing relationship with Jesus Christ. Note that Paul writes, “If there is any encouragement, comfort, participation, etc.” Paul is not doubting that these things are a reality for believers, but he is encouraging the believers in Philippi to consider whether or not they are a reality in their own lives. The idea is more like, “Since there is encouragement in Christ and so on.

Look back to 1:29. The believers in Philippi were experiencing some form of persecution. They were suffering for the sake of Christ. At that very moment Paul was under house arrest in Rome for the sake of Christ. So in 2:1-2 Paul reminds them that as Christians we have encouragement through our relationship with Christ. Not only that, but there is comfort from love. Whose love? I believe it is God’s love. We have participation (koinwnia) in the Spirit, the Holy Spirit. It would appear that Paul is writing about ongoing blessings that we receive by virtue of being immersed in the Trinity through Christ. Having come to Christ, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit dwell in us, impart life to us, strengthen us, and minister to us on a daily basis.

The question that I want to ask is: Do you have this kind of a relationship with God? You may be wondering, “What does this have to do with the privilege of serving the Lord.” Well it has everything to with it. For one thing, serving the Lord will not seem like a privilege if you do not live in a daily relationship with the Lord. Service will see more like a duty. How can you enjoy serving someone you don’t really acknowledge from day to day?

For another thing, serving the Lord is something that we do together in the local church. You notice that Paul writes in v.2, that we should be of the same mind, having the same love and being in full accord and of one mind. The phrase, “being in full accord” literally reads “being together in soul.” In his commentary, Gordon Fee calls this “feeling and thinking together.” Unity in the church, unity in Christian service flows out of the unity that we experience through having the same God dwelling in us and empowering our lives through the Holy Spirit. In Ps.133, David writes, “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” It is good and pleasant. When brothers and sisters in Christ seek to live in and from Christ, if I can put it that way, there will be unity that is good and pleasant because we are all seeking to serve the Lord.

Do you remember in Genesis 29 when Jacob fell in love with Rachael? He said to Rachael’s father, “I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel.” Then we read, “So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her.” Wow. Seven years seemed like few days? He was in love. Hey, it may not be an exact comparison, but the idea is similar. When we live in Christ day by day, our service for Christ is a privilege and joy. Now it will not always be easy. If we are tired we might grow impatient at times. We are each wired differently and so like iron we sharpen one another. But in Christ we are willing and joyful servants. We have the work of the Lord and his church in our hearts.



I’m sure I don’t have to remind us that we live in a society that is all about selfish ambition. Yes there are many good Samaritans, but there is far more selfish ambition. Just think about the T.V. programs that are popular. American Idol, The Voice, Shark Tank, The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, The Apprentice and many others. Picture in your mind the professional athletes as they celebrate scoring a touchdown or a three pointer at the buzzer. Clearly it’s all about them.

And when we think that our perspective, opinion, or our Biblical interpretation is right we must be careful about selfish ambition. It is not easy to be right. In Phil.4 we read about two workers in the church at Philippi; two women who could not agree with each other. These women, Euodia and Syntyche had labored together with Paul, but they could not get along. Presumably it is because they both believed they were right. In that situation Paul did not seem to be concerned about who was right. His concern was that they learn to agree in the Lord.

Here Paul tells us that we are to do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit. Isn’t ironic that we can be serving in the church of Jesus Christ out of a motivation of selfish ambition and conceit?

Paul’s words here tell us that it is very important to be self aware. We must especially be aware of our personal motivations. I am one who believes that none of us knows the depth of sin that dwells within us. I’m not certain that any of us can completely know everything that motivates us. However I do believe we can be self aware enough to discern selfishness. We have the Holy Spirit who dwells in us and I believe that God also seeks to make us aware of sinful motivations.

So how would a person begin to know if he or she is being motivated by selfish ambition and conceit? One telltale sign is the presence of irritation and anger when someone has a different way, perspective, or opinion.

Perhaps you have read something about the controversy surrounding Mark Driscoll who recently resigned as pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle. It was a church that he co-founded in 1996. The church existed in eleven campuses located in two states. In April of 2014 there were over 25,000 people attending Mars Hill. Mark also founded Acts 29, a church planting network. Mark is one of the biggest names in Evangelicalism. But over the years he became known for his harsh way of leadership. This was not the only issue, but it was one significant issue. Another issue involved the church paying some $210,000 to the marketing company, ResultSource, Inc, in order to boost his book Real Marriage onto the New York Times bestseller list. Other Christian authors have done that as well. I’m sharing this to point out that Church leadership is filled with temptation to maintain control. It makes no difference how large or small the church. And a person does not have to be in leadership to fall prey to selfish ambition.

So what is the antidote? Paul talks about humility. Humility is a lowliness of mind. Humility has to do with having a truthful estimation of oneself. A humble person is well aware of their faults and deficiencies and also recognizes their gifts and abilities, but, as Gordon Fee writes, “makes neither too much or too little of either.” A humble person is someone who entrusts themselves to God and does not try to muscle or manipulate things for themselves.

What is the mark of humility? Well, in v.3 Paul writes, “ humility count others more significant than yourselves.” In other words, we are putting the care and welfare of others ahead of ourselves.

It seems that the disciples struggled with this. More than once they would get into arguments about who among them was the greatest. And Jesus had to remind them that the greatest among them was the one who served. Greatness in the kingdom of God is not about lording it over others. It is about serving others. Jesus came to serve, not to be served. Paul points us to Christ in v.5-11. Jesus did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped. That is profound. God does not have to hold on to being God. What did he do? Jesus emptied himself. He took the form of a servant. He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death. Jesus died to himself. He did not have to be God. Now he is God and will always be God, but for a time I believe Jesus gave up the independent use of his divine attributes and lived in dependency upon the Father and Holy Spirit. We can’t fully understand that, but we can understand the idea of humble service by looking at Jesus.

Paul says, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus. Men and women when we selflessly serve others in the body of Christ, we reflect the character and mind of Christ. When we do not have to hold onto power and position but can humbly serve others, we are showing the character and love of Christ. If Christ dwells in us, we will serve others even at the expense of ourselves and we will consider it a privilege to serve the Lord.



It’s one thing to consider others as being better or more important than oneself. But in v.4, Paul takes it a step further. We are to look beyond our own interests.

Now obviously it is true that each of us must attend to the matters of our own lives. We need to be able to provide for ourselves and our families. Paul talks about parents saving up for their children. In Gal. Paul talks about how each one must bear his own load. Elsewhere Paul makes a point of saying that we all should work. He says, “If you don’t work, you don’t eat.” God has made it possible for us to learn skills so that we can earn a living.

But in the body of Christ we are also to look out for the interests of others. This doesn’t mean we should be busy bodies, putting our nose in other people’s business. But it does mean that we must look out for one another’s welfare. We want to seek the good of others. In 1Cor.12 Paul tells us that in the body of Christ, “If one member suffers, all suffer together, if one member is honored, all rejoice together.”

This is not easy in our society of independence. Often our lives are so disconnected from each other that we don’t even know that someone is suffering. In our society we are private and so we don’t know the interests of others. This is one of the values of being in small groups in a church. People get to know each other on a deeper level, a more personal level. We can pray for each other and seek to serve each other.

One of the things I appreciate about our church family is that we have brothers and sisters who genuinely care for the interests of others. Their hearts are quickly moved to compassion. They will go out of their way to serve someone in need. Some seem to have an intuitive sense that others are in need or are hurting. This is so important. Looking to the interests of others is how we show the love of Christ. Like giving, when we serve others in the church from humble, willing hearts, God is working in our lives and the church is being built up in Christ.

Companies are always trying to help their employees feel as if they are a team, not just a team, but even a family. In other words many companies want their employees to think and feel that going to work is the greatest because they all get to work together and they like each other. But it’s pretty difficult to work at a factory or a hospital or a school and feel like a family. In order for people to feel as if they are family, there must be deep relationships.

In the church we talk about being part of the family of God. In days gone by we might have sung, “I’m so glad I’m a part of the family of God.” Are we the family of God? Of course, on the one hand we absolutely are because all those who are in Christ are part of the family of God. But do we view the local church as our family? One wonders. I mean when only 20% of the average congregation are doing 80% of the ministry, what does that say about being a committed part of the family? As members of a church family it is our privilege to serve each other, to have each other’s backs, to worship together, to fellowship together. We extend grace and mercy to each other. We sharpen one another. We build each other up. It’s a privilege because we are brothers and sisters in Christ who love and care for each other.


Now maybe you are sitting here thinking to yourself, “Well, I’ve been hurt by some of the brothers and sisters in this church.” Well, I’m not surprised. Actually, the only people who would not think like that are those who have never entered into the privilege of serving the Lord. You see when we serve the Lord in his church; we are serving alongside people like ourselves, people who are redeemed sinners. And when we are hurt it is so important that we forgive and show mercy. Sometimes we can let it go with no hard feelings. Sometimes we must have a conversation to reconcile the relationship so that we can continue to serve. The truth is, we have all been hurt by people in the church and we have also been blessed by people in the church. When our eyes are fixed on the Lord, it is a privilege to serve him in his church. Amen

The Privilege of Giving

January 18, 2015

I’m sure you have received the same phone call. “Mr. Steinhart, this is so and so from your local firefighters association. You have been so generous to us in the past; can we count on your generous gift this year?”

All the while I’m thinking, “Wait, I’ve never contributed to the firefighter’s association.” The voice continues, “You know, your gift will help children have toys this Christmas. Can we count on you again?” And I must say, “Not this year, thank you."

Giving! There are so many organizations asking for money. Many of the organizations are doing good things, but you just can’t give to them all. So I usually try to explain how we give most of our money to the church and a few other organizations.

When it comes to Christian giving we recognize that all that we have comes from the Lord and that we are stewards of what he has given to us. It’s our money but in reality it all belongs to the Lord. As Christians we understand that giving to the Lord’s work is very important. So I want to ask you this morning, “Are you a generous giver to the Lord’s work?”



When Paul wrote the book of Philippians, he was under house arrest in Rome. His ministry was greatly curtailed. He was not able to travel. People had to come to him. And yet, Paul continued to do the Lord’s work.

Now what is the Lord’s work? In Jn.5 Jesus healed a lame man and the Jewish leaders were upset because they said Jesus was working on the Sabbath. When they questioned him, Jesus replied by saying in v.17, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” In Jn.10 Jesus says that he is doing the works of his Father. And remember in Lk.2 how Jesus’ parents, thinking Jesus was lost, and then finding him in the temple, asked him what he was doing there. At the age of 12, Jesus was confounding the Jewish teachers with his insightful questions and answers. He said to his parents, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Many of us remember the old King James translation which says, “wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” Even then Jesus recognized that his calling was to do the work of God.

Jesus went around teaching and preaching about the kingdom of God. Of course he did wonderful miracles. At one point he said in Jn.10:37-38, “If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.”

In Acts 13 during a time of worship, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Earlier in Act 6 the Apostles tell the church to select 7 men to carry out the daily distribution of food so that they could devote themselves to prayer and the ministry of the word. The work that Paul, Barnabas, and many others were called by God to do was to preach and teach the gospel of the kingdom of God and we know that Paul and Barnabas went around planting churches. And those 7 men were also doing the work of the Lord in distributing food.

But it wasn’t just Paul and the other Apostles who did the work of the Lord. In Rm.16:12 Paul refers to people like you and me who he considered to be workers in the Lord. In 1Cor.15:58 Paul writes, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” In Col.3:22 Paul is writing to Christians who were slaves and he says, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” And in Col.1:10 Paul tells us to “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.”

I share these verses to show that it’s not just the Apostles, trained pastors and missionaries who do the work of the Lord. Every believer is called to serve the Lord and enter into his work. The work of the Lord is to make disciples of Jesus and to do good works in this world in the name of Jesus.

Now of course there are some whom the Lord does set apart to give full focus to his work. Paul and Barnabas were set apart for the Lord’s work. Here in Phil.4 we learn that the believers in the church at Philippi had regularly sent a financial gift to Paul to help him with his expenses. Giving is an important way of entering into the Lord’s work. It is very interesting to read in v.15 that none of the other churches entered into partnership with Paul. Wow! Why is that? I don’t know for sure. Gordon Fee, in his commentary on Philippians, points out that when Paul was first in Philippi he received support by accepting Lydia’s invitation for him and Silas to stay in her home. But when they went on to Thessalonica, Paul says in 2Thess.3:7-10 that they worked. They took nothing from the new believers in Thessalonica. And they took nothing when they ministered in Corinth.

All of this to point out that Christians are not only called to do the work of the Lord, but Christians have a vested interest in seeing the Lord’s work move forward. After all, all of us came to Christ because someone was doing the Lord’s work and God spoke to our hearts. The church in Philippi was so grateful to Paul for leading them to Christ that they wanted to have a share in his ministry to see others come to Christ. This is why we give to the local church. This is why we give to support missionaries. This is why we sometimes go above and beyond in our giving. It’s because we love the Lord and we understand that his work is of primary importance and we are personally invested in his work.



In v.16 we are alerted to the fact that Paul had needs. At that moment he was sitting in a house under house arrest. As far as we know he did not have any income. He couldn’t collect unemployment and there was no social security of any kind, so Paul was in need. In v.11-12 Paul mentions that he had learned to be content in whatever the circumstances. He had learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. He could do that through the strength God supplied.

And yet, what a blessing to receive this unexpected gift from the church in Philippi. We don’t know how Paul used the money. We do see that as a result of their gift, Paul was well supplied.

Please do not put Paul into the context of some of today’s TV preachers. Paul was not stashing cash away for his retirement villa on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Paul wasn’t getting rich at the expense of the church. The financial gift was a great help for Paul.

Now the work of the Lord through the church is very important. Over the many years of church history the ways in which the Lord’s work has been carried out have changed. In the beginning there were house churches. Today we have buildings. In the beginning there were probably few paid church workers. Today we have full-time pastors and others who serve on church staffs. In the beginning of the church singing was probably done with small instruments or none at all. Today we have pipe organs, guitars, keyboards, and drums. In the beginning of the church, missionaries traveled by foot or boat. Today missionaries fly all over the world.

In the beginning ministry was church based. Paul and Barnabas were sent out by the church in Antioch. Today, we have many parachurch ministries. These are ministries that are not directly connected with any particular local church. Prison Fellowship and Samaritan’s Purse are just two of hundreds of parachurch ministries. What is true for all ministries is that there are many needs.

Here at our church there are needs. Our building is old. There are always maintenance issues to tend to. Through the Lord’s good hand and our generous giving, we are just about at the end of our building project. It has been a challenging experience but we are almost there. The parsonage has maintenance issues. I try to do what I can, but there are things that are beyond my abilities. This past week we had Bob Baumgart over looking at some wiring in which the insulation was falling off and the wires were shorting out. Well, that’s what happens with an older home. Part of the Lord’s work here on Harlem Ave has to do with keeping things in working order. But we don’t exist just to maintain buildings. The buildings provide a place for corporate worship, teaching, and serving. The buildings provide a statement of presence in the community.

In the December 31 issue of the Forest Park Review, Tom Holmes, the former pastor of St. Paul’s Lutheran church wrote about the top 10 religion stories in Forest Park in 2014. Number 1? Baptist Church Addition. He writes, “The addition is evidence that the 125 year old congregation is holding its own in the midst of decline in all of the older churches in town.” The number 7 top religion story is, “Decline of Traditional Churches.” He writes, “Forest Park Baptist Church is an anomaly in town. It is the only old congregation (started in 1890!) which is holding its own in terms of membership.” And then he goes on to list churches in Forest Park that have closed. There is such a thing as a ministry of presence. We pray that the Lord will continue to keep this a biblical, viable, and friendly congregation in which the gospel is clearly proclaimed and believers are faithful to Christ.

Is there an ongoing need for generous giving? Absolutely. We don’t promote giving for personal gain. It has never been my goal to see how much money I can amass for myself. Apart from the trip that the elders took to Hawaii for an elder retreat last February, we try to be very careful of expenses (Only kidding). Brothers and Sisters, without the generous giving of our congregation, it would be very difficult to continue.

Now I don’t know what you give to the Lord’s work at the church. I make it my business to not know what anyone gives. What I do know is that what we do with our money is a reflection of what is important to us. Our giving is an indicator of how much we value the Lord and his work. This is really not a matter between you and the church. It is a matter between you and the Lord. Our giving says something about our love for the Lord and his work, and our faith in the Lord.



Where the Bible addresses the subject of giving, it is very common to read a statement of blessing for the generous giver. This is true in Mal.3 and 2Cor.8-9. According to Acts 20:35 Jesus himself said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Here in Phil.4 Paul talks about the blessings that come with generous giving.

It’s interesting in these verses because, while Paul is thankful, he wants the Philippian believers to know that he is not after their money. In fact, Paul goes to great lengths to let them know that their generous giving is a sign of their love and obedience to the Lord. He characterizes their offering as a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. He is grateful to receive the gift because of what it is doing in their lives. Their giving promoted the work of God in their lives.

You know, that is still true today. When we are intentional about giving to the work of God from a grateful heart, God is pleased. Our hearts are naturally selfish and stingy. We don’t like to part with our money. So when we quietly and generously give to the Lord’s work the Lord is working in us.

But there is another blessing that Paul mentions. He says in v.19, “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” These are not just nice sounding words that seemed appropriate for Paul to say. These are words that Paul knew to be true from his own experience. God is only too happy to provide for the needs of his children who trust him enough to give generously to his work. So what do you need this morning? Do you have a material need? God will either give the thing you need or he will give what is needed to do without it. Do you have an emotional need? If you will trust in God he will help you through the emotional struggles of your life. The other day while I was praying I was thinking about various times in my life when I faced circumstances that seemed impossible to me. But as I thought about it, I realized that I came through all of those circumstances. It was difficult but God brought me through. He gave what I needed and I’m not even sure what was needed in those moments. Do you have a health need? God knows how best to help you. But let me clarify that our generous giving does not buy God’s blessings and provisions. That kind of giving is not generous giving it is negotiating with God. God will supply your needs according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.

Now maybe you are wondering, “What defines generous giving.” I will just say that in the Old Testament God commanded his people to give 10% of their income. And while I don’t think this is a law for Christians, I do think it is a good bench mark for our giving. Most Christians do not come close to giving 10% of their income. They think that is too much and they don’t really believe God will supply what they need. I would just say that God knows better what is too much. And God has far more resources available to draw from to supply what you need.


Are you a generous giver to the Lord’s work? Is your giving a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God? Amen.

The Privilege of Prayer

January 11, 2015

My grandfather’s study was very interesting. As a young boy I spent a few weeks one summer visiting my grandparents. My grandfather was a pastor and he had his study in the parsonage. Because I was his grandson, I had the privilege of being able to go into his study anytime I wanted to.

I loved looking at all the books and knickknacks on his desk. I went into his study often and he always welcomed me regardless of what he was doing at the time. But as I grew older and would visit my grandfather, even though the privilege was still extended to me, somehow it didn’t intrigue me as it once did. I didn’t go into his study as often.

A similar thing can happen in our relationship with God. When a person first comes to Christ there is often fresh vibrancy and newness that fills one’s life. We were lost but now are found. Life seemed empty, but with Christ life is filled with joy in the knowledge of sins forgiven and life in Christ.

We are challenged to read the Bible like never before and we seek the Lord in prayer. But as time goes by, it is not uncommon for believers to experience dryness and stagnation. The privileges we receive in Christ do not seem to interest us as much. This morning I want to speak with you about the privilege of prayer. Heartfelt prayer is one of the believer’s greatest privileges.



There are any number of reasons why people pray. Believers pray for three basic reasons. We pray when we want to thank God for his goodness. Many believers begin every prayer with a word of thanksgiving. We have so much to be thankful for. Having a thankful heart is one of the qualities cultivated in the life of a Christian. It is impossible to be a committed follower of Christ and not have a thankful heart. After all, Paul tells us to give thanks in all things. In Phil.4 we are told to present our requests to God with thanksgiving.

Another reason for prayer is to praise God for who he is. Our God is so wonderful that he is far beyond our ability to comprehend the fullness of his glory and majesty. We are grateful for those passages in Scripture that describe the greatness of God. We are grateful for Jesus who is the image of the invisible God; “ these last days God has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.”

Now it is important that we give time to praise God. I say this because in our culture, at least, we are very pragmatic people. We are very busy minded, even though we are not often as busy as we feel that we are. I find that busyness is more a state of mind than a reality. Being busy minded will keep us from praising God in prayer. And this leads us to the third general reason for prayer.

The third general reason for prayer is need. The stresses and challenges of life create many needs in our lives. It is true that as we grow up we learn how to deal with the everyday needs of life. Most of us are not wondering where our next meal is coming from, although some of us may be in that situation. But most of us have learned to look out for our own interests, and that is good. In Gal.6:5 Paul says that each of us is to bear his own load. But that said, there are many times in life when the load becomes difficult to bear and we realize that we are not the captain of our souls. We are not the master of our own fate. And we cry out to God in prayer.

The Scripture gives a whole variety of examples of things to pray about. In Mt.26:41, Jesus said to his disciples, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” When we find ourselves being tempted to sin, we pray for strength to resist the devil. In Jms.1:5 we read, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” How often do we need wisdom in making life decisions. We can ask God for wisdom. Can anyone ask God for wisdom? Why not? But unbelievers might not be so inclined to do so. Even believers forget the great privilege of being able to ask God for wisdom. Whatever the need we are encouraged by Paul to bring those needs, those requests to the Lord

But there is another dimension to this that is very important. Listen to what Paul says in Rm.15:30-31. “I appeal to you, brothers, 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 service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints.” Or listen to Col.4:12. Paul writes, “Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God.” The word used for “strive together” and “struggling” is the word agonidzomai. You can hear our English word, “agonize.” Then in 2Cor.1:11 Paul says, “You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many."

I am pointing these verses out to show that in prayer we join together to help each other. We join in with one another to pray for each other’s needs. In these cases, Paul asked for prayer that he might be delivered from prison. Epaphras was praying that the believers in Colossae would mature as Christians and would have assurance of their salvation in Christ.

You see, there are broader concerns for us to pray about than just praying about our own needs. If you are a Christian you will be concerned about the needs pressing in on the church, both our own church and the larger church around the world. This is why Jesus says in Mt.9:38, “therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” In Col.4:3 Paul writes, “pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word.” James tells us in Jms.5:14, “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.” And in 3Jn.1:2 we find what has to be one of the most general prayers in the bible. John writes, “Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul.”

Brothers and sisters, I don’t know anything about your prayer life. And it is not my intention to pass judgment on your prayer life. I assume that prayer is just as challenging for you as it is for me. If you are a Christian, I assume that you pray about your personal needs, those things that concern you and your family in particular. God surely encourages us to pray about our needs. But I am wondering how far afield your prayers might go. Do we pray that the Lord will send out laborers into the harvest? Do we pray for open doors for the gospel in our community and our world? Do we pray for Christian maturity and assurance for our brothers and sisters in Christ? Do we pray for our missionaries and for the believers experiencing persecution? In other words do we have God’s concerns in our hearts and minds? Or do we pray mostly for our own concerns? Jesus said to his disciples, “lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest.” Yes, lift up your eyes. The needs of the church in the world are great. The needs of our brothers and sisters are great. The needs of our local church are great. And there is opportunity for us to join together in praying for these needs, especially on Wednesday evenings when we have prayer meeting. (But there is a second question)



As I discuss this question, I am not so concerned about posture and things like that. In the Bible we find people standing and kneeling in prayer. We see people praying silently and out loud. We see people praying with their eyes open. In fact, when I did a search in the ESV on the words “eye” and “close,” those words are never found together in reference to prayer. They do appear together in a reference to death and dullness of heart. We never hear Jesus saying, “Let’s bow our heads and close our eyes as we pray.” In fact, what Jesus does say is, “Watch and pray.” If anyone knows of an instance in the Bible where people close their eyes in prayer please tell me. I may have missed it. Of course, there is nothing wrong with closing one’s eyes in prayer.

But I do want to focus on two important principles that inform the way in which we pray. It is important that we pray with confidence. In Mt.6:7-8, just before teaching his disciples how to pray, Jesus says, “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” When we pray we pray with confidence that God already knows our situation far better than we do. In Mt.7:7-11 Jesus says, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” As believers, God is our heavenly Father. In Christ, we are sons of God. We have Jesus’ word that God is more than willing to give good things to those who ask him.

When James encourages believers to freely ask for wisdom, he mentions that we must ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.” We pray with confidence.

Now how confident are you when you pray? How confident are you that God really hears your prayers? How confident are you that your prayers can make any difference? Many believers know the verses about prayer, but in their heart they have doubts. They have prayed for things and their prayers didn’t seem to make a difference at all. Unanswered prayer does not engender a spirit of confidence and faith. Others have a sort of, “what will be, will be” attitude. Whatever happens is God’s will. And so when it comes to prayer we may pray like we believe it makes a difference, but in fact we resign ourselves to fate.

Listen to Heb.5:7. It says, “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.” Wait, does it say, “He was heard?” God did hear his prayer and in Lk.22:41-43 we read, “And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him.”

Clearly Jesus believed in the importance and need for prayer. For Jesus, it wasn’t just a doctrine that he gave mental assent to. He prayed with confidence and God heard him. Did God answer his prayer? Yes. He did not remove the cup, but He did send an angel to give strength. Jesus did not doubt that God heard his prayer.

I guarantee you that the way of the world which surrounds us every day will undermine your ability to pray with confidence that God will hear and answer your prayer. If you tell people in the world that God answered your prayer, they will most likely chalk it up to coincidence. And if we are not careful we will do the same. I believe we must regularly preach this truth to ourselves. We must regularly remind ourselves that God hears and answers prayer. Satan does not want us to believe that prayer is effective. And it is important that we allow God to answer as he sees fit. God loves us and he has only good in his heart for his children. If we do not believe this then we really do not have confidence in God.

But there is something else that I believe is important. And I’m talking about fervency, earnestness in prayer. When we pray we seek to pray purposefully, thoughtfully, and fervently. Now the New Testament conveys this idea using a few different greek words. But each word has the idea of earnestness or fervency.

For example, in Mt.9:38, Jesus says, “Pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” Or in Lk.22:44 about Jesus it says, “And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly.” In 1Thess.3:10 Paul writes, “ we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith.” In the ESV translation there is only one verse that uses our English word for “fervent” but the greek word for “fervent is not in the verse. In Jms.5:17. James writes, “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth.” The Greek word for “fervent” is not found in this verse. Literally, the phrase reads, “and in prayer he prayed.” The double use of the word, “prayer” emphasizes that Elijah prayed fervently, or earnestly.

Now obviously, we cannot drum up fervency. Today young people use the expression, “I’m not feeling it.” Well when it comes to prayer sometimes we’re just not feeling it. How do we enter into fervent prayer? How do we strive together, struggle together in prayer? Most of our prayer meetings are quiet as we listen to someone pray. How do we express fervency?

I believe that fervency in prayer is cultivated as we enter into the gravity of the need and together we allow the need to fill our hearts and minds. I also believe that if we join together in praying for a need, a number of those in the prayer group will lead out in prayer for that need instead of just one person praying about it and then we move on to something else.

Epaphras struggled in prayer for the believers in Colossae because he was from Colossae and he deeply yearned to see those believers mature in Christ. He was feeling it. When we pray, can we allow ourselves to feel it and put those feelings into prayer? I believe it requires time and focus to pray fervently together. We must embrace and own the need together. I think we learn to pray fervently by doing it. It will not feel comfortable because we are not used to it. I’m not talking about becoming charismatic or pentecostal. I’m talking about praying fervently with confidence and faith that God hears and answers prayer.


Now this week is our annual week of prayer. We will be gathering together each night in the library at 7:00 for prayer. This will be the 30th year that we have held our annual week of prayer. Over that past 29 years I have come to appreciate the challenge of doing this. We are busy and after a day of working we are tired. I don’t expect anyone, except for myself, to come out every night this week. I would like to encourage you to come for as many nights as you are able. It is a special time as we commit our church to the Lord and his worship and service for 2015. Heartfelt prayer is one of the believer’s greatest privileges. Amen.