Pull up a slab of rock, light a candle and grab a quill, ink and a scrap of papyrus to take notes. We’re journeying together back to the year AD 58 to a Roman prison cell to listen in as Paul pens his letter to the Philippians. What can his letter speak to us some 2,000 years later?
“This is my prayer for you” (Phil 1:9a)…
The Apostle Paul, next to Jesus himself, is my spiritual hero and greatest role model. This guy was out killing followers of Jesus one day, and then after encountering the risen Christ on the road to Damascus, he turned 180 degrees and went on to bring the good news of Jesus and his Kingdom to the entire known world of his day.
So, when Paul speaks I listen. Furthermore, when Paul opens his mouth to pray for others, I perk up and listen to what kinds of things Paul prays for. I think we all struggle with prayer. In high school, I didn’t really get past the “good night prayers” — you know, the bedtime ritual of looking up at the ceiling and basically wishing God a good night’s sleep (as if God sleeps). Sometimes, in more inspired moods, I would manage to thank God for his blessings, and offer some prayers for myself and my loved ones.
Still, I think we all desire to move deeper into our prayer life with God. While I rarely “hear” something from God during my prayer time, I nevertheless manage to focus my heart on certain things — godly things. Prayer can center us on God, and turn our focus away from all the busyness of life. Like a radio, praying can help tune our spiritual and mental dials to the sweet rhythms of God, eliminating for a moment all the static and buzz. Prayer can also reveal where are hearts really are that day. Fears, anxiety, doubts and desires we have managed to hide deep inside us often creep up to the surface as we open ourselves to God. This is good, too.
Though, if we are honest with ourselves, sometimes our prayers can be just as hurried, self-focused, distracted and misaligned as the rest of our lives. In these moments, we need God’s Spirit to help realign our hearts to God, so our prayers are in tune with God’s purposes for us. Paul teaches this elsewhere:
[T]he Spirit also comes to help us, weak as we are. For we do not know how we ought to pray; the Spirit himself pleads with God for us in groans that words cannot express. And God, who sees into our hearts, knows what the thought of the Spirit is; because the Spirit pleads with God on behalf of his people and in accordance with his will” (Rom 8:26-27).
In our verse for today, Paul, led by the Spirit, offers up a very direct prayer on behalf of his Christian brothers and sisters at Philippi. “This is my prayer for you…” Our prayers reveal our deepest desires. Our desires reveal the contours of our heart. Our heart reveals who we really are. So, before we explore the content of Paul’s actual prayer, perhaps we need to just sit and reflect today on the following questions:
If you were to offer up just ONE prayer for your best friend, knowing that you would soon die and that prayer would be your final request made to God on your friend’s behalf, how would you pray?
If you were to ask God to grant a loved one just THREE things, which THREE things would they be?