A Discipline Enhanced by the Holy Spirit
We find these principles of prayer in the opening verses of Philippians, a letter that relates to Ephesians in that it reaches in to deal with the practical application of what we have called "Ephesians Truth." Ephesians was a general letter, written to the church as a whole. It lays out the greatest statement ever of the standards for Christ’s Kingdom as it will work in His Body, the Church. But in Philippians we find more of Paul himself. It was written to a specific people for whom it is apparent he held a great deal of affection. He revealed more of how Christ worked in his own personal life and gave us insight into what was enabling him, particularly in his latter days.
Both Epistles were written from his Roman prison. He probably wrote Philippians near the end of his time when he had less freedom of movement and little left of life other than the presence of the Lord. What a gain! What joy rested upon him!
Paul held a deep concern for the Philippians. Like some of the concerns of us today for people we love, they could be handled best by prayer. Now, of course, there were two things Paul did. He prayed and he wrote letters—or we might say, he communicated with the people for whom he held a concern. We can gain help from him in this, especially when it comes to dealing with people in whom we see areas of need, and sometimes alarm, that we seemingly can’t touch. We can pray. This must be our primary action. And we can communicate. This is much easier after we have prayed.
Philippians, like Ephesians, lays out some fine details as to what Paul prayed. Before we get to these, however, we should see the principles of praying that influenced him in his supplication for others. There are eight of them touched upon in Phil 1:3-8.
WE PLACE BULLETS where we see these principles. WE will observe
them in the Scripture, then state them briefly, and then say a little
more about each one. We find amplification for each throughout Paul’s
Epistles as well as in the Book of Acts as it tells of his ministry.
Observe these verses carefully. If you will, memorize them so they can go with you through your days and you can adapt the principles they contain over into your own living and praying. Unusual fruit will come from your life and ministry, even if you are confined to some lonely prison, with bars our without. Remember, in prison is where they worked in Paul.
One: He made it his practice to thank the Lord for people, especially those for whom he felt the responsibility to pray. He said, "I thank my God every time I think about you"—1:3.
Two: He learned to be always praying. All that was necessary to draw him to prayer was the thought of the people for whom he would pray. For him, to think of someone meant to pray for that one. Thus, he wasn’t so much taken with a "prayer time" as he was with praying always. He had learned to pray without ceasing.
Three: He learned to make his prayer a matter of earnest supplication and not just a simple and quick thought toward God. The single word he used for both prayer and request in 1:4 was no ordinary word for prayer. It was the kind of prayer that must have an answer, like the supplication of the man who went to his friend at midnight to request bread for another friend (Lk 11:5-8).
Four: He learned to make his requests with joy. Even in the face of his own imprisonment, which he hardly mentioned, and with his death pending, he maintained a gladness in that he could still pray.
Five: He held a confidence toward God in behalf of the people for whom he was praying. Instead of worrying about the people of his concern, he was persuaded that the work begun in them was a good work and it would continue, helped on by his praying for them.
Six: He prayed with a view toward the day of Jesus Christ. His ultimate concern was not for the peace and joy of the people for whom he prayed, but that they would become useful for the Kingdom of Christ.
Seven: He held the people for whom he prayed in his heart so that they were never away from his feeling for them. This must have meant that his heart was enlarged by the grace of God and the Holy Spirit so that it could embrace many and have feeling for them instead of bemoaning his own sad estate.
Eight: His longing in prayer was with the bowels, that is, deep compassion, of Jesus Christ. He had come to the place where all life evolved out of his relationship with Christ. It is plausible that even the compassion that was in Jesus should come over upon him.
THESE ARE POINTS OF MATURITY in praying that are waiting for our embrace. Some of us will have the discipline to lay hold on some. Others of us will have to depend almost entirely upon the grace of God to release them in us. This is not a mean thing, and could probably be the higher way, for whatever is released in us by God’s grace is of a better quality than anything we can produce of our own effort.
Many of us have not yet discovered how far the grace of God will extend in bringing the working principles of His Kingdom into our lives. But, we can ask for this grace. There is an abundance of it and an amazing readiness on God’s part to bring the grace of these and other Kingdom principles over into us.
One day, feeling that my discipline in praying was growing thin, the Lord spoke to me that I should ask for "the spirit of supplication." This term is similar to one in a rather obscure passage in the Book of Zechariah. I did not know what it would mean in my own life. He spoke to me it is that operation of His spirit that will make us want to pray. Through the years, I’ve come to the Lord and requested this. It is amazing. I find Him ever ready to respond and bring upon us that operation of His Spirit that makes praying our primary occupation. We’re discovering this: when we want to pray, we will pray. Even if we are immature and unskilled in it, we will find our way to the Throne of God’s grace and make our petitions there known.
As I was writing this and making mention of the grace of God in praying, it came to me to consider more exactly the terms Zechariah used. He spoke of the spirit of grace and of supplications— Zech 12:10. Both grace and supplications come from a same root word in the Hebrew that means "grace." It might be well translated "the spirit of grace and of supplications for grace."
However we look at it, grace enters the picture when we pray. It is the grace of God that comes upon us to aid us in making our requests, or that even allows us to make request of Him. Then, it is His grace that comes into focus as He moves in response to our praying. I believe we could call these points of discipline in prayer points of grace. Brought upon us by the grace of God, they become the grace of an intercessor.
LET US THINK A LITTLE MORE about the principles that worked in Paul and see how they can work in us. While they were rules for living that worked for him, we may have to grow in them. But, there is one thing certain: the grace that wrought them in him is still available to work them in us.
First is the matter of giving thanks for the people for whom we pray. Paul said, I thank my God upon every remembrance of you. There is never so precious a spiritual exercise as that of thanking the Lord for the persons, one by one, who are in the path of our life. Sometimes these are people who make some demand of us, who tend to drain us of emotional strength, or who cause anger and resentment. Sometimes they are people toward whom we have grown weary in our responsibility for them. They may be those who take and take from us, returning little.
It is here bitter relationships can be made sweet. With the grace God imparts, we thank Him for each one. We find pain absorbed by this. What was once a point of irritation becomes a point of compassion.
Now, there are many others—hopefully more of this kind than the other—who bring us joy and refreshment. We include these also in our thanksgiving.
Here is a good suggestion. Occasionally, take a day in which you just thank the Lord for every person who comes to your mind. And, yes, dwell on those with whom the pain is associated.
Let me add it is well to thank the Lord for persons for whom we are inclined to worry and whose situations in life are less than good. Often people we love are in painful circumstances. Our thanksgiving for them can release into them and their situations a working of God’s grace. If you will, stretch yourself into thanking the Lord even for the circumstances that are painful or predicaments that are stressful. Paul found it a good thing if we in every thing give thanks (I Thes 5:18).
I write this to the many who communicate with us telling of the pain of relationships they endure.
A SECOND POINT THAT WAS PROMINENT in the grace upon Paul as an intercessor was that he knew the secret of praying without ceasing. There were times, it is evident, when he did nothing but pray. There were times when it was necessary to do something else, but nothing ruled out the continuation of praying. We’ve spoken of this so often that we hesitate to speak of it again, but it is still needful. God’s grace will bring us to the point where nothing—no activity, no pursuit, no involvement with others, no personal pain—will rule out communication with our Heavenly Father, and that in behalf of others.
The personal grace that is released in us by the Holy Spirit will discipline our souls to maintain this unbroken communion with the Lord. This comes upon us as we yield ourselves to Him. Then, we find communication with the Lord becomes our soul’s most natural response. The mere thought of a person will provoke us to prayer for him or her.
For you who have not been with us through the years, let me encourage you to take a step of beginning in this matter of praying without ceasing, as Paul admonished in I Thes 5:17. Find the times when you are doing something else that leaves your soul and spirit free to pray. A couple of days ago, I spent almost the entire day working in the yard and praying. I had been meditating on the principles we’re laying out here, so it was a fresh thing with me. There were a number of people who came to my mind and heart whom I held before the Throne. The digging, the planting, the cutting left me almost entirely free to make supplication, some of it with an intensity.
Although we are traveling less now than in the past, we still make short trips. And they are times for praying also. Although mine and Glenda’s time is less structured now than it once was, and we have more time to select as time for prayer only, we still have demands on us, as most people do. So, we’re still learning that the responsibility remaining on us still allows for praying. You will find it so, too. We can come to the place where no activity or demand rules out communication with the Lord.
I found years ago that there are certain activities demanded of us that we can dedicate to times of praying also. This first came to me as I was cutting my grass one day while my heart was burdened for some people I loved. I found myself praying fervently at the same time I was pushing the mower. So precious was the time that I began to consider grass-cutting as a call to prayer. We were traveling abroad a great deal and often had to wait long times for transportation. Or, we had to ride to destinations in vehicles not too commodious. We couldn’t read or engage in conversation because of the jostle and noise, but we could pray. Sometimes we even regretted when the trip came to an end because the communion with the Lord had been so sweet and the prayer so intense. Often no one knew what we were doing.
On we could go. Find your times that you can dedicate to praying even while other demands are upon you. Start will simple tasks, like washing dishes or mopping the floor, driving to work, or waiting in line. You will find you have a great many times in your day that can be times for prayer. As you dedicate them, you will make your moves toward praying always.
ANOTHER PRINCIPLE THAT WORKED in Paul was that his prayer often became that of earnest supplication for the people under his care. We see this in Phil 1:4 through the words he used in the Original. The most ordinary word of the Greek New Testament for "prayer" is proseuche, but in this verse Paul used the less common, but more intense, word, deésis. He used it two times in the one verse, once translated prayer, the other request. This word seems to come from another word that means "it is necessary" or "it is a binding obligation." It describes a kind of praying that must have an answer. It is praying from which a person will not turn until the answer is certain.
Recently, a member of our family faced a crisis and the effect of it came over on us with so great an impact that it almost knocked us out. We were in the process of moving and the demands of each day were unrelenting and without mercy. Glenda’s health became such that I was left alone with much of the responsibility. My own strength came under attack so that on some days I could hardly drag myself along. Very few things worked out as we had planned. But there was one thing left: our trust that the grace of God would prevail. We beat upon His door—as we drove, as we waited, as we went in and out of offices, as we went time and again into the hospital. In it all our supplications continued, without ceasing, and we saw the miracle of God’s grace come upon the whole situation.
I tell this because I know many who read this face demands that can only be met by His grace. Its abundance still exceeds anything anyone could imagine. The door upon which the man in Jesus’ story in Lk 11 knocked is still there. The door on which Paul knocked in his supplication is still there for us. It will open.
Jesus taught this. He said, . . . knock (and keep on knocking), and it shall be opened unto you—Mt 7:7 and Lk 11:9.
Ask again for "the spirit of supplication." It will aid you well in this kind of praying.
THERE WAS ANOTHER PRINCIPLE in Paul’s praying that is ready for our embrace. It is that matter of praying with joy. This is elusive to many of us, but it is essential, especially for the days that may be close upon us with their darkness and dread. It was Nehemiah, leader in the rebuilding of the desolate Jerusalem in its darkest day, who discovered that the joy of the LORD is your strength—Neh 8:10.
Paul, in Philippians, carried joy to a new height. In its four brief chapters he used the Greek words for joy (chara) and rejoice (chairo) a total of 14 times. We can know it as the Epistle of Joy. But, for me, his most defining statement about joy is in another Epistle. It is part of the fruit of the Spirit—Gal 5:22; it is not just to be seen as the result of good things happening. It is sometimes an indescribable thing of the Kingdom, brought to pass in us through an operation of the Holy Spirit. For now, we take note from Paul in Phil 1:4 that in every prayer for the Philippians he made the request with joy. I wonder, does not the joy increase as the intensity of the supplication increases? I believe it does. There is in this kind of praying—especially in our praying for others—a drawing close to Him who is the author of our joy. When sorrow and worry crowd us in upon His bosom, we absorb the joy of knowing He is loving us, He is receiving us, He is hearing us, He is moving in response to our supplication.
There are some strange things—strange to our natural way of thinking, perhaps, but not to our spirit—to be perceived about this joy. It will come in company with being rejected, and hated, and spoken against.
Jesus told us this. Blessed are ye, when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company, and shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of man's sake. Rejoice ye in that day, and leap for joy... Lk 6:22,23a.
Now, let me close this little bit of the article by saying something about this joy that comes with being hated, etc. There are some of you reading this who face hatred and rejection—perhaps from members of your own family, or from members of the fellowship with which you once enjoyed communion. You want to pray but feel so wounded and betrayed that it becomes a difficult thing to do. Here, let joy come. Let it be born in you of the Holy Spirit. If you don’t perceive it coming, simply ask for it. It is yours. Then, with this joy released in you by the Holy Spirit, you can begin to make request, even for those who wounded you.
-- We will go on.
© Berean Ministries
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