Prayer: my biggest challenge, my greatest weapon

By 22/11/2020From Nigel

 

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.

2 Corinthians 1:11

What is my greatest weakness? What is the one thing that will help me the most? Prayer. I have been a Christian for nearly fifty years and I am still learning this profound and yet simple lesson. The answer is prayer.

The easiest thing about prayer is not doing it or persevering in it.

I am lazy, I can find a million and one excuses or other priorities, I would rather chat than pray. I am glad I am not alone in this , it seems it’s always been that way, which is why Paul told the church in Colossae to continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving (Colossians 4:2). If you’ve ever battled with the importance and power of prayer like me, then this passage is for you and me.

Paul has just confidently declared that the God who had already delivered him from a life threatening situation would do it again and again (vs 10). God’s purpose in Paul’s extreme burdens had worked, he no longer looked to himself but now trusted in the “God who raises the dead” (vs 9). If God can raise his son from the dead, then what we face has to be measured against that.

So, if Paul is so confident that God ‘will deliver us’ (vs 10) what’s the point in asking the Corinthians to pray? Why ask them to pray if God is going to do what He’s going to do anyway irrespective of their prayers for Paul whether they pray or not? Doris Day sang “Que sera, Sera,

whatever will be, will be”. That may well be one conclusion but it was not Paul’s! No sooner had he spoken with great confidence about his trust in God’s ability then he enlists the intercessory prayers of the Corinthians on his behalf. What is it that Paul asks them to ask God? He encourages them to ask God to do what God has declared is his desire and character to do! Does that sound a little strange? Maybe, but there it is divine black and white. Ask for what God has told us he will do.

God will deliver us, says Paul (vs 10). We have put our hope in him “that he will deliver us again” (vs 10). Therefore, based on this assurance and flowing out of this confidence, he appeals to the Corinthians to “help us by prayer.” It is however, more than just a survival prayer request. It seems that Paul’s request for prayer will impact ‘many’. So what Paul believes is, that these prayers will be a contributory factor in the success of his apostolic ministry. Now that challenges us. Here’s some examples:

At the same time, prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping that through your prayers I will be graciously given to you. Philemon 1:22

for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, Philippians 1:19

30 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, 31 that I may be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, 32 so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company. Romans 15:30-32

Therefore our prayers have incredible impact on the advance of the kingdom. Paul’s desire was that news of his rescue from death would serve as an impetus for the saints in Corinth to join together in prayer on his behalf, in response to which he believed God would deliver him yet again should similar dangerous circumstances arise. That’s what answer to prayer does, it fuels, fires up, stirs us.

Let’s take this a bit further. Paul believes that the prayers of the church in Corinth would produce blessing or favour and that his ministry would prosper. Do you see how prayer is always a win win for all concerned? Look at how it works for the benefit of everyone involved:

The ones who pray (the Corinthians) experience the excitement of being an instrument in the fulfilment of God’s purposes and are in wonder as they watch how God works in response to their prayers. They are encouraged, motivated, filled with faith. The one who is prayed for (Paul) experiences being delivered from horrible circumstances, is sustained in trials and receives a transforming blessing, thus he is encouraged, motivated and filled with faith. The one to whom prayer is offered (God) is thanked, glorified by all parts for having intervened in a way that only God can in order to bless or deliver or save his people.

What we read here in this one verse is similar to others in Paul’s letters (see above). On two occasions he indicated that whether or not he was released from prison may well be dependent on prayer.

In his letter to Philemon, Paul wrote , “at the same time, prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping that through your prayers I will be graciously given to you”. The word translated “given” means “to graciously grant a favour.” Paul believed his physical welfare and where he should be, was ultimately in the hands of God. He believed it was God who would determine to act in response to the prayer requests of his people, specifically Philemon and his household, to secure his release.

We find a similar scenario described in Philippians 1. Paul is again confident of his impending release from prison. Yet he also says, “for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance.” Paul evidently believed that God had purposed to effect his deliverance through the prayers of the church at Philippi and the help of the Holy Spirit.

Paul’s appeal to the Roman Christians is especially poignant:

The apostle was convinced that God could suspended the success of his journeys and mission without the prayers of his people. Without those prayers, Paul was at a loss. His anxiety about a threat from the unbelieving Jews in Judea was well known. (see Acts 20-21). Therefore, his request for continued prayers was not merely an emotional manoeuvre to engage their sympathy, but a call for help to advance the kingdom. His plan to come to Rome and enjoy the friendship of these saints was also dependent on prayer (1 Thessalonians 3:10-13).

He eventually made it to Rome, although his arrival there was not in the manner he expected (see Acts 21 onwards). In any case, the important thing to note is, that he believed in the power and importance of prayer as a means given by God for the fulfilment of his will.

We must never presume that God will grant us apart from prayer what he has ordained to grant us only by means of prayer. It’s one of God’s mysterious ways. We may not have the theological brain to fully work out how prayer functions in relation to God’s will, but we must never cast it aside on the lazy or unbiblical assumption that it is ultimately irrelevant to God’s purpose for us and others.

Here’s the bottom line: If we don’t ask, God doesn’t give. If God doesn’t give, people don’t receive. If people don’t receive, God won’t be thanked. Think about it Nigel. Better still, pray about it.

 

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