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Connections between the Bible and prayer: The prayer in Philippians

Friday October 12 2018

Connections between the Bible and prayer: The prayer in Philippians

I heard a story yesterday that broke my heart. Someone I know from a distance, but who I always liked, became the pastor of a congregation a few years ago. Someone else, who knows the situation at that church, told me about the ways this person did not care wisely or lovingly for the sheep.

While I was grieving about what I heard, I sat down to write my blog post for this week, focused on the Apostle Paul’s prayer in Philippians.

I’ve been writing about the prayers in the letters attributed to the Apostle Paul, an exercise in pure joy for me, because I love these prayers. In each post, I’ve been printing the intercessory portion of each prayer. (Next week I’m going to focus on the thankfulness portion of all the prayers.) For the Philippians prayer, I had decided last week that I was going to print the thankfulness portion, the few sentences that follow, and the intercessory portion.

These words demonstrate such care for the young Christians in Philippi. They stand in such contrast to what I heard about yesterday.

“I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that on the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.” (Philippians 1:3-11)

These words demonstrate the joy, heart connection, and longing that the Apostle Paul felt for the Christians in Philippi. He is not ashamed to express his emotions about the connection he feels with them. Note that his connection is grounded in both his relationship with them and what God is doing and will do. This double grounding for his prayer is the key point I’ll mention several times in this post.

Verse 6 is often quoted separately from the rest of the prayer: “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.” This promise has given countless Christians confidence to try to love and serve God for one more day. It’s interesting to read the verse sandwiched between Paul’s description of his prayers of gratitude for the Philippians and his prayer of intercession for them.

His gratitude and his intercession are based on his love for them, as well as his understanding of the way God works in us. Paul toggles back and forth, in almost every sentence, between his expressions of care specifically related to the Philippians and his descriptions of the way God works through Jesus Christ. His prayers are profoundly based in knowledge of the people he’s praying for and knowledge of God.

This prayer mirrors some of the themes I wrote about related to the prayer in Colossians 1. Paul prays here that they would grow in knowledge of God so they can display the “harvest of righteousness” (verse 11).

In my post on the prayers in Ephesians, I mentioned the “spirit of wisdom and revelation” that Paul prays for. Paul is always concerned about the connection between knowing God and the way we live in response to that knowledge.

I encourage you to think about three people for whom you could pray the words of this prayer from Philippians. Eliminate the words about Paul’s imprisonment and any other words that don’t seem appropriate. Pray this prayer for the people you’ve chosen for several days in a row. See what new perspectives you have on this prayer after you pray it for a few days.

(Next week: Paul’s prayers of thankfulness. Illustration by Dave Baab. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column.)

Previous posts in this series:

          Connections between the Bible and prayer    
          The character of God and prayer      
          The context of the Lord’s Prayer                
           Instructions from the Apsotle Paul                   
           Paul's prayer in Colossians                        
           Two prayers in Ephesians            

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