“Imagine” – the final episode
Message brought at PCF on Sunday 9 December 2012
We have just finished, on Sundays and at Housegroups, the “Imagine” series which has challenged us, and, hopefully, inspired us to live our lives for God on our “Frontlines”. Our frontlines are the places where we rub shoulders with the world, the place where he has called us to be missionaries and where we serve Him.
Today draws this series to a close, and we start by looking at something which, at first sight, doesn’t connect to it – prayer.
We are looking at the great passage on spiritual warfare from Ephesians 6:
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armour of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.
This is a wonderful passage which deserves in depth consideration. For today, however, our thoughts are verse 18 onwards when Paul is urging his readers to prayer. It is as if this is the culmination of al that Paul has been saying about spiritual warfare – “whatever else you do…make sure that you do this”
Let’s ask some questions:
How should we pray? Paul’s answer is “in the Spirit” – probably not a reference to speaking and praying in tongues, though this is a practice that we totally and thoroughly endorse and affirm – it’s just that it is probably not what Paul is speaking of here. Paul is saying that when we pray, we are not like the pagans, and the false worshippers of Ephesus for whom it was just a religious ritual. We are those who are caught up in the purposes of the living God. We have living within us the Spirit of the almighty God. That means that prayer for us is not a religious exercise, it is the Spirit within us co-operating with the Spirit of God. So we are led by the Spirit in prayer, we hear from him what is on his heart and we translate that into words that speak the heart of God to the Father. The mystery of prayer is awesome.
Paul’s answer is “on all occasions” – he goes on to say “always, keep on praying”. There is never a time when prayer is not needed and not appropriate.
Paul says we should be praying “all kinds of prayers and requests” – all manner of things should be those that we bring to our Father, on all occasions by the leading of and in the power of the Spirit. We will consider later what those things may be.
“for all the saints” – one of the great joys of being in church is that we are constantly being supported in prayer by our family members.
So how does this work? Let’s look ahead at some examples of prayer.
1. John’s Prayer
Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well
This tiny fragment of scripture has this gem of a prayer from the Apostle John. In it he prays
a. That his friend will enjoy good health. Yes – it’s OK to pray about our health, it’s OK to put health requests on put and it’s OK to be concerned about this part of our lives. All the people who Jesus healed were concerned about their health, so there is no reason why we should not be asking God that all of us will enjoy good health and that there will be healing where there is illness. Of course this is all in the context of our life in a world that is still cursed by sin, and our bodies that will only receive their full redemption is the final state, but we know, and have experienced that God cares about our health and will intervene in our heath situation – so let’s bring them to God.
The only problem with this is when health is the only thing we are concerned about…
b. John continues by praying that all will go well with his friend – we are quite right to pray for ourselves and for others about the situations of life, the normal circumstances, the job interview – whatever it is that’s happening in our lives. We are right to and need to pray about the normal circumstances of life for ourselves and for other
c. John prays for the spiritual health of his friend (actually it’s not clear whether this is a request or an observation) but the point is true that we should be praying – more than the other things – for the spiritual health of those who we know. Paul confirms this again and again in his prayers for the Ephesians, the Colossians and so on. If our prayer for other characterised by a concern for their spiritual health?
2. Jesus’ Prayer
Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”
What we pray for is a mark of our spirituality. When we are filled with God’s spirit we look out and see the world as God sees it and our heart is stirred with compassion for those who do not know God. This then leads us into a prayer for God to do something about it – and as Jesus says the answer is for God to thrust out workers into the places that need him. That can be our own church situation, it can be our front lines (where we can be the answer to our own prayer) and it can be unreached people groups. We need to pray that God will meet the needs of the world – even more so than praying than he will meet our needs. This is a prayer request from Jesus – are we able to pray in the same way?
3. Paul’s prayer
“I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith”…
Paul’s prayer for his friend Philemon brings us finally to the subject of being missional in prayer. Paul was praying for Philemon on his front line. Is that the prayer that we want for ourselves as we operate on our own front line?
And this is the theme that we pick up as we move back to our main passage:
Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.
Paul’s prayer the desire of his heart, in a situation where he was in great personal danger was that he would be bold in sharing the gospel, that he would discharge the responsibility that God had given him to be an ambassador and that God would use him to save souls. Is that what you would have us pray for you? Is that the kind of prayer that goes onto prayer by text?
In the final analysis we are a missional community, and that will be reflected in how we think, what we do, what we say and above all, in how we pray.
Imagine church where we prayed constantly for each other’s welfare, where we constantly supported each other in prayer and above all where we prayed for each other on our front lines and on our mission fields. Imagine a church that is a truly missional community. Imagine that – and you’ve imagined church the way God wants it.