Monday, July 11, 2011

Joy in Praying for Others

You’re making your way through the church lobby after a Sunday worship service when you see someone you know coming though the crowd in your direction. After you greet one another, your friend says, “I was hoping I’d catch you. I have a prayer request I want to share with you.”

What’s your reaction in that moment?

“Alright! It’s an opportunity to lift up someone’s need in prayer! This so totally ROCKS!”


“My prayer list is already too long… Let’s see if this request is important enough to make the cut.”


“I really care about this person, but I’m so busy right now. I really wish they’d have asked somebody else.”

Or if you’re like me…

“I hope I remember this later!”

If we were to follow the example of the Apostle Paul, our reaction would be closest to the first of these, as silly as it may sound. Paul found great joy in praying for others, asking God to intervene in their lives in order to accomplish His purposes. Take a look at Philippians 1:4-8.

In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.

Paul was a prisoner, and yet his affection for his brothers and sisters living in Philippi was so great that it brought him joy to pray for them. This joy certainly didn’t come from his circumstances. So from where did it come?

1. Joy in their shared history – Paul had been through hard things with these people. In Acts 16, we read about how Paul and Silas were jailed in Philippi. As the two missionaries were being run out of town by the magistrates, they visited the fledgling house church there one last time. That church was the one Paul later wrote these words to, once again jailed for the sake of the gospel. Paul honored their history together by praying for them with joy.

2. Joy in their shared standing in Christ – Paul recognized that these people he was praying for weren’t just any people. They belonged to the household of God, beloved children of the Almighty, co-heirs with Jesus Christ! He knew that God was at work in their lives, and that God would carry that work to completion. He knew they shared in God’s grace – with him. They were beloved just as he was beloved. What a joy it is to know that others experience the love of God just as I do! What a bond we share!

3. Joy in God’s love for them – Paul longed for these people “with the affection of Christ Jesus.” He was able to see them from God’s point of view. Shouldn’t we, as God’s people, care about the things God cares about? God takes joy in answering the prayers of His people. Should we not also take joy in lifting their prayer needs to God?

And so, I am convicted. I want to be more like Paul in this, finding joy in lifting the needs of my brothers and sisters to our Father. I want to pray as Paul prayed, that their love would abound more and more, that they would have knowledge and discernment, and that they would remain pure and blameless until the day of Christ (Phil. 1:9-11).

Speaking of which, do you ever notice that when Paul prays for people, he never prays that they would find relief from their bunions, find a new job, or get along better with their sister? He always prays for things like “abounding love,” “depth of insight,” and “the fruit of righteousness.” I wonder if we prayed these things for one another how it might change our level of excitement about praying for others. I wonder how it might change our lives…

But that’s another post for another time. For now, let us pray for one another with all joy!

Now, remind me again what you wanted prayer for...

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Are You Writing?

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

-- Hebrews 10:24-25
I’m writing this because a thirteen-year-old called my cell phone at ten o’clock last night. Had he not done so, I would surely be doing something else. But he called. So, here I am.

This requires some explanation. Let me back up.

Several weeks ago, following a sermon on investing in eternal things, my Ever-Lovin’ Wife (ELW) led our small group in a prayer exercise.
We were to ask God if there was something He wanted us to invest in, either with our time or our money, and then to listen for His response. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and began to pray silently.

Instantly, I knew what God wanted me to do.
He wanted me to write. Devotionals, blogging, curriculum, sermons…my books. He wanted me to invest in writing for Him.

I felt anxious, agitated.
“But God,” I replied, “I don’t have time to write. If I were to do that, I’d have to give up some of my relaxation time. I’d have to watch less TV! You know how much TV means to me!”

Looking back on it, this reply seems somewhat childish and awfully silly.
But in that moment, it seemed true. I had been convicted by the Holy Spirit to do something that I had no desire to do, and I felt angry that God would even ask. By God’s grace, I shared this experience with my small group and asked them to pray that God would change my heart.

Weeks went by, and despite my small group community’s prayers and encouragement, still no writing.
But I could sense God softening my heart toward the idea. I went from loathing at the thought of it, to begrudging acceptance that it was a good idea, to some sort of vaguely eager anticipation of it. I even came up with a plan for how writing might occur. Each night after putting ELW to bed (I’m still tucking her in after twelve years of marriage), I would spend the next hour writing. It was specific, measurable, and not overly ambitious. In other words, it was perfect.

Except for one thing.
I didn’t do it.

Enter my thirteen-year-old friend, Tyler Crane.
Tyler is in the 8th grade guys small group that I lead at church. Last weekend several folks from our youth group, including Tyler and me, attended a local Summer Camp in the foothills. There, we heard a message on Ephesians 5:15-16 about making the most of the short time we have on earth, spending it doing things with eternal ramifications. Again, God brought my writing to mind. I mentioned this conviction with my 8th grade guys, both during our car ride home and at youth group this week, in an effort to model transparency. But God had more in store.

After youth group, Tyler came up to me and said, “So, your plan is to write after your wife goes to bed each night?”

“That’s right,” I said.

“So, what time does she go to bed?"

“Oh, between 9:30 and 9:45 I suppose.”

"So…if I called you at 10:00, you should be writing when I called, right?”

I hesitated.
I could see where this was going. “Yeah, I guess that’s right.”

I’ll call you tonight.”

And he did.
At 10pm. On the dot.

I answered, “Hi, Tyler.”

Three words came back in response: “Are you writing?”

That was last night.
I did write last night, though I was working on a Seminary project, and as my wonderful ELW reminded me this evening, God did not tell me He wants me to invest more time in getting my homework done.

And so tonight, I’m writing this.

I’m writing this to say that I now have a real life example of what the author of Hebrews means when he commands us to “spur one another on.”
Spurring is aggressive encouragement. Help that can’t be ignored. A ten o’clock phone call to find out if you’re writing. That’s being spurred on. That’s love.

I’m writing this to say that while God filled the powder keg of inspiration and conviction that has led me to write, it was Tyler Crane who lit the match.
(Tonight, I was three paragraphs in when he called. I don’t know what I’ll be in the midst of tomorrow night, but I know I’ll be writing something!)

I’m writing this to ask you if someone in your life needs this kind of spurring on.
Maybe you need it yourself. For me, being spurred on is a nightly phone call and a simple question. What would it look like for you, or for the ones you love?

Because, if we’re honest, we all have times in our lives when what we really need is for someone to call us and ask, “Are you writing?”