Just a few shorts days ago, we celebrated Thanksgiving. It is a time to reflect on every thing we have to be thankful for: family, good friends, yummy foods, and all the other things that we take for granted throughout the year, We may also turn our thoughts to those less fortunate, and resolve to donate to a worthy cause, volunteer at a soup kitchen, or drop some coins in those Salvation Army red kettles. Now we are in the season of Advent. It is a time for quiet reflection. A time to clear out the mental clutter, so that we may have a deeper relationship with God, the Father.
As I was reading over the scripture for today, the letter from Paul, to the Philippians, really hit home. Now remember, Paul wrote to the Philippians from prison in Rome in approximately A.D. 61 or 62, about ten years after Paul, Silas, Timothy, and Luke first arrived in Philippi with the gospel message. At the end of Acts, we read about Paul being in prison in Rome awaiting trial. Philippians seems to have been written after the close of Acts but before Paul’s release from his first Roman imprisonment. As Paul writes, he is hopeful of being released soon. Certain statements in Philippians hint that Paul’s trial may have already concluded and that he was only awaiting the verdict of life or death at the time he wrote this scripture. Although the verdict could call for him to be executed, Paul was hopeful, expecting to be released from prison soon.
“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 in 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.”
During his imprisonment, Paul frequently remembered the church and always offered up prayers with joy. Here is a man, in prison, but his thoughts are not about himself, nor whether he will live another day. Besides his love of the heavenly Father, his thoughts, love, and prayers are always for his people. The prayer life that Paul exemplifies puts most of us to shame. You may wish you could pray like he does. Surprisingly, it may not be as hard as you might think. Paul cultivates the discipline of “remembering” (1:3). He consciously and continually trains his mind to reflect on God’s people. This is a discipline, just like working out or eating healthy. But it works wonders in prayer. Here are a couple examples. When you see a little boy on a bike, instead of just thinking, “What a cute kid,” let this boy remind you to pray for the children in your church, or school. When you see a young couple in the mall or in a restaurant, don’t just think: “I wish my marriage was like theirs”, or “I wish I was married”. Or a popular one I hear some days, “I wish I wasn’t married.” Instead, pray for this family, or pray for your own family members.
When you see someone with gray hair, instead of thinking, “I hope I don’t turn gray or get old.” Instead pray for the seniors citizens in your neighborhood who may live alone. Pray for widows and widowers, who are lonely and in need, to experience God’s provisions. When you hear a different dialect, instead of thinking to yourself, “Hmm, that’s odd sounding”. Or especially with the current events in the world, mumble under your breath, “Oh, its one of those people, the ones who are causing the immigrant crisis”. Instead pray for them and the persecuted church in other countries. Pray that God would strengthen these brothers and sisters as they courageously live for Christ and His gospel. When we practice the discipline of remembering, we can be effective in our prayers.
How we pray for one another will sometimes determine how we treat one another. If we only pray when the person we are praying for is having problems, how will we view that person when we see them? We will think they always have problems, and they become a burden and not a blessing to us. However, if we are frequently praying prayers of thanksgiving and faith, then we will have a positive view of other people. As Christians, especially for those of us who work in ministry, its may be easy to become cynical or burned out because we deal with so many problems. People come to us when their marriage is in crisis, their child has run away, or they have an illness like cancer. They secretly hope that we can solve their problems. Instead of being pessimistic and irritated, we should thank the Lord for the person’s character, spiritual gifts, their uniqueness. If we can do this, we will then be able to view others the way the apostle Paul does. His joyful prayer to the Philippians, his outpouring of love and concern, should serve as an example, and reminder, that everyone you meet is your congregation, your Church. How will you minister to them? How will you pray for them? We hope with a thankful and joy-filled heart!