The Prayers of a Builder: The Apostle Paul’s Pattern of Prayer (Part 2)

The apostle Paul was meek and humble, but had no use for false modesty. He accurately described himself as a master builder, an expert chosen, prepared and empowered by God to set in place the doctrinal foundation of the Church, and also to establish local churches throughout the ancient Near East. From Paul’s day to the present time, the building of the Church upon the foundation he laid has continued. There have been storms, setbacks, persecutions, fallings away and apostasies. But the Church has survived them all and continues to rise on the foundation of Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God.

Just as in the day of Paul, it is through human instruments, by the working of the Holy Spirit, that God builds the Church. To the extent we, God’s instruments, are first aware of and then willing, yielded, obedient and faithful to his will—to that extent the Church experiences blessing, fruitfulness and growth.

It is crucial that Christians understand that every one of us is called to build. We all have the responsibility to help edify the Church. There are no exceptions, anywhere, in the entire Kingdom of God. We are each of us gifted, in varying ways, to edify the Body in love. To the extent we acknowledge our responsibility and exercise our gifts, to that extent we will strengthen and bless the Body—and please the Lord.

Here are some passages which clearly convey our charge to build and be built together with Christ. Note, in the first, the importance of building with carefulness, and the range of “build quality” grades, from precious gold to worthless straw, to be revealed one day by fire:

1 Cor. 3 10 – 15 (NIV)  By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.

1 Corinthians 14:12  So it is with you. Since you are eager to have spiritual gifts, try to excel in gifts that build up the church.

Romans 15:2  Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.

Romans 19:19  Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.

Ephesians 4:11-16   It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.  Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

Colossians 2:6-8   So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.  See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.

 1 Thess 5:10-11  He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

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Irrespective of our gifting, we all have the privilege and responsibility of seeking the Lord and lifting the Church up before him at his throne of grace. Should we fail to do this, the fruitfulness of our gifts and works will be shrivelled: Without me, you can do nothing (John 15:5).

On the other hand, If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples (John 15:7 – 8): Abide in Christ, receive and keep his Word (especially, the command to love one another, John 15:9-13), and pray according to his will—obeying these three simple imperatives results in much fruit and brings glory to God.

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The Prayers of a Builder: The Apostle Paul’s Pattern of Prayer (Part 1)

The prayer of Jesus in John 17 reveals the purpose and the passion of Jesus Christ for his Church. This prayer declares the pure essence of “the will of God,” and we do well to keep these words front and centre in seeking the will of God for ourselves and our fellow Christians. Prayer inspired and informed by the Word of God is prayer that God delights to hear, prayer that he will work in wonderful ways to answer: If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you (John 15:7).

The prayers of the apostle Paul, likewise, manifest the heart and desire of Jesus Christ for his people. In nearly every one of his epistles to the churches, Paul tells God’s people how he is praying for them.  These prayers reveal much about God’s wonderful love and plan for his people.  They also help us understand how we ourselves should pray.  When we seek to apply the promise, If we ask anything according to his will, then he hears us . . .  (I John 5:14), we find clear instruction about that will in the prayers of Paul.

The Holy Spirit inspired every word of Paul’s epistles.  We can be certain that Paul’s prayers flow directly from and to the heart of God.  We also, therefore, can pray with full confidence according to the example set by Paul.

As we study and meditate on Paul’s prayers, they give us vital, spiritual understanding and help answer very important questions like these:

What does God want to do in, through and for his people?  (Evidently, what Paul asks for must be attainable and what God desires; otherwise, the apostle would not have asked for it.)

 What is God’s attitude toward his people, revealed through the heart of Paul?    What should our attitude toward God’s people be? 

What are God’s and Paul’s priorities as far as God’s people are concerned?  What should our priorities be?

How can we pray according to God’s will? 

What can we do about weakness and failure in the Church and in our brothers and sisters?

How can we help the Church and our brothers and sisters fulfill the high calling of God?

How can we assess the validity of various teachings on prayer that we may encounter?

The prayers of Paul are especially helpful when we are feeling uncharitable or critical toward other believers for one reason or another.  Praying fervently that others may be encouraged, blessed and filled with the knowledge of God is a great antidote to resentment.  And as we pray for others, God will also do a mighty work of grace in us.

Paul asked big and wonderful things of God.  Read his prayers and see.  We can and should do the same.  We can have absolute confidence that when we pray as Paul did for God’s people, the Lord hears and will be working, in some way, to answer.  Dare to believe it—God invites us to ask for all of his fullness to fill his people! (Eph. 3:19)

The abundance of guidance and encouragement in these marvelous prayer passages can inspire and sustain any believer in fruitful prayer for a lifetime.  The promises and potential for blessing implicit in Paul’s prayers are mind-boggling.  God is mighty, and His intentions for us are exceedingly great and gracious.  He wants his people to know the length and breadth and depth and height of his love, the excellence of his plans for us, and the sufficiency of his power to fulfill in us what he has purposed.

God’s priority in the earth is the building of his Church—the calling and cultivating of countless believers in every generation toward mature fruitfulness in Christ.  If Paul’s prayers are any guide—and they most certainly are—the edification and blessing of the Body for the glory of Jesus Christ is the very centre of “the will of God.”  (Also near to the heart of God is the salvation of Israel, and we should pray to this end as Paul does in Romans 10:1.)

Amazingly, God calls and empowers each of us to be co-labourers with him in this mighty work.  He knows far better than we do that the Church—the people he has called to himself—is in great need.  He would not have us stagger or despair at the enormity of the task, but rather take up his yoke and do our part to help.  As we by the Spirit set ourselves to plead, according to his manifest will, that Jesus be glorified in the Church, we will find his yoke is in fact easy and his burden is light.  We will be overtaken by joy unspeakable and full of glory when, having prayed earnestly for the good of God’s people, we begin to see answers come and blessings pour down from the throne of grace.

Subsequent posts under this heading will examine Christians’ universal calling to be builders together with Christ, our mandate to follow Paul’s example and the blessings of doing so, and the wonderful prayers of Paul.

God’s Will Distilled: John 17

The Last Supper has ended. Jesus has comforted, taught and warned his disciples. He has promised and foretold marvelous things. Then, as related to us in John 17, he prays.

This climactic prayer of Jesus is the most direct and, may I say it, concentrated unveiling of the inner counsels of the Godhead in all of Scripture. Here, we may look on in wonder as the Son pleads the longing of his heart to the Father, with whose will the Son is in full accord. Here we are shown, plainly, what is on the mind and in the heart of God. Here is expressed the very essence of the will of God, both his eternal purpose and the passionate love that propels it.

We have received a mighty promise: This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him (1John 5:14-15). Perhaps the most fruitful, effectual (and necessary) praying we can do is that inspired and informed by the prayer of Jesus in John 17, which clearly sets forth “the will of God.” Indeed, the passage in 1John continues: If you see any brother or sister commit a sin that does not lead to death, you should pray and God will give them life (1John 5:16). The promise given in verses 14-15 is directly followed by an example of the nature or quality of prayer John has in mind: not for a Cadillac, nor yet for judgement, but for restoration and victory in the life of a believer overtaken by weakness, error or sin.

With conditions, God hears our prayers for daily bread, healing, and other temporal needs. But the prayer closest to his heart, prayer which will yield eternal fruit and joy in us and in those we pray for, is that which seeks, above all else, what Jesus Christ himself desires above all else. And that, thank God, can be known. The Word clearly reveals it.

It is good to meditate on John 17, letting the words of Jesus sink down into our hearts.

Some final thoughts:

Jesus did not mouth platitudes. He asked for monumental but real things, with full expectation. In alignment with his desires, so can we. So should we. The fulfillment of the Divine will may, to some extent, await your pleading and mine: The Body grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work (Eph 4:16, emphasis added).

Jesus sees the Church, his Body, his Bride, in its totality. In his sight, if any part suffers or lacks, the whole suffers or lacks. We need this perspective in order to pray according to his will. It is natural (and perfectly acceptable) to pray for individuals and congregations whom we know. But we must also dare to bring the whole Church before the throne of grace, for we are a Body, a Family. We are connected and related to every other member through Christ. Let reports of trouble or sin or failure in our Body stir us to prayer for “mercy, and grace to help in time of need.”

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Lord, you know those who are yours in the world today. You know and love each one of us. You have called each of us by name. You desire—you prayed, and continue to make intercession for us—that we will be kept from evil, that we will be sanctified and strengthened in our walk with you, that we will grow up together into unity and love that glorify you, and that we will be with you where you are, beholding your glory and delighting in you forever. Please give us understanding and grace, that we may desire what you desire, and that we may pray earnestly that this, your will, be accomplished in each of your children and in all of your children. Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done!

 

Who Was Epaphras and Why Should We Care?

. . . Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf . . .  (Col 1: 7, NIV)

Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for those in Laodicea and and Hierapolis  (Col 4:12-13).

Epaphras was a member of the early Church, likely of the congregation in Colossae. He travelled and ministered with the apostle Paul for a time, and at some point was imprisoned with him.  Paul vouched for Epaphras and warmly endorsed his ministry, which means the Holy Spirit approved him as well.  Epaphras was “a faithful minister of Christ.” He was commissioned and anointed by Christ, and in Spirit and truth he ministered Christ to those for whom he laboured.

What was the ministry of Epaphras?  One notable part of it, that which Paul specifically  commended, was frequent, fervent prayer for God’s people, in order that they would “stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured.”

The early Church, blessed though it was in having eyewitness knowledge of Christ, the fresh, mighty outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and the presence and teaching of the very apostles themselves, could not flourish and advance without continuing, edifying prayer. Surely such prayer is no less crucial for the modern Church.  Christians today face challenges, dangers and obstacles of every sort.  Perilous times are upon us. One doesn’t have to look very far to see weakness, sin, compromise and even apostasy affecting the Church. Many in the Kingdom seem to be half-hearted, struggling, lacking the fire of the Holy Spirit and passion for Christ.  There is great need everywhere, including in this believer’s life.

But the purpose of this blog is not to expose, lament or complain about the condition of the Church or any of its members. There is no shortage of venues and opportunities elsewhere for doing such things. Recognizing simply that the Church has both great needs and a great calling to rise up and fulfill, this blog’s purpose is to encourage faithful, effectual, fervent prayer for God’s people.  Such prayer is very pleasing to God and will yield eternal fruit for his glory.

The Word of God abounds with teaching on this vital theme.  The Lord invites us to mine these riches, growing in grace and understanding, and seeking ever-greater victory and blessing in the lives of those he loves.

The Lord is calling out, inviting all who will hear to draw near to him and to pray steadfastly and effectually for his people, according to his will, as clearly revealed in his Word. This is an essential ministry, a fruitful ministry, a mighty ministry!

Questions, comments, testimonies and exhortations are welcome. Please be mindful that this space is dedicated to edification. The Lord promised to build his Church, and all who belong to him are called to be builders together with him.  Let us therefore build one another up in Christ, motivating one another “toward love and good deeds.” Like Epaphras, may we be faithful ministers of Christ who labour diligently in prayer for our fellow believers, so that they may fulfill his will and be ready to meet him with joyful assurance.  Great delight awaits those who undertake such ministry.