It’s Hard to Pray When We Can’t Think - Philippians 1.3-11
Whatever reason we can craft as the excuse as to why we do not pray as we should for one another, perhaps the most truthful of all is that we simply do not think of one another. As to why we don’t think of one another there is a great variety of reasons, or perhaps more accurately, excuses. Busyness, out of sight, out of mind, procrastination, whatever.
The writer of the proverb is correct: “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” It is so true. It all begins right here. That’s why Paul the Apostle commences his letter to the Philippian brothers and sisters by informing them in chapter one and verse 3, “Every time I think of you, I give thanks to God.” And exactly after telling us where his thoughts and heart are, He says, “I always pray for you,” (v.4).
It begins to be so clear. The implication of what Paul commences his letter with could be summed up by saying: we can keep each other in mind when we have each other in our heart. Paul prayed, and prayed regularly for the saints because they where a heart priority to him. This intensity of caring forced his feelings up from his heart and into his mind where they were translated into fervent and pointed prayer.
Regular prayer. Repeated prayer. “I always pray for you,” Always. No understatement from the Apostle to the Gentiles. How did he do it? It is apparent that he did so because he wanted to do it. We do what we want to do, after all. But practically, Paul maintained a mindset of cultivating ever-deepening, Biblically-based relationships by a recurring attitude of gratitude toward the Philippians. He gave thanks. But he also needed to exhibit a joyful spirit of empathetic dependence on His God. The key to these practical prayer principles is found in verse 4 and is wrapped up in the word “requests”. Paul depended upon God to meet his needs. But Paul also trusted that the Lord would meet the needs of the Philippian believers through prayer. He needed to make requests for them. So he did. He loved them. We can keep each other in our mind when we have each other in our heart.
Consider as well that the Apostle was in prison at the point of the penning of this letter. How did Paul find the strength and courage to be so positive? Paul tells us in verse 5: “because you have been my partners in spreading the Good News about Christ.” They shared a mutual God and a mutual cause rooted in the Gospel. This partnership gave Paul impetus. This partnership gave Paul motivation. Not only a mutual partnership in the Gospel, but a mutually assured encouragement for the future in Christ, whatever they might happen to be enduring at the present tense. God was in control.
Verse 6 reminds us that the Lord is in the business of writing final chapters to the pages of our lives. He will finish His work in our lives and the lives of the Philippians, ultimately, “when Christ Jesus comes back again.” But until then, we can cling to a common confidence. That confidence is that our God will not abandon us to this life and its circumstances.
Now once we have each other in our minds and hearts, what should we pray? How should we pray? We are not left without answers to these questions. The original Book of Common Prayer is the Bible. And not only does the Apostle give us the whys of prayer, he allows us to see the what’s of prayer as well. None of that, “Lord, bless him or her”. Not for Paul. There are real and serious issues of Christian growth to consider once we charge our memory with the triggers to pray.
Paul’s prayer for the Philippians is specific in verses 9-10. He prays to the Lord that He might enable them to grow in love and commitment for each other. Not a syrupy kind of sentimental love, rather a love based on knowledge and good discernment. He prays that they would make wise decisions and choices as befits those in possession of all the treasures of wisdom in Christ. And he asks God to give them a practical genuineness and consideration before others who are outside of the faith. And again, “...until Christ returns”. There always seems to be an eschatological terminus that finds its end in Christ.
Paul is very pointed and theocentric in this and in all of his biblical prayers. Pointed in that he wants to see definite things happen in the lives of these Philippians that would reflect upward. In fact, verse 11 is a priestly barocha delivered from a spiritual father in Christ. “May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation –“. At its essence, Paul is saying that the very best that could happen to the focus of his letter is that Christ Jesus would be made manifest in their lives. How? Apparently through the work of the Holy Spirit growing the kind of character that can only come through Him (see Galatians 5.22-26 for more on the specifics of this character). If his prayers touch the ears of the Father, and Paul is certain that they will, the Divine cultivator will indeed be magnified in their lives. The Apostle to the Philippians acknowledges that this is the goal of prayer and blessing: “for this will bring much glory and praise to God.”
In order to pray like this, specifically and pointedly, I must know my brothers and sisters. I must know them and be aware of their weaknesses, illnesses, joys, sorrows and struggles. More than that, I must be thinking of them, growing with them, communicating to them. Then, little by little, there will be room found for them in my heart. Bringing people to the throne of grace as an intercessor for them will be that much more of a habit because we can keep each other in mind for prayer when we have each other in our hearts.