Last night, we gathered for our evening service and we did something that we don’t typically do for worship or a regular prayer service. We gathered for prayer and we read through the entire letter of Philippians with specific congregational prayers at the conclusion of each chapter. Not only was it a blessing to read through the entire letter of Philippians—it was an added joy to pray together as a church in a holistic manner.
We began with the reading of Philippians 1 by David Crowe, one of our elders, who then followed up with a prayer for church unity as he prayed through the emphasis of the first chapter. As David read and prayed through Philippians 1—he emphasized the point Paul was making in Philippians 1:27–28, “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God.”
I read through Philippians 2, and then led the church in a prayer for the elders and their families. One of the joys of my life is serving with faithful elders who love the Lord and have a passion to serve our local church. It is likewise a joy to see how each one of my fellow elders have a driving focus on personal sanctification and a desire to see their families grow in holiness. I see this in their families, their wives, and their children. As I prayed, I quoted Paul’s words to the church at Philippi as he commended Timothy to them by saying:
I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you. For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel. I hope therefore to send him just as soon as I see how it will go with me, and I trust in the Lord that shortly I myself will come also (Phil. 2:19-24).
It was my desire to commend my fellow elders to the church publicly and to remind the church that we have a group of men who love them and desire to faithfully serve them in the gospel of Christ providing them with spiritual leadership and careful oversight. This too is my desire—to care for God’s sheep rather than just being a talking head in the pulpit.
Another elder, Buck Braswell, led the church in reading through Philippians 3 and a public prayer for the deacons of our church. He began by thanking God for the faithful men who serve our church in the office of deacon and how they meet the qualifications on 1 Timothy 3. Furthermore, he emphasized the fact that they have a desire to be faithful examples within the church. Just as Paul was urging the church at Philippi to walk in a manner that honors God in Philippians 3:17-20. This is not only essential for the elders, but also for those who serve the church in the office of deacon.
Finally, as a means of conclusion, I was able to lead the church in a reading of Philippians 4 followed by a prayer for our church’s unity as we were engaging in a time of business following our time in prayer. We were going to hear from the church in an official congregational vote to affirm the recommendation of our elders regarding a new pastoral candidate who will be coming on to serve alongside us. I led the church in praying for this candidate, his family, and our church as a whole as we engaged in this important decision. We asked for God’s will to be done and for the Lord to be honored.
It was a joy to pray and to read publicly the entire letter of Philippians together as a church. As elders, we have been exploring ways to pray together more as a church family with intentionality focused on praising God, instructing children in how to pray, and to lift up petitions to God on behalf of our entire church family. Last night was a blessing, and something that I would encourage you and your church to consider as well.
Do you underestimate or undervalue a prayer meeting? We anticipate the possibilities of sermon and often a song, but we often approach a prayer meeting with low expectations. When you hear of a prayer meeting that’s scheduled in the life of your church—what is your response? Do you view it as meaningful and essential or do you approach it as merely an option—something that’s not really that essential? Consider the possibilities of a corporate prayer meeting.
Remembering God’s Mercy
Prayer is essential because worship is essential. It’s impossible to properly worship God without prayer. One of the key values for a prayer meeting is the vertical aspect of prayer whereby people recall God’s mercy. As Mary sang her prayer to God in Luke 1:46-55, she recalled God’s mercy (Luke 1:50, 54). In Titus 3:5, we are brought to remember God’s mercy in saving sinners. God has lavished his mercy upon us, and the vertical aspect of a prayer meeting calls the congregation to remember what God has done (Rom. 5:8).
All through the Old Testament, the covenants were designed with a call to remember what God had done. Throughout the days of the prophets, they pointed back to the work of God in saving Israel and pointed to the future when Christ would save His Church. As we were commanded by Jesus to eat of the bread and drink of the cup—we are to do so in remembrance of King Jesus (Luke 22:19; 1 Cor. 11:25). When praying as a church—take time to recall the great work of God in saving his people from their sins (Gal. 3:13; 1 Pet. 2:24).
Prayer as a Ministry of Reconciliation
In Matthew 5:7, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” Only those who demonstrate merciful attitudes toward others will receive mercy. However, it’s essential to point out that a person doesn’t earn mercy by showing mercy. It’s actually the other way around. The reason a person is merciful is based on the fact that God has been merciful to the sinner.
However, we live in a broken world of sin and the Church is not immune to this problem of division. In fact, Satan is a master at creating disunity in the church. Charles Spurgeon once said, “Satan always hates Christian fellowship; it is his policy to keep Christians apart. Anything which can divide saints from one another he delights in. He attaches far more importance to godly intercourse than we do. Since union is strength, he does his best to promote separation.” That’s why Paul labored for Christian unity in Ephesians 4:31-32.
The fruit of a corporate prayer service could be the actual unity of a local church. Imagine the sweetness of a church that enjoys true unity. Sins have been confessed, broken roads fixed, wounds healed, and the ugly effects of Satan’s divisive schemes defeated. When a church comes together to pray together, not only will they pray vertically, but they will pray horizontally—lifting up one another’s needs—physically and spiritually. When division is not avoided in prayer, unity can be achieved. Far too often people avoid the reality of division because confession can be messy and often requires transparency and vulnerability.
The next time you have an opportunity to pray together as a church—don’t skip it and don’t approach it as if it’s not profitable. It very well may be exactly what you need. God will use the corporate prayer service in a unique and profitable way in your life if you will engage and involve yourself in true prayer that seeks to honor God and pursue unity among the church. If prayer isn’t really that important, why did Jesus spend so much time praying? Why did Jesus spend time teaching the disciples how to pray and engaging in prayer alongside them?
Ephesians 4:31-32 – Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.  Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
Yesterday I preached 1 John 5:13-15 in John’s epistle in our “Know” series. After looking intently at verse 13 last week, we moved on to the next two verses and examined what John said about prayer as a Christian. If John’s agenda is to bring true believers to a place of concrete assurance and faith in Christ, he demonstrated his desire for the Christian to pray with confidence as well.
John, along with the pattern of the early church, was a man of prayer. We see Peter and John going up into the temple at the very hour of prayer in Acts 3. Certainly he understood the priority and privilege of prayer, and he desired for his fellow Christians in various cities to be people of prayer as well. Knowledge that is separated from prayer and communion with God becomes nothing more than cold and lifeless doctrine.
John desired for the Christians to know that God hears the prayers of His people. John urged the Christian community to pray with confidence. The language of “toward him” in verse 14 paints a picture of a face-to-face conversation. John is picturing prayer as a face-to-face conversation with God and what a joy it is to have this privilege as a Christian. John understood the privilege and desired for others to enjoy it as well.
While God hears the prayers of all people, there is a difference between merely hearing and hearing with a desire to care for and answer the prayers of His own people. If a group of children are calling out to a man for a favor, he may hear all of them, but he will pay close attention to the voice of his own son the group of children. God cares for His own children in a unique way. As we explore the Word of God, we see a clear pattern of prayer demonstrated from Jesus to the early church.
- Jesus prayed at His baptism in Luke 3:21.
- Jesus sought to be alone in prayer, but was often interrupted.
- Jesus would rise early in the morning for prayer as we see in Mark 1:35.
- Jesus would pray all night at times as we see in Luke 6:12.
- Jesus prayed for His people – John 17.
The Apostles Prayed
- Paul prayed for the church and for the church’s witness – praising God for it in Romans 1.
- Paul urged the Christians in Rome to be faithful in prayer – Romans 12:12.
- Paul urged the church at Rome to pray for him – Romans 15.
- Apostles prayed together in the upper room as they waited on the Holy Spirit to come – Acts 2.
- Peter and John were seen going into the temple at the hour of prayer – Acts 3.
- Peter prayed on a housetop in Acts 10:9.
- Paul and Silas prayed in prison – Acts 16:25.
- The apostles gave themselves to the Word of God and prayer as the deacons took charge of the practical needs of the church in Acts 6.
The Church Prayed
The early church is pictured in Acts 2:42 as gathered for the purpose of hearing the apostles’ teaching, engaging in fellowship, and praying together.
The Bible closes with a prayer of the church:
Revelation 22:17 – The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.
God not only hears the prayers of His people, but He answers them in accordance with His will. John provides us the condition of prayer followed by the limitation of prayer. First, the condition of prayer is clearly revealed at the end of verse 14 as the “will of God.” We can’t pray code word language and expect that God will be bound by our words to give us the desires of our greed-filled hearts. We must learn to bend our will into conformity to God’s will. When we pray rightly, we don’t approach prayer out of superstition. We must learn to approach God in a way that far supersedes a rabbit’s foot. Christians pray in confidence that God hears and has the power to answer the prayer so long as we pray in accordance with God’s will.
The limitation of prayer is directly connected to the limitation of God. Our God is sovereign and big. He is strong and mighty. There is nothing too big for God, and we must learn to approach God with big weighty prayers that go well beyond the superficial weak prayers that we often pray. God can heal disease. God can provide jobs for the needy. The same God who never sleeps nor slumbers and the same God who controls the wind and the waves is the God who provides for His own people. Just as Jesus taught in Matthew 6:33, we must seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all of the provisions for God’s people will be met. Jerry Bridges once said:
Prayer assumes the sovereignty of God. If God is not sovereign, we have no assurance that He is able to answer our prayers. Our prayers would become nothing more than wishes. But while God’s sovereignty, along with His wisdom and love, is the foundation of our trust in Him, prayer is the expression of trust.
There are many people throughout church history who provide us with helpful examples of what it means to live by faith. One of those men stands head and shoulders above many—and his name is George Muller. Known in his town of Bristol, England as Muller, he was known as a father to the many orphans he labored to care for and educate.
If you want to learn more about George Muller, you can take a look at the article I wrote after visiting Bristol, England back in 2015. While George Muller provided a great example to follow—especially in the area of prayer. Muller once said, “My chief help is prayer.” Should we bind fellow Christians to his convictions when it comes to living by faith and refusing to ask people directly for financial help?
George Muller’s Rock Solid Faith
After his conversion, George Muller had an insatiable desire to serve God and to not waste his life. In November of 1825, when Muller was 20 years old, he was invited to a Bible study that would change his life. Following his conversion, he would grow to embrace the sovereignty of God over all things—including the salvation of rebel sinners. When people like to use Calvinism as some anti-missions doctrinal position, they often overlook George Muller and his ministry when they flip through history for proof of their beliefs.
During George Muller’s day, there was a severe problem with orphans in all of England. Bristol was overrun with abandoned children and the lifestyle of such children produced rebels who not only became rogues toward the civil law, but intensified their rebellion toward God. Muller prayed for a solution and felt that he should put his faith into action. He was a man of prayer and he prayed for God to provide land, and God provided the land. He then prayed for God to provide the houses, and God provided the houses for the orphans. This was the beginning of a ministry that would change Bristol and impact the world.
The first orphan entered Muller’s care on 11th of April 1836. The first entry into their log books was Charlotte Hill.  Over the course of Muller’s ministry, he would care for over 10,000 orphans and through his ministry beyond his death, 17,000 orphans in total would be ministered to as Muller’s ministry continued after he was gone. Muller was known as a man of prayer. One famous story about Muller’s faith is taken from a specific time when the orphans were out of food:
“The children are dressed and ready for school. But there is no food for them to eat,” the housemother of the orphanage informed George Mueller. George asked her to take the 300 children into the dining room and have them sit at the tables. He thanked God for the food and waited. George knew God would provide food for the children as he always did. Within minutes, a baker knocked on the door. “Mr. Mueller,” he said, “last night I could not sleep. Somehow I knew that you would need bread this morning. I got up and baked three batches for you. I will bring it in.” Soon, there was another knock at the door. It was the milkman. His cart had broken down in front of the orphanage. The milk would spoil by the time the wheel was fixed. He asked George if he could use some free milk. George smiled as the milkman brought in ten large cans of milk. It was just enough for the 300 thirsty children. 
Notice that when he was told that there was no food for the orphans, he ordered them to be seated and then he prayed and thanked God for the food and waited on God. Soon the food and milk came. This was one of the convictions of Muller. He refused to ask people directly for his needs. He would often pray and ask God to send the supplies, the help, the money, and the food. Through the years, people have embraced this approach as the Muller principle of prayer. Today, many people look to Muller as the prime biblical example of what it means to live by faith and they refuse to ask others for help. Is it sinful to make your needs known?
Stop Condemning People for Disagreeing with Muller
Today, many years after George Muller’s death, the Trust in his name continues to maintain the same principle of prayer as the only means whereby they will ask for money. While we can look to George Muller and be grateful for his strong faith, it would be unwise to demean another fellow Christian for making his or her needs known. While we can look to a wonderful example of faith in the life of George Muller, we can likewise find examples in the Bible where people made their needs known openly and publicly.
The Pattern of the Early Church
The early church is often held up as an example of the local church in the purist sense of biblical community. According to Acts 2:44-45, “And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.” How were the individual members of the early church providing for one another’s needs if they didn’t make it known among the church? It seems clearly evident that they were making their needs known.
The Needs of the Jerusalem Church
The church in Jerusalem has gone through a difficult time and experienced financial burdens. Paul, an apostle to the Gentiles, who was sent out by the church at Antioch, traveled around and made the need known to the Gentile believers (1 Cor. 16:1-4). In 2 Corinthians 8:1-5, we see that Paul is mentioning the believers in Macedonia as relevant examples of faith as he urges the church at Corinth to live in like manner.
The early church in Acts and Paul’s ministry that would come a bit later are examples of Christians working together to meet the needs that had been made known. There is nothing wrong with making known a need and asking for assistance in operating a ministry for the glory of God. An organization or an individual Christian may adopt the Muller principle by turning to prayer alone to trust God for their needs. However, if a Christian family in your church or a Christian organization beyond the borders of your church makes a need known and respectfully asks for help—don’t question their faith.
One thing we can all learn from George Muller and from the biblical examples is that they refused to make the church community look like a bunch of hucksters who were trying to scam their communities. Not everyone who asks for help is on the same level as a Kenneth Copeland and we should guard the people of the gospel from appearing like religious scam artists when we make our needs known.
- Roger Steer, George Muller – Delighted in God (Christian Focus Publications, Denmark, 2012), 65
- “George Mueller, Orphanages Built by Prayer”
Early yesterday morning, I awoke to the news of a tragic shooting that took place in Las Vegas. While the full details of this tragedy are still being gathered at this time, what we do know is that this shooting at a music festival on Sunday night will go down as the most deadly shooting in American history—surpassing the Orlando club shooting in 2016 that took the lives of 49.
When tragedies strike, it’s far too common to witness people expressing their concern on social media by sending “positive thoughts” to hurting people. While it’s commendable for people to desire to help or to seek to encourage a fellow human being, it’s important to realize that positive thoughts are empty words that have zero benefit to anyone. It would be better to pray. If you’re not a Christian, it would be better to intentionally encourage a fellow human being with real words that have real meaning as opposed to sending positive thoughts in the direction of a person in need.
The Truth About Positive Thinking
The whole notion of positive thinking is derived from a combination of mysticism and psychology. The idea is that a person is capable of tapping into the inner being of a human’s brain and release positive vibes that will change the person’s feelings about their condition and increase self worth. According to the EOC Institute:
In basic terms, the law of attraction states that your thoughts & belief systems send certain “vibrations” out to the cosmos. In turn, the universe responds by giving you a kind of customized made-to-order set of experiences which directly validate said thoughts and beliefs.
Since our “thoughts become things” — then we are ultimately the creators of the life circumstances we now find ourselves.
Today, we see people who have bought into this idea and now believe it’s possible to change someone else’s feelings, emotions, and circumstances by sending those same positive vibes across geographic territory to the specific person they’re focusing on. It has become very common to see people who say things such as, “Sending positive thoughts your way” in the comment threads of social media outlets. Once again, this is not a new phenomenon. We see such teaching from Norman Vincent Peale who popularized his teaching in a work titled, The Power of Positive Thinking. According to Norman Vincent Peale, “The person who sends out the most positive thoughts activates the world around him positively and draws back to himself positive results.”
The longing for happiness is an age-old pursuit of the human soul. The desire to feel supported by a community such as your family or a network of friends is as ancient as human civilization—dating back to the Garden of Eden. People want to feel connected and supported—especially in times of need. It doesn’t matter if you call it positive thoughts, vibes, or energy—all such attempts to change people’s circumstances through such efforts will be like clouds without water and empty wells.
What People Really Need in Times of Difficulty
In James, we find a sobering warning about the idea of positive thoughts in the midst of a time of need. James refers to such talk as dead faith. James writes:
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead (James 2:14-17).
Jesus provided us with hopeful words regarding the power of prayer. In his famous sermon on the mount, Jesus said these words to his followers:
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil (Matthew 6:9-13).
According to Jesus, our heavenly Father is capable of hearing the prayers of people and responding in accordance with his sovereign will. Everything from daily bread to deliverance from evil—God reigns and is supreme. Our God rules from heaven’s throne and is capable of caring for the needs of his people and delivering them from perils of this fallen world. We are never commanded to send positive thoughts or energy to another person. Instead, we are called to pray to our God who hears and answers the cries of his people.
Hurting people need God. Hurting people need to hear the prayers of God’s people. Hurting people need to see the people of God praying and working to aid those who are in need. No amount of positive thinking, positive energy sending, or any other mystical trend will bring comfort to hurting people. When Jesus’ followers beseech the throne of glory on behalf of hurting people—God hears and God responds.
Please don’t send positive energy or positive thoughts to Las Vegas. The god of positive energy is dead (Ps. 115:4-8). The one true and living God who has revealed himself in the pages of Scripture is alive. He rules and reigns. He will accomplish his will (Ps. 115:2-3). We can expect the unbelieving world to attempt to beam positive vibes to other people and we can expect to hear them repeat empty phrases. However, the Church of Jesus Christ is called to pray and then serve out of a heart of love. The next time you hear of a human tragedy or you scroll through your social media newsfeed and see a friend who is hurting—pray.
According to popular teachings that are promulgated from charismatic television networks and radio stations, if you have a robust faith and confidence in God—he will definitely hear your prayer and answer it as you’ve directed him. Benny Hinn once stated, “The day is coming when there will not be one sick saint in the body of Christ.” Benny Hinn wasn’t referencing Revelation 21 in his statement.
As we consider these teachings, we must look to the unanswered prayers of the apostle Paul as a fitting test. In 2 Corinthians 12:1-10, the apostle Paul talks about his “messenger of Satan” that was sent to harass him. Was Paul being punished for his lack of faith in God? Was Paul’s life full of sin that was causing him to receive a blow from Satan? What exactly can we learn from Paul’s unanswered prayers?
God’s Plan May Not Align With Our Requests
One of the things we learn in our time of prayer is that a foundational goal of prayer is to align our will with God’s will. This is not always easy. Sometimes this means that we submit to different plans, different goals, different agendas that might involve discomfort, distance from friends and family, and pain.
When Jesus taught us to pray in the model prayer (Matt. 6:5-13), we see Jesus saying, “Let your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” In other words, life is not about us nearly as much as it’s about God. The plans we have for ourselves must be yielded to the plans that God has for us. When they’re different, we must go with God and die to self.
Suffering is not Proof of Sin
In our day, one of the most pernicious teachings comes from the Charismatic Movement—more specifically the “Word of Faith” movement. Within this movement, a popular teaching has been popularized stating that it is the absolute will of God for all of God’s children to be healthy and wealthy. As we test the foundation of that teaching, we find that it does not hold up to the scrutiny of God’s Word.
Was Paul living in sin that caused him to learn to live with the “thorn” in his flesh? No. As we read 2 Corinthians 12:1-10, we see that Paul was given the thorn by God, not because of his sin, but in order to prevent him from sin. There is a clear difference in the two. In 2 Corinthians 12:7, Paul writes, “So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.”
When the disciples inquired about the man born blind in John 9, they asked a vitally important question. They said, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind” (John 9:2)? Jesus’ response is key to unlocking this puzzling story and it shines light of truth on our day as well. Jesus said, “Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:3). The same thing was true in Paul’s life. It could be the same situation you face in your life too.
Suffering is not a Sign of a Deficient Faith
As we read and study the life and ministry of the apostle Paul, it is clear that he stands out among the apostles. He is believed to be the greatest Christian to live in the history of humanity—outside of Jesus himself in the flesh. There is no question about Paul’s faith—and it was made more apparent as he suffered death in Rome by beheadding.
Yet, we see that Paul’s prayer for healing was not answered. According to Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 12:1-10, he asked God on three different times to remove his “thorn” in the flesh, but God refused.
As we read and consider these facts about the unanswered prayers of Paul, what exactly can we learn? Consider the following lessons we can learn.
- It is God’s will for his children to suffer in specific ways that were charted out before the foundation of the world.
- God has chosen specific people to suffer in lesser or greater ways for his glory.
- Suffering is not a sign of sin or weak faith. Paul didn’t suffer from any of those problems—yet he suffered immensely.
- God uses suffering to prevent people from sinning as they otherwise would (as Paul stated in 2 Corinthians 12).
- God uses suffering to spread the gospel far and wide.
Before you buy into the lies of the Charismatic Movement, take time to consider the fact that perhaps the greatest Christian to ever live endured through a life of constant suffering, imprisonment, and it all ended with him being beheaded. Are we to believe the likes of Benny Hinn and Joel Osteen or Jesus and the apostle Paul? Consider the words of John Newton, “Can we wish, if it were possible, to walk in a path strewed with flowers when His was strewed with thorns?” 
- John Newton, The Works of John Newton, v. 1, (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1985), 230.