A Minister's Love For His People
After decades of serving one of the largest churches in England, Charles Spurgeon was asked to account for his tremendous success in ministry. Without any hesitation, Spurgeon responded, "My people pray for me."
If it is true that the success of a minister is closely tied to the prayers of the people, can it also be said that the success of any church is closely tied to the prayers of its leaders?
Could it be that the key to church growth has less to do with strategic planning and careful management than it does with godly leaders praying for God's blessings? As we, turn to Philippians, chapter one, this is what I see happening.
I see the apostle Paul writing about his love and prayerful devotion to the Christians in Philippi. And out of that love and prayerful devotion comes a confidence that God will transform the lives of these Christians.
After his standard introduction, Paul begins the body of his letter in verse 3, writing, "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"(v.3-5).
Paul teaches us a great deal about prayer in these opening verses. The first thing we learn is that prayer is not something relegated to the first 20 minutes of our day and then forgotten about. Every remembrance of the Christians in Philippi causes Paul to pray. When Paul writes elsewhere that we are to "pray without ceasing"(1Thess. 5:17), this, I believe, is what he had in mind.
Your prayers do not, necessarily, have to be made with a bowed head and on bended knee. Your prayers do not, necessarily, have to be audible. Paul's example does not teach us about the technique of prayer, but about the frequency of prayer. Whenever someone comes to our mind, we should pray for them.
This is a discipline, to be sure, for people will come to your mind that you do not care for. People who you greatly dislike and distrust will come to your mind, yet, Paul's example remains applicable--pray for them. Upon every remembrance of them, thank God for them.
The second thing Paul teaches us has to do with the disposition of prayer. Not only did Paul constantly pray for the Christians in Philippi, but he "constantly (prayed) with joy in every one of (his) prayers" for them. It was not duty that motivated Paul's prayers, but joy. This is an important distinction. Some Christians pray for others because they are supposed to, while some Christians pray for others because they want to.
We also learn in these verses that Paul expected his prayers to be answered. In verse 6, Paul says, "I am confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus." The question that comes to my mind when I read this is, 'Paul, what is the basis of your confidence?
Maybe you have heard it said that one's faith can only be as strong as the object of one's faith. In this case, the object of Paul's faith, or the basis of Paul's confidence, is God. And since God has begun this work in the Philippians, Paul is convinced that God will finish the job.
And Paul wisely recognizes the role of prayer in this process. While Paul knows that it is God's will for Christians to grow and mature in their faith, he also knows that the trigger for God's will is prayer. The puritan, Thomas Watson, reminds us of this truth when he comments on Acts 12, saying that, indeed, it was "The angel (that) fetched Peter out of prison, but it was prayer that fetched the angel" (Watson, Gleanings, 100).
Paul is confident of the growth of the Christians in Philippi because he is praying for them. I, too, am confident that this church will grow because you are being prayed for.
What motivates Paul to pray for the Philippians? Why does Paul feel the way he does about them? Paul gives an answer for his feelings in verses 7 and 8 (NASB), "For it is only right for me to feel this way about you all, because I have you in my heart, since both my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers of grace with me. For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus."
My experience certainly resonates with that of the apostle Paul. I know what it is like to have a congregation in my heart. I know what it is like to think about, and to pray for, the people in this church every waking hour. When I am on holidays, I think I drive Allie crazy because all I think about are the people in these two churches.
I especially appreciate Paul's phrase, "For God is my witness"--because God alone knows the depth of my love for you. God alone knows the prayers I offer on your behalf. If you attend this church, even on an occasional basis, you can be sure of this fact: I pray for you.
You are prayed for and I am confident that prayers made on your behalf will make a difference in your life. I am confident that prayer will make a difference in this church.
I have been made aware that many of you pray for me and, I can tell you, it makes a difference. If someone were to ask me what is the key to my having success in ministry, I would like to answer as Spurgeon did--"My people pray for me." By the same token, I hope that, years after I've moved on from this place, if someone were to ask how this became a healthy church, that you could answer--"Our church leaders pray for us." Prayer is the trigger that executes the will of God.
What is the will of God? What is the will of God for His people, the Church? In verse 9 and following, Paul prays God's will, and I pray this for you as well--"that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having been filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God."
The first part of this prayer comes as no surprise to us--Paul wants our love to abound. We've heard this before--Christ commanded that we love the Lord our God and that we love our neighbour as ourself(Lk. 10:27). I suspect that no one here is surprised to read that Paul prayed for their ability to love.
But then we come to the second part of the prayer. Paul doesn't pray for just any kind of love. This isn't simply handholding, kumbuya-singing, love, but this is love overflowing with "knowledge and full insight". Friends, Paul is telling us something very important here: true love must always be accompanied by knowledge.
It baffles me when I hear people say, 'I don't care about theology, I just want to love Jesus.' My question for that person is, 'How can you love Jesus unless you first know Him?' Even Jesus, when He gave the command to love the Lord your God said that we are to do that "with all (our) heart, with all (our) soul, with all (our) strength, and with all (our) mind."
Paul's prayer for the Philippians, and my constant prayer for all of you, is that you might grow in both your love and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is what makes Sunday service so important. This is what makes daily Bible reading so important. This is what makes group Bible studies so important. When it comes to our relationship with Christ, the old cliche does not prove true--absence does not make the heart grow fonder. The more we know Christ, the more we will love Him.
And why does Paul want us to grow in our knowledge and love? His gives an answer in verses 10 and 11, "so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God."
'Paul, can you put that more simply? Why do you want us to grow in our love and knowledge?' 'I want you to grow in love and knowledge so that in the day of Christ you might become like Christ.'
Ultimately, Paul's fundamental prayer for the Philippians is that they become Christ-like. And, in becoming Christ-like, it is "to the glory and praise of God." Everything Paul prays for leads to this end. Paul wants their love to abound so that they may become more Christ-like. Paul wants the Philippians to abound in knowledge and discernment in order that they may become more Christ-like.
Knowing that this is the goal of Paul's prayer, we can read this back into verse 6, "I am confident of this, that He who began (to make you like Christ) will bring (your Christ-likeness) to completion by the day of Christ Jesus."
Perhaps the best advice I ever received as a minister was from an older minister that I met at the Moody Pastor's Conference 2 years ago. This minister said to me, 'Bryn, ministry boils down to two things: preaching Jesus, and loving your people.'
Friends, be assured of this: You are loved. You are prayed for. And I am confident of this, that He who began a good work in you, will bring it to completion by the day of Christ Jesus. Amen.