Monday, February 02, 2009

Paul's Prayers, #13

Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again. (Phil. 3:18b-26)

After a brief absence due to power outage and ice storm, I'm excited to resume our study of Paul's prayers. This one isn't so much a prayer Paul prayed, as one prayed for him. Yet it is very instructive in learning to become world Christians.

Paul, in prison, writes to Philippi that he knows he will be delivered because of their prayers and the help of the Holy Spirit. It's important to let it settle into us: They apparently had been praying for His deliverance. This isn't surprising, since Paul wrote to the church at Thessalonica, Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men. For not all have faith. (2 Thess. 3:1-2). Paul wasn't averse to praying for deliverance.

That's important, because sometimes we tend to glorify the persecuted church or missionaries who are suffering. We focus so much on their eternal rewards that we convince ourselves we are doing them a disservice to pray for their earthly deliverance. We imagine their bloody, bruised bodies as somehow holy and above pain and the temptation that comes with it. We even convince ourselves that it is unspiritual to pray for deliverance.

We forget that we are at war.

When you hear of a soldier captured in a war zone, you want that POW returned. You want him delivered from 'wicked and evil men'. It's the same in our spiritual war. Though the enemy can't permanently capture soldiers of the cross, he can make life pretty miserable for them. One thing we fail to recognize when we glorify persecution is that extreme persecution throws the church into survival mode, causing the focus to be on living through the day rather than sharing the Gospel. It can even lead to destruction of the church in a region. The church in the Middle East faces this possibility even today.

Certainly, in the Philippians passage we are looking at, Paul recognizes that the deliverance might come in the form of death - and that would be gain. But he ends this section by reaffirming his belief that his life would be spared because his ministry wasn't finished. His deliverance would be worked out in an earthly fashion. Later, he will write, For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come (2 Tim. 4:6). He will know when God is guiding him to a heavenly rather than earthly deliverance. But for now, he anticipates an earthly deliverance of a very practical nature.

How does this relate to becoming world Christians? We have to recognize that God will give the missionaries on the ground discernment into their specific situations. We need to pray for that discernment for them, and not judge their response based on our limited information. We also need to recognize spiritual warfare and pray boldly for earthly intervention when called for. Finally, we need to pray outside crisis times for them to have such a relationship with Christ that to die will truly be gain. This will make discerning to continue to fight that much easier. John Bunyan put it very well:

Thou mayest do in this as it is in thy heart. If it is in thy heart to fly, fly: if it be in thy heart to stand, stand. Anything but a denial of the truth. He that flies, has warrant to do so; he that stands, has warrant to do so. Yea, the same man may both fly and stand, as the call and working of God with his heart may be. Moses fled (Ex. 2:15); Moses stood (Heb 11:27). David fled (1 Sam. 19:12); David stood (1 Sam. 24:8). Jeremiah fled (Jer. 37:11-12); Jeremiah stood (Jer. 38:17). Christ withdrew himself (Luke 19:10); Christ stood (John 18:1-8). Paul fled (2 Cor. 11:33); Paul stood (Acts 20:22-23). . . . There are few rules in this case. The man himself is best able to judge concerning his present strength, and what weight this or that argument has upon his heart to stand or fly. . . Do not fly out of a slavish fear, but rather because flying is an ordinance of God, opening a door for the escape of some, which door is opened by God's providence, and the escape countenanced by God's Word (Matt. 10:23).

Prayer: Father, we ask You to give supernatural insight to our friends on the field about how to respond in each situation. Provide for them the discernment to respond to situations. Give us the boldness to pray for both heavenly and earthly deliverance from their struggles. As we pray for the persecuted church, help us not to glorify them but only You, and to pray for them to have only the measure of difficulty that will purify the body and promote the Gospel, not a measure that will hinder their productivity for You.

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