Do you struggle for others? The Apostle Paul wrote, “I want you to know how much I am struggling for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally.” (Colossians 2:1) This is a struggle, or intensity of prayer to God on behalf of others, even ones he had never actually met. He was asking that they be encouraged, be united in love, and deepened in their understanding of God. This is a work we are called to be about on behalf of others, even on behalf of those we only know of, especially our brothers and sisters being persecuted in many part of the world. The three things that Paul asked the Lord to provide are necessary for everyone we know – that they be encouraged, be united in love, and deepened in their understanding of God. As we enter into this same struggle we know it is an effort that does bear fruit.
Persecution of Christians is something we have read about during the first and second century under the Romans, but there is more Christian persecution in various parts of the world today than ever before. It is something that we don’t think enough about, and especially to include in our prayers. An easy web search will reveal numerous statistics and personal situations where our brothers and sisters in the faith are being oppressed, tortured and killed because they believe in Jesus Christ as their Saviour. Prayer is our offensive weapon, and we should use it regularly. We are also challenged to consider our own faith, and the degree to which we are willing to stand against opposition. We are facing it more even within our own land. The persecuted Church teaches us that if Jesus is worth anything, He is worth everything.
Workers are rebelling against the early Black Friday opening of stores, and well they should. But this points to a problem with roots far deeper than merchants wanting to make a profit this Christmas season. Unfortunately, it is one of those problems I point out from time to time that we can’t change. Since the Industrial Revolution we have created a society dependent upon acquiring things. We must sell more. We want more. We must earn more. We make all kinds of changes and compromises in order to keep our way of life going. I said, we are not going to change it, short of a total economic collapse. I’m just as dependent upon goods and services as everyone else. But can we at least recognize it? Can we realize that this is not where the Lord wanted us; that it is one of the idols we’ve created, and bring it before the Lord in repentance and prayer? It was only when God’s people saw their desperate condition that they cried out to the Lord for help, and He heard their prayers.
Jesus counseled persistence in prayer. We have all had times of having prayed, maybe even over years, and not seen any change. It is easy to get discouraged. Yet, Jesus tells us that “we ought always to pray, and not lose heart.” (Luke18:1) God does not take away another persons free will. He works slowly but persistently on that heart. We may not see any outward change, but that does not mean our prayers are not being answered. Then too, God answers in ways that are best, not always exactly as we ask. He is our Father, and has our very best interest at His heart. We may ask for candy, but He knows that we need our vegetables. The ability to pray is a great blessing from our God. It is His invitation to come into His presence. Let us never lose heart, but continue to pray.
There is an old gospel song that says, “prayer is the key to heaven, but faith unlocks the door.” That’s a cute saying with some truth in it, but it gives an overly simple and sentimental picture of prayer. Prayer is about our relationship with Jesus, and every relationship takes work. Prayer is a great privilege. It is a blessing our Lord give us, but effective prayer takes time and discipline. Certainly, we can and should pray briefly and frequently throughout the day. This is a great joy. But a regular time set aside daily for prayer is our real ministry in the Lord. Prayer is a real work and ministry that doesn’t depend upon age or physical ability. Some of the greatest prayer warriors are in their nineties. The more we engage in the work of prayer, the more rich and beautiful that prayer time becomes.
We have been struggling in prayer as a family, and as a congregation, for a little one year old who is in the hospital and near death. He has been on our hearts for all of this last week. We have prayed earnestly, individually and in church, but he has not improved. We don’t yet know the outcome. This morning I turned to Psalm 13 and read, “How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart?”(1&2) This seems to express well our emotions at this time. But one must go on to read the complete Psalm. For even in the midst of the psalmist’s prayer he says, “But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, for he has been good to me.”(5&6) We struggle so with the tears and the why questions, but above it all our Father is holding us in His arms, and, in His love, will accomplish all that is for our good. We can continue to trust Him.
God sometimes gives us what we want, but it doesn’t always turn out for our good. This was the case with King Hezekiah. (Isaiah 38) God told him to set his house in order, he was about to die. He wept and begged the Lord for more time, and was given fifteen more years. Yet, it was in those fifteen years that he made some terrible and costly mistakes. God is a gracious Father inviting us to come to Him with all of our needs and requests. He knows our situations of life, the desires of our hearts, and our deepest needs. He encourages us to pray without ceasing. But that prayer is with a humble heart, seeking His perfect will. It is also desiring that all answers to prayer declare His glory. He is our Father and wants the best for us. It is a humble, trusting, child-like heart that finds His very best.
There is an account in II Kings 4 about a poor widow who was about to loose her two sons to creditors because of her debts. All she had left in the house was a little cooking oil. The Prophet Elisha told her to collect jars from all her neighbors, and “don’t ask for just a few.”(vs.3) She did as instructed, began to pour her little oil into the jars, and the oil kept flowing until all the jars were filled. She was able to sell the oil and pay her debts. There is a lesson here about what we ask for from our Lord. Are we too timid in our faith to ask for and expect great things of the Lord? Paul thought otherwise. He concluded the third chapter of Ephesians saying, “Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.”(vss.20&21) The motive behind every request, beyond the immediate need, is that God be glorified in the answer. We can ask big things of the our Lord, and trust Him to respond.
Jesus was about to heal a boy who was demon possessed. He said to the boy’s father, “All things are possible to him who believes.” To which the father responded, “I do believe, help my unbelief.” (Mark 9:23-24) The boy needed healing, but so did the father, and so do we. We believe in prayer. We pray for one another, and we share many prayer requests. But we always face that lingering doubt and fear. When we pray do we expect to see results, or are we never quite sure? Lord, help my unbelief. In Luke 18 Jesus teaches us to be persistent in prayer. It is not that God needs to hear our prayer over and over, but He is also using our prayers to work on our own hearts, to open us more to Himself. Yes, we have doubts, but “all things are possible to him who believes,” and Jesus even helps us to believe.