This morning I want to talk to you about just one person who left a lasting mark on the people in his life. When I mention the Apostle Paul what comes to your mind? His dynamic conversion on the Road to Damascus as God changed him from being a persecutor and murderer of Christians into a dynamic Christian and powerhouse for the Gospel? Maybe you think of his dynamic church planting and preaching as he went from town to town, traveling constantly to help churches get established. Maybe it was the way he revisited those churches from time to time to see how they were doing and to give them more instruction, correction or encouragement. Perhaps you think of the wonderful writings in the NT as Paul was the author of 13 of the books in the NT. Maybe what comes to your mind is the way he mentored Timothy and others to become pastors themselves. What an accomplished person Paul was. What a spiritual giant! What a soul-winning and passionate man!
While people were no doubt marked by Paul’s fervor, atention, mentoring, writing and preaching, I believe none of those things would have had the impact they had without another very crucial element in the life of Paul which was his prayer life. 84 times in the NT the Apostle Paul wrote out a prayer or talked about what he was praying about as he prayed for those he had preached to! Everything he said as he preached, everything he said as he instructed churches and leaders, everywhere he went, all of it was bathed in prayer. Prayer is that which will make not just a mark, but a lasting mark in the lives of people as the Spirit of God gets involved when we pray for people.
Paul wasn’t ashamed to tell people he was praying for them. The ministry of prayer is one way God pursues people. Paul understood that. People need to know that they are so important to God and you that part of your time is spent investing in them through the ministry of prayer. It is powerful! I don’t hesitate to tell people I am praying they will get back into church or that they will be healed or that they will come to faith in Christ. I can’t tell you how much it means to me to get an email or a text from someone or to have someone come to me personally to let me know they are praying for me. Not even considering what God can do when we pray, just knowing that someone cares enough about me to take some time to lift me to the Father in prayer lifts my spirits immediately.
Doctors, why not let your patients know that in addition to the medical treatment based on sound knowledge and experience that you will also pray for your patients. Teachers in addition to letting your students know your policies on late homework and tardiness to class, why not let them know you are a person who prays and that you will pray for them to have a successful school year?
Use your social media to let people know you will pray for them. There is no shortage of prayer opportunities on Facebook and Twitter. In any given week, someone will lose a loved one or pet, someone will lose a job, someone will interview for a job, someone will get unexpected health news, someone will have a car accident, someone will ask for prayer for a missing person or wayward child, someone will share that they have a huge test coming up, someone will need to make a critical decision, someone will break up with their girlfriend or boyfriend, someone will have a fight with a friend, someone will lose something important, someone won’t make the team, and most everyone will have a bad day! I’m not saying you have to comment for the world to see, but what a witness to take a minute and send a private message to let someone know you read about their need or their pain and that you will take time to pray for them.
Not only was Paul not ashamed to tell people he was praying for them, but he wasn’t ashamed to tell people what the content of those prayers was. He told people what he said when he talked to God on their behalf. We know because he wrote the content down. What would anyone think of the content of our prayers if we were to write them down? If someone could sit and listen to you pray and wrote down all that you said, would the content translate into the kind of instruction, encouragement, and Holy Spirit power (I Cor. 2:4) that the Apostle Paul’s prayers did?
Parents, tell your kids what you are praying about. Tell them if you are praying they will say “no” to alcohol and drugs and sexual promiscuity. Let them know if you are praying they won’t compromise and cheat on tests or gossip about their friends. Tell them if you pray they will make wise decisions and follow sound advice. Report to them if you are praying they will be influencers, mark makers, and game changers for the Kingdom of God. Fill your prayers with content about their need for a job, their audition or tryout, their Calculus test, their future college plans, spouse choices, and their boldness to be Christ’s ambassador at their schools, and let them know what you are praying about! There is no way we can comprehend the power of that commitment to pray for those we love and to express it to them.
Let’s look now at some of the content of Paul’s prayers and perhaps gain a strategy for leaving a lasting mark in the lives of others through our prayers as well.
PRAY WITH THANKSGIVING
Paul would often tell God he was thankful for people when he prayed. In Romans 1:8-12 he said, “I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world. God, whom I serve with my whole heart in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you in my prayers at all times” (Rom. 1:8-12). It had to be a blessing to Paul to see fruit for his labor, to see people really getting grounded and going on to share the Good News of Christ’s resurrection personally without just sitting back and expecting Paul to be God’s only mouthpiece. I can see why he was thankful and wanted to thank God for the people of that church. I’m sure it encouraged that church to keep up the good work as they learned of Paul’s thanksgiving. I’m sure as he thanked God he prayed they would continue to share their faith.
Paul also thanked God for the church at Corinth. He said in I Cor. 1:4, “I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus.” The church at Corinth was a mess. No wonder Paul was thankful for grace! The sin there was rampant. The church had more problems than a math teacher! Of course Paul was thankful God had grace to give. He knew what they were, and he knew they could become something different. It was, however, only going to be a work of grace. He knew what he had been. He had been a rough cuss of a person. He was mean and nasty, violent and hateful. He was arrogant and proud and had a reputation that people were terribly afraid of. BUT GOD! God met him on a Damascus Road and humbled him by confronting his horrible behavior and by physically blinding him in order to help him spiritually see what he needed to. Listen. That is God’s grace at work. We ought to be thankful for a God who is willing to do WHATEVER IT TAKES to get our attention. It might humble us. It might even hurt us for a minute, but better a time out from the hand of God in grace than suffer the consequences of continuing on a path of destruction.
After studying Paul’s words, I get why he can be thankful for a church full of problems. How many pastors are standing in the pulpits of problem-filled churches who are giving thanks? Yet that is the very perspective we ought to have when we pray. Listen, even when we pray for people that are a mess, we can give thanks that there is a way out. There is a way up. There is a way forward. There is forgiveness for sin. God doesn’t treat us as our sins deserve (Psalm 103:10).
PUT A GENERIC SLIDE HERE THAT SAYS, “THAT’LL LEAVE A LASTING MARK”
Why is thanksgiving so important? It is absolutely a game changer because it will put our minds in a positive groove. Paul had every reason to go to God in prayer and complain at this church in Corinth. They were difficult. They weren’t making great spiritual progress. They were sinning. They were fighting. Services were tense and drama filled. “Sister so and so” didn’t speak to “brother this and that.” She only spoke about him when he wasn’t around. Services weren’t God-focused, but it was often a chaotic free-for-all. They had so much to learn! This wasn’t an easy church for Paul to minister to.
If Paul hadn’t gotten his mind into a positive place as he prayed for Corinth he would never have been able to make a lasting mark on them. He may have wound up praying that God would kick them to the curb! He may have wound up trying to convince God that church was beyond help. He may have argued with God that Corinth was a lost cause. But he didn’t. Because he was thankful for God’s grace at work in their lives, he was able to stay connected to them, to keep working with them, and to keep believing that something good could come. Listen, you can’t make a mark on someone you give up on.
Some of you have it rough. You have a child that is difficult and seems determined to do everything you pray they won’t do. Be thankful that God gave them to you. Be thankful that you have an opportunity to influence them. Be thankful that you are connected to a church that will help mentor them. Be thankful that change is always possible. Your thanksgiving will give you strength and perspective in the midst of the challenge and trial. Like Paul’s church plants, children need lots of teaching, nurturing, love, patience, and most of all, prayer. Most people don’t change overnight or submit their will overnight. When you pray with thanksgiving, you are acknowledging that God CAN do the seemingly impossible with impossible people and circumstances! In that respect, to pray with thanksgiving is to pray with great faith!
Some of you need to pray with thanksgiving this morning. “God, I know my boss is tough. I know my job leaves me feeling like I have just punched a clock and that there is more for me to be accomplishing, but thank YOU for a job, God. Thank YOU that I have a way to pay my bills. Thank YOU that you can give me strength and patience as I sit in an office with critical and negative people. Thank YOU that I can be used to be a light.”
Some of you need to pray with thanksgiving for your spouse. “God, I know things haven’t been warm and fuzzy lately, but I want to thank you for my mate. I want to thank YOU for the way you have seen us through difficult times. Thank YOU for the good times we have enjoyed in the past. Thank YOU that the ministry of prayer is available to us as a married couple. Thank YOU that you can give me grace to show to my spouse. Thank YOU that you can not only change my spouse, but that you can change me to be the right kind of spouse that will help make our marriage better. Thank YOU that our future can be different than our current situation.”
When you pray with thanksgiving you will hang in there with people longer. You will be more willing to listen and work and teach and share.
The content in Paul’s prayers could easily be a ten-week preaching series, but let me share a few of the prayers with you to give you some other quick take-aways.
Paul prayed for the Ephesians in 1:15-19. Turn there if you would. As you are turning, let me tell you that Ephesus was the home of the goddess Artemis or Diana. She was who was being worshiped. It was tough to be a Christian and grow as a Christian in Ephesus.
“For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know Him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which He has called you, the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints, and His incomparably great power for us who believe.”
Paul prayed the Ephesians would know Christ better through the Holy Spirit.
Paul prayed they would know what God hoped for them to experience. (That all God hoped for them on their journey after Christ, they would discover.)
Paul prayed they would know God’s power in their lives as they followed Christ.
What a lasting mark kind of prayer. Knowing Christ is critical if you are ever going to know anything else correctly. He is the “way, the truth, and the life.” Without knowing Him, you can’t know the right way, the full truth or have real life. Knowing Christ better is the result of cultivating a relationship with Him. It is the relationship with Christ which will nurture and sustain us, guide and correct us, and challenge and change us.
Knowing Christ is also critical because as you learn to know Christ more, you will uncover more about the inheritance He has for you that is mentioned in verse 18. You will also learn to know yourself better as a result of being in an intimate relationship with Jesus.
Knowing the hope to which we have been called is crucial. Each one of us has a specific journey to travel. Abundant life for you is different from abundant life for me. Just as we parents have hopes and dreams for our children, so too, God has hopes and dreams for each one of us. He wants us to get it all, see it all, and experience it all because it is and will be a life of satisfaction, contentment, and joy like no other.
Why do you need power? You need power because you are wealthy. Turn to your neighbor and tell them, “You’re loaded!” I didn’t tell you to say, “You’re full of it!” I said to tell them they were loaded!” J It is true! Verse 18 tells you that you have an inheritance in Christ. You need power to be able to safeguard that inheritance, brothers and sisters. You have a real enemy who wants to rob you! He doesn’t want you to inherit anything! He wants you spiritually bankrupt. Satan is out to steal from you. You may not have much sitting in Fifth Third or City National this minute, but you have an inheritance in Christ that is priceless. You have salvation through the forgiveness of your sins. You have peace with God and therefore you can have peace of mind. You have the promises of God and the presence of God to escort you through life. You have a mansion that has been prepared for you in heaven. You are wealthy beyond comprehension! And Satan wants to rob you of that inheritance, of your salvation, and of your eternal retirement plan which God has ordained for those who love Him.
Ephesians 6:11-12 tells us “We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”
Paul was praying for the Ephesians that what they already possessed in the faith and what they were pursuing would be safeguarded by God’s power. It didn’t matter what was happening in the Temple of the Goddess Diana. It didn’t matter what the world said was the way to gain happiness and contentment. All that mattered was knowing God, learning what life with Him included and using His power along the way to keep Satan from derailing their pursuit.
Paul’s prayer basically asked for spiritual power to keep the Ephesians on the right track! What a lasting mark! How practical! How profound! How powerful! You have to have strength. You have to have power. It takes both to stay on track with Jesus. Otherwise, we become weak and vulnerable to the attack of Satan. You want to leave a lasting mark? Pray for your family and friends to know Christ better, to fully know God’s hopes for their lives and to know God’s power at work to keep them safe along the way.
Turn to Philippians 1 and read Paul’s prayer for the Philippians in verses 9-11: “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ – to the glory and praise of God.”
I love the phrase more and more in regards to love. The more in love we are with Jesus, the more we comprehend how “long and wide and deep and high” is His love for us, the more our love should increase for God’s Word, God’s people, and the world. Paul prayed they would live a life of increasing love. Why? Because love leaves a lasting mark. I Cor. 13 tells us it is enduring, and that love “never fails!”
I pray my children will show love and kindness to all people regardless of their nationality, religious faith, skin color, economic background, social prowess, academic ability, musical skills, or athletic agility. I pray they will love people that are completely different from them. I pray they will love people they haven’t even met yet. Why? Because it is the love of God that will impress and transform this culture.
I’ve said that at the heart of sin is a desire for control. Some people have said the “I” in the middle of S-I-N is the problem. We want to be in charge. I do believe that, but I’ll tell you a close second to wanting to be in control is wanting to be loved. Can’t someone just accept me for who I am? Can’t someone just take me “as is” without strings attached? Can’t someone love me where I am? That’s what the world wants to know. There is only ONE person who does that perfectly, and that is Jesus. The people who ought to get it as close to perfect as is earthly possible ought to be the church. Religion holds up hoops for people to jump through. Love tears down walls and builds bridges for people to walk across. No wonder Paul prayed their love would increase.
Paul also prayed the Philippians would be able to discern what was best and be pure and blameless until Christ called them home. He prayed for them to grow in discernment. Why? You can’t do right without knowing right.
I pray that faced with temptations and challenges my kids will see Satan’s smokescreens. I pray they will be wise to his traps. I pray they will see what the consequences could be for irrational, impulsive or emotional behavior. Listen, our sense of right and wrong has to constantly be sharpened by the Word and Spirit of God because the messages of the world have amazing power to dull our spiritual sensitivities every day. It’s like you can’t sharpen your spiritual discernment at the same pace Satan and the world will work on making things fuzzy.
Allow me this next random comment! Satan’s favorite color is gray! It’s gray because if he can convince you something is a gray area, he can get you to compromise, get his hooks in you, steal your inheritance and make you his slave by making you a slave to sin! We mustn’t fool ourselves into thinking that we must only avoid the blackness of sin when the grayness is just as slippery a slope!
You want to leave a lasting mark? Pray for your friends to grow in love and discernment.
Finally, let’s look at Paul’s prayer for Philemon. Turn there. Don’t blink or you will miss it. There is just one chapter in Philemon. His prayer for Philemon is in verse 6: “I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith . . .”
Paul was great to pray about the process of discipleship in people’s lives. After he prayed for people to know Christ better, and to know what God’s hopes and dreams were for them, and once they were armed with God’s power and had love for others and discernment, it would only be natural for them to want to share their faith. Spiritual reproduction is our goal. TVCOG, we need to be having spiritual babies! Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a candle lighting every Sunday? Wouldn’t it be wonderful that in addition to being known as the church who serves in our community we were known as the church who is active in sharing our faith?
When people need encouragement, pray for that. When they need a job, pray for that. When they need a physical healing, please pray for that. But the truth is that after people are encouraged, it is almost a sure thing that they will become discouraged again. After they get a job, there will most certainly be a physical provision kind of need again, if not another job at some point. People who get healed will deal with sickness again as long as they are in a physical body. Perhaps we could say when those prayers get answered that the results are temporary; necessary, but temporary. So, in addition to praying those much-needed prayers, pray the kinds of prayers Paul prayed; the ones for the development of our relationship with Jesus, the ones for an increase in our love and discernment, the ones that lead us to share our faith and see more people won to the Kingdom. For those kinds of prayers, when the answers come, those will leave a lasting mark!