Wednesday, February 15, 2017

A Prayer for Progress

"And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God." (Philippians 1:9–11)

The Virginia Medical Monthly once told of a married woman with three children. After her husband died, she began dressing like a twenty-year-old and joined in her children’s parties. As the children grew older, their mother seemed to grow younger. Psychiatrists call it “personality regression.” She slipped backward one year every three or four months. At 61, she acted like a 6-year-old. She was sent to a sanitarium where she insisted on playing with toys and babbling like a child. Then she became a 3-year-old, spilling her food, crawling, and crying “Mama.” Backward still farther to the age of one, she drank milk curled up like a tiny baby. Finally, she went back over the line and died.

The same thing can happen to Christians (1 Cor. 3:1; Heb. 3:12). In Philippians 1:9-11 we see that the believers in the city of Philippi had demonstrated growth in their spiritual lives, but Paul prayed for more progress.

1) Prayer for a Growing Love (Phil. 1:9). The Greek language has three words for love: Eros (romantic love), phileo (brotherly love), and agape (a self-giving love). People can love with phileo and eros on their own, but the agape of God is quite distinctive. Paul prayed for this love to “abound”—not a one-time overflowing, but a continual activity (Rom. 5:5). This is an others-centered love. It looks for needs in the lives of others and seeks to meet those needs with no thought of returned favors. This love is also characterized by knowledge and discernment. Many people today want to focus on love with no discernment. From their perspective, love means tolerance, accepting anyone and everything, like the song that says, “If loving you is wrong, I don’t want to be right.” But love must be based on truth, and that leads to the need for...

2) Prayer for a Deeper Discernment (Phil. 1:10). Paul understood the struggles we face in our choices. He wanted believers to evaluate the things of life correctly. Many things in life have no ultimate value, and the Bible reminds us that to find the real worth of things, we must weigh them in the light of eternity and approve the things that are excellent. There must be an ultimate standard to follow, one not to be found in the varied philosophies of mankind, but arrived at only through a knowledge of God’s Word (Heb. 4:12). Genuine love, when making a decision, asks:
  • Does the Bible speak against it? (Ps. 119:9–11)
  • Will it glorify God? (1 Cor. 10:31)
  • Will it harm me physically or spiritually? (1 Cor. 6:12)
  • Could it cause another to stumble? (Rom. 14:21)
  • Would I make that choice if Jesus were standing right here?
3) Prayer for Righteous Character (vv. 10–11). Paul prayed that his friends would be without offense until the day of Christ, filled with the fruits of righteousness. This is an Old Testament picture (Ps. 1; Jer. 17:8). God wants a bumper crop of righteousness in our lives. This is not self-generated or self-produced fruit; it come through power Christ provides (John 15:5). Its purpose: “...the glory and praise of God.” That was Paul’s goal, and it should be ours. Matthew 5:16 says, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” Is that your desire?

Philippians 1:9-11 sets a standard for each of us in several areas. Since these principles are in the setting of a prayer, it reminds us to pray for these characteristics to be realities in the lives of others. Have you ever wondered how you should pray for someone else? Ever found yourself just saying, “Lord, bless this person,” because you weren’t sure what to pray for? Paul gives us a model in this “Prayer for Progress.” An added benefit of praying this prayer is that we already know God likes it! Pray these things for your children, your parents, for your friends, for your fellow church members—and don’t forget to pray it for yourself. Make up your mind to prayerfully grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.