Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A Prayer for Every Day of the Year

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Preached at Northwest Christian Church
David P. Kautt
Sunday Morning, January 9, 2011

Philippians 1:9-11, “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.”

'There's no such thing as a perfect church' – my sermon last Lord's Day confronted us with that startling statement and with the depressing reality that sometimes goes with it; but not so as to leave us bewildered and discouraged. But, hopefully, to spur us in the direction of the goal of becoming a more perfect church. To challenge us to pray this prayer, the one Paul prayed for the Christians in the church at Philippi, and to encourage us to let God answer this prayer, today, this week, this year – through us!

I'm calling this look at this passage of Scripture from the first chapter of Philippians, 'A Prayer for Every Day of the Year: A Petition for a More Perfect Church'. I'd like to invite you to take another look at it with me this morning.

Have you ever desired, longed for, yearned for the opportunity to be a part of something bigger than yourself? Something that would stretch you and drive you to reach for new heights? Something that would otherwise seem unattainable?

Before we go any further, allow me to let you in on this one huge secret – that's what the Church is all about! That's what this gathering here today is all about! And, yes, that's the direction, the focus, of this prayer! A long, long time ago, the apostle Paul, led by the Spirit of God, prayed this prayer, and, through his recording of it in this letter to the Philippians, he offered this prayer, to that end! That something bigger, greater, more long-lasting, even than himself, might be attained to. In the words of Jesus' great model prayer – that one we call the 'Lord's Prayer' - Paul prayed, and we should always, ultimately aim our prayers, to the end that God's name be hallowed – praised – set up as highest and holiest (“Hallowed by Thy name”), that God's Kingdom might be extended (“Thy Kingdom come”), and that God's will, what He desires, might be accomplished (“Thy will be done”), on earth, in me and through us!

In other words, Paul prayed this prayer, and he offered this prayer for the Philippians to use, for us to use as a guide, to build God's kingdom, to do the part God wanted him to do in this something bigger and greater!

As we noted last time, he petitioned God for Christ-like love, for an ever-increasing amount of Christ-like love in the church at Philippi – why? To accomplish the something greater! To sweeten the fellowship within that congregation, to enhance the unity within that congregation, to increase the ministry, the practical, need-meeting ministry of that congregation, and then, through all of that, to build the Kingdom of God, to widen the reach, the caring outreach of God's people at Philippi to places and people BEYOND Philippi.

In case I didn't make it clear last time, that's why God would have us pray this prayer for increasing love this year! Sweeter fellowship, enhanced unity, richer prayer life, increased meeting of needs, broader outreach, a congregation growing in Christlike love, adding to what God supplied in us and to us last year – this year – will help bring those bigger, greater things to pass!
But, then there's more, look with me at the second leading edge of growth God intends for us this year. I'm talking about the areas of knowledge and understanding. Read the text with me again, will you?

Philippians 1:9-11, “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.”

Why take part in as many of the services of this congregation as possible? Much more, why open that precious Book – each day – with the simple, childlike petition, “Father, teach me today...”? That you and I might KNOW Christ!

Beloved, did you know that it is God's desire and plan to so fashion your life that when people look at you, when people listen to you, when people watch your life, they will see Jesus? Romans 8:29, “For those whom God foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son (Jesus Christ) that He (Jesus Christ) might be the First Born among many brothers (and sisters).” God's desire and plan is to so fashion your thinking, your words, your mindset, your behavior, that people will see Jesus in and through you! Isn't that exciting?

But, listen, how is that ever going to come to pass, if we don't increase in our knowledge of Christ?

Philippians chapter three – What was it that drove Paul to pray a prayer like this one in chapter one? What was it that propelled him to challenge the Philippians with the God-sized goal – talk about being a part of something bigger than oneself – of having the mindset of Jesus Christ? (Philippians 2:5ff) What was it that caused him to erupt, after having described the learning/growing process in the area of contentment through which he had passed, with the words, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me the strength”? (Philippians 4:13) Here's what: Philippians 3:7ff – Knowing Christ. Everything else, even those things that previously he had considered pluses on the balance sheet of his life, Paul said, none of it compared to knowing the One who hung on that great 'plus sign' (the cross)!

Philippians 3:4-11, “though I also might have confidence in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.”

Growing in the knowledge of Jesus Christ, getting to know Him better that He might be seen more fully in and through us! Does that bigger-than-you-are-goal excite you?

Knowing Christ – I'm not talking about knowing about Christ, knowing facts about Who He is and so on, I'm talking about, Paul is talking about, knowing HIM! This theme is all over Paul's letters. Take a look – back just a few pages in your Bibles is Paul's letter to the church at Ephesus – Ephesians chapter one – another one of Paul's marvelous prayers and prayer models left for folks like us.

Ephesians 1:15-21, “Therefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers: that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come.”

Paul's prayer for the Ephesians, a prayer example he left for us, “God, would you give me, give us, the spirit of wisdom and revelation, that we might know you better. Would you give light to our eyes, that we might know this hope, this rich inheritance, this exceedingly great power, at work in us!”

Colossians one – just a few pages after our text in Philippians chapter one, Paul's letter to the church at Colassae. Once again Paul offers up a powerful prayer, and, God would so ordain it a powerful prayer example for us.

Colossians 1:9-14, “For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy; giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.”

Once again, what is at the core of this petition that Paul offers up for the Colossian Christians? Knowing Christ - “That you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding...”

The pursuit, the achievement of the something bigger, the something greater, the yearning in the direction of becoming a more perfect church – where doest it begin? What key ingredient must always be present? Knowing Christ. Growing, increasing, expanding in our knowledge of Christ!

But, we might ask: “How?” How do we gain this knowledge, this depth of insight? What steps must we take for it to increase and abound in us? Great question. Let me suggest at least three important steps.

Number one: ask! In preparing for this message, the Lord directed my attention to an interesting, and down-right, convicting related passage found in Luke's account of Jesus' life.

Luke 9:43-45, “And they were all amazed at the majesty of God. But while everyone marveled at all the things which Jesus did, He said to His disciples, “Let these words sink down into your ears, for the Son of Man is about to be betrayed into the hands of men.” But they did not understand this saying, and it was hidden from them so that they did not perceive it; and they were afraid to ask Him about this saying.”

Knowing Christ, knowing what He intended to accomplish, and, if you look at the very next section – Luke 9:46-62 – aligning themselves with what Jesus intended, what was at stake for Jesus' disciples at that time and place. And, yet – look at what the text says. It tells us that the disciples did not understand. What Jesus meant and intended by His words was hidden from them, so that they did not perceive it. And then, most penetrating of all, most convicting of all, the text tells us that Jesus' disciples were afraid to ask Him about it! How else were they going to know and understand if they didn't ask?

Surely having this kind of predicament in mind, James, the servant of the Lord, urges us to ASK.

James 1:5, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.”

Growing in one's knowledge of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:9-11), what do we have here, in this our main study text? We have written all over these three verses the word, A-S-K. Ask! Ask God to make a way for you to know His Son better. Why? Ask, because, just as that passage in Luke 9 indicates, not only is God the concealer, the One who kept things from the eyes of the disciples, He also is the Revealer, the One who will open our eyes to see and to know - if we will but ask!

Ask, that's the first step we must take, if we want to know Christ better this year.

Second, I would urge you, Scripture would urge you and me, to ABANDON anything that would get in the way of knowing Christ better. Philippians 3 – the passage we looked at earlier. Paul, he had a lot of things, a lot of seemingly good things accrued to his spiritual account. But, when he came to know Christ and as he pressed forward in that knowledge, in that relationship, what did he come to realize?

All of these others things, all of them are rubbish, a big MINUS on his spiritual balance sheet compared to knowing Christ!

Do you want to know Christ, I mean really know Him more, and better this year? Then, ABANDON anything that gets in the way of that pursuit.

Then, last of all – like a champion athlete and an alien whose citizenship is in some other place than this place, press on to attain that for which Christ has laid hold of you. Set you affections, not on those things that 'belly-worshipers' love and long for, but set your affections on a citizenship, a salvation – and best of all, most important of all – set your affections on a Savior, from that OTHER place, that place called heaven! (Philippians 3:2-21)

A prayer for every day of the year.

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