Monday, January 3, 2011

A Prayer for the New Year

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Preached at Northwest Christian Church
David P. Kautt
Sunday Morning
, January 2, 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.”

2010 was a good year for us here at Northwest Christian church, and we thank God for all the ways in which He worked in our midst to make it a good year.  But, 2010 is now history, and here we are, at the start of a New Year, anxiously anticipating what God will do in our lives, in our families, and in this church family in 2011.  It’s kind of exiting, isn’t it, to stand where we stand today, one, nearly two, days along, in this 365-day journey with our Lord.  However, as we begin this walk with Christ, step by step through the moments and milestones that will make up this New Year, what is it that we need as we begin? 

We need Him!  Our great big, incredibly gracious and patient God, we need Him!  That’s why I think it is all together fitting that we begin this year, this journey with our Lord, in prayer.  Prayer – some has asked, “If God knows everything, and is going to carry out His will anyway, why pray?” 

To me, the best answer to that intriguing question is this: prayer is an expression of our humble acknowledgment of Christ’s Lordship – an overflow – a joyful outpouring of gratitude for His wisdom and mercy and power at work in our world and in our lives, and, an eager willingness to be conformed, to line oneself up with God’s will.  That’s why we prayer, because we need Him!  Because, hopefully, our yearning IS for His name to be hallowed, for His kingdom to come, for His will to be done – on earth – in us, as it is in heaven! 

A New Year, our great big God, and us!  That’s quite a combination if I do say so myself.  But what brings all three together, in the way our Savior intended, is what we have before us in this passage of Scripture - a prayer - a prayer for the New Year. 

One of the many things that I appreciate the most, that I praise God for the most, as far as Scripture is concerned, is that this Book, God’s Book, does not merely tell us TO do certain things, it also shows us HOW! 

Prayer is a perfect example… Time and time again we read verses like, “pray without ceasing,” (1 Thess. 5:17) and “continue in prayer, and be watchful in the same with thanksgiving” (Colossians 4:2).  Repeatedly, we are exhorted to pray, and, for the reasons I listed a moment ago.  But, then, to move us from the exhortation, to the application (to the how?), we have passages like this one.  Paul’s prayer for the Philippians, it’s a passage that, if we will use it as a guide, as a model, it will direct us in the carrying out of the exhortations to “pray without easing”, it will show us how.  Take a closer look at it with me, will you? 

I certainly don’t claim to know all that was in the Apostle Paul’s mind as he wrote this letter to the Philippians, although, I think that if you and I study letters like this closely, we can begin to discern what his thoughts and intentions were by what he has written.  So, don’t let the incomplete nature of your knowledge to keep you from studying it.  But, listen – even though I don’t know or understand all that Paul had in mind when he wrote this letter, I do, however, believe that he must have had a least one thought going through his head as he wrote these words; and that is this: “There’s no such thing as a perfect church.”  This church at Philippi, they, like we, were tempted to trust in their own righteousness, their own supposed goodness, rather than the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ – chapter 3:1-6.  And, they – like we – were faced with the enticements and allurements of fleshly lusts, worldly, ungodly, unholy desires, to make their belly their god, and to set their affections on earthly things, rather than on the heavenly Savior, salvation and citizenship they had available to them in Jesus Christ – chapter 3:17-21.  And they – like we – faced the problem of brothers and sisters acting like brothers and sisters sometimes act; not getting along, not seeking to be of one mind, and of one spirit, in the Lord – chapters one and four.  As much as Paul loved the church as Philippi – take a look at his tender, affectionate words with which he begins this letter, Philippians 1:3-5 – and, as thankful to God as he was for them, and for the generous assistance they rendered to him in his work (chapter 4:10-20), nevertheless, Paul knew as surely as you and I know, that there really is no such thing as a perfect church!  But does that mean that we should shut off the lights, lock the doors and go home?  Does that mean that the New Year isn’t so bright and hopeful after all?  And, most of all – there’s no such thing as a perfect church!  Ouch!  But, listen, please – does that mean that we should not strive to BE one, today, this year? 

Paul’s prayer for the Philippians, this passage of Scripture we have before us this morning, what is it?  It is a Holy Spirit-inspired and, indeed, a very lofty solution to the problem of the im-perfect church.  A game plan, a road-map meant to guide not only our prayers, but our minds, our hands, our feet in the direction of becoming a more perfect church – today, this year!  Take a look, where does this prayer begin?  It begins where the Philippian congregation needed it to begin, with a fervent request for love, Christ-like, Philippians two, kind of love, to abound, to increase in that church. 

Hold your place, and move your finger down through the rest of chapter one, to the start of Philippians chapter two.  Paul’s prayer for the Philippians, a prayer for Christ-like love to increase more and more, in that first-century church, a prayer that could well guide us this New Year toward becoming the church God wants us to be – what is Christ-like love all about?  What does it look like?

Philippians 2:3-4, “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. 4 Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”

Christ-like love, it is a matter of humility of attitude, and of action toward our brothers and sisters in Christ.  Christ-like love, esteeming others as better than one’s self, it was manifested, lived out in Paul’s day, and before the eyes of that New Testament congregation, through godly men like Timothy and Epaphroditus.  Yes, Christ-like love, looking out for others’ interest, not only one’s own interest – it was modeled, perfectly – where?  At the cross – Philippians 2:5-11. 

This prayer, a heaven-sent road map for our journey towards becoming a more perfect church this year, it begins with Christ-like love.  “And this is my prayer, that your love may abound still more and more…”  Why do you think it begins with Christ-like love? 

Well, for the Philippians of Paul’s day, perhaps the reasons were obvious.  Leading members of the congregation were at odds with one another, and because of that, the work of God was being hindered.  But, what is so significant about this initial request, this petition for God to increase Christ-like love – for us?  Someone has described Christ-like love as the ‘Christian’s crown jewel’.  Perhaps, we should begin our search for an answer to our question about the significance of this petition for us, by asking ourselves, “Is my life, are my thoughts, words, attitudes, and actions adorned by this jewel?”  “Am I aiming at esteeming others better than myself – today, this year?  Am I ready and willing, like Epaphroditus was ready and willing, to walk down a path marked death (death-to-self), not regarding my own life, that I might be God’s agent to meet someone else’s need?”  What is so significant – for us – about this initial
request for abounding, increasing Christ-like love?  John 13:35 – Jesus answered that for us, didn’t He?  He said, “All men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  Christ-like love, this is not something meant for a select few!  No!  It should mark, be that wonderful adornment that should mark every one of our lives!

And, what happens when it does?  We don’t know the end of the story for the Philippians – whether or not Paul’s prayer for them came to fruition.  But listen, as we make this petition our fervent prayer, our longing for our lives, our families and our church – this year – guess what?  Then, we can stand back and watch the mighty and merciful hand of God at work ANSWERING this prayer!

Would you like to see the sweetness of our fellowship, the satisfying aroma of brothers and sisters dwelling together in UNITY (Psalm 133) increasing this year?  Pray this prayer!  Paul told the Thessalonians that God wants to teach His children to love each other like this.  Oh, God, teach us, would you, please? 

Would you like for our prayer lives, as individuals, as families, and as a church family, to be richer, fuller, more meaningful and powerful this year?  It’s hard, I admit it, it is hard, very hard, to pray sincerely, fervently, consistently, for people you don’t love!  But listen, what if your love, what if Christ’s kind of love is increasing in you, what are you going to want to do for those people?  You are going to want to pray for them!  Growth in Christ-like love is critical!

And, how about this?  When Jesus talked about building His church, extending His kingdom, accomplishing His will, on earth (Matthew 6:9-15; 16:13-19), was He talking about bricks and mortar?  Steeples and signboards?  No!  He was talking about PEOPLE, people praying this prayer!  People saying, “God, use me as an answer to this prayer,” that the hungry might be fed, that the sick and imprisoned might be cared for, that the naked might be clothed, and that the lost might be found! 

There really is no such thing as a perfect church, I agree.  But listen, as I begin this New Year, I want to be one of God’s answers to prayers offered up by His people in the direction of this church becoming more perfect, increasing in Christ-like love – how about you? 

So, here’s my challenge to you: will you make this prayer, and others like it scattered throughout the pages of the New Testament, your prayers for yourself, for your family, and for this congregation this year?

1 comment:

ernie said...

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