Romans 15:30-33 “I urge you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me. Pray that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea and that my service in Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints there, so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and together with you be refreshed. The God of peace be with you all. Amen.”
Of course our theme is going to be prayer, especially intercessory praying, and I want to preach about it in a way that won’t scold you, or make you all feel that you are failures. I would like to supply reasons which will encourage you to keep on with your praying and not give up. We were 34 in the Prayer Meeting last Tuesday night and 12 at Friday morning at 7 a.m. with three regular ‘Arise to Prayers’ away, but we all could pray more, and pray in a more lively way, lifting one another up, especially my lifting you up, and so my purpose in preaching about prayer is to spur on my praying brothers and sisters. Go for it!
THE APOSTLE ASKED PEOPLE TO PRAY FOR HIM.
Consider the strange fact of this request. A giant is asking dwarfs to help him. Paul had met Jesus Christ on the Damascus road, but he asked people to pray for him. He had been caught up to heaven and seen sights and heard words that were unlawful for him to repeat, but he asked sinners to pray for him. He spoke in languages more than them all, but he asked a church to pray for him. He was the most knowledgeable and successful evangelist the world had ever seen, and yet he said, “Join me in my struggle by praying to God for me” (v.30). So if the great apostle did that then we have every right to say, “Please pray for me. This is a tough time I am going through and I need your prayers.” Then Paul specified what he wanted them to pray for. That God would rescue him from the unbelievers in Judea, make the service he rendered to the Christians of Jerusalem acceptable, and that God would take him on to Rome afterwards with joy and for mutual refreshment. Paul asked Christians to pray for him.
But we can go to a more sublime level. We know that Jesus of Nazareth prayed, and if there was anyone in the world who it would appear to our judgment didn’t need to pray it would have been our Lord. Here is the enfleshment of the covenant of grace. Here is omnipotence incarnate. Here is God the Son, and yet he is praying, even on his knees before his Father. He went in his human weakness to God and asked for his fellowship and blessing, but more than that, there came a time when he called on his three closest companions and he said to them, “Come and pray with me,” and then he was specific, “and also keep a watch for the coming of the soldiers and chief priests and Judas while I pray.” The man Christ Jesus, in need of the fellowship and companionship of prayer, wanting to hear John pray, and then James pray, and Peter pray, and again and again their praying by rote for him. So we see first of all that God’s own apostle Paul asks for prayer support.
IF GOD HAD A PERFECT PLAN FOR PAUL’S VISIT TO JERUSALEM (AND PAUL KNEW THIS) THEN WHY DID PAUL ASK PEOPLE TO PRAY FOR HIM?
I suppose the answer has to be that our praying is essential in what God has purposed to do. God has made a plan; he has not only devised the end of that plan but the means of accomplishing it, and that involves what we Christians do. Our preaching, our witnessing, our living credible godly lives, our being salt and light in the world, our being involved in a local church – all these things are essential to what God has purposed to do in the world. In other words, God has ordained to use our prayers (amongst the many other things we do) as a means to accomplish his purposes. Prayer is absolutely necessary. It is essential not because God is helpless to accomplish his purposes without our prayers, but prayer is essential just because our sovereign God has decreed, “I will work through their praying.” Remember how God ordained to spare Israel when they had made the golden calf? Then, remember, he also ordained that Moses would stand and intercede lest they be consumed (Ex. 32:1-11), and Moses did that. His response to God’s decree of mercy to Israel was not to go off somewhere and get on with other things. He immediately cried mightily to God not to consume them. He was strengthened in asking for this by knowing the will of God.
There is the revealed will of God found in the Bible, and there is the secret will of God that no one knows. So when we ask for certain things from God we do so assured that this is according to God’s revealed will. For example, we ask for specific named people to come and put their trust in Christ. Why should we? Because we know from the Bible God’s desire is that none should perish but that all believe in God’s Son. So we know we are praying in accordance with God’s will when we ask God to save our own children. We ask God that they become holy, truthful, kind, and loving children, because this is God’s revealed will for them. We ask that they marry in the Lord for that is God’s will for them.
Then there is the secret will of God for the future. We ask for someone to be healed of their disease and live a long life, but then we say, “but of course that answer will be according to your will, sovereign loving Father.” True prayer always submits to both the revealed and secret wills of God. We all know that God’s revealed will is for us to keep on praying, don’t we? The Lord Jesus says that he wants us always to pray and not to faint. So you cannot consciously be “walking in the will of God” and at the same time be prayerless. Paul assumed that the congregation in Rome would be a praying congregation, and so he told them that during their intercession they should be praying for him and his work in Jerusalem and Rome.
I am laying down two biblical principles: (1) The first is that prayer is essential to the accomplishing of God’s purposes because God himself has decreed to achieve his purposes through the prayers of his people. In fact, prayer itself is one of the things decreed by God. (2) The second is that because prayer is completely tied up with God’s will and purposes, one of the surest barometers of our spiritual condition is our daily prayer life. I am aware that stating this truth as bluntly as that will send most people (including me) on a guilt trip – and it should! There is not one thing for which I must ask forgiveness as much as my failure to pray consistently with a warm heart.
John Reisinger says this, “Prayer is one of the greatest means at our disposal, to truly glorify God and to prove our love and faith. For example, even if you were a millionaire and owned the town bakery it is still God’s will for you to pray for your ‘daily bread.’ God knows our needs before we ask, and it would seem that a millionaire baker could surely supply his own bread any hour of any day, but the bakery owner is still told to pray for his daily supply. Of course, we realize that ‘daily bread’ means all of the things necessary to life, including life itself. Understood correctly, praying for our daily bread is just another way of acknowledging that every day, and all the things that happen that day, are under the sovereign control of God. Our very breathing is in God’s hands.
God desired the Christians in Rome to commune daily with God as their heavenly Father. Our Lord delights to hear us speak to him, like you parents enjoy picking up the phone and it is your son or daughter calling you. God delights in showering us with good things from his storehouse because he loves us. A widow in Rome could thank God at the end of every day that she’d had enough food that day, and a blanket to keep her warm that night. A slave could thank God that he’d not had any beatings from his cruel master. Daily praying demonstrates that we’re conscious that every present blessing is from God and that we depend upon him for any future blessing. You cannot be prayerful and also self-sufficient at the same time; if you neglect prayer you become self-reliant. The greatest denial of God’s sovereignty is a day without prayer!
Think of a parent whose son is in college in Aberystwyth. Dad can pay his son’s expenses at college one of two ways. He can give him one cheque for the entire semester, or he can give him enough money for just one week. Both ways will supply his need, with one difference will be how often Dad wants a phone call and hear his son’s voice. The “once a week” strategy will get more letters and phone calls. I am sure that you see my point, that God delights to hear from his children and one way he makes sure that this happens is to put things on a daily prayerful basis. Each day Paul needed to be prayed for.
I am continuing to speak on this theme that prayer is absolutely essential simply because a sovereign God has purposed to use prayer as the means to reach his end. God will use the praying of the church in Rome to protect and direct Paul on his journey to Jerusalem. Yet, at the same time, we are never to think of prayer as “giving God a chance” to exercise his power. These two statements may appear to be contrary to one another, but they are both true. The Bible teaches that prayer is a necessary means appointed by God, but in no sense does the Scripture teach that God’s desires or purposes are crippled because of lack of prayer. God’s plan was to spare Nineveh and bring the whole city to repentance from the king down to the beggars on skid row. Jonah never longed for that to happen. He never prayed that this would work out, and yet it did. God saved Nineveh without Jonah’s praying, in fact Jonah sulked, and God rebuked him for sulking. We may, as individuals, fail to experience the joy of being used by God in a given instance; but not a single thing that God has decreed will ever be hindered by our failure to pray. God’s decrees do not change moment by moment according to the various “options opened to God” in a given situation. God plans and carries out his plans without any change. A.W. Pink said it well in the following quotation:
“What low and inadequate conceptions of God himself many have. It ought to be apparent that there could be little or no comfort in praying to a God who was like the chameleon, which changes its color every day. What encouragement is there to lift up our hearts to One who was in one mind yesterday and in another mind today? What would be the use of petitioning an earthly king, if we knew he was so changeable as to grant a petition one day and then deny it another day? Isn’t it the very unchangeableness of God which is our greatest encouragement to pray? Because he is ‘without variableness and shadow of turning’ we are assured that if we ask anything according to his will we are most certain of being heard. Well did Luther remark, ‘Prayer is not overcoming God’s reluctance, but laying hold of his willingness’” (Arthur Pink, The Sovereignty of God, Banner of Truth, p.113). So I am saying that the question is not whether God CAN do something without prayer, but rather, has God, himself, sovereignly decreed that he will use prayer as a means of accomplishing what he has ordained?
Let me say something about burdens we bear in praying. A real burden to pray doesn’t begin with us, but with God. If you doubt what I am saying then all you need to do is “make a decision to have a burden” and see if it works. Pick a missionary, or a Christian you heard speak in a meeting, and decide, “I will have a burden for them and their ministry.” Your burden will last about as long as the dew lasts after the sun comes up. Hasn’t it been your experience that real burdens are often not those people that you yourself would have chosen? Sometimes God lays an individual on your heart with whom you have very little in common, and in a sense you don’t particularly ‘like’ them. However, the Holy Spirit keeps bringing that person to your mind and you feel compelled to pray for him.
I remember a girl getting upset with a preacher called John on the first time she heard from him about God’s sovereign election. She said, “If I believed that, I would quit praying for my mother to get saved.” Her statement gave him a hint that John decided to pursue. “Do you faithfully pray for your mother’s conversion?” John asked. She had tears in her eyes, and she answered, “I pray for her almost constantly. Sometimes at work I silently raise my heart to God and I feel myself beginning to cry and I’ve got to go to the washroom. I have a real burden for my mother’s soul.” John said, “You didn’t mention your father. Is he a Christian?” “No,” she replied. “How often do you pray for him? Have you ever shed tears pleading with God to save him?” She got a strange look on her face and said, “Now that you mention it, I rarely ever pray for my Dad, but I never fail to pray for my Mom.” John smiled and said, “I think your Dad is the one you better worry about. I believe God is getting ready to save your mother. As long as you can plead to God with tears, you have every reason to believe that God’s Spirit is moving you to pray. And the Holy Spirit does not move us to pray in vain!”
That girl couldn’t have “worked up” a real burden for her father, no matter how hard she’d tried. Likewise, she couldn’t have been truly burdened to pray for her mother if God wasn’t purposing to work in saving grace. God never burdens our hearts to plead for things that are not his will. We can’t arbitrarily “choose” what we want and then force God to include that particular thing in his purposes. This would mean that we controlled the world and ran it with our prayers. You understand that what I’ve said in no way justifies a cold heart that never prays. Let’s be sure that we have the theology straight; prayer begins with God and grows out of his decree that we always pray and not faint. The Holy Spirit burdens people to pray for those things that God has ordained and is about to do.
Now if those two facts are true, and they are, then you and I can tell whether we are in the will of God and under his blessing by whether we have a burdened heart. My friend, if you express no longings at the throne of grace then you must ask whether God has removed you from the front line of Christian service. Maybe your heart is as cold as an iceberg. God is accomplishing his purposes, but he is not using you to do it.
HOW PAUL ENTREATS THEM TO PRAY FOR HIM
Notice how the apostle entreats them, firstly by saying to the church in Rome, “I urge you.” There is a note of urgency; praying is not a possible option opening for them to take or leave. “I urge you to pray for me.” In other words, what we find in our text is not the kind of throwaway remark that you hear from people who are going to have an operation or passing through some trial, “Say one for me vicar. Say a little prayer for me.” There is urgency here.
Then notice how Paul amplifies it, “I urge you by our Lord Jesus Christ to join me by praying for me.” Let’s begin as simply as this, “If you know Jesus Christ you’ll pray. Don’t you believe that salvation is found only in him? Then pray for me a preacher as I am involved in serving him. Don’t you want others to have what you have in Christ? Then pray for me” Or again, think of what our Lord Jesus is doing for us at this moment. He ever lives to intercede for us, and so he saves us to the uttermost. You love a praying Saviour, and so won’t you be praying too? Do you desire the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed, for his kingdom to come? Then through the name of our Lord Jesus Christ pray for other people.
But let’s go a step further, that praying in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, means a lot more than just tacking his name onto the end of our prayers. Would we pray in the name of Alfred Place or the church where we are in membership? No. We pray in the name of Jesus Christ alone because we’ve got no claim on God hearing and blessing us, and no merit of our own – any more than the people we are praying for, but we dare to ask the holy Creator of the universe as sinners for blessings to come on fellow sinners because we are trusting in the merits and promise of Christ.
Let me illustrate it like this; the only name that can be used when a cheque is signed is the name authorized by the person who owns the account. Our blessed Lord alone has earned the merits and graces upon which we can draw anything good. We want divine strength to descend upon a missionary; we want him to have wisdom and patience and illumination and protection and peace. Those graces in all their fullness belong to Christ alone. They are all his in a vast reservoir of virtue, but he has given us permission to use his name to tap the reservoir, not for the purpose of making the life of this missionary and our own lives easier but for the kingdom of God to come and the glory of Christ to be revealed.
Let me illustrate what I think it means to pray in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Suppose I went into one of the many public houses in the town and I asked for a large glass of whiskey. I then said, “I’m not paying for this; in fact I have no money to pay for it, but a friend of mine has said I was to charge it in his name and he’d pay the bill next time he came in for a drink.” When the barmaid asked for my friend’s name I would give him the name of one of the elders in our church. But the barmaid lived in this particular elder’s street and immediately she became suspicious. “Mister I cannot believe that he would give you or anyone else permission to buy a large whiskey in this pub or any pub. I know him. I know he’s never been inside any pub in the town. He never sent you, and he surely never told you to use his name.”
I wonder how many times God could say exactly the same thing to us? How often have we grossly misused the name of Christ and dared to ask for something we wanted without any thought of the Lord Jesus Christ. We cannot pray in Jesus’ name unless we earnestly believe that Christ would ask the very same thing. So Paul urges them by our Lord Jesus Christ to join him in his struggle by praying to God for him.
Then secondly he also urges as the basis for their praying the love of the Spirit. That must mean the Spirit’s love for us. The Holy Spirit loves us with a yearning love just like our heavenly Father’s love and just as the Son loves us. The Spirit is earnestly longing for us to be changed completely into the image of Christ, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing but to become the beautiful bride of Christ for ever and ever. He strives with us to make us as Christlike as possible, and so as prayerful as we can be. He follows us all through our lives. He is not driven away from us because we are sinners. He comes to us because we are sinners and he years over us. And one way he shows his love is that he intercedes for us with groanings that cannot be uttered. In heaven Christ is praying for us, and in our own hearts and lives the Spirit is praying for us. We must rest in the love of the Spirit. Our redemption is not all over because of Golgotha 2,000 years ago. We are serving the Lord in a fallen world and God works for us by the intercession of the Son and by the intercession of the Spirit. They pray for us, and so the argument is that we should pray for one another. How selfish to be the beneficiaries of the intercession of the second and third members of the Godhead and then not to intercede for others ourselves. So we pray for one another and we ask one another to pray for us.
4. HOW TO TRANSLATE THIS INTO OUR OWN PRAYER MEETING.
How can we improve our own Prayer Meeting? Let me take some do’s and dont’s from Dr Joel Beeke; what should we do in our praying?
1. The most important spirit in our Prayer Meeting should be a spirit of humility — a spirit of humble repentance, humble confession, humble petition, humble earnestness, and humble praise.
2. Be caring and affectionate towards each other in your praying and throughout the meeting. Remember you are praying for your spiritual brothers and sisters in the faith.
3. Focus on common prayer needs. Pray for things large and glorious. Pray for the glory of God, the growth of his people, the conversion of sinners, and worldwide revival. Pray for ministers, missionaries, and theological students to be anointed by the Holy Spirit. Pray for church officers to be faithful, for the church to live in unity and peace, and for every church ministry and outreach to flourish and bear fruit a hundredfold. Pray for the elderly, the lonely, the sick, and the young people. Pray for troubled marriages, broken families, and prodigal sons and daughters. Pray for governmental leaders, for the forsaking of national sins such as abortion and Sabbath-breaking, and for a return of biblical truth and morality in the land.
4. Pray for things small and specific. Remember personal prayer requests, focusing on one or two of them in each prayer. When you intercede for others, place yourself in their shoes as best you can. Mention them by name. Be specific, like Paul was in Romans 15 & 16.
5. Pray slowly, clearly, and articulately. Lift up your voice with strength. Pray so that even the hard of hearing will have no difficulty understanding you.
6. Remember that God values wholehearted prayer more than eloquent prayer. No person will be criticised for halting or stumbling in prayer. Appreciate the gifts that are displayed.
7. Glance down at the list of prayer requests and pray for what others have forgotten. Carry prayer requests home with you and continue to storm the mercy seat in your private petitions. Let the prayer meeting augment, rather than be a substitute for, your private prayer.
1. Don’t pray for more than five minutes. Nothing dampens a prayer meeting more than having five or six people dominate the meeting.
2. Don’t bring up private or trivial prayer requests that betray confidentiality or minimize reverence for God. There are things that are inappropriate for a public gathering. Avoid them.
3. Don’t let long pauses dampen the gaps between prayers.
4. Don’t mumble your prayer. Soft, inaudible mumbling is not a sign of humility; it only leaves people frustrated in their attempts to understand you and pray with you. Stand up, if possible and then others can hear you.
5. Ask God to help you to pray fresh petitions from the heart. Don’t repeat in your public prayers week after week something like “we should all be talking to our neighbours about the gospel.”
6. As much as possible, avoid making a request that someone else has made already.
7. Don’t pray round the world and for every other Christian activity in the locality while ignoring our own church.
THE WAY OF INTERCESSION IS THE WAY OF PEACE.
“The God of peace be with you all. Amen.” says Paul (v.33). Paul was looking forward to finally getting to Rome with joy and for mutual refreshment. That joy would be vastly increased if they greeted a man whom they’d been praying for over the past months. They had been asking God to take care of Paul, rescue him from unbelievers in Jerusalem, make his ministry to the poor Christians in that city a blessing and bring him finally to see them in Rome. At long last they see the one they have been praying for. What joy! What peace! But if they had never prayed for him, then what? There will be nothing of the comfort of the peace of God in their hearts. They consciences will be convicting them, “You didn’t pray for the apostle. You didn’t pray for our brothers and sisters in Rome.” Peace is experienced through intercession.
“You mean weeping and groaning and lying on the floor in a torrent of perspiration?” It might at rare times come to that, but I am speaking about steady faithful praying down your list of friends and congregations. I am saying that that is one means God has provided for a preacher staying in Kenya, or Peru, or Argentina for forty years, sticking at his post, not being led astray by false doctrine and not teaching error to his people. He lives a godly blameless life among them. He visits and evangelizes. He is always ready to give a reason for the hope that he has when anyone asks him. He supports his wife and children, and you have kept him under these blessings from God through your praying for him in your own modest way, year after year. To know that is to know the influence of the peace of God keeping your heart and mind.
That is the context in which you find a reference to God’s peace in the Bible. Most famously of all in Philippians chapter four verses six and seven, “In everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” God’s peace is compared to a sentinel guarding a vault, keeping burglars and intruders outside, maintaining the peace of that place. May God himself guard us and keep us at peace. May God give us an undivided mind in Christ Jesus. God help us to pray.
18th March 2007 GEOFF THOMAS