Posts Tagged 'Intercessory Prayer'


Paul, in prison praying.

We don’t often think of Paul as a man of prayer. When we think of Paul, we think of the great apostle, an able missionary, a powerful preacher, the man who started many churches, but we seldom think of him as a man of prayer. Most of us aren’t able to make a list of Paul’s prayers. Yet, Paul was a great man of prayer, and we can learn about effective praying by looking at the prayers of Paul

1. The characteristics of Paul’s prayer

They were motivated by good news, Ephesians 1:15

For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints…

More than once, it was good news that moved Paul to pray. For most Christians, the thing that drives us to our knees is bad news, not good news. We pray when we are in trouble, or when we’re sick, or when we’re faced with some kind of crisis. A lot of Christians use prayer like they would use a life preserver: for emergencies only.

Paul often prayed during times of trouble, and so should we. The Bible tells us we should! But Paul also used good news as excuses to pray. When we start to do that as well, we’ll begin to notice something interesting: we’ll be praying more often. And we’ll be looking for good news!

Paul heard the good news about his friend’s faith, and that good news moved him to pray!

They were intercessory, Ephesians 1:16; 3:16

I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being…

Paul prayed for others; he prayed on behalf of others. Now, Paul also prayed for himself. The Bible tells us to that, too. In 1 Corinthians 12 we read about how Paul was so desperate to have his “thorn in the flesh”removed, that he essentially begged God repeatedly to remove it. So, Paul definitely prayed for himself. But, most of his prayers were like those recorded in Ephesians: on behalf of others.

The thing about intercessory prayer is that any Christian can do it. Most of us will never travel to foreign countries, teaching and preaching the Gospel. Most of us will never stand behind a pulpit or write a book about the Bible. But all of us are able to pray, and all of us ought to be praying for the needs of others, like Paul did. Intercessory prayer might well be the greatest ministry any member of the church may engage in!

They were brief

Both prayers recorded for us in Ephesians were brief. In fact, it may surprise you know that all the prayers in the Bible are short. William Shakespeare may have said, “Brevity is the soul of wit,” but Jesus said this:

And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. (Matthew 6:7)

Moses, who we know was a tremendous man of prayer, once prayed a powerful prayer that was a mere four verses long (Deuteronomy 9:26—29). Elijah prayed the prayer of his life and it was only two verses long (1 Kings 18:36, 37). Martin Luther thought that the shorter the prayer the better the prayer.

God is willing to listen to all our prayers. He is never so busy that He wishes we’d hurry up and get to the point when we pray. However, when we pray we are taking up God’s time. When we pray, we need to learn how to pray properly and intelligently. It’s interesting that some of us will read, re-read, re-write, proofread, and have proofread an important e-mail,  letter, or term paper, or whatever, but we so often pray sloppy prayers. We choose our words carefully when we are being interviewed for a job or when we are trying to make a good impression, but we pray like we are the sixth grade.

They were submissive, Ephesians 3:14

For this reason I kneel before the Father…

“Kneeling” in prayer is what we call the “posture of submission.” It’s not so much a physical posture, although it certainly can be, as it is a posture of the heart. When we pray submissively, we are praying that God’s will would be done, not ours. We are recognizing God’s sovereignty.

Most of us aren’t real good at that. We pray—we use many words—with the intention of changing God’s mind or convincing Him that we are right about something instead of acknowledging His sovereignty.

2. The content of Paul’s prayers

They were full of thanksgiving

Giving thanks for something was a big part of Paul’s prayers. He thanked God for all kinds of things:

I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. (Ephesians 1:16)

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. (Philippians 4:6)

What do you think Paul meant when he used the curious phrase “with thanksgiving?” Does Paul mean that after you’ve prayed for people and things, you should thank Him for past answers to prayer? Does He mean that you should divide your prayers into two parts, one part thanksgiving and one part requests? Or does Paul mean to suggest that you should thank God for answering the prayer you just prayed?

We need to understand a very simple thing: there is NO such thing as an unanswered prayer. God always answers your prayers, so when you pray and when you present your needs to Him, present them with thanksgiving; expect Him to take care of your requests and thank Him in advance for doing that.

The reason why we think God doesn’t answer some of our prayers is that He answers them in an unexpected way: He answers them HIS way, not our way. By the way, given human nature, and given the immaturity of so many Christians, NO is probably the most common answer God gives in response to our prayers.

So, God is going to answer that prayer. Start thanking before you say “Amen.”

They were directed to the Father

This seems like a minor point and maybe an obvious one, but it is important. Paul prayed directly to God, the Father. He did not pray to God, Son or God, the Holy Spirit.

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. (Ephesians 1:17)

For this reason I kneel before the Father… (Ephesians 3:14)

Paul was doing precisely what Jesus said we should do:

In that day you will no longer ask me anything. I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete. (John 16:23, 24)

Jesus made it clear that we should not pray to Him directly. Jesus is our great Intercessor; that is His ministry today. It is Scriptural to pray to God the Father, not to God the Son. When we pray to God the Father, God the Son will act as our intercessor; we will be the recipients of a wonderful ministry Jesus performs on our behalf.

They were for spiritual understanding

Paul, highly educated in all things theological, often prayed for deeper spiritual insight, for himself and also for his friends. He prayed for other things often, too, but it’s significant that he wanted to know more about God, Jesus, and the Gospel and he wanted those he was praying for to have that same kind of supernatural revelation.

It’s very difficult for believers today to pray for spiritual understanding. We are inundated with secularism day and night. We are prone to be materialistic, not spiritual. We even judge spiritual success by material standards! We so often confuse God’s blessings with success and material prosperity. Paul didn’t always pray for those things, he often prayed for spiritual understanding:

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge —that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:17—19)

Notice what was important to Paul. He wanted the people he was praying for to have deeper understanding and a firmer grasp of spiritual things. This was something he wrote about earlier in his letter:

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… (Ephesians 1:17, 18)

This kind of illumination is something we all need no matter how spiritual we think we are. It’s all well and good to pray for good health or for peace or for success for ourselves and for others, but we should never forget the vital importance of spiritual growth. Spiritual understanding surpasses anything else we may be praying for.

However, as it is written: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” — but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. (1 Corinthians 2:9, 10)

The reason why the church needs spiritual understanding so badly today is that there is so much false teaching floating around and finding a home in it. It’s hard to believe how many churches and once trustworthy ministries have fallen prey to false teachers and their teachings.

He prayed for spiritual power

…and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength… (Ephesians 1:19)

Paul prayed for his friends to have spiritual understanding and spiritual power. What is this spiritual power?

...which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms… (Ephesians 1:20)

That’s what we call “resurrection power!” Paul once said that he longed to know that power (Philippians 3:10). But what is “resurrection power,” exactly? It is the power that raised Christ from the dead, took Him off the earth in a resurrection body and placed Him at the right hand of God the Father. We are to pray that that power is operating in us. We need to pray prayers backed with that kind of power. Our church services should be full of that kind of power. We should pray as Paul did: for more that resurrection power.


Intercessory Prayer, Nehemiah 1:4—11

Prayer is one of the greatest privileges and one of mightiest forces God has given human beings to bring about changes in themselves and consequently in their world. Prayer is one grace your enemy can’t refuse. Through prayer, you can experience breakthroughs in your life you never thought you would see and accomplish the impossible. Through prayer, Elijah stopped the rain for over three years (James 5:17), and Peter was delivered from prison because people were praying (Acts 12:5).

What many Christians don’t understand, or have never been told, is found in Revelation 5:10—

You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God.

Part of our service to God is to make intercession for others. Praying for others or on behalf of others is part of our calling as Christians. Since a lot of Christians don’t know what “intercessory prayer” is like, it can be helpful to study one of the best examples of that kind of prayer: Nehemiah’s. We can imagine that he prayed this great prayer in the secrecy of his own “prayer closet,” yet he recorded it in his memoirs. We are allowed a glimpse into this man’s sincerity and devotedness to God thanks to the Holy Spirit.

Let’s examine Nehemiah’s prayer in all its brilliance. Notice its:

1. Earnestness, verse 4

When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.

The very first thing we notice is that this was NO formal prayer! He did not start out with the clichéd phrases we hear so often:

  • Our loving Heavenly Father…
  • Gracious God in Heaven…
  • Our Father in Heaven…
  • Dear Lord…

No, Nehemiah’s prayer was the result of something stirred up in the depths of his soul. How many of us approach God like that? Do our prayers come from deep inside? Or are our prayers matters of formality? It has been said that God doesn’t answer prayer, He answers desperate prayers! He answers prayers that come from the conviction of our hearts.

What does your prayer-life look like? What your prayer-life looks like shows how much you depend on your ability; the more self-confidence you have, generally speaking, the less you pray. The great Apostle said:

God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are… (1 Corinthians 1:28)

Is that you? Do you consider yourself to be one of the “lowliest things of this world?” If you don’t, your prayers will be cold and lifeless because you will always have a fallback position: depending in yourself. Prayers prayed with that kind of fallback position are a mockery of what real prayer is all about. Just as God loves a cheerful giver, so He loves a whole-hearted prayer.

Here’s another good question: do your prayers frighten the Devil?

What does the Devil say about your life?
Does he know you in Hell like he knows your Christ?
Are you boiling hot?
Or are you cold as ice?

Nehemiah was earnest. He approached God with no pretense. His was a prayer of desperation. He needed it answered because there was not other choice. One or the reasons our prayers so often go unanswered is because they really don’t need to be answered.  So many of us have planned God right out of our lives.

2. Knowledge, verse 5

LORD, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments…

What a way to begin a prayer. To Nehemiah, these were not mere words. He could pray this way because he knew God. Let’s consider the word “awesome,” which is a much over-used word these days. Whatever you may think it means, it probably doesn’t mean that. In the Hebrew, the word is nora, which comes from the verb yare, which means “to fear” or “to revere.” Nehemiah’s God was a God to be feared. Nehemiah believed in God’s greatness. He believed in God’s love. But Nehemiah also believed that God is “great” and “terrible.”

The “fear of God” is almost a foreign concept today. We approach God with great familiarity. We think we know Him, but we really don’t. We “come boldly into His presence,” which we are commanded to do, yet we don’t do so with fear because we don’t know Him. God is awesome; He is to be feared as much as He is to be loved.

But Nehemiah also believed in God faithfulness and His mercifulness as well. Nehemiah knew exactly what the writer to the Hebrew knew—

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)

Do you know God like that? Do you know God that well? These are important questions to know the answers to because if you know God like that, you will ask much of Him and expect much of Him. And God will never come up short. The problem is, so many of us think we know God but the evidence in our lives points to the contrary. Cold prayers. Lifeless devotion. Lackluster faith.

If we knew God as well as Nehemiah did, we’d understand that there is nothing He wouldn’t do for us; no prayer that He wouldn’t answer. God has a “covenant of love” with those who have faith in Him. What a marvelous aspect of our God. Literally, the phrase means that God honors His covenant with His people through thick and thin, no matter what. Is your God like that?

3. Importunity, verse 6

…let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my ancestral family, have committed against you.

Importunity is a vital component in prevailing prayer. According to Webster, “importunity” means:

The quality of being importunate; pressing or pertinacious ; solicitation; urgent request; incessant or frequent application; troublesome pertinacity.

If that definition is a little hard to follow, here are some synonyms:

pestering, pressing, plaguing, pressuring, urging, wheedling

It was because of the widow’s persistence that she gained her request. This was the lesson Jesus taught from the parable of the man begging loaves from his friend at midnight—

I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need. (Luke 11:8)

“Shamless audacity!” What a way to describe a prayer! Paul gives advice on praying in one of the shortest verses in the whole Bible—

…pray continually… (1 Thessalonians 5:17)

That word, “continually,” means persistent. Nag God until you get an answer! Keep going to Him and keep asking Him for what you need. Keep it up until you get the answer you need; the answer that is according to God’s will. But don’t give up.

4. Confession, verses 6b, 7

I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my ancestral family, have committed against you. We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses.

Nehemiah did not exclude himself or his family in his confession of sins. Why did he do this? A true sense of the awesomeness of God will reveal the true depths of our sinfulness. Thank God we have been forgiven, but we are still sinners in need of continual forgiveness. When we see Jesus as He really is, we will be like Peter—

When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8)

We can be sure Nehemiah wasn’t a bad person. But even the best person is black as sin in the light of God’s presence.

God’s people had “acted wickedly toward God.” That’s a very serious confession, and it is a very common sin among Christians. How do we “act wickedly toward God?” When we say we believe what the Bible says, yet we live in fear and doubt we are acting wickedly toward God. When we ask God for things that we don’t really expect Him to provide, we are acting wickedly toward God. When we make a confession of faith and loyalty to God’s will, but in our hearts we are more concerned about our own personal interests than His, we are acting wickedly toward God..

Most of us approach God in a willy nilly manner when we ought to take the time to prepare our hearts properly. We should take time to make sure there are no hidden sins, sinful habits, or unconfessed sins that need to be dealt with first. We need to ensure that there is nothing between God and us. Spiritual bondage and failure and unanswered prayers are all good indicators that there is “sin in our camp” and that there is a need for self-examination and confession.

5. Faith, verses 8, 9

Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name.’

Faith lays hold of the Word of God. Notice what the opposite of unfaithfulness is: obedience to God’s commands! You cannot separate faith from obedience. And you cannot obey something other than God’s Word and expect to be taken seriously by God when you pray.

The prayer that is built upon the foundation of God’s Word cannot be ignored by God. In turning to the Lord, look at with Nehemiah did: he reminded God of His own Word. That is something that pleases God greatly.

Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ. (Romans 10:17)

Why would we quote the Bible when we pray?  There are two good reasons: First, the Word produces faith in the one praying and; second God cannot deny Himself when He finds so much of Himself in the one praying to Him. Nehemiah reminded God of all things God had done for His people. Of course God had not forgotten all those things, but Nehemiah was simply quoting God’s Word back at Him.

That is the audacity of faith! It stares God in the face, saying to Him: “Here are your promises. Here is your redemption. Here is what you have done for your people. If you did all this, then I know you can do this.”

Answered prayer is a matter of belief.

6. Consecration, verse 11

Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man.

The biggest problem most believers have is that they pray amiss—they don’t pray focused prayers because their lives aren’t focused on God. James 4:3 says this—

When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

If you want God to take your prayers seriously and answer them, you have got to yield yourself to Him and live for His glory.  That’s why Nehemiah referred to himself as a “servant” in his prayer.  There are three kinds of servants in the world today:

  • the slave, who serves out of fear of the master;
  • the employee, who serves for wages—what he can get out of the master;
  • the son, who serves out of love.

It is the obedient son who is devoted to His Heavenly Father who not only gets His Father’s attention, but wins His favor. When we serve God out of love, we serve Him unselfishly and our prayers will be unselfish.  That doesn’t mean we never pray for ourselves; remember, we are talking specifically about intercessory prayer; praying for others.  The most unselfish thing we caate concept of sacrifice that get their prayers answered.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is true worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:1—2)

Those who would receive their portion from God must first demonstrate that they deserve it. And that’s not at all hard to do, but apparently it must just hard enough to frustrate so many modern Christians, convincing them that answered prayer is the exception, rather than what it ought be: the norm.

(c)  2011 WitzEnd


Nehemiah, the Exorcised Man

Nehemiah 1:1—4

In the book of Ezra, we see a remnant of Jews heading back home to Jerusalem from Babylon. We read of their history and the story is all very much a matter of facts with a smattering of the story from the personal perspective of the priest, Ezra. Nehemiah covers the same general period of history, beginning about 13 years after the end of Ezra, and pursues this period of Hebrew history even further, but from a different, distinct perspective.

His big concern was for the construction of the walls around Jerusalem. Modern people wonder why there was a wall around Jerusalem in the first place and why Nehemiah was so bent out of shape about it’s constant state of disrepair. The wall around the City of David was both for protection and exclusion. It protected the Jews from enemy attacks and it kept unbelievers out of the city. The wall around Jerusalem speaks to us today of the moral and spiritual responsibility every believer has in their own lives; the responsibility to be ever vigilant; keeping watch that the enemy of our souls doesn’t find a way into our lives and overtake us. The wall around Jerusalem also speaks to the spiritual warfare that exists in the Church of Jesus Christ today. The Church is a place of refuge for believer, a place where they can find protection in God’s presence and the great Wall of the Spirit keeps the enemy out as long as believers are gathering in Christ’s Name.

No wonder Nehemiah was so upset when he got news that in spite of all the construction going on up there in Jerusalem, that wall remained unrepaired. In fact, that subject fills up the first seven chapters of the book. The remainder of the book concerns revival and reform within Jerusalem.

Nehemiah, like Moses before him, was singularly suited to the work God had lined up for him. He was a child of the captivity and was therefore in complete sympathy with the captives in Persia. He was also the king’s cupbearer, a position of great wealth and influence and pre-eminence among his people and the people of Persia. But Nehemiah was also a man of God; a man of great moral conviction and courage. Like Ezra, Nehemiah was intensely devoted to the cause of God.

1. Nehemiah’s position

I was in the citadel of Susa…I was cupbearer to the king. (verses 1, 11)

At the very beginning of Nehemiah’s book, we see that there was a world of difference between Nehemiah and Ezra. Ezra was a priest, but Nehemiah was a man with great political influence and personal wealth. Even though this man occupied one of the highest positions in the Persian courts, he had not sacrificed his morality or religious principles. We have every reason to believe that Nehemiah held that enviable position because of his sterling, trustworthy character.

We know next to nothing about Nehemiah’s family, other than he must have come from an influential Jewish family living and prospering in the Persian, formerly the Babylonian, Empire.

God works like that; He has a way of getting His people into the right places to affect the most good for His people. The “person of God” should always be the most dependable person on the payroll of any business, by the way. But, very often like Joseph, their virtue may become their only fault.

2. Nehemiah’s question.

Hanani, one of my brothers, came from Judah with some other men, and I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that had survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem. (verse 2)

Not every Jewish exile returned to Jerusalem. Many Jews, like Nehemiah, had come to call Persia their home. They had started businesses and families and many of them were prospering and, rather than give all that up, they chose to remain in Persia, working, and sending money and other resources home to Jerusalem so the city could be rebuilt.

So, even though Nehemiah remained in Persia, he was a man of prayer, a devout believer, and was keenly interested in what was going on up in Jerusalem. A group of pilgrims, led by a man by the name of Hanani, made its way back to Persia from Jerusalem with news of the reconstruction efforts. Some scholars think Hanani was Nehemiah’s brother, but that’s pure speculation.

Nehemiah is a fine example of how believers ought to behave. We ought to be interested in God’s work. We should always be concerned about God’s House, what’s going on there, what condition it’s in. We should care about the welfare of other believers, whether we have the resources to help them or not. Where material resources may be lacking, there is always the most important resource available to us: prayer! We need to be like Paul, who said this:

For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. (2 Corinthians 5:14)

Christ’s love for the Body of Christ should compel us to be concerned about the Body of Christ; its welfare, its reputation, and so on.

Like Paul, Nehemiah was deeply concerned about the state of Jerusalem and the people living there, even though he lived a world away.

3. The answer.

They said to me, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.” (verse 3)

This was terrible news. It was the worst news Nehemiah could have received. He was not given a pretty picture, and to Hanani’s credit, he hadn’t sugar-coated it. What a pitiful spectacle was God’s cause and the state of His people! The Jews that had returned home were in “great trouble,” which we can understand. It was a Herculean task, rebuilding an entire city from the ground up. But the people were a “disgrace.” Why a disgrace? Because they had failed in their attempts to rebuild the city. The nations around Jerusalem could see this and it reflected poorly on God. After all, was God not responsible for the rebuilding effort? Was the whole restoration of Jerusalem not His idea? The people were failing and they were a disgrace to the cause of God.

Did you know that God’s reputation in the world depends in large part on how you live your life? If you are “a failure” as a Christian, then you bring disgrace upon God, and are therefore a disgrace yourself. Nobody wants to be known as a “disgrace,” yet churches are full of disgraceful believers, living half-lives, making a mockery of their confession of faith, holiness and purity as they recklessly pursue their own worldly agendas, doing whatever makes them feel good, all the while justifying their sin before God and man.

The people up in Jerusalem were suffering greatly from poverty, sickness, and reproach, and the wall of their protection and defense went unrepaired. They were still reaping the fruits of their rebellion and idolatry; their 70 year captivity hadn’t accomplished its purpose.

Weakness and reproach, failure and disgrace will always characterize the people of God when their walls of separation are broken down and the gates of praise smashed. A powerless, praiseless Christian is nothing but a disgrace, a reproach to the Name he bears.

4. What Nehemiah did.

When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven. (verse 4)

This is a pretty phenomenal verse for several reasons. Nehemiah could have gotten angry and criticized the people up in Jerusalem, but he didn’t do that. Nehemiah was not indifferent to the problems of the Jews who had gone home. He showed genuine concern about the state of both the city and the people. Think about it. Thousands of people left their relatively new homes in what was a Babylonian state, now Persia, to embark on a perilous journey back to Jerusalem, a place no Jew had seen for 70 years and almost certainly nobody who returning there had ever seen, to rebuild and to re-establish a Jewish presence there. For these brave Jews, Jerusalem must have seemed like a fable. Yet they went, their faith inspired by Ezra and other people of faith. They survived the trek, they began the rebuilding, they had experienced revivals of faith and felt the unseen hand of God. Yet for all they had seen and experienced, their work had stalled and their faith was faltering.

The Church of Jesus Christ and the cause of God today is in jeopardy. It is being attacked from without by enemies of the Gospel and the plan of God, and from within by worldly, lackadaisical Christians who are so in name only. Is anybody really concerned about the state of the Church and its members? We are all very good about criticizing it, about pointing out its faults and failures, but are genuinely concerned about it?  And if we are concerned about it, what are we doing about it?

What about the believer who is stumbling in their walk with God? Are we concerned about him and his welfare? Or are we neutral about their condition? Today in the Church of Jesus Christ there is a lot of talk but very few tears; there is a lot of criticism but little compassion. Like Paul, many centuries and a dispensation later, Nehemiah knew how to weep for the state of his people. Like Jesus, Nehemiah was moved with compassion over their condition.

Notice how this man addressed God: “the God of heaven.” That was not a mere title of honor or respect, we see that phrase often in both Ezra’s writing and Nehemiah’s, and it is used with a tinge of sadness. God no longer dwelt among His people, as in earlier days. Thanks to their sin and rebellion, God had removed His presence from His people. Ezra knew this; Nehemiah knew this, yet they instinctively knew that God still cared for His covenant people. As we read his prayer, we see Nehemiah doing what Daniel did: he confessed the sins of his people. Of course God was well-aware of them, but this man of God assumed the place of ultimate humility before an all Holy God of the universe to plead the case of a weak and wayward people, whom he loved so much and whose cause was vitally important to him.

God is looking for people like Nehemiah; people who do not have a casual relationship with Him, people who have more than a passing concern for their church and their fellows. God is looking for men and women who are so in tune with His will for His people that they grieve as He grieves when but one follower of Jesus Christ struggles in their faith. God is looking for prayer warriors not armchair quarterbacks. Are you willing to step up and plead the case for your church’s weaknesses, rather than criticize? Are you willing to show love and compassion for a wandering believer, so that you’ll weep and pray for them, as Nehemiah did for his people?

There aren’t too many Nehemiah’s in the church, but we sure do need them now more than ever.

(c)  2011 WitzEnd

Paul’s Intercessory Prayer

An Examination of Colossians 1:9-14

his group of verses form a kind of intercessory prayer on behalf of the believers at Colossae. This prayer of Paul’s is in response to a report that has come to him regarding a subtle heresy that has found its way into the church. Incidentally, here is a classic example why I refer to Paul as the Master of the Run-On sentence. This sentence runs an astounding 218 words! It begins in verse 9 and runs through verse 20.

1. Two petitions, one prayer, verses 9, 10

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God.

Paul’s prayer contains two petitions or requests. The first request is the one closest to Paul’s heart and is the foundation of the entire prayer. He asks God to fill the believers in Colossae with a knowledge of God’s will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. E.F. Scott thinks that this request hints at the problem with the church at Colossae, that is, that despite their devotion to Christ, they had somehow failed to acquire true knowledge, “mistaking windy speculations for a deeper wisdom.”

The phrase “fill you” is written in the aorist-passive, meaning “a complete experience.” It reminds us of what James said:

If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord.

Paul’s second request is that his friends might “live a life worthy of the Lord.” This is a natural progression from knowing God’s will. If you know God’s will, your life will be worthy of the Lord. Curtis Vaughan rightly notes that a knowledge of God’s will is not an end in and of itself, but knowing God’s will carries with it a responsibility to carry it out. As Lightfoot observed,

The end of all knowledge…is conduct.

Interestingly, the English “live a life” comes from a single Greek word, peripatesai, meaning literally, “to walk.” To walk after the Lord, and to live a life worthy of the Lord suggests living a life commensurate with what the Lord has done for us and in us. Furthermore, living a life worthy of God means that we will “please God in every way.” The Greek word for “please” carries with it an attitude that “anticipates every wish.” What a powerful thought: as believers, we are to live a live that anticipates what God wants of us and from us. Most of us live life the other way; we live a life that seeks to get as much as we can out of God.

2. Four ingredients of a pleasing life, verses 10b-14

[B]earing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

The first ingredient of a life pleasing to God is a life that bears fruit. “Bearing fruit in every good work” shows the quality of the believer’s conduct. The active voice of the the verb, “bearing,” indicates that one’s will and determination are needed and expected.

Secondly, the Christian should grow spiritually. “Growing” is a strong Greek word in the present tense and, like “bearing fruit,” implies a habitual action. Growing in the knowledge of God is to be continuous action; life-long learning is indicated. What is really of significance is a small preposition “in.” This tells us that spiritual growth takes place in the realm of knowledge. In other words, Christian maturity can only occur when one’s knowledge of God increases. John Nielson remarks,

[T]he power for the “worthy walk” [is] to be drawn from the knowledge of God. How important, then, the faithful study of God’s Word and prayer! Such holy practices strengthen on for the holy walk.

Again, Vaughn eloquently states,

What rain and sunshine are to the nurture of plants, the knowledge of God is to the growth and maturing of the spiritual life.

The third element necessary to living a God-pleasing life that of “being strengthened with all power.” In the Greek, this phrase is written as a passive participle, indicating that the ability to live a holy life come from a source outside ourselves; it comes from God. The believer who is filled with the Holy Spirit is sustained in his walk by a power greater than himself: divine grace. The believer can do anything that God requires because God give him the ability to do so. The word “strengthened,” which speaks of continuous empowerment, comes from the same root word used in Philippians 4:13,

I can do all things through him who gives me strength.

Of special note is that this strengthening is not according to our need, but according to His power, or more accurately, according to “the might of His glory” (lit.) Since God’s glory is everlasting, His power is never ending. Such is the resource that stands in back of every single believer.

The reasons God empowers believers is stated plainly: so that you may have great endurance and patience. The NIV’s “endurance” is a way of translating a Greek word which is closely tied to “hope” and which is the opposite of cowardice. Another commentator has suggested the word means “the ability to see something through to the end.” The other word, “patient,” comes from a word which means the opposite of wrath or an attitude of revenge. It means “even-temperedness,” the kind of attitude that does not seek to “get even” or retaliate when injured.

The fourth ingredient of the worthy Christian life is gratitude. Since all good things come to us from the Father, our words of thanks need to be expressed to Him first, before anybody else.

As a side note, this passage indicates that believers, in and of themselves, are not fit to share in the “inheritance of the saints.” It is God Himself who qualifies us for that privilege. The phrase who has qualified you is written in the aorist tense, meaning the qualifying is not a process, but something that happened immediately.

4. God’s deliverance, verses 13-14

For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

Finally, God has “rescued” or “delivered” (KJV) believers. This refers to an decisive act of God. The verb, once again, is in the aorist tense, revealing a decisive, completed act. This deliverance is a present deliverance from sin and sinning; it is something that has already been accomplished for us. This is a proof that God has qualified believers to share in the inheritance of the saints. The word “rescued” is errusato, meaning to liberate, save, or deliver somebody from something or someone.

Believers have been delivered from the “power” or “dominion” of darkness. In Scripture, “darkness” often refers to ignorance or evil. Through Christ, we have been moved from the sphere of darkness. Nielson wrote:

Christ never domineers; Satan always does. The passions of sin always dominate the man. The fruit of the Spirit never holds a man under any dominion; the believer controls them.

This deliverance was in the aorist tense. It is a present experience: the action was taken in the past, the rescue is a completed reality. Nobody has to be rescued again!

But the implications of this rescue are far reaching. Not only are we delivered from the “power” or authority of darkness, but we have been “brought” into the Kingdom of Christ. The word is metestesen, and it is used in Greek literature of relocating people from one country to another country. It could be thought of as “re-established.” We have been relocated from the Kingdom of Darkness, to the Kingdom of Light. At the moment, this kingdom is within our hearts, and Christ is the Royal Sovereign over our hearts. But one day it will be a physical reality.

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