Sticking at Prayer

We all face the temptation to give up praying for all sorts of reasons. Here, among a string of other things, Paul encourages us to never let up praying, especially when we face life’s difficulties:

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. — Romans 12:9-13 (ESV)

If only prayer would become as natural and as constant as breathing. But how do we get there? A good start is to make prayer a habit by setting aside time devoted to prayer, morning, afternoon and evening. If we are stuck for something to say to our Loving Father, the Psalms lay out ready-made prayers, as does the Lord’s Prayer. Whatever hardships befall us in life, we need to meet them with prayer, not impatience, knowing that nothing can rob us of the eternal future we have to look forward to.

Father, make us eager to talk to You in our affliction, instead of being petulant, and may we never lose sight of the hope set aside for us by the blood of the Lamb. Help us embrace prayer as essential as each breath.

 

Prioritise Prayer

Despite the busyness and all of the demands of ministry, Paul did not neglect the discipline of prayer. Instead—after requesting prayer of the Romans—he modelled it, rounding out Romans 15 with prayer:

I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf, that I may be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company. May the God of peace be with you all. Amen. – Romans 15:30-33 (ESV)

Paul soon moves to bring the letter to the gathering in Rome to a close, this time with a prayer of praise (Romans 16:25-27):

Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith—to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen. (ESV)

It is not sufficient to just give alms or merely talk to people about Jesus, these things need to be accompanied with prayer. Of course there is no guarantee that prayer will sanctify our actions (sometimes our actions are plain sinful), nor will prayer make everything turn out the way we hope. However, if we do things without praying, how can that be in accordance with God’s will? In many instances, the difference between doing what we want and what God wants, will be prayer. If you take nothing else away from what I’ve been saying on Romans, please, soak everything in prayer, absolutely drench it. We need to douse every situation and person we encounter in prayer, and watch God light it all up by His Spirit.

It seems fitting, then, to finish this series of blogs on Romans by casting our cares on our Loving Father:

Magnificent Father, when our lives get busy, one of the first casualties to go is time spent chatting with You. We pray for all those reading these words, don’t let any of us deviate from the privilege of conversing with You. As we seek your face may we know Your peace. Let us embody Your strength as we accept the news about our Messiah, Jesus. As we trust in Jesus and what He achieved for us by the cross, bring about obedience in us. We struggle together on behalf of those who risk their lives for Your gospel, please let their service be warmly received and rescue them from the ranks of stubborn Jesus refusers. Help us see that, through Jesus, you have placed in us the words of eternal life, how tragic to imagine could we ever keep Jesus to ourselves? Don’t let us squander such abundant fruit. Give us hearts that spill out because of what Jesus has done for us. Make our hearts pine for the wellbeing of our Brothers and Sisters in Christ, regardless of where they are, or how different they are from us. Give us agony over the eternal destination of those we love most, may our love and care for them match Your care and affection for us. Unite us in the favour and protection of Jesus and in His name cast satan under our feet so we may trample him. Purify us by removing disruption and dissension caused by the unholy trinity of money, sex and power. Remake us with generosity in place of greed, holy wedded union, or satisfied and sexualy pure single-life, in place of godless sex, and deep humility in loving service to Jesus, instead of grasping for power. Replace our reluctance to get involved with a willingness to help others. Raise up willing workers from among us, who desire to tell people all about what Jesus has done, and make us all bold for Jesus. Amen

Haters

Paul was wary (with good reason) of those who had it in for his infectious attitude towards Jesus, the Messiah, and for spreading the good news about Him:

I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf, that I may be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company. May the God of peace be with you all. Amen. – Romans 15:30-33

As an Aussie, it seems like it’s ok to be passionate for just about anything, except for Jesus. Australian culture is steeped in Christian heritage, since Jesus has had His day in the sun, but we are most certainly a post-Christian nation (not that that lets us off the hook for evangelism). Although most people hold an opinion about Jesus, that hardly qualifies them as biblically literate. In fact, of the many of the non-Christians you know, you may be the only person they are acquainted with who has picked up the Good Book. As such, rightly or wrongly, they will keep a keen eye on your life to see how it measures up (so it matters how we live).

If we haven’t asked them, we should never assume someone isn’t interested in Jesus. There are simple questions any of us could ask. Like, “Have you heard about Jesus?” If they answer yes, you might ask a follow up question like, “What have you heard about Jesus?,” and just see where it leads. On the other hand, they might say, “No, I haven’t heard of Jesus.” Now there is danger here, of rushing headlong into it, “Well then, let me tell you all about Jesus,” when we have skipped a crucial step. They might not want to hear about Jesus yet. That’s their choice and we need to respect that.

However, we could ask a different question, like, “Can I tell you about Jesus?,” or, “Would you like to hear why Jesus is important to me?” Of course, if you are introverted like me, you might not be brave enough to venture there, but here’s an easier option, “I’m going along to hear about Jesus this weekend, would you like to come along?”

Father, help us be passionate about Your dear Son, even when it’s not fashionable. When we a tempted to be afraid of people making life difficult for us, give us courage to pass on what we have heard about Jesus to anyone who is interested.

Bridging a Divide

Another thing Paul demonstrated for us is love and service across a cultural divide. The Roman’s didn’t share the same heritage with Paul plus they had a different religious background, yet Paul still took the time to write to them and even laid (perhaps unfulfilled, at least as a free man) plans to visit them.

This is the reason why I have so often been hindered from coming to you. But now, since I no longer have any room for work in these regions, and since I have longed for many years to come to you, I hope to see you in passing as I go to Spain, and to be helped on my journey there by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a while. I know that when I come to you I will come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ. – Romans 15:22-24, 29

Maybe you feel like God is giving you a heart for mission elsewhere, don’t ignore that, foster it. Do you long to spend time with other Christians? Paul, the bloke who wrote much of the New Testament, looked forward to hanging out with ordinary Christians, regular folk like you and me.

It is also possible to hang out with other Christians but fail to have fellowship with them. The difference is the focus, our reason for meeting. For instance, Christians might attend the movies together, but if their focus isn’t on serving Jesus then there is no distinction between them and anybody else. On the other hand, we could go along with the purpose of loving one another and spurring each other on in Christ, transforming a simple thing like the movies into ‘churching’.

Father, give us Your heart for our sisters and brothers in Christ, give us the desire to spend time with and invest in them so we experience all the benefits of Jesus in full.

Long-Distance Love

At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem bringing aid to the saints. For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. For they were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material blessings. – Romans 15:25-27

Distance shouldn’t prevent us from expressing our love. Via Paul, the Macedonian and Achaian Christians sent aid money to help the holy ones in Jerusalem. This is one practical way we might demonstrate love, but it isn’t the only way. For instance, Paul wrote a letter of encouragement to the Romans, even though he couldn’t be with them in person.

Father, foster Your love within us, prompting us into action, for the benefit of our brothers and sisters who are in need—even those we may never lay eyes on this side of eternity.

Beggars

For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. For they were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material blessings. – Romans 15:26-27 (ESV)

Have you recognised the debt you owe to God’s original chosen people? Even now we continue to benefit immensely from the Jewish people, since the Bible is their legacy—including the New Testament (with the possible exception being Luke’s gospel and the book of Acts). In Mark 7:25-28 we read of Jesus’ encounter with a non-Jewish woman:

But immediately a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit heard of him and came and fell down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, a Syrophoenician by birth. And she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. And he said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” But she answered him, “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” (ESV)

The Jews are God’s legitimate children, eating bread at the table, while we who are Gentiles are the unworthy dogs, lapping up the crumbs at their feet. The Jews are recipients of preferential treatment, while the rest of us are their unwitting beneficiaries.

Father, what a privilege it is to call on You as our Dad. For this we owe a debt of gratitude to Your first chosen people, to whom belong the promised blessings of our saviour. May we be of service to Your people. Thank You for including us among Your True Israel. We are, all of us, beggars who depend on Jesus to engulf us with His favour, to shower us with His grace.

Generosity

At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem bringing aid to the saints. For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. For they were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material blessings. When therefore I have completed this and have delivered to them what has been collected, I will leave for Spain by way of you. – Romans 15:25-28

Would we gladly supply the needs of fellow Christians who we may never meet till heaven? Would we happily give someone a gift, even without the benefit of seeing firsthand how it is received? That’s what the Christians in Macedonia and Achaia did. Wouldn’t it be great if God created such a generous heart within us, enabling us to place a whole pile of “fruit” into the hands of someone, like Paul, in order to bless others of God’s children who are in dire need.

Maybe we could get creative and give up something we like for a period of time? Why not forgo something we spend money on each week? I like to go out and indulge in a coffee. Why not have a coffee at home and give way the money we might have spent. I was encouraged to hear of a lady on a pension, so she really didn’t have a lot of money to spare. She resolved to take cold showers for a year, so she could give away to mission the money she would have shelled out for hot water. We have been commanded to be generous and ready to share (1 Timothy 6:17-19):

As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life. (ESV)

Perhaps you’ve heard it said that someone isn’t really generous unless it hurts them to give. In reality though, it is no injury for a generous person to give. It is a delight to them. Are we reluctant to help out the needy? Our God rescues the needy. This world would be in a far more sorry state had Jesus not stepped in to meet our greatest need. I wouldn’t want to live without the economy of grace. Jesus was ready and willing to pay the debt we owed and, if we are to follow Him, we must walk in His footsteps.

Father, we can only give away what You have already generously given to us. You did not even withhold from us Your only Son, Jesus. We ask that, by Your Spirit, You help us aspire to such generosity.