Unbroken Joy: Prayer

Brian Brookins Sermons

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Riverside Church just launched a new teaching series on the book of Philippians, penned by the Apostle Paul while locked away in prison. Over the course of this study, you will learn invaluable life lessons and the secret of unbroken joy, found in Christ, in any and every circumstance.

Listen to this weeks sermon entitled Prayer from Philippians 1:9-11 by Brian Brookins:

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The following is a transcript of the sermon:

Last week we looked at Philippians by way of introduction and at the thanksgiving recorded in verses 3-8.  This is one of the things we said:  We said that Philippians is a manual for joy.  It tells us how to experience, how to maintain, how to increase in joy.  It commands us to rejoice and then tells us how to live that life.

One of the very clear implications of everything that Paul teaches here is that joy comes from God.  Joy is found in Jesus Christ.  Jesus Christ comes in when we respond in faith to the message, the gospel:  that Jesus Christ has given himself for our sin and that there is forgiveness of sin by trusting in Christ.  We repent of our sin and trust in Christ.  He gives us his Spirit and we are transformed and we begin a process of growth.  Part of our experience of Christ is joy.

So Paul’s first, very important assumption is that joy comes from God.  When we understand that it comes from God, when we understand that it is found in Christ, then we understand that community and communication always begin with these building blocks:  the building blocks of thanksgiving and prayer.  This is the currency of heaven.  This is how we relate to one another.  This is how we communicate and build relationship and build community.

This is very important because what happens when we come to a New Testament letter like this if we have any knowledge of the New Testament, we realize that a lot of Paul’s letters begin this way and we understand that there was a certain expected format for letters in that day, as there is in this day.  We are tempted to almost begin our study in verse 12, to see this as perfunctory, as obligatory, just kind of going through the formal motions.  We are taking our time here because that could not be further from the truth.  Paul is genuinely giving thanks here and he is providing for us what we call the beans and rice of life: the blocking and tackling, the debits, the credits, the ABC’s, the beans and rice of life.  These are the staples, the basics.

We took our time going through the whole idea of thanksgiving last week and we emphasized that before we try to help people, before we try to change people, we must appreciate them.  We want to love them and express our love to them.  We broke that down into three components.  We talked about the first few verses.  In verses 3 through 5 he talks about Appreciation, in verse 6 Assurance, and in verses 7 and 8 Affection.  So basically this is what he says:  “I appreciate you so deeply.  We are sharing this life together.  We are partaking of the grace of God.  We are partners together.  I have assurance.  I have confidence that God is at work in your life, that God will complete what he has started.  And I feel a deep affection for you.  I love you deeply.”

This is really, I think, profound for us.  This is Paul’s communication to God about them, then as he begins to talk to them, this is step one.  This is the beginning place.  We could look at that and say, “Wow, that’s really a wise strategy.”  And it is a wise strategy.  It resonates within us, because we all know that we want to be appreciated.  We immediately sense that when people are trying to change us it feels very much like disapproval.  It feels like we are being used a little bit, that we are only valued if we become something that meets their expectations.

So we hear and we observe what Paul is doing and we kind of start to identify this strategy and we say, “Wow, that’s really wise.”  But I don’t want you to misunderstand; this is more than a strategy for Paul.  There is a reason behind his approach.  He starts here because he starts with God.  He sees God at work in their lives.  He understands.  He thoroughly, deeply, pervasively understands that joy only comes from God.  It is only found in Christ.  Lasting, uninterrupted, unbroken joy that is substantive only comes from God, and understanding that God is at work in their lives.  So he begins with God.  The unavoidable result, therefore, is gratitude that overflows in expression to them.

I linger here and emphasize this because the danger is that you will do exactly what we do with our kids.  We teach our kids to say thank you.  We make our kids say thank you.  So they parrot it well.  But that’s not the same as being grateful.  It’s a good social practice, but it’s not the same as gratitude that comes from the heart.  If you adopt this as a strategy, if you say okay, before I change people I want to appreciate them… If it’s just a strategy and it’s not residing in your heart, then it will go something like this:  “I am so grateful for you.  Now, let me tell you all the ways that you disappoint me. Would you just get your act together?”  It’s very superficial.  It’s shallow.  The only way to draw up from that well is to begin with God, to see God at work in them and in you, and together.  These are the staples of communication and community.  And they begin with God!

Paul looks at these individuals and he says, “I remember Lydia by the river.  I remember her praying there and I remember her salvation.  I remember how she begged us to go to her house and she opened her house and we built the church there.  I remember the slave girl that was set free from the demonic oppression and I remember her changed life and how her owners were so angry and they put us in jail.  Then God used that to save the jailor and his whole family and – boom! – In a moment God birthed the church and began to build a church.  I remember how in the midst of that persecution God knit our hearts together.  I am so grateful for you!”  Paul says, “I will not move past and forget what you’ve done in the past, God.  I’m grateful.  I’m not assuming that.  I’m not forgetting it.  I’m not just moving on quickly to the next thing.”

Do you realize how often we do this?  God delivers us from tragedy and within 24 hours we are already moving on to the next thing.  It’s the basics of community, communication.  We celebrated today a wonderful lady named Carleen who had a moment of triumph last year.  I don’t want to forget that.  That’s a treasure for us.  She is a treasure for us.  These are basics.  These are staples.

Another way to say this is to say this is how we experience God with one another.  We talk about spirituality.  It’s a word that we use in a secular setting.  We talk about people being spiritual.  But in a New Testament, in a theological sense, it has a meaning.  We experience God by the Holy Spirit.  New Testament spirituality talks about the activities that we do.  Sometimes we call those spiritual disciplines.  What are the spiritual disciplines that we do that help us to experience God by the Holy Spirit?  This is Paul’s spirituality. This is how Paul would tell you to experience God by the presence and the activity of the Spirit of God in your life.

You can look, for example (I will read it for you, you don’t have to turn there) at 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18. “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  Do you hear that?  Imagine a triangle, and the base of the triangle is joy, or rejoicing.  We don’t really know what rejoicing means.  It’s a command to be joyful.  I don’t know what you picture, like jumping up and down, “Oh, be joyful!”  What does that mean?  How do I do that?

I think maybe the best synonym for us is praise.  It’s talking about, celebrating who God is and what he has done, and that I know him, and that I’m growing in the knowledge of him.  It’s this overflowing expression of verbal, sung celebration of who God is and what he has done.

The bottom of the triangle is joy and the two ascending legs are thanksgiving and prayer.  Paul is telling in First Thessalonians, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in all circumstances.”

When we get deeper into Philippians 4:4-7, these are going to come up again.  He is going to go deeper.  He is going to peel off a layer to talk to us about how to take control of our minds, how to think about the right things, how to rejoice in the Lord, how to pray, how to give thanks.  Here is what he is saying:  This is how we experience God.  This is how we grow in relationship.  Jesus Christ comes in.  He changes our hearts and then he begins to transform our relationships.

But we want to ask, “How?”  “What does that look like practically?”  I believe that Paul would answer that question by saying, “Well, there is the regular practice of giving thanks and praying and rejoicing.”  Do any of you say, “Boy, I would like to enjoy better relationships?”  “I would like my marriage to be better.  I would like communication to be better in my marriage or in these relationships.  I would like friendships that are deeper.  How do I do that?”  If I’m a Christian and my relationship with God has changed, and then my relationships with others change, what does that look like biblically?  These are the staples of community and communication.  This is how we experience God.  Pervasive giving of thanks, prayer that’s built on confidence in what God is doing, and rejoicing in the Lord.

I have a little anecdote about home group this week. Our home group leader did something I thought was really effective.  First of all, he gave us all a question.  He tricked us.  He gave us a question on a printed piece of paper and we read it and everyone thought we all had different questions, but we all actually had the same question, which we figured out after five or six people read their questions.  We are a little slow.  It was something to the effect of, “What are you grateful for?”  Throughout the home group, we did two things.  We let people share individually about what they were grateful for, and then on various occasions, a half dozen occasions, we stopped and prayed for a specific request.

I call attention to that because this is how community is built in Christ.  If we don’t know how to do that, and if we can’t do it, and if we allow ourselves to be intimated to not do it, then we will stay in the shallows relationally and our experience of God will be diminished.  So it’s a fearful thing.   You may be sitting here saying, “I’m not going to group.  I’m not going to pray.”  We are not going to make you pray and if you ever get in a situation where you are just not ready, you say, “Listen, I’m sorry, I’m not quite ready for that.”  And that’s fine.  It’s completely understandable.  We have to grow in that, but we don’t want the alternative where you say, “I’m going to go over here and hide and I want no relationship and it’s just going to be me.”  That’s miserable.  As great as it is to get with you and talk about John Carols Stanton and all the homeruns he’s hitting, and the Marlins, and the weather, and this, and that, and life….  It’s fun and we can do that.  But it’s so much richer to incorporate into that genuine thanksgiving to God and prayer for one another, and to grow in community and communication.  We begin to experience God in a deeper, richer way.

Prayer.  I’m going to give you two roman numerals if you’re taking notes, two parts of Paul’s prayer.

     I.          What

     II.         Why

The what he prays for and the why he prays for it.  What he asks of God and why he asks for it.  He is introducing for us the themes of the letter.  In other words, he has an agenda where he wants to say some things to the Philippians.  He has been talking to God about these things.  Before he comes to talk to them, he talks to God.  Now, there is a rich application here for us. Before we talk to others, talk to God, especially when it involves any kind of correction or change or need for growth.

One of the things that the Philippians are dealing with is the problem of disunity, potential disunity.  There are some moms in the church.  You know how a church can have a mom, just a figure that is a godly matriarch and she has deeply influenced the life of the church.  Many times churches are richer because of the presence of those individuals.  That’s great…until you have two moms.  Two moms is tough.  Three moms is warfare sometimes, depending on the maturity of those individuals.  The Philippians are having those battles.

We had something similar in Corinth, where Paul addresses individuals who are following certain men.  Some are following Apollos, some Peter, and some Paul.  There is conflict that’s emerging because they are not united in Christ, but they are attaching themselves to individuals.  There is potential disunity.  The same problem, though a different configuration is taking place in Philippi.

Paul is addressing that issue and what does he do?  What does he pray for?  He prays for ever-increasing love, abounding love.  That’s the first what.  We have already seen indicators that this is on his heart.  You may not have picked this up, but when we went through the thanksgiving section, he painfully emphasizes that he is speaking to everyone.  He says, for example in verse 4, “…always in every prayer of mine for you all…”  It is not that Paul is from South Georgia, so he wants to say, “y’all.”  He is emphasizing everyone.  He does it again in verses 7 and 8.  “It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace…”

What is he doing?  He is laying here this value of, “We are resisting disunity, we are resisting factions, we are together in Christ.”  Then when he gets to the prayer, he specifically begins by praying for abounding love.  He actually prays for three things.  The what of the prayer is abounding love, with knowledge, with discernment.  Those are the three specific requests.

We need to look at those requests in this fashion.  Instead of seeing three separate things, we do well to see three interacting things.  It’s not love and knowledge, it’s love with knowledge, love with knowledge and with discernment.  They weave together.  It’s like a baseball pitcher who has velocity, he has speed, and accuracy, and movement on the ball.  For those of you who follow baseball a little bit, a pitcher who is just fast but has no movement eventually becomes easier to hit.  A pitcher who can’t control his accuracy is not all that effective.  Together, these qualities make for a very effective pitcher.  Well, Paul is praying for love with knowledge.

The second issue he is facing in Philippi is the presence of false teaching.  Not to be misunderstood, there is a tendency for us to say, “Okay it doesn’t matter what you believe.  It doesn’t matter what you think.  Let’s just love one another.”  Paul already builds in a defense against that mindset, which is not healthy, saying, “No, no, no, no, love with knowledge.” 

Let’s look then very quickly at love.  We think about love in terms of highly valuing another person, sacrificing ourselves for their own good.  1 Corinthians 13:4 says love is patient.  Love is kind.  It does not envy or boast.  It is not arrogant.  You see immediately that there is forbearance with others; the kindness of God being expressed often at a cost to ourselves.  This love is abounding.  It is ever increasing.  It is overflowing.  There is a dramatic sense of growth in our life.  We are becoming more and more loving.

But it’s also this relational dynamic where our love is toward God.  Our love is toward our family, our church family, but it doesn’t stop there.  It starts there.  Our greatest responsibility is there, but it overflows into other relationships.  The Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 3:12:  “…and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you…”  So you see that little description of how Paul is praying for those in Thessalonica.  He prayed that they would have love for one another, but that that would flow over into other relationships.

The bible is very real in this way.  It tells us to start with those relationships closest to us and to work hard to apply God’s truth there and that the love that characterizes our relationship with God, our marriages, our families, our deep intimate friendships flows over from the church into the world, expressing, sharing, distributing the love of God.

Love with knowledge.  You may be aware of Paul’s warning about knowledge without love in various places of scripture.  Particularly in 1 Corinthians he warns against this.  In 1 Corinthians 8:1 he talks about knowledge that puffs up, but love which builds up.  In 1 Corinthians 13:2 he warns us that if we have all knowledge but have not love we have nothing. He tells us that knowledge without love is dangerous, that we must have love with it.  Now he seems to be entering through the same door from the opposite direction, emphasizing that both need to be present.  It is love with knowledge.

Knowledge, to begin with, is general knowledge. It is the general truth of who Christ is, of what God has done.  For example, you may be struggling in your communication, in your thanksgiving, and in your prayer and asking, “How do I grow in that?”  One of the factors that is very important for us is a general understanding of biblical truth, biblical doctrine.  You see what Paul is doing?  Here is his approach:  he is spiritually looking at the situation in Philippi.  He is exercising discernment.  And then from his knowledge of the truth he begins to see the biblical Christ-filled remedy for that problem and that’s what he prays based on his knowledge of Christ and what God has done, the biblical truth.

Think about that for a moment.  Have any of you ever experienced disunity?  Moms, have you ever experienced disunity in your home?  Do your children ever fight?  Imagine the mother’s prayer:  “Dear Lord, thank you for these children.  Lord, I’m about to kill them.  I am so fed up.  God, would you just do something with these kids?!”  Contrast that with Paul’s prayer.  “God, I am so grateful.  I see you at work.  I am so confident.  And I am praying for my kids to abound in love.”  It’s a whole different approach, isn’t it?  Why?  Well, he begins with God.

So Moms, if I were you I would pray this prayer.  My wife and I have often said that we loved the years leading up to the teen years and the teen years.  And yet the most frustrating challenge was sibling rivalry.  The reason is, on a very raw, transparent level, is what we deal with in everyday life.  We see fractured, broken, human relationships all over the place.  We see it in work, in every sphere.  We even see it tragically in the church.  But what happens in family is we just lock everyone in the same dwelling and say, “Live with it” and we are all emotionally immature.  It’s challenging.  It is, isn’t it?  But Moms, I would just tell you to pray this prayer.  What happens is you begin to look for the evidences of what God is doing so that you can express that assurance, that confidence that you see God at work.

I’m suggesting to you that you want to be growing yourself in general knowledge and very importantly, personal knowledge.  The book of Philippians will teach us that this goes beyond a general understanding of doctrine and it goes to a deeper place of knowing Jesus Christ ourselves, growing in terms of our personal knowledge.  When we get into chapter 3 and we hear Paul’s testimony, we will hear him talk about his passion to know Jesus.

He ends this section:  love with knowledge, with discernment.  Discernment is this depth of insight into people, into the application of God’s word and God’s truth.  It is helping us to discern how love is to act according to the truth in given situations.  This discernment applies wisdom, helps us to do the right thing, and speak the right thing at the right time.

Look for a moment at the richness of Paul’s request for the Philippians in light of the challenges they are facing.  “Lord, give them love, abounding love with knowledge, with discernment.”  Do you know what you are asking God to do?  Do you have a clear answer to the what question.  If not, how will you know when he answers?

      I.        What  (verse 9)

     II.       Why  (verses 10-11)

Verses 10 and 11:  “so that (in order that) you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ…” He has an immediate purpose and an ultimate purpose.  The immediate purpose is excellence.  His immediate goal is that they would be able to approve what is excellent. His ultimate goal is eternity.  His ultimate goal is that they would be pure and blameless for the day of Christ.

Very quickly look at the immediate goal.  It is similar to the idea of discernment.  He is praying that there would be an excellence about their lives.  He is praying that they would know what is essential and what is not.  It is akin to this idea of discernment; looking, understanding, discerning.  “Okay, this may be permissible but it is not going to lead to excellence so I am going to leave it off.”

I think about Solomon as a supreme example of this.  Solomon was one of the wisest men in all the earth, but he had a thousand wives and concubines.  This was unwise and it led to a huge downfall in his life.  He violated a biblical instruction.  He married outside the faith.  He yoked himself to individuals who were going away from God.  What happened is that it distracted the excellence of his life.  You would find this kind of paradox in Solomon.  You would find this stunning knowledge and wisdom and then this glaring lack of excellence in his family.

Paul was praying for the Philippians, “I don’t want you to live a mediocre life.  I want you to live with excellence unto the Lord.  I believe what you need to do that is abounding love, knowledge with discernment.  That comes from God, though you obviously need to know that I am praying this for you, because you need to give yourself to this pursuit.  The reason is that I want your life to glorify the Lord.  I want there to be an excellence about what you do.  It’s not about you.  It’s about God.

Can you just see Paul jealously praying for this church, thinking about the incredible way that God birthed it and their testimony there in Philippi?  These individuals from all sectors of society:  the rich, the poor, and they are all there together loving God, loving one another.  He is saying, “Listen, do you see the glory of God right there in your midst?!  Don’t lose that.  Get a vision for excellence.  Guard what God has done.”  It might be permissible for you to run off here or go over here and to do this, but it is going to diminish the glory of God and what God has done in your midst.  His immediate goal is excellence.

His ultimate goal is to be pure and blameless for the day of Christ.  What is the day of Christ?  It’s the day when the world ends.  It’s the day when we come to the final judgment and time as we know it ends.  It’s called the day of Christ because it is the day when Christ will be the final judge of all.  We will stand before him.  We will all be judged and those who are in Christ will know the forgiveness of their sin standing before him.  It is a day that we should take very seriously and that we should be concerned about.  He is calling us to live life now in light of that final day.  In essence Paul is praying, “I am asking God to give you a vision for that final day so that you will make decisions in this moment about that day; that you will live an excellent life, ready for that day; pure and blameless; that there would be a purity, a sincerity, no hidden motives; that you would be about God, about pleasing God, not about appearing to please God so that you can manipulate others, but a purity that only comes from God, a blamelessness.”  That word indicates not giving offense, not holding onto offense, but walking cleanly in relationships.

This is what he is praying for the Philippian church.  I want you to live with that day in mind right now.  I want you to build playgrounds.  I want you to run half marathons so that you can dig wells.  I want you to share the goodness of the glory of God and the message of the gospel, because on that day, that is what you will take with you. You will take with you the goodness of God in your life and how it has transformed your lives.  Don’t take with you bitterness, anger, pride, unforgiveness.  Don’t take all that.  Let God cleanse you.  Keep progressing now so that on that day there will be a rich fruit of righteousness that you carry with you into eternity.

There is a temptation when you read, “Okay, the day of Christ will come and I will be made perfect, it will be completed.”   There is a temptation, I think, for us to read that and say, “Okay, he is going to finalize everything then.  I will just coast from now until then.”  That attitude is what Paul is after.  He is saying to us in part that your readiness for that day and assurance that you will be okay on that day comes from the progress you are making today, as you prepare yourself for that day.

Here’s what I want to end with.  I want to end with two thoughts and we will close out the message.  The first one is to draw your attention to some categories that will help you grow deeper in thanksgiving and prayer, kind of like handles that you can grab ahold of.  Thanksgiving.  I want to move beyond, “Lord, I’m grateful for this person.”  And how do you do this, how do you go deeper in giving thnaks?  I’ve given you three categories right from the word of God:

  • Appreciation
  • Assurance
  • Affection

Under assurance we are looking at how God has worked in their lives, what we have shared together and using that in faith to build confidence for where God is taking them.  Appreciation, Assurance, Affection — expressing love for that person to God and to them. 

And then in prayer you have two categories:

  • What
  • Why

As God gives me a deeper discernment over time into a person’s life, I want to take biblical truth, I want to take the gospel, I want to take knowledge, and I want to apply it in a way to their lives that will bring blessing so that I can say before God, “What am I asking for and why am I asking it?”  The why helps us to grow in faith in the asking.  In other words, if you do the hard work of answering the why question, you will receive more because your faith will build as you discern how God is going to glorify himself through that answer.

Our final thought is this: we’ve talked about what; we’ve talked about why.  There is a how in here and here is what we will conclude with.  He tells us that all of this is done in Christ, that it comes through Jesus Christ, and that ends the last verse:  through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. This is where we began.  There is no permanent, unbroken, eternal joy apart from Jesus Christ.  Have you responded in faith to the good news of Jesus Christ?  

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