I was put on the spot unexpectedly at our church prayer meeting last night. I blame Simon. We were encouraged to pray for one another and therefore share personal prayer requests. We don’t normally do that in our central prayer meeting but instead save it for small groups or prayer triplets. It’s not a bad thing. It’s a good thing. But we just don’t normally do it. And so it caught me unawares.
In the few seconds I had to respond, I wanted to set the tone for our prayer requests – to make them deliberately spiritually shaped and to shy away from the more superficial things that tend to dominate my thoughts and aspirations for 2017. And at that moment the prayer reports of Paul seemed the obvious place to go. I didn’t include them all, you’ll be as pleased to hear as they were that I didn’t. I plumped for the one that’s always made the biggest impact on me. The one in Colossians 1. He writes this,
9 For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, 10 so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, 12 and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. 13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
At first sight it’s somewhat complicated. But once you drill down a little it begins to make sense. Paul explains that he’s been asking God to give his readers spiritual insight into God’s will. He did that so that they’d know what to do in order to live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way. After all, if we don’t know what God wants from us how will we ever know how to live a life of which he approves? Paul then spells out just what a life that pleases the Lord looks like. And it’s characterised by four things. It was these that formed the essence of my impromptu prayer request. These are the things for which my group prayed for me last night.
1. I’m praying that I’ll bear fruit in every good work. In other words, that I’ll be spiritually productive, that I’ll be what I’m meant to be and do what I’m meant to do. Just as a fruit tree is meant to bear fruit so a Christian is meant to bear spiritual fruit. It may be that Paul had in mind the fruit of the spirit that he lists in Galatians 5: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control. He may not. But that’s surely a great place to start in terms of developing character, isn’t it? I want 2017 to be characterised by spiritual fruitfulness.
2. I’m praying that I grow in the knowledge of God. Not merely knowledge about him but knowledge of him. We’re talking about personal knowledge that can only be acquired from the inside of a relationship not external knowledge that we can gain from a text book, or even a Bible. I want 2017 to be characterised by knowing God better and better.
3. I’m praying that I’ll be strengthened by God’s power. Paul prays that God’s mighty power will be at work in his readers so that they’re strengthened. What do you imagine the mighty power of God might accomplish in a believer? Endurance and patience. Bit of a let-down I suppose. And yet, keeping on keeping on and keeping calm while we wait for what we’re hoping for are not easily accomplished. God’s mighty power will help us persevere so that we endure and we don’t quit. And God’s mighty power will help us cope with not having what we want so that we’re not agitated and restless. I want 2017 to be characterised by a patient perseverance that unwaveringly persists.
4. I’m praying that I’ll give joyful thanks. After all, what’s not to be joyful about? My sins have been forgiven and I’ve been welcomed into the kingdom of God. Not because I’m worthy because I’m not. But because Jesus is. As CH Spurgeon reminded me on Twitter today ‘morality may be enough to keep me out of jail but it’s only Jesus’ blood that keeps me out of hell!’ That’s very good news. And I rejoice in it. Some days more than others, admittedly but it remains the one thing for which I’ll be eternally grateful. And so, even if I go through the mill this year, even if my circumstances are not what I’d choose for me, my family and my church I want to continually give joyful thanks for the undeserved and incalculable blessings that I have through Christ. I want 2017 to be characterised by a heartfelt gratitude and joy.
Spiritual fruitfulness, personal knowledge, patient persistence and joyful gratitude; are those not four great things to pray for in 2017? If you’re struggling to think what you ought to pray for this year, why not start with this? And pray big ambitious prayers that aspire to exciting spiritual transformation.