Two things about prayer: most everyone thinks it’s a good thing. And when we’re praying we often find ourselves searching for words. What should we ask for? What do we want? What should we want?
A lot of the time we can only think of asking for the obvious things: health, money, happiness. Also, we tend to pray according to crisis: we only think of praying when there’s something wrong.
This morning, we can learn a better way from Paul in Philippians 1:9-11. He’s just been telling this church in Greece how much he cares for them, enjoys them, because they’re partners with him in the gospel. In important ways, they’re doing well.
And yet he prays for them all the time. Even though they’re not in spiritual trouble. So that’s a lesson: we pray for people even when they’re doing well.
And Paul tells his dear friends and gospel partners what he so often prays for them. Not that he necessarily always uses these exact words, but these words summarize the main points and direction of his prayer.
And to learn what Paul prays for helps us to know what to want and ask for too. Let’s read:
9 And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.
This is a good prayer. On this Father’s Day, I’d like to encourage you fathers: one of the best things you can do for your kids – in fact, I can’t think of anything more helpful – is pray for them. There’s a particular blessing in growing up in a home where the father prays diligently for his kids – while they’re children and on into adulthood.
Paul prays three things for this church:
- That they’ll choose what is excellent, which is the first phrase of v. 10.
Our kids will go as their choices go. And so we’re praying that they’ll not just make the good choice, but the excellent one.
So many choices they’ll come up to: scheduling, spending, relaxing, responding to hard news, going/staying. One way of describing life is that it’s a series of choices.
Many of our decisions have to do with words – not simply which words will come out of our mouth but more subtle choices about how much effort we’ll invest in choosing words.
Subtle, I said. Most of our choices are miniscule, and yet even those can be bad, good, better, best.
By far the bulk of our decisions are in what we will think about, what we’ll attend to.
We learn from Paul’s prayer that the best choices come from a starting place of abounding love (1:9). That’s a huge insight. The best choices don’t start with selfishness, with pleasing ourselves, but come out of a strong love. We choose well because we love well.
So, Paul prays that your love – for the Lord Jesus, for me, for one another, for the Gospel, for your neighbor, for your city – your investment in all of these, your commitment to all these, your strong feeling for all these, your willingness to make sacrifices in their behalf –
…will just get stronger. Love should…grow. Those who love the Lord need to…love Him more. Husbands who love their wives are counseled to…just love better. You’ll live well if you love well. Love is the way forward.
More love! Growing love makes you smarter!
But your love grows how? Not simply with amping up feelings:
(1:9) My prayer [is] that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge. Our kids – the Philippians – we… will make good choices from a love that is more and more knowledgeable. We need knowledge…. to love better… to choose wisely.
Knowledge of what?
At the least, knowledge of the Bible ® ® that feeds our love and informs our decisions.
True, most of the choices we’ll come up to aren’t scripted by the Bible. Hardly any of them are. The Bible doesn’t tell us who to marry. Nor direct us to post or not post. Nor gives us an amount of time we can apply toward video games.
And yet the Bible provides this bank of knowledge toward making the best choice: commandments and testimonies and a worldview and stories and an overarching story and repetition and principles and emphases – a wealth of divine knowledge – that taken together help us choose well.
Or, more precisely – the content of Scripture inflames and informs our love, from which love we make the best decision possible. We need knowledge…
And all discernment – Discernment about all sorts of things.
What is discernment? Perceiving things as they actually are (without bias or prejudice) and valuing them appropriately. What is true? What is reality? We live in a world created good by God. We live in a world of drag queen story hours. We live in a world where – perhaps – you need eight hours of sleep to function the best. We live in a world where Christ is building His church. We live in a world where there is a well-worn path of birthing a baby and then a couple of months later placing him into a daycare for 40 hours a week. We live in a world where the Denver Nuggets are the NBA champs! We live in a world where the gospel message is the only means by which a person is saved from hell. We live in a world where video games are more and more visually stunning and immersive. We live in a world of high mortgages. We live in a world where humans – religious and otherwise – constantly drift toward self-righteousness.
What is valuable…most valuable? What should I get worked up about? What should be loved less or not at all? Is there anything that should disgust me? What is most to be feared? What is popular yet unhelpful? Discernment.
Summary: A father’s prayer for his kids: that they’ll make the best choices possible – not selfishly, but out of love, the kind of love aligned with Christ’s commands and the story that the Scriptures are telling, a love that accounts for things as they are and ranks those things rightly. That our kids will live well because they love well.
Paul doesn’t give the Philippians a list of what those excellent choices are. He couldn’t have – there are too many variables.
And so we can’t script a life for our kids and make their decisions for them. But we can pray, and that makes a difference! Prayer to God energizes this process that results in choosing the best.
- Secondly, Paul prays that what they decide now will make sense then.
The then is the Day of Christ. What is that? The Day when Jesus Christ returns in the clouds, with trumpet blaring. He comes to be with His people and never to leave them again. He loves His brothers and sisters!
More than that, The Day of Christ is when “Christ subdues all cosmic opposition, consummates His Father’s kingdom, and begins judgment.” (Bird/ Gupta). The Day when it will become the official, public fact that Jesus is Lord, and not Caesar and not anyone else. Every knee will bow before Him.
That’s a big Day. The German Reformer, Martin Luther, said: “I have two days on my calendar: this day and that Day.”
It’s an orienting Day, meaning that the knowledge that it’s coming is part of how the Bible gives us direction, helps us make our decisions. If something is widely laughed at today, yet on that Day it will be seen as valuable, then it’s valuable.
On the other hand, if something is sought after and celebrated today, but on that Day it will be seen to have no import…or worse – than it can be safely ignored.
C.T. Studd was a missionary bearing the Gospel to several countries. This is what he wrote: Only one life, ’twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last. The Day, the Day will disclose what will last, what’s finally important.
Studd also said: Some wish to live within the sound of church or chapel bell, I want to run a rescue shop within a yard of hell. That sounds uncomfortable. He’s choosing discomfort? That kind of thinking could only make sense in light of the Day.
A Pottery Barn furnished house with stainless steel appliances and immaculate landscaping – how important will that be on the Day? (Actually, a complicated question.)
Your grandson on your knee and over a few months you’re reading to him The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe – his growing up with the memory of your voice reading to him thatstory – what will the Day have to say about that?
Making the big decision to invest into a ministry/ minister that entails the many smaller decisions of reading his prayer letters, sending money that you could have spent otherwise, visiting him on his field, praying in detail for him – what will that decision mean then?
What Paul is praying for them now won’t totally make sense until then. He’s after what he calls a pure and blameless showing for the Philippians on the Day. A pure and blamelesscharacter.
Fathers, we want our children to make choices that will eventuate into their having successful careers, able to afford a house, to have happy homes – successful, happy. Yes? And all that might lead to a good Day then.
But can we agree that the crucial thing is that our children make those decisions – most of which will be invisible to everyone – that add up to a good character, a pure and blamelesscharacter, where there’s nothing that anyone could take hold of and say – there’s this lack of integrity, what you say you believe is not how you act.
What’s important for our children on the Day of Christ? That a series of excellent choices has produced a good character. Filled with the fruit of righteousness.
On this Father’s Day I think of my dad. He’s been at rest from his labors for 20 years now. What will the Day of Christ reveal about his life? He had a PhD. Had lofty titles at work. They fired off a rocket in remembrance of him. Honestly, I can’t imagine any of these things mattering one bit at the Day of Christ.
I think, though, what will finally be important is that God’s power was at work in his character, and that work was obvious. When I was a young kid I saw instances of anger, impatience. Growing up in the household I remember sometimes thinking, he cares too much about what people think about him. By the time he died, though, he was gentle. He was always humble; but he’d become more confident in his Savior, less concerned with other’s opinions.
Jesus found him when he was a 20-something year old. So he didn’t have much knowledge of the Bible. In fact, I just heard a cool story. My son Paul is interning at a church whose pastor was an associate pastor in the church of my youth. Paul preached a couple of weeks ago, and then the pastor told about asking my dad to teach children’s SS, not knowing that he had all this education. Well, my dad jumped at the chance, because he wanted to learn the Bible from the ground up. And he did learn the Scripture: I have a notebook here from a men’s SS class as they went through the book of Romans. He was a layperson who worked steadily at competency in the Bible.
So, as I grew older I saw my dad learning, changing. I think I’ve mentioned before: my main abiding memory of my dad is his reading the Scripture and praying in his green leather chair every morning. He left three sons and 16 grandkids, and to this point all of them not only are professing Christians but hungry to grow up into Christ.
God did that. That’s the kind of stuff the history books aren’t recording but the Day of Christ will say are massively important.
I need to stress that this sterling character, this fruit of righteousness comes through Jesus Christ. Many of us have habits going back years of self-pity, of passive-aggressiveness, of little acts of cowardice in our discourse with people, of hating people, of attention seeking, of assuming we’re the good guys, of pride. These habits are so entrenched we don’t even notice them.
Then there are those habits of which maybe we’re a little ashamed. We do drink more than we ought and we really need to get a handle on that. Or maybe a habit of consuming pornography or sleeping around or fantasizing has filled the mind with so many images that deep down we know aren’t optimal, not the way things should be. Or maybe the thing we dislike is that we take ourselves so seriously, we’re always watching ourselves, too concerned about what people think about us. We know all these things are robbing life from us.
We hear the gospel that Jesus Christ has already – in fact, long ago – carried away this junk, taken our sin upon himself, carried the sin and penalty into the dead and left all that junk there. The eternal guilt is off us, even if we don’t feel it that way. Somehow, the Savior has redeemed us from guilt, from God’s anger. Yes, we’re forgiven – not just by others or ourselves, but by our Creator! Reconciled to God! Jesus did this already – just believe it.
But also here is the promise of the gospel. Just as certain as Jesus walked out of that tomb, so we – even after years of habits – can change. There’s a way out. You are not stuck in dead-end habits… because Jesus is alive! And we are in Jesus Christ, like branches in a vine. We share in his resurrected, post-sin, post-death life, we share in the power of that.
And so, pornography shall not have control over you. Nor anxiety. Nor greed. Nor the pride of being self-absorbed. Nor….
I’m not saying that you’ll reach perfection by the time your 70. But here’s a worthy saying: I’m not what I should be, but by God’s divine help through the Resurrection, I’m not what I used to be.
What’s more: Jesus’ Resurrection has opened up the possibility of your not just being disentangled from bad habits, but being productive in work that will last forever. And not just a little productive… did you notice the words abounding, being filled?
Jesus’ Spirit keeps pulling you in, weaning you from your old ways, working in you a growing dissatisfaction with the world, working in us a growing love for Him that’s expressed in getting serious about obeying His commands, doing His work. His life is flowing into you, and it’s eternal and productive.
That’s at the heart of what we want for our kids: that they’ll arrive to the Day having loved Jesus more and more and from that having made great choices – most of those invisible – that result in a wildly good inner life and a yield of permanence.
- Finally, Paul prays these excellent choices with an eye toward the Day will be to the glory and praise of God.
I like where D.A. Carson goes with this in his book Praying with Paul. Paul isn’t aiming to turn these Philippian Christians into straight-laced perfectionists, into do-gooders. Fathers, the aim of our prayers for our kids isn’t so that they can be the shiny, happy people who everyone gushes over and they themselves are so satisfied with.
No, going after people’s attention and praise, including self-congratulation, shrivels us up. Checking our likes and stats dries us out. Non nobis Domine, non nobis: Not unto us, Lord, not unto us give glory.
What we long for those we love is that they would be to the glory and praise of God. Fathers, right? We don’t want something small and temporary for our kids. What we long for our kids is that God would be glorified in them. By their decisions, in their habits of speech and especially thought, through their productivity in things that will last unto eternity – that they would glorify this great, wonderful, joyous God of deep knowledge and steadfast love.
That’s what humans were made to do – to glorify God. Going directly after happiness is a failing enterprise. But there’s an incidental happiness of a man and woman – to act in a way that’s consistent with our being, with our human being, with our image bearing vocation.
God’s glory and human happiness come together in this: when we reflect the God who made us to bear His image. When, restored in Jesus, we glorify and praise the God who has saved us by hearing this gospel.
Review: Praying that those we love would:
- From love suffused with knowledge and insight, make the excellent choice…
- …which excellence only becomes clear in the light of the Day as there is sterling character and lasting fruit from those excellent choices…
- …unto the glory and praise of God.