Joy-filled Prayer – Philippians 1:3-6

Good morning church! We began a new series last weekend titled “Joy-filled life” which we’ll be covering from the letter to Philippians. Brother Saju set up the series for us beautifully by explaining the source of joy from the life testimonies of Paul and Timothy.

We learnt that the source and motivation for joy came through their “Devotion to Christ” and their “Desire for the Kingdom” which is why they introduce themselves as “servants of the Lord Jesus” in the very first verse. In today’s passage, we’ll be looking at the theme “Joy-filled Prayer” from verses 3-6.

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:3-6)

Have you ever thought about praying with joy? For some of us it might be a strange combination of words. “Praying” and “Joy” might seem like opposites. Growing up I always struggled to understand this. We would go for long overnight prayer meetings and I would end up feeling really restless.

I would observe how some of the uncles and aunties would get emotional every time they prayed and so I wondered “Oh! Maybe we need to shed tears every time if God needs to hear us”. Please don’t get me wrong – there’s nothing wrong with all-night prayers and if your heart is being moved genuinely while praying, there’s nothing wrong with that either.

As a child, my own prayers were standard formula prayers that I would try to say with the most innocent expressions. I would keep repeating the same prayer every day. All to say that my observance as a child/teenager was that praying was a joyless activity. And it’s only to be used when things get really bad and out of hand.  And I couldn’t be more wrong about that. What we’ll be studying in today’s passage and continuing into next week’s passage is the topic of “Prayer” – specifically “Joy-filled Prayer”. What does “Joy-filled Prayer” look like? What are the secret ingredients to it?

 1. Thanksgiving

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you (v3)

Paul is exulting in thanksgiving as he’s thinking about the Philippian church! He is expressing his gratitude to God for these believers. In order to understand why Paul starts with thanksgiving, I looked up on all the other mentions of thanksgiving in the Bible. Time and time again in the Bible we see a consistent pattern of thanksgiving:

In the OT, we see that “thanksgiving” is a Command:

Psalm 100:4 – Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! – It was something that God desires in His people

In the NT, we see thanksgiving always mentioned alongside prayer. Wherever there is prayer, there is also thanksgiving.

Col 4:2 – Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. – It’s something that’s necessary

Revelations 7:12: We see all the angels around the throne of God, the elders and the 4 living creatures falling on their faces before God in worship saying “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honour and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen” – It’s something that’s done as a response to God

If I have to sum up all these passages, it seems that a thankful heart comes from an understanding of who God is – how great and merciful He is & an understanding of our humble position before a great and merciful God.  It comes from understanding how God is our Help and how helpless we truly are.

If you’ve been around in any church, you would be familiar with the phrase “Thank God or Praise God”. Sometimes we use it just as an automatic filler statement. We know that that’s not how Paul used it here. Paul’s idea here is about adoration and worship to God! Because he knows that whatever is happening in lives of these believers is only because of God.

Even though Paul was known as the one who planted this church at Philippi – but he realizes and acknowledges that God was the one responsible for saving them, changing their hearts, giving them a new life and purpose. If anything, Paul was simply an instrument used by God.

Sometimes we mistakenly presume that we are responsible for changing people’s lives. I shared the gospel with this person, I encouraged this brother or sister, I led worship, I preached this message, I taught this lesson – God is the one who is changing people’s hearts.

We are just channels and instruments in the hands of God. Thanksgiving is the way by which we direct the credit and glory to God! And it’s also something that God uses to keep our prideful hearts at check. If today we are feeling really self-centred and prideful, a good question to ask ourselves would be: “what has my thanksgiving looked like over the past week?”

2. Frequent

always in every prayer of mine for you all (v4)

Another ingredient to joy filled prayer is “frequent and consistent prayers” made for other people. But why does God want us to repeatedly come back to him with the same requests? Does God have trouble hearing our prayers? Or is God trying to wear us down with these repeated prayers? Certainly not. I think there might be a few reasons for this:

  • God wants us to develop a true burden for the people in our lives. How many times have we seen this? That as we are praying for a brother or sister in Christ or for a neighbour who doesn’t believe in Jesus, we realize how God is actually creating a real burden for them in our hearts? To the extent where we are now being moved in our hearts and actions to find a way to fill that gap…find a way to serve and meet that need.
  • To teach our hearts what dependence looks like. Sometimes we think we know what trusting God means but we truly don’t. In reality we are relying on several crutches of self-confidence. And I think frequent and consistent prayers for other people’s faith reminds our hearts that the person can’t change or grow in his faith apart from the work of God.

3. Gospel-focused (v4,5)

making my prayer with joy, 5 because of your partnership in the gospel

Did the Philippians have financial issues at the time? Sure. Did the Philippians have a need of physical healing among them? Sure. Could there be a genuine need for physical and material help? Sure. But it’s interesting how Paul doesn’t make that the focus of his prayer.

The focus of his joy filled prayer is the “gospel”. It’s the good news of God’s salvation through His Son Jesus Christ.  But why did Paul not focus on these other things? Because Paul knows that they can only experience true joy through Jesus and the gospel. Nothing else. Nothing additional.

Imagine a parent who has a child who constantly gets cranky and demands different toys from the parent. Now if that parent spends all of his money to give toys to satisfy the child’s desire, and doesn’t have the money to provide for food and shelter, would you say that the parent cares for the child? No, it would unloving for the parent to do that.

Why? Because the child has more important needs than just toys. Similarly, our deepest need is not a material thing, is not the best job, is not the most attractive salary, is not found in a relationship – our deepest need is to be restored in a relationship with God which happens through Christ. Our deepest need is to enjoy a living daily relationship with God.

This should inform the way we even pray for our brothers and sisters. I’m not saying it’s wrong to pray for each other’s physical needs but if that’s the only focus of our prayers, then something is wrong. Why? Because we need to be more concerned if their hearts are being cared for. We need to be more concerned if they are growing in their faith. We need to be more concerned if they are living holy lives. We need to be concerned if they are obeying God no matter what the cost.

4. Encouraged by testimonies (v5)

from the first day until now.

Rewinding back to God’s faithfulness in the past is one of the key ways by which we can have joy filled prayers. When we think about how the church at Philippi came into being – we can’t help but notice the miracle wonderworking power of God.

When Paul arrives in Philippi one day he goes out during the time of prayer and speaks with some of the women who were there. Lydia was also present there and the word says as she heard the word, the Lord opened her heart to the gospel – she and her entire family got baptized.

Later on Paul and Silas cast out a demon from a slave woman and her owners put a false accusation and sent them to jail. While they were singing hymns and praying that night, a great earthquake shook the jail and the prison doors flung open.

The jailer thinking that the prisoners fled was about to kill himself. But then Paul called out to the jailer loudly to let him know that they were still there. The jailer comes to them and asks them what must he do to be saved!!! He and his family get saved and baptized that night. From both these incidents, the church at Philippi was birthed out of.

You can imagine the joy in the heart of Paul as he recollected how God was faithful from Day 1 till date with the marvellous work that He began in the hearts of the believers at Philippi! Don’t forget the testimonies…don’t ignore the testimonies of your brothers and sisters in Christ – why because these are stories about God’s faithfulness which will fuel your heart to pray with joy for them.

5. Expectant (v6)

6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

We can see a Confident Expectation in what God was going to do!! For Paul to make such an emphatic statement – “I am sure of this….”, he had to be trusting in

  • The Character of God – God is faithful to do this – to do what He has promised. He won’t abandon. He won’t forget. He won’t change His heart and mind.
  • The Ability of God – God is powerful enough to do this. God is fully capable of changing us from the inside out and making us perfect like His Son. Displaying the perfect righteousness of His Son. The work that began before the foundations of the world. The work that revealed itself on the cross. The work that will be fully completed when Christ returns will happen.

Confident Expectation I believe cannot be manufactured apart from the Word of God. We need God’s word to repeatedly remind our hearts that He is faithful and will continue to be faithful.

We need God’s word through all the stories right throughout history to remind us that our God is omnipotent – there is nothing impossible for Him! This confident expectation as we pray for our brothers and sisters will bring about joy filled prayers.

One last thought – I know sometimes when we hear a sermon like this on prayer – our automatic response is of guilt because we know we aren’t spending as much time as we ought to do. But I want to address this slightly differently…I think the question isn’t so much about how much time…rather the question is what have we made our prayer out to be? Is it just a checklist for us that we tick in order feel good about ourselves and our day?

Have we made our prayers out to be only about ourselves? Have we not come to God in prayer because we are self-reliant and prideful? Those are the things we need to be repenting of. And let’s turn to our Savior who is the reason why our prayers are being heard and accepted by God. Let’s trust in Jesus Christ who has now removed the legalistic ritualistic understanding of prayer and given us the privilege of knowing and talking to our Father.

Let’s ask God to transform our prayer life that is filled with joy as we pray for others. Let’s ask God to fill it with thanksgiving, consistency, gospel-centredness and expectancy.

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