Prison can be a lonely place. In a small prison cell the world can close in on you. Confinement is, well, it’s confining. We were born to be free, to move about, and to experience life to its fullest. It is not in our nature to be confined, to be isolated. Yet this was the life that Paul knew when he wrote the people in Ephesus. Many of those who experience prison life experience emotional and mental challenges that come with their confinement. For many, their trials and tribulations become the topic of the day—each and every day that they are in prison. “How did I ever get in this place? How long will I be in this place? How can I get out of this place?” These, and many other questions like these, become the thoughts that fill the minds of the confined. Paul, rather than allowing his world to shrink–carried the world, his friends, his brothers and sisters in Christ, and those in need to the throne of God in his prayers even though he was confined in prison.
This past week, as I was studying the second half of Ephesians 3, I got hung up on Ephesians 3:14 where Paul wrote, “For this reason I kneel before the Father…” (Ephesians 3:14 NIV) It is a moving picture if you stop to think about it. Under arrest, with shackles on his hands and feet, and with guards looking on—Paul falls to his knees and prays for others. Paul had already spent two years in prison in Caesarea, but when he wrote the letter to the church in Ephesus, he had been transferred as a prisoner to Rome. Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes,
When the Apostle was writing this letter he was a prisoner; it is one of the ‘prison epistles.’ The important thing for us to realize is that what he is saying in effect is, that though he is a prisoner, though a malignant enemy has arrested him, and has put him into bonds, and has made it impossible for him to visit them in Ephesus and to preach to them, or to go anywhere else to preach, there is one thing that the enemy cannot do, and that is, he cannot prevent him from praying. He can still pray. The enemy can confine him to a cell, he can bolt and bar doors, he can chain him to soldiers, he can put bars in the windows, he can hem him in and confine him physically, but he can never obstruct the way from the heart of the humblest believer to the heart of the Eternal God. In many ways in this uncertain modern world of ours this is one of the most comforting and consoling truths we can ever learn. (Lloyd-Jones, Martyn. The Unsearchable Riches of Christ: Ephesians 3. pg. 107)
There is no doubt in my mind that Martyn Lloyd-Jones is right. One of the most comforting truths we can learn is that nothing can stop our prayers from reaching the tender ears of our glorious King. The razor-wire and bars of a correctional facility can’t quiet the prayers of a humble servant crying out to God. The humming of machinery and activity of an Intensive Care Unit can’t drown out the petitions of one of God’s own. Paul wrote in Romans 8 that “there is nothing in all of creation that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:39) We can also add that there is nothing in all of creation that can prevent the humble, sincere prayer of God’s people from reaching the heart of God.
About seventeen or eighteen years ago there was a woman named Mary Nave who had attended Britton Christian Church for many years. Most of you never knew Mary, but you do know her daughter, Sue Hayes. Mary was a shut-in. She couldn’t drive. She wasn’t able to participate in most of the activities of the church unless Sue brought her. She was feeble and her health was failing. I would go to Mary’s house, which was just a couple of blocks from the church, and she always wanted to know how she should be praying, who she should be praying for, and she kept a prayer journal to track God’s answers to her prayers.
Mary decided that we needed babies at Britton Christian Church so she began to pray. Mary went to the “Women’s Guild” and told them that we needed to redo the nursery so we could be ready when the Lord blessed with us babies. The Guild was made up of some wonderful, godly ladies, some who are still with us, but most have gone home to be with the Lord. The ladies of the Guild began meeting together when they were young. They all worked outside the home and couldn’t make the regular women’s meeting that met during the day. Well, the ladies of the Guild went to work. They made the nursery into something beautiful so that young couples would want to leave their babies there.
While work was going on with the nursery, Mary was praying. Our Youth Pastor at the time was a great guy named Kevin Flannery. Kevin and his wife, Cheryl, had been trying to get pregnant for some time, but it wasn’t happening. Mary was praying and before we knew it Kevin and Cheryl announced they were going to have a baby! In no time Mike and Lisa Curtis, Lance and Jane Boyd, and Phil and Mary Aday all announced that they were pregnant! Not too long after Shae Boyd was born, Lance and Jane found out they were going to have another baby…and Mary kept praying. Debbie and Ross Magness already had four kids, their oldest was in high school, but they use to sit right in front of Mary Nave in worship. Mary must have set her sights on Ross and Debbie because the next thing you know, Ross and Debbie announced that they were going to have a baby! Ross said, “We’re not sitting in front of Mary Nave anymore!” and they moved to another part of the sanctuary. Couples kept coming up pregnant, there had to have been 8-10 babies born, and eventually Connie and I found out that we were going to have a “Mary Nave baby”—we call her Annie.
This past week, as I thought about the Apostle Paul praying in his prison cell, I thought about Mary Nave praying in her house. Confined to a house, as Paul was confined to prison, Mary was free to spend her days before the throne of Almighty God praying for the needs of God’s church as well as God’s people. We cannot even begin to comprehend the power that is at our disposal if we would simply utilize it. I’m not referring to those prayers of desperation that we spastically throw up when we find ourselves in a fix. Those prayers are prayed by the masses, but what God is seeking are those who will daily, consistently, passionately, and persistently come before Him in prayer.
Prayers like those prayed by George Muller, who was born in 1805 and died in 1898. God called George to take care of orphans in Bristol, England and during his life his orphanages cared for more than 10,000 orphans. He established 117 schools which offered a Christian education to over 120,000 kids during his lifetime. George was known as a man of prayer. Whenever a need would arise at one of the orphanages, George would call the staff and all of the children to prayer. He never told anyone who would be able to help, he took them to God, and then watched for the answer until it came.
God laid five friends on George’s heart one day. None of the five friends were Christians, but George made a commitment to pray for each of them every day until they came to know Christ as Lord of their life. After many months, one of George’s friends surrendered his life to Christ. Ten years later, two others were converted. It took 25 years before the fourth man accepted Christ. George continued to pray. After 25 years, only one of the five friends still did not know Christ, but George would not stop praying. George persevered in daily prayer for his friend until his death. Throughout the 52 years that George prayed he never gave up, he never stopped believing that God would one day move in the life of his friend. Not too long after George’s funeral, the last of the five men on his prayer list gave his life to Christ. It’s people like George Muller, people who are persistent in prayer, trusting in prayer, believing in God to work through prayer that God is seeking.
I told you that Paul wrote letters to individuals and churches while he was in prison. I want us to take a few minutes to take a look at the content of Paul’s prayers while he was in prison with the hopes that it will encourage and inspire you and me to commit to prayer in our daily lives. We won’t have time to look at all of Paul’s prayers because in the four letters he wrote from prison there are 12 different prayers that Paul either prays for the people or asks that they pray for him. (Ephesians 1:3; 15-23; 3:14-21; 6:19-20; Philippians 1:3-6; 9-11; 4:6-7; 23; Colossians 1:3-14; 4:2-4; Philemon 1:4-7; 25) Let’s start with the letter we are studying, Ephesians. In the opening chapter of Ephesians we read,
15 For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, 16 I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. 17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18 I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, 20 which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. (Ephesians 1:15-23 NIV)
In this prayer Paul is asking God to open the eyes of their understanding so that the people might understand who they are in Christ. He wants God to give them the Spirit of wisdom and understanding so they might know Him better. Paul wants them to know the incredible power that is available to those who believe. In his second prayer for the believers in Ephesus, found in Ephesians 3:14-21, Paul prays that God will empower them to live out what they are in Christ. We will take a look at that prayer next week.
When Paul writes to the folks in Philippi he prays for them. As he opens his letter he greets them, blesses them, and then prays for them. Paul actually begins his prayer in verse 3, but I want to read to you from verses 9-11.
9 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ–to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:9-11 NIV)
Paul is confined in prison and yet his heart is set on interceding for those who are outside of the walls of the prison. He prays that their love for God and for one another would lead them to a greater knowledge and depth of insight into God’s will for them so they might live pure and blameless lives until Jesus returns. John MacArthur writes,
Almost every prayer of Paul’s that is recorded in Scripture was for the spiritual welfare of others. Even when he was persecuted, imprisoned, and in need of many things for his own welfare, he prayed primarily for fellow believers that they might be spiritually protected and strengthened…Paul prayed that the Philippians’ love would ‘abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that [they would] be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ.” (Philippians 1:9-10) He did not cease to pray for the Colossian believers to ‘be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that [they might] walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all power [lit. being empowered with all power], according to His glorious might.” (Colossians 1:9-11; Philippians 1:4; 1 Thessalonians 1:2) (MacArthur, John. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Ephesians.)
There is no time that we are more tempted to focus on ourselves then when we are going through difficulties in life. When our lives are crumbling we are less likely to think about others than any other time. When our lives are in a state of turmoil we are more likely to focus on ourselves than any other time. Yet, we find in Paul, that in his time of need he continues to focus on the needs of others, he prays for the Lord to move mightily on the lives of those who are living for the Lord outside of Rome. Paul may have been physically confined to a room, but his mind and his prayers are with those in Colosse, brothers and sisters who are over 900 miles from Rome, when he sat down to pray for them. Paul wrote,
9 For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. 10 And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may 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, and joyfully 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. (Colossians 1:9-12 NIV)
One of the most interesting letters Paul wrote while he was in prison was his letter to Philemon. While Paul was in prison he came into contact with a runaway slave named, Onesimus. Through Paul’s influence Onesimus became a follower of Jesus. Paul encouraged Onesimus to return to his slave master. Paul sent a letter with Onesimus as he made that long journey back to Philemon who lived in Colosse. In Paul’s letter, he praises Philemon for all of the good things he had heard about him. He also encourages Philemon to treat Onesimus not as a runaway slave, but as a brother in Christ. Paul asks Philemon to be gracious and forgiving to Onesimus. The little letter is only 25 verses long, a mere 335 words in the original Greek, but in the opening of the letter Paul lets Philemon know of his prayers for him.
4 I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, 5 because I hear about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints. 6 I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ. 7 Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the saints. (Philemon 1:4-7 NIV)
Paul had limitations imposed on him because of his imprisonment, but those limitations didn’t stop him from working to try and reconcile two men who at one time were at odds with one another. Onesimus might have left Colosse a runaway slave, but Paul wanted to remind Philemon that Onesimus was returning as a brother in Christ. Paul not only worked to reconcile the men, but he prayed that Philemon would be active in sharing his faith.
We all have limitations don’t we? There are some of us at Britton Christian Church who are shut-ins, unable to get out of the house, but we can pray. There are others who are busy taking care of little ones or caring for our aging parents, but we can pray. There are still others, like those ladies from many years ago who were in the Women’s Guild, who can’t be involved in activities and opportunities that take place during the day because of demanding jobs, but we can pray. There are some of the guys and girls who call BCC “home” who are busy going to school and involved in extracurricular activities who can’t be as involved in activities at the church, but you can pray.
At Britton Christian Church there are all kinds of opportunities for people of all ages to get involved, but let me assure you, there is no greater need than that of prayer. We are constantly in need of volunteers, but I believe that if we had a handful of folks who labored daily before the throne of God on behalf of the volunteer needs of this church—volunteers would come. God has called us to share the Good News of the Gospel with those who do not know Jesus as Lord of their life. I believe with all of my heart that if there was a group who was broken for the lost in our community and prayed daily for them as if they were their own mother, father, sister, or brother—we would see more people come to know Christ. You can look at the prayer list in our bulletin on Sundays and see that there are those among us who are sick, battling physical ailments, and we need folks who are willing to pray for the sick as well as visit them. Prayer is the oil that moves the machine. The voice that cries out to God is the voice that is heard by God.
Not all of us can treat sick patients at the King’s Klinic or work at the BritVil Food Pantry or oversee a construction project or teach a Sunday school class or help a high school student with her math problems, but we can all pray. C.H. Macintosh lived in the 1800s, but his writings are still with us today. He wrote about the need for “labourers of the closet.” Listen to this.
Again, the precious labours of the closet demand no special gift, no peculiar talents, no pre-eminent mental endowments. Every Christian can engage in them. A man may not have the ability to preach, teach, write, or travel; but every man can pray. One sometimes hears of a gift of prayer. It is not a pleasant expression. It falls gratingly on the ear. It often means a mere fluent utterance of certain known truths which the memory retains and the lips give forth. This is poor work to be at…This is not what we want and long for. We want a real spirit of prayer. We want a spirit that enters into the present need of the Church, and bears that need in persevering, fervent, believing intercession before the throne of grace. This spirit may be exercised at all times, and under all circumstances. Morning, noon, eventide, or midnight will answer for the closet labourer. (Mackintosh, C.H. Epaphras: The Servant of Prayer.)
There are many of you who are here this morning who have burdens you’ve been carrying around like a backpack. You’ve tried to figure out how to fix the problem. You’ve prayed, but nothing has happened, so you’ve gone back to trying to figure it out on your own. The problems that we have to deal with in life are as many as the stars in the sky, they are as varied as the flowers that grow in the fields, and though God calls us to continue to labor and work towards solutions, He calls us to pray with an even greater fervency. Don’t stop praying. Never stop praying. E.M. Bounds wrote,
Jesus taught that perseverance is the essential element of prayer. Men must be in earnest when they kneel at God’s footstool. Too often we get faint-hearted and quit praying at the point where we ought to begin. We let go at the very point where we should hold on strongest. Our prayers are weak because they are not impassioned by an unfailing and resistless will. (E. M. Bounds)
We are so conditioned by our society and the culture that we live in. We are use to drive through lines at restaurants, streaming movies, and instant lines of credit at the store—we are not good at waiting. Yet, Scripture constantly encourages us to wait for the Lord. Listen to some examples.
14 Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD. (Psalm 27:14 NIV)
22 Do not say, “I’ll pay you back for this wrong!” Wait for the LORD, and he will deliver you. (Proverbs 20:22 NIV)
7 But as for me, I watch in hope for the LORD, I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me. (Micah 7:7 NIV)
I’m convinced that the Lord brought you here this morning because you are feeling the pressure of unanswered prayer, you are dealing with problems that you can’t figure out, and you need to know that you can cast your cares on Him because He cares for you more than you will ever know. Oswald Chambers once said, “We have to pray with our eyes on God, not on the difficulties.” I want us to close our time this morning in prayer. If you are someone who doesn’t know the Lord you need to know that you very well may be here this morning because someone has been praying for you. If you are battling an illness, a troubled marriage, a strained relationship, a lack of purpose, a troubled mind, or a tattered soul—you need to know that you can cry out to the Father and He will hear you. Let’s pray.
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
March 3, 2012