Thankfulness In Prayer

Philippians 1:3-11

by
Ian McPherson

Prayer is a command of God which has tremendous ramifications. It is a subject which is widely taught on, yet often applied in a very  shallow way. All of us recognise its importance to some degree, yet in a great many cases it takes second place to so many other aspects of the Lord’s work.

Someone said: “When the outlook isn’t good, try the uplook”.  This was certainly Paul’s philosophy while he was in prison. The outlook was certainly poor, but he prayed and received great blessings. In fact it is my conviction that his organized and fervent prayer life was the greatest single factor to his success as a faithful Christian.  How else would he have been able to accomplish what he did?

II Corinthians 11:24-28 reveals some of the things he suffered for Christ.  He was whipped, beaten with rods, stoned; shipwrecked, robbed, persecuted, deprived of food, drink and shelter, had sleepless nights, even his own brethren placed burdens on him. How could he endure these things without prayer?

My topic is “Thankfulness in prayer.”  Jesus taught the importance of saying “thank you”. This when He healed ten lepers  (Luke 17:16-18):  “And fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan. And Jesus answering said, Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine? There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger”.  Only one said thank you, but he was the blessed one. Let us now examine the text. The text is divided into two clear parts.

Paul’s Thankfulness (Philippians 1:3-9). In verse 3-4 he says: “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, Always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy”.  Paul not only prayed in thankfulness for the Philippians, but told them he was praying for them. It is wonderful thing to know that someone is praying for us.

I PRAYED FOR YOU

I had struggled with a problem that was more than I could solve;
There were a thousand twisted knots and yet even more to solve.
I wondered if there’d ever be a moment free from care,
Then someone said, “I mentioned you this morning in my prayer”.
Ah, shadows tucked their heads beneath their wings, I saw the light.
The problem would be quickly solved, I walked in bright sunlight.
For I wasn't struggling by myself, I was not left alone – Someone -
Someone had remembered me Before the Father's throne.
    -
Louise Paul Lebman

PAUL’S CONCERN  (Philippians 1:9-11)  “And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ, being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” 

Although Paul was confident that they were faithful, he still remembered to pray for their continued faithfulness and growth.  He realised that it was possible for brethren to fall.  His friend Demas was a vivid reminder of this:  “for Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world, and has departed for Thessalonica;....”  (II Timothy 4:10). Demas was once a helper and fellow worker and faithful companion of Paul, but the world had gotten in the way.  We must never be so confident that we consider we cannot fall.

Paul prayed for growth in the following areas.

Love. Love is like eternity, no matter how much of it we posses, we still have an inexhaustible amount to  grow in. Christ set the standard to reach in love when he said: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (John 13:34). Until we love like He loved we can never say that we have arrived.

Knowledge and discernment.  This too is inexhaustible. Paul’s prayer for the Colossians makes this clear.  “For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy;” (Colossians 1:9-11). Like the Philippians, the Colossians were mature Christians, yet they were not yet “filled”  with knowledge and wisdom.  Until we are thus filled, we cannot stop our study and reading.

without offence.  It is hard to imagine the Philippians causing offence, but Paul  realised the importance of praying for them.  The Lord said “Woe to the world because of offences! For offences must come, but woe to that man by whom the offence comes!”  (Matthew 18:7).  We must seek to never be guilty of putting stumbling blocks or offences in our brother’s way.

Approve that which is excellent.  Paul’s prayer was that they strive for excellence. No matter how hard we try, we still fall short.  Paul acknowledged this in his own life.  He said; “Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:12-14).  The rest of this lesson will be centred around his thankfulness.         

FOR WHAT WAS PAUL THANKFUL? (3-8)

memories (3) Good memories are sometimes all we have to pull us through difficult times. A devoted wife, for example, who loses her husband, can often live on the memories he leaves. Like in the Christian life, sometimes even sad and trying moments can be remembered with thanks giving and joy.

Paul’s memories of the Philippians would have been very precious. The Philippian church was planted by Paul and Silas on Paul’s second Missionary Journey. It began providentially as a result of him receiving a vision of a man saying “Come over to Macedonia and help us”  (Acts 16:9). This is what the songwriter called “The Macedonian call”.

I feel certain that sometimes his mind would float back to being with the newly formed church in  Lydia’s house (Acts 16:40). Perhaps he would see himself reclining at the table with the Philippian jailer and lightheartedly pointing his finger and laughing with him  at the surprised look on his face when the earthquake opened the prison doors  but no one escaped. They would all laugh together about the surprise the magistrates felt when they ordered Paul’s release, after finding out he was a Roman citizen and they had unlawfully arrested him. Yet Paul refused to go until the released him themselves (Acts 16:35-38). The ordeals in prison could now become a pleasant and precious memory. Precious memories of Christian friends should constantly flood our souls as we think of moments and achievements together.

FELLOWSHIP (5-6) The fellowship we can  enjoy as Christians is beyond comprehension to the world.. The gospel unites even those who were once enemies. The young and old, the rich and poor, black and white, upper class and lower class. All can experience intense affection for one another in Christ, because we have all been baptised into one body (Galatians 3:26-29, I Corinthians 12:13). Remember the song that so ably describes Christian fellowship.

Blest be the tie that binds, Our hearts in Christian love,
The fellowship of kindred minds, Is like to that above.
Before the Fathers throne, We pour our ardent prayers
Our fears, our hopes, our aims are one, Our comforts and our cares.
We share our mutual woes, Our mutual burdens bear,
and often for each other flows, The sympathizing tear.
When we asunder part, It gives us inward pain;
But we shall still be joined in heart, And hope to meet again.
This glorious hope revives Our courage by the way;
While each in expectation lives,  and longs to see the day.
From sorrow, toil, and pain, And sin we shall be free,
And perfect love and friendship reign, Throughout eternity
    - John Fawcett 1782

The fellowship mentioned in the text was that of  “Giving and receiving”. Fellowship means “participation”,  it cannot therefore be engaged in alone. The Philippians and Paul had been “partners’ ever since the church began. On many occasions they would collect money from the brethren in Macedonia and bring assistance to Paul. Notice Philippians 4:14-19:  “Nevertheless you have done well that you shared in my distress. Now you Philippians know also that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church shared with me concerning giving and receiving but you only. For even in Thessalonica you sent aid once and again for my necessities. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that abounds to your account. Indeed I have all and abound. I am full, having received from Epaphroditus the things sent from you, a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God. And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus”.

Notice V 19.  Here Paul promised them a blessing from God for their assistance. The giver is the one most blessed (Acts 10:35). In Phil 2:19-30 we see how even in prison, Paul and the Philippians were still giving and receiving. The Philippians had sent Epaphroditus on a long journey to bring assistance to him in prison.  He had become sick, nigh unto death on the way. Paul was tearfully sending him back to the Philippians, together with Timothy, his most beloved friend who would minister to the Philippians’ needs.

By participating in this constructive and proper fellowship,  God was working mightily their life (V6) and causing them to grow spiritually. They did not just meet for idle chat, but were about the Lord’s business. Each was providing what the other could not provide for themselves.

Some feel that fellowship is simply something to use up idle time. Paul warned Timothy about problems involving idle time in the church.  "And besides they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house, and not only idle but also gossips and busybodies, saying things which they ought not” I Timothy 5:13). When Christians get together, they are to “provoke one another to love and good works” (Heb. 10:24).

For their influence on his life   “just as it is right for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart, inasmuch as both in my chains and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers with me of grace. For God is my witness, how greatly I long for you all with the affection of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:7-8). The Philippians were in his heart (affecting his life), and he longed to see them again. We see gratitude oozing from every pore. What sort of influence do we have on our brethren. Do they long to see us as Paul did?  If not, then we are not providing the type of influence experienced by Paul and the Philippians.

In conclusion, let us return to Verses 3-4, the beginning of our text.  Paul said “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, {4} always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy”  (Philippians 1:3-4).  His soul was not set on negative things and how he had been wrongfully charged, and might soon die.  His heart was filled with thanksgiving. In this thanksgiving, we see the source of Paul’s joy..

PAUL WAS BLESSED FIRST OF ALL BY GOD  from whom all blessings flow.  Without the blessings that He had bestowed Paul would be a sad, forlorn prisoner, with a grudge on life. It is important to consider also that in his prayers Paul made God joyous, because Paul gave him the thanks he rightfully deserves. We make our Lord feel appreciated when we give thanks in prayer.

HE WAS BLESSED BY THE PHILIPPIANS .  The gratitude he felt sustained him in time of trial. While we have some thanksgiving in our heart it is impossible to be depressed.  Depression is caused by us being blind to blessings. A depressed person always looks on the negative.  Consider this poem.

TODAY IS MINE

Today upon a bus I saw a lovely girl with golden hair.
I envied her, she seemed so gay, I wished I was so fair.
When suddenly she rose to leave, I saw he hobble down the aisle
She had one leg and wore a crutch, and as she passed, a smile
O God forgive me when I whine. I have two legs the world is mine!
And then I stopped to buy some sweets. the lad who sold them had such charm
I stayed and talked with him -- If I were late ‘twould do no harm.
And as I left he said to me, “You’ve been so  kind;”
“Its nice to talk to folks like you, you see” he said, “I’m blind”
O God forgive me when I whine. I have two eyes, the world is mine!
And as I walked down the street, I saw a child with eyes so blue.
He stood and watched the others play as if he knew not what to do.
I stopped a moment, then I said, “Why don’t you join the others dear?”
He looked ahead without a word, and then I knew he could not hear.
O God forgive me when I whine.  I have two ears, the world is mine!
With legs to me  where I would go,
With eyes to see the sunset glow,
With ears to hear what I would know;
O God forgive me when I whine.
I’m blessed indeed, the world is mine!
    - Dot Aaron

The gratitude that Paul felt His Lord and the Philippians is what sustained him. We notice that Paul did not pray for himself. He did not ask God for happiness and joy. He felt this joy because he learnt the art of feeling gratitude and appreciation. His happiness did not depend on his physical environment, of his circumstances in life. He was happy because he had his priorities right. He thanked the Lord First, then others, and from his thanks flowed forth his blessings.

May God help us to look about us and consider the blessings we have, and get on our knees with out flowing prayers of gratitude.

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