The Prayer God Answers
The Prayer that God Loves to Answer
“And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ; having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”
When we pray, what is the focus of our requests? James points out that one of the reasons we are powerless in prayer is because we ask with the wrong motives. Our prayers focus on what we want for our pleasure and happiness rather than spiritual transformation (James 4:3). Effective prayer starts with the proper focus. This is not to say that God does not desire us to pray about our personal needs. He invites us to pray about all things and issues in our lives. However, prayer is not alligning God’s will to us, but our will to his. Effective prayer aligns our lives with Christ's will and purpose.
In the prayers of Paul, we discover the focus of worship. Paul prays for the church at Philippi to grow in love. The first question we are confronted with is: Is love referring to love for God or people? The answer is both, for the two are inseparable. Throughout the scriptures, love for people is the inherent outgrowth of love for God. As John points out, genuine love for God will be manifested in a genuine love for all people. This starts with our brothers and sisters in Christ (1 John 5:21). Love extends beyond the church family to include all people, even our enemies (Matthew 5:43-38). So inherent is love within the expression of genuine faith; the inability to love others is evidence of a lack of authentic faith (1 John 4:20). Paul prays that they will manifest their faith through the increasing love for others.
The love we are to manifest towards others is not just mere sentimentality and emotional fuzzies. Instead, genuine love is grounded in knowledge and all discernment. Knowledge and insight provide the foundation for love. The term knowledge refers to knowledge that is the result of experience. Discernment refers to spiritual perception and moral discernment. Love is expressed through our desire to see people grow in their relationship with Christ and the moral and spiritual transformation it brings. It is more than just the ability to see the good in people; it is driven by the desire to see people become good and grow in their relationship with Christ. It is more than asking God to merely bless people, but praying that God would genuinely transform them.
Paul expands upon what it means to pray for people. We are to pray that they will have spiritual discernment to live according to God’s moral law. To desire the best for people is to desire that they will grow in their faith so that they increasingly understand and live in line with God’s word. To pray that they would be sincere and blameless is to pray that they will increasingly manifest the character of Christ without hypocrisy.
Last, Paul prays they will be filled with the fruit of righteousness. This refers to the moral qualities that come through the work of Christ in our lives. We are saved not just from sin and its punishment. We are saved to increasingly manifest the character of Christ in all aspects of life.
It is certainly appropriate to pray for people’s physical needs and to pray for them when they are going through physical and emotional difficulties. Whatever need we or others are facing, we are invited to bring these needs before God to “receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). But these issues are secondary to our greatest need for spiritual transformation in which we are increasingly manifesting the character of Christ. As we pray for ourselves and others, we start with praying for spiritual transformation for ourselves and others. That is the prayer he delights in answering.