Short Meditations in Philippians: 8. Prayer?
Phil 1:19a I know that through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ,
There is a strange and often difficult-to-discern mix of the work of the Lord directly and the Lord through other people, when it comes to the subject of us receiving His blessing. Paul is looking towards his deliverance, which we will see in the next study, but he sees it will come as a combination of the prayers of the saints and the work of the Holy Spirit.
Now I have to confess we are wading in waters about which I am more unsure than most things. How God uses us in what appears to be answers to prayer is, I believe, a mystery which will stay a mystery until we reach heaven. Does God act without me praying? Yes He does. Does He appear to act to ‘answer’ my prayers? Yes He does. Do things sometimes appear to stay the same when I don’t pray? Yes, they do. Does God sometimes appear NOT to answer when I pray? Yes, that’s right. Now I have just set up various scenarios and they are all true and I don’t know why. I don’t know why God sometimes prompts us to pray, it seems, and He answers, but sometimes doesn’t seem to answer. I don’t know why sometimes God seems to let bad situations continue without intervening, and yet on other occasions He clearly does step in and bring changes.
So why is it such a mystery? Because God is an all-wise and all-powerful person who is sovereign Lord of the world, and He knows what is the best thing to do.
So where does this lead me in respect of prayer? Do it! What about when He doesn’t answer? Listen more attentively and try and catch why, but keep on praying. Why does He seem to wait on my prayers sometimes? I think it is because He wants to involve me in His activities, as His son. When we do pray – and wait, and wait – I suspect we always get greater insight into the ways of the Lord.
So for Paul there was a two-edged thing. On one hand the Gospel was being promoted by him being in prison, but on the other hand, he felt it was still something that limited him and the Gospel in a wider sphere, and so he wanted prayer and wanted to get out – and believed it would happen and it would happen when the saints kept on praying.
When it comes to it, it is not the prayers that will bring his release, but the work of the Holy Spirit; it will be God Himself who will bring about His deliverance. Presumably He would put it in the mind of some leader to release Paul. Why should the prayers of the saints move God? They don’t, He already intends to do it, but He wants His people to draw near to Him and catch His heart for this, and then He will act.