Why and What Do We Pray for One Another

Highlighted Text: 2 Cor. 11:24-27
Full Text: Job 41, 2 Cor. 11

Prayer-Pleading | Paul frequently asked his fellow believers to pray for him. Sometimes he would simply say, “Brothers, pray for us” [1]. Other times he would passionately plead,“Strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf” [2]. And we know why he so desperately needed their prayers. As he testified, “Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure” [3].

Prayer-Needing | Paul was brilliant and intense. He was a great man, a spiritual warrior, and a chosen instrument of God. Yet he needed others to pray for him. Why? First, he knew that he could never accomplish his work apart from the grace of God: “By the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me” [4]. Second, he knew that moral growth and ministry success came only by prayer. As he told the Philippians, “It is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment” [5] (moral growth), and wrote to the Thessalonians, “Pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored” [6] (ministry success).

Prayer-Doing | Lord, We long for grace, moral growth and ministry success in our lives. Thus, we know that we must meet with you in prayer. We must boast in our weaknesses apart from you, knowing that we cannot accomplish the most lasting achievements on this earth apart from your might, power, glory and love. Let us not be lazy in praying for one another – that your grace would abound in our lives, that our love may grow in knowledge and depth of insight, and that your word may speed ahead and be honored in our lives – even as we endure hardship for our obedience like Paul did. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] See Col. 4:3; 1 Thess. 5:25; 2 Thess. 3:1.  |  [2] Rom. 15:30 ESV  |  [3] 2 Cor. 11: 24-27 ESV  |  [4] 1 Cor. 15:10 ESV. See also 1 Peter 4:11; Heb. 13:20-21  |  [5] Phil. 1:9 ESV. See also Col. 1:9-10; Lk. 22:40  |  [6] 2 Thess. 3:1. See also Eph. 6:19; Col. 4:3-4

How and Why God Exposes What We Really Think About Him

Highlighted Text: Job 38:1
Full Text: Job 38; 2 Cor. 8

Recession | Last week, Bloomberg highlighted the struggles of several wealthy New Yorkers who are struggling in the current economy. One executive said that, since his bonus was lower this year, his $350,000 income could no longer cover their children’s tuition, their summer rental, and their apartment upgrade. “I feel stuck,” he said. “The New York that I wanted to have is still just beyond my reach.” Another executive, who spends $17,000 a year on his dogs, has been forced to “re-examine lots of assumptions about how grand their life would be”[1].

Reveal | Job was ridiculously wealthy. He was “the greatest of all the people of the east” in his day [2]. He had seven sons, three daughters, thousands of livestock, and many servants[3]. Moreover, he was “blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned way from evil” [4]. When he lost everything, however, his thoughts about God – thoughts that were dormant during his time of prosperity – were revealed. He said things that assumed his own righteousness: “Let the Almighty answer me!” [5] and his own correct perspective, “When I hoped for good, evil came” [6].

Expose | Paul Brand wrote, “The more we let our level of contentment be determined by outside factors – a new car, fashionable clothes, a prestigious career, social status – the more we relinquish control over our own happiness” [7]. Yet how do we know whether our joy is based on outside factors? It’s very often one of two ways – either we give it away or He takes it away. God loves to use tough times to expose our true foundations because He wants us to move our joy from our goods to His grace, our money to His mercy, and our wealth to His worth [8]. And why should we want Him to do this? Because He alone is God. As he interrupted Job, “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” [9] God alone has knowledge, power, sovereignty and wisdom to run the world and our lives. And there’s nothing more precious than knowing that He exerts all that might to do us good [10].

Prayer | Lord, Pride sits dormant in us during times of prosperity. But we thank you for your gracious work through adversity, exposing the foundations of our hearts and realigning our joy in your unchanging love and victorious grace. Teach us to embrace hardship, as we recognize that you’re doing a massively important work in our souls. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] Max Abelson. Wall Street Bonus Withdrawal Means Trading Aspen for Cheap Chex. Bloomberg. 29 February 2012.  |  [2] Job 1:3 ESV  |  [3] Job 1:2-3  |  [4] Job 1:1 ESV  |  [5] Job 31:35 ESV  |  [6] Job 30:26 ESV  |  [7] Paul Brand and Philip Yancey. The Gift of Pain. Zondervan (1993), p. 293. (Dr. Paul Brand is the physician who discovered that leprosy doesn’t eat away at the skin; it is a disease that results in a leper’s having no sensation of pain. Thus, he argues that pain is – in fact – a great thing because it is a warning sign. The chapter from which this quotation is taken is entitled, “Pleasure and Pain,” and it has a challenging perspective on the Western ideal of a pain-free existence. Again, I have mentioned this book in the past few weeks many times. I cannot more highly recommend it. If you haven’t yet suffered, prepare for it now by reading this book and reflecting on its truth. If you’re currently suffering or have already suffered, you’ll fall in love with this book. (I hope!)  |  [8] See John Piper. Sermon: “What’s the Recession For?” 1 February 2009.  |  [9] Job 38:1 ESV  |  [10] The Bible is FILLED with passages that tell us how much God utterly DELIGHTS to do us good – see Zeph. 3:17; Ps. 147:11; 1 Ptr. 1:6-7; Rom. 2:29; 1 Cor. 4:5; Ps. 18:19; Ps. 147:11; Ps. 149:4; Rom. 8:31-19 … the list goes on and on.  |  [11] This reflection is dedicated to my parents, who constantly took the opportunity to show me that their treasure was not in worldly goods – both by giving away so much to so many and by joyfully experiencing times of struggle when things were taken away.

When Suffering Seems Senseless

Highlighted Text: Job 37:13
Full Text: Job 37; 2 Cor. 7

Purpose | Human beings are resilient. We can put up with a great deal of suffering, as long as we know the reason for it. If we don’t know the reason, however, we can easily become impatient and frustrated. As Nietzsche argued, “What really raises one’s indignation against suffering is not suffering intrinsically, but the senselessness of suffering” [1]. Yet life is full of seemingly purposeless suffering. The suffering of Job, from his perspective, seemed senseless. He didn’t know what was happening between God and Satan and he was all caught up in the mistaken belief that the righteous prospered and the wicked suffered [2].

Source | Even though Job didn’t know the purpose of his suffering, he knew its author. When fire consumed his livestock and wind killed his children, he said: “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” [3]. His final friend to speak, Elihu, pushed Job beyond seeing God as the cause of his suffering only and into seeing Him as the source of mercy in his suffering as well: “He loads the thick cloud with moisture … Whether for correction or for his land or for love, he causes it to happen” [4].

Trust | Knowing that God is sovereign and, at the same time, loving and merciful, we can be patient in our suffering as we trust Him – even when we don’t understand or even agree with Him. As James wrote, “Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful” [5]. Thus, like Job, we can find comfort and security and hope and truth in God and His sovereign mercy.

Prayer | Lord, You are the author of mercy – whether it comes in the form of prosperity or adversity. We confess that our eyes often see wrongly in the midst of our suffering. Yet, because we trust You (and we long to trust You more and more every day), we’ll wait for your goodness and patiently persevere in Christ. Thus, even if we don’t understand you right now, let us one day look back on today and say, “Now, we see. Now, it all makes sense. Nothing was wasted. We stand in awe of the fabric of your glorious ways.” Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] Nietzsche. On the Genealogy of Morals.  |  [2] Moreover, since Job is limited in his own time, he does not know that, through the testimony of his suffering, God is preparing a people ready to receive the righteous and innocent Messiah who would suffer greatly.  |  [3] Job 1:21  |  [4] Job 37:11, 13 ESV  |  [5] Jms. 5:11 ESV

The First Step to Christian Character

Highlighted Text: 2 Cor. 6:5-10
Full Text: Job 36; 2 Cor. 6

Creation | As we saw yesterday, the incarnation and death of Christ was a rescue operation [1]. And the mark of our having been rescued is our new creation [2]. Yet what does this “new creation” look like? Or, as N.T. Wright asks, “What are the character-forming habits that put together the genuine humans, the God-bearing, Spirit-filled humans, who will one day rule God’s new creation and sum up its praises?” [3]

Crucible | Wright’s answer – based largely on Paul’s letter to the Corinthians – is challenging: “In order to develop Christian character, the first step is suffering” [4]. Paul wrote, “As servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything” [5].

Crucifixion | Not only did Paul see the suffering of the Messiah as an essential foundation of the Christian life, he also saw the suffering that he himself inflicted on the church before his own conversion and also the persecution that he himself received after his conversion. As N.T. Wright reflected, “The tradition of ancient Israel within which Paul stood had come, slowly but surely, to understand suffering as somehow falling within the saving purposes of God. This finds expression particularly in books such as Isaiah, Jeremiah and Daniel, and of course in the Psalms. We know, in addition, that Paul made Jesus’ crucifixion thematic for his whole life and teaching, as we see in many places, perhaps particularly in 2 Corinthians” [6].

Prayer | Lord, Our fundamental value is not the pursuit of happiness, but rather the pursuit of fulfillment and significance. In taking up our crosses daily, we know that suffering is our first step toward holiness because it’s how you make us like Christ. Therefore, let us live in joyful anticipation of a life that we treasure even more than fleeting happiness – that is, a life that conforms to your will and enjoys eternal pleasures in your hand. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] 2 Cor. 5:21 ESV (“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”)  |  [2] 2 Cor. 5:17 ESV (“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”)  |  [3] N.T. Wright, After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters. p. 177  |  [4] Id.  |  [5] 2 Cor. 6:5-10 ESV  |  [6] Id. at FN 3

Swapping Sin for Salvation

Highlighted Text: 2 Cor. 5:21
Full Text: Job 35; 2 Cor. 5

Picture | What does this mean – “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” [1]? John Piper once offered a picture:

Imagine a scene with me. There is a young doctor who has a wife and three small children. He volunteers to take a dangerous six-month mission assignment to a place where there is an epidemic of a rare disease and a good deal of hostility from the local people toward outsiders. He takes the assignment because nobody else with his special training was willing to go.

The months pass slowly, and the kids really miss their daddy. The wife does a valiant job of holding things together and trying to be mom and dad. Then the day of his return approaches, and the whole family is full of excitement. Mom has butterflies in her tummy, and the kids race around the house shouting, “Daddy’s coming home! Daddy’s coming home!” At three o’clock in the afternoon a taxi pulls into the driveway. The kids charge out the front door followed by mom with her heart beating so hard she can feel it. The back door of the cab opens, and out steps dad, a good bit thinner than before and bearded to conceal his hollow cheeks, but with a big smile across his weary face. He kneels down on the grass and is smothered with six clinging arms and legs. “Hooray for daddy! Daddy’s home!” Each one gets his special hug and kiss while mom waits. Finally he pulls himself loose and they embrace: “Welcome home.” “It’s good to be back.”

Now I want you to look into this young doctor’s eyes, because there is a message there. And if you can see it and feel it, you will know something of what Jesus felt as he rode into Jerusalem to shouts of welcome and acclamation. What you can see in the doctor’s eyes is something he knows that his family doesn’t know: he caught the disease he went to heal and has one week to live. [2]

Prayer | Lord, In bearing our sin and healing our hearts, Jesus knew that he would die. Yet he endured the shame of the cross because he set his face to the joy of our salvation. In his becoming sin, we are healed. Let us bear this message of reconciliation. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] 2 Cor. 5:21 ESV  |  [2] John Piper. “O, That You Knew the Terms of Peace!” 12 April 1981.

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