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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Pray for the Prosperous

If we would learn to profit [spiritually] from our prosperity, we should not need so much adversity. If we would gather from a kiss all the good it might confer upon us, we should not so often smart under the rod... Charles Spurgeon

"The squeaky wheel always get the grease," they say, and all too often that is true in our relationships and ministries to others. But in my recent studies for teaching the book of Ephesians, I noticed again that the apostle Paul took time to pray for those who were spiritually prosperous, not just for those who were hurting. In Ephesians 1:15 he begins his prayer saying that he had heard "of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you, and your love for all the saints." Many members of the Ephesian church were walking by faith and showing sacrificial love to all Christians without discrimination (even those in other cultures). These are marks of spiritual maturity and stability, so some of us might think that Paul was wasting his time by praying for them when there were so many others trapped in sin and doctrinal error. Shouldn't we primarily pray for those who are especially "needy"? Not according to Paul; in fact, a study of his other prayers recorded in the New Testament reveals that he actually seems to have prayed more often for those Christians who were succeeding spiritually. He did pray for people with problems, but he certainly did not take them off his prayer list when they had "conquered their problems" and were living in a manner pleasing to God.

One reason for this is that Paul knew there is always room for growth in any believer's life. None of us reaches perfection while we are in this world. We trust Christ but we do not trust Christ as much as we should. We love the saints but we do not love the saints as much as we should. We serve Christ, but we do not serve Him as much as we should. We know some of the Word of God but none of us knows as much as we ought to know. No church is as spiritual as it could be, and no individual Christian will get to the point in this life where he or she does not need our prayers any longer. On the contrary, there is actually a serious danger in withholding or removing prayer support from people simply because they are "doing well." First Corinthians 10:12 says, "Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall."

How do you think the Notre Dame football team took a 24‑0 halftime lead over USC in 1972, only to lose 55‑24? And how do you think the Buffalo Bills accomplished the greatest comeback in National Football League history in 1993 when they beat the Houston Oilers 41‑38 after being behind 35‑3 in the third quarter? Part of the answer must be that the Notre Dame and Houston players became overconfident with their big leads and relaxed their efforts enough to allow such debacles to occur.

Unfortunately, that kind of defeat can happen in the spiritual dimension as well, in the lives of churches and their individual members. The history of the church at Ephesus itself is a testimony to that sad fact. Paul wrote in his letter that it exhibited great faith and a love for all the saints, but not many years later Jesus had to speak these words to the church: "I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen" (Rev. 2:4‑5). And not only can churches or individuals "lose their first love," but they can also fall hopelessly into a spiritual deadness or even an outright denial of Christ (Rev. 3:14‑18; cf. Demas in Philemon 24 and 2 Tim. 4:10).

That danger should motivate us to not only pray fervently for churches and individual members who are in the midst of crises, but also for those who are currently in a spiritually prosperous condition. They can lose their enthusiasm, their stability, and their commitment to Jesus Christ and His truth. But through our prayers God can deliver them from such a fate and grant them His continued blessing (cf. 1 Cor. 1:11).

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