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Tonight we looked at Phil 1:1-11, one of Paul’s most joyful letters, written in unpleasant circumstances while he was in chains in prison, not for any crime, but simply because of his faith in Jesus Christ. It’s a timely reminder that joy and peace are not dependent on circumstances, that we are not the only ones facing restrictions on our movements and that God is able to make His grace abound so that we don’t just survive but thrive! Paul showed us that we might not be able to control our situations, but that does not mean we have to succumb to despair; as Rend Collective sing:

‘I will not let the darkness steal the joy within my soul.
I will not let my circumstance become my compass, no.
I will not let the fears of life and sorrows of this world
Dictate to me how I should feel
For You are my true north.’ (‘True North’, Rend Collective)

These opening verses give us great help about how to pray and what to pray. Paul prays for the church he founded (Acts 16) with joy, with confidence and with emotion. He is glad of their partnership in the gospel with him and is sure that the God who began a good work will carry it on in them. He misses them intensely, and this is true of us in our current situation (even though we have more means of staying in touch than he did!), but one of the greatest things we can do in these times is to pray for each other.

Paul’s prayers were not vague or aimless. In Phil 1:9-11, he tells us exactly what he is praying, and this can become a model prayer for us. His focus is on their love abounding, a love that’s based on knowledge and insight. He longs for them to know discernment, to be wise. He prays for them to be pure and blameless, looking ahead to the Lord’s coming. We need to live for eternity, not just for now, not just for the end of lockdown, and Paul shows us how to pray with long-term goals in mind. He also prays for the fruit of righteousness to be seen in their lives. We can pray for the fruit of the Spirit to be grown in each one of us as we face new challenges each day. The weary parent may need patience; the fearful may need more peace; all of us need to learn self-control in different areas.

Here’s a challenge for us all in our praying:

  • Let’s learn to pray with joy, confidence and emotion, really caring about each other.

  • Let’s learn to pray for love to abound in knowledge and insight, for discernment for what is best, for us all to live for eternity and not just for now and for God’s righteousness to be grown and seen in practical fruit in our lives.

  • Each tree is known by the fruit it grows (Luke 6:44), so let’s pray for the fruit of the Spirit to grow in our lives so we’re known as spiritual trees!

  • Most of all, let’s learn contentment with Paul and let God into every part of our lives so that we can react to every one of life’s challenges with joy and confidence in God to see us through to the day of Christ Jesus.