Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your
reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be
anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and
supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to
God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will
guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Today is the beginning of prayer week. Why do we have a week of
concerted prayer at the turn of each year? We do it to make a
statement as a church—a statement to God, to the world, and
to our own consciences—that we exist as a church to do things
that we cannot do without the special, supernatural grace of God.
Prayer week proclaims: Bethlehem exists mainly to do the humanly
Most of what you see happening at Bethlehem can happen without
that special, supernatural grace. Common grace—the general
providence of God—that sustains our bodies, and minds, and
wills, and the whole of nature itself, is enough to account for
preaching and teaching and singing and evangelism and missions. But
that is not why we exist.
We Exist to Do Things That Can't Be Done without God's Special,
- We don't exist to preach, but to preach in the power of the
Holy Spirit so that people are supernaturally awakened from
unbelief and changed beyond what any human could cause.
- We don't exist to teach Sunday school, but to teach in the
power of the Holy Spirit so that children and young people and
adults are supernaturally converted and built up in faith and love
beyond what any human could cause.
- We don't exist to sing, but to sing in the power of the Holy
Spirit because the affections of our hearts are supernaturally
illumined, and the glory of Christ is seen and savored beyond what
any human or any music could cause.
- We don't exist to do evangelism and missions, but to do
evangelism and missions in the power of the Holy Spirit so that
hard, unbelieving hearts would be supernaturally changed into soft,
And the list could go on and on. Do you see this? Are we in
agreement on this, Bethlehem ? We are not a club. We are not a mere
social organization. We are not a weekly pep rally. We are a
covenant band of saved sinners who have been supernaturally
converted from unbelief to belief in Jesus as our God and our
Savior and our Treasure. We are a people in whom the Spirit of the
living Christ mercifully dwells. Romans 8:9, “ Anyone who
does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to
Therefore, everything we aim to accomplish as a church is
impossible without God's special, supernatural action. From the
making of a meal on Wednesday night, to the changing of a diaper in
the nursery, to the preaching of a sermon—our aim in all of
it do it by the grace that God supplies so that in everything he
gets the glory. And that is impossible without God's special,
We make this clear—we declare this and show this—by
having a week of concerted prayer at the turn of each year. I hope
we demonstrate it all year long by the way we pray. But once a
year, at least, we lift the banner high and say, we exist to do
things that we cannot do without the special, supernatural grace of
And the reason a prayer week shows this is that God has designed
and ordained and planned and promised that he will act for us when
we pray. God has promised to do for us things we cannot do our
ourselves when we pray—that is, when we get on our faces
before God and confess our sins, and give thanks for his grace, and
lift up the cup of salvation, and plead for him to fill it with
supernatural blessings for the needs in our lives and families and
church and business and city and nation and world.
Is it not breathtaking to hear Jesus say, “ Ask, and it
will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will
be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7). Isn't it breathtaking to
hear his brother James say, “ You do not have, because you do
not ask” (James 4:2)! Or to put it positively, “If you
had asked, God would have acted to meet your need.” This is
astonishing: God acts in response to prayer. The all-knowing,
all-foreseeing, all-planning, all-governing God wills for your
Christ-exalting prayers to be the occasion of his action.
This is why prayer week makes the statement that we exist to do
things that we cannot do without the special, supernatural grace of
God—because God planned and promised that he would do these
things in answer to prayer . So when we plan to pray in a
concerted way, we are saying: the special, supernatural action of
God is essential in the life of this church and the life of our
Think about this in relation to our mission as a church. We
exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things
for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ . If that's
why we exist, then our success in this is utterly dependent on the
special, supernatural work of God. Nobody has a passion for God's
supremacy in all things for Christ's sake without a supernatural
conversion. Try and see what you can do to make a person with no
spiritual interest have a joyful, Christ-exalting passion for God's
supremacy in all things. Only God can do this. That is why we pray
without ceasing. That is why we declare this loudly with a week of
God Will Complete His Saving Purposes?By Prayer!
God does not intend to complete his saving purposes in the world
without prayer. He will complete these purposes! That is
crystal clear in the Bible. And he will do it by prayer .
That is also crystal clear.
Listen to Paul in 2 Thessalonians 3:1, “Pray for us, that
the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened
among you.” In other words, the word of God came to you, and
by God's sovereign grace you heard it for what it really is, the
word of God, and you believed, and you forsook your idols, and you
are eagerly waiting for the coming of Jesus to deliver you from the
wrath to come, and you are living lives of love. That's what
happens when the word of God “speeds ahead and is
honored”. And Paul says, Pray, that it may happen!
Why would he say that? Because the advance of God's saving power
in the world happens in response to prayer. God will see to it that
there are praying churches, because he means to get the job done.
If prayer is a means to an absolutely certain end, then God will
see to it, with absolute certainty, that the means come to pass. He
will see to it that there are praying churches, that the word might
“speed on and be honored.”
My desire and my prayer is that we will be one of
them—that we would not be passed over and left with our fatal
Philippians 4:6-7: By Prayer and Supplication with
If there were time, I would love to do an extended exposition of
Philippians 4:6-7. But I simply want to read it, make a brief
comment, then stand on it, and trust the Lord to apply it to your
life as I unfold the vision that I have for Bethlehem as a praying
church. So let's read it.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer
and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known
to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding,
will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
The effect of faithful prayer here is stated first negatively,
then positively. Negatively: “Don't be anxious about
anything.” Positively: “The peace of God, which passes
all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ
Jesus.” Paul promises that a life of faithful,
Christ-dependent, Christ-exalting prayer will be a life protected
from anxiety (and its many sinful fruits) by God's peace.
If you want victory over worry and you want to have the steady
enjoyment of God's peace, then here is Paul's prescription:
“In everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving
let your requests be made known to God.” Don't miss the words
“in everything.”In everything . . . let your
requests be made known to God.” Pray about everything. Stay
in a mindset of prayer all day. Don't just pray in crises. Pray
about everything—that whether you eat or drink, or whatever
you do you would glorify God (1 Corinthians 10:31 ). The most
crucial prayer for every situation and action is: “Hallowed
by Thy name (Matthew 6:9).
How shall we do this? Paul uses three words. In everything
“ by prayer ”—that's the broad word of
spiritual devotion, including different kinds of prayer. And
“ supplication ”—that's the narrow word
that focuses on the kind of prayer, namely, asking for help.
“ With thanksgiving ”—that's the humble,
non-demanding mindset that
flavors all of prayer. Making requests
thankfully means that we will be content and thankful with
whatever God wisely and lovingly gives us. And we know that he will
hear our prayer and wisely and lovingly give us what's best for
When we let our requests be made known to God like this—in
the devotion of prayer, in many specific requests for help, with a
heart that is thankful for everything God designs for us, the
pleasures and the pain—then his peace will guard our minds
and free us from anxiety in a way that defies mere rational
explanation; it surpasses all understanding.
Oh, that the Lord might make you feel the joy and the wonder and
the power and privilege and the peace of a life of prayer!
My Dream for the Prayer Life of Bethlehem
I close with a sketch of a dream or a vision of what prayer
might look like at Bethlehem if we were increasingly gripped by
this great privilege.
1. Jesus said in Matthew 6:6, “When you pray, go into your
room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret.
And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” So I
dream of Bethlehem with thousands of people daily finding a
secluded place and time for personal communion with God, confessing
sins, thanking God for blessings, praising him for his perfections,
asking for help in your life, and interceding earnestly for others.
Every day in your solitary place and time.
2. The apostle Peter said 1 Peter 3:7, “Husbands, live
with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman
as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of
life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.” So I dream
of a Bethlehem with hundreds of married couples on their knees
together, not with the children at meals or for family devotions,
but just the two of you praying out loud together for each other's
holiness, and for your marriage, and for your children, and your
church, and your neighbors, and our missionaries, and the advance
of God's saving power in the world.
3. And since the apostle Paul said in Ephesians 6:4,
“Fathers . . . bring . . . up [your children] in the
discipline and instruction of the Lord,” I dream of a
Bethlehem with hundreds of families where every day not just at
meal time but in the morning, or in the evening, or both, the
children are gathered and the word of God is read and everyone
prays so that the smallest children learn from the earliest times:
prayer is an essential part of my parents' lives and our life as a
family. We exist to do things that can't be done without God's
special, supernatural grace. And all the while they are learning
how to pray.
4. Since James, the brother of Jesus, said in James 5:16,
“Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another,
that you may be healed,” I dream of a Bethlehem with hundreds
of small groups and hundreds of deep friendships where people are
praying for each other—hands on prayer for healing, for
reconciliation, for lost loved ones, for seemingly intractable sin,
for endurance in faith, and where groups and friends are uniting to
pray for a cause together, and where the mission of the church is
carried in prayer.
5. And since the twelve apostles said in Acts 6:4, “But we
will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the
word,” I dream of a Bethlehem where all staff meetings and
all Elder Council meetings and all committee meetings and task
force meetings and planning meetings do not just hurry into human
discussion with an opening prayer, but linger with the Lord in a
season of prayer and soak the meeting in prayer and then return to
prayer during the meeting, so that the way the work of the meetings
is done is by prayer.
6. And it is clear that the Bible expects us to pray out loud
together as a church and not just in solitude. For example, Paul
says in 1 Corinthians 14:16, “If you give thanks with your
spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider say
‘Amen' to your thanksgiving when he does not know what you
are saying? 17 For you may be giving thanks well enough, but the
other person is not being built up.” In other words, God
means for us to pray sometimes so that others can hear us and say
“Amen” to our prayers and can be built up in faith by
hearing what we pray.
Therefore, I dream of a Bethlehem with prayer meetings each
morning of the week and Wednesday nights, that many more people
attend so that they can build each other up in prayer and speak to
God together and not just in isolation. I dream of special nights
of prayer (like this Wednesday) and mornings of prayer (like the
first Sunday Sunrise prayer) and the prayer meeting we call the
first Tuesday fasts ? not with dozens but hundreds
7. And finally, since the essence of worship is vertical
communion with God (Matthew 15:8-9), I dream of worship services in
which everyone is radically, deeply, joyfully, authentically
engaged with God in prayer all through the entire
service—praying as you come, praying as you sing, praying as
you listen, praying as you go. Worship is nothing if it is not the
engagement of the heart and mind in prayer to God, confessing,
thanking, praising, pleading. Oh, that thousands of people in
corporate worship would not be anxious about anything, but in
everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your
requests be made known to God. And may the peace of God, which
surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in
Christ Jesus. And set you free to seek the kingdom first.