By Juan Sanchez
What are your church’s desires for the people they love? If you want to know the answer to that question, listen to their prayers.
I’m sure you’ll discover they’re all good desires—good health, success in education and vocation, healthy relationships. You get the idea.
Who doesn’t want the best for their family, friends, and other Christians?
I wonder, though, how those desires (and prayers) would change if I added one simple word to the initial question. What are your church’s eternal desires for the people they love?
Did you notice the difference? Our initial response to the first question tends to address immediate needs because our desire is for temporal needs, so our loved ones may find relief or justice or peace or joy.
But that one word—eternal—shifts our focus away from the here-and-now to eternity. In light of eternity, we desire that those we love would know Christ.
We hope that on the day of Jesus Christ, our loved ones will be found blameless. So, pastors, now I want to ask you: How do you pray for your church?
As you look back on your recent prayers, are they more focused on your temporal desires for the congregation and its members or on eternal desires?
In Philippians 1:9-11, the apostle Paul instructs us how to pray for our churches in light of eternity. May his example spur us to pray for our church in light of eternity.
The Content of Our Prayers in Light of Eternity
In light of eternity, Paul prayed that the Philippians might grow increasingly in discerning love.
The Philippians were loving. They’d proven their love by how they’d cared for Paul while he was in prison. But Paul wanted them to continue growing in love, and the love he wanted them to grow in was discerning.
Such love is informed by real knowledge and all discernment (verse 9). Paul wanted the Philippians to grow in love informed by a real knowledge of God, His Word, and His ways.
Paul desired that the Philippians would be discerning people. But—of all the things Paul could have prayed for—why did he make this request?
The Purpose of Our Prayers in Light of Eternity
Paul wanted the Philippians to grow in discerning love because he knew this world is dark and crooked, our flesh is weak and forgetful, and the devil is sly and deceitful.
As we walk in this world, the devil is continually offering us promises for our joy that compete with God’s promises. The fight of faith is a regular battle to choose between those two competing offers: one from God, the other from Satan.
Every day—and at times, every moment—we must choose either to listen to Satan’s offers or listen to God’s promises.
Paul prayed that the Philippians might grow in discerning love so that they’d approve the things that are superior, more excellent, and of far greater value.
That is, he wanted them to be able to discern between the fleeting, temporal offers of the devil and the far greater, more valuable, superior promises of God (verse 10).
All the promises of God are yes and amen in Christ Jesus. And no matter what Satan or this world may offer us, everything God has for us is far better.
But Paul’s concern wasn’t just about overcoming temporal temptation.
The Goal of Our Prayers in Light of Eternity
Paul prayed with the end in mind. As the Philippians grew in discerning love and learned to approve that which is of greater value, Paul trusted that on the day of Christ, they’d be found pure and blameless.
Why? Because as they’d learned to choose the more excellent things, they’d walk in holiness, “filled with the fruit of righteousness” (verse 11).
Of course, they wouldn’t have to walk in their own strength, trusting in their own works because Paul spoke of a righteousness that “comes through Jesus Christ.”
Consequently, Paul prayed God would work among the Philippians to give them discerning love and to allow them to grow in righteousness through the grace and strength of Christ.
To what end? To the end that they would glorify God on the day of Christ Jesus.
What Do We Pray For Our Churches?
It’s not wrong to pray for temporal needs. In fact, it’s right and good. Jesus taught His disciples to ask the Father for their daily bread.
Still, I wonder if—even as pastors—our prayers for the church are too “this-worldly”?
What if we prayed that our church would grow in discerning love so they might approve of what’s excellent so that, on the day of Christ, they may be found blameless?
I think praying in light of eternity will change our desires for the church and direct our ministries in such a way that we’ll work, by God’s grace and by faith, to present everyone complete in Christ.