Tuesday, June 25, 2019 -
Someone (I don’t know who) recently sent me several copies of 21 Days of Breakthrough Prayer by Jim and Cathy Maxim with Daniel Henderson. The chapter “For the Sake of the Gospel” particularly struck me. Pastor Henderson writes, “In today’s culture, permanently infected with materialism and a consumer mindset, it is sometimes difficult for Christians to ask for things from God without a fundamentally selfish reason or a chronic aversion to suffering in any form. Too often, we pray to escape our difficulties rather to embrace discipleship in Christ.
“Like many others, I love it when God answers my prayers in ways that make my life more pleasant or pain free. However, I am learning that my deepest needs are met when my heart is most closely aligned with the Word of God, the Son of God, the Spirit of God, and the purposes of God. I feel God calling me and many others I know beyond superficial solutions as the focus of our prayers. Asking is the doorway, not just to getting our next luxury item, but also to discovering the profound joy of a transformed life in Christ.”
This, I said excitedly to myself, is what God has seemed to be trying to tell me since I’ve been in prison! As Henderson says, “The privilege of prayer offers so much more” than our own personal needs and wants. “We know we are supposed to bring our requests to God, but one of the most important questions we need to ask is, ‘How does the content of our prayers differ from the biblical patterns and teaching about the things we should be praying about?’” I had dealt with this topic, asking myself similar questions, and studied the example of Jesus’ prayer life (Mark 1:35l 6:46; Luke 3:21; 9:18, 28; 11:1) months ago, but little is revealed of their content other than where Jesus taught the disciples to pray (the Lord’s Prayer) and where Jesus criticized the religious leaders for their long and public prayers that called attention to themselves and the piety they wished to convey. Henderson observed, however, that Jesus’ personal prayer time “appears they were directly related to fresh empowerment for His selfless, sacrificial service.”
If you review the other instances where Jesus was quoted as prating (Matt. 11:25; 26:39, 42; 27:46; Mark 14:36; 15:34; Luke 22:31-32, 42; 23:34, 46; John 11:41-41: 12:27-28), ”you will find that Jesus always prayed for the glory of the Father and was in complete submission to His will. His prayers always focused on His mission and the fruitful mission of His followers.
“We also see the early church in prayer, most often searching the advancement of the gospel in virtually every situation. They prayed daily as part of a vital regimen of spiritual growth – for the sake of the gospel (see Acts 2:42). In the face of attack, they gathered to pray from the Scriptures, requesting fresh power for boldness – for the sake of the gospel (see Acts 4:31). When they were persecuted, they rejoiced in God for the honor of suffering rather than asking for a reprieve – for the sake of the gospel (see Acts 5:41). When Peter was in jail, they prayed for his release – for the sake of the gospel (see Acts 4:31). When Paul and Silas were in jail, they rejoiced in prayer and trusted God in singing – for the sake of the gospel (see acts 16:25).”
When Paul speaks of his prayers for people (Ephesians 1:3, 23; 3:14-21; Philippians 1:3-11; Colossians 1:3-14; I Thessalonians 3:9-13; II Thessalonians 1:3-12), “with close observation, it becomes clear that everyone of Paul’s model prayers spring from expression of thanksgiving, truths about God, and notes of praise. They are the fruit if his worship and intimate, experiential knowledge of the person of Christ…All of Paul’s prayer requests (found elsewhere) focused on his desire to accomplish his mission by boldly and enduringly proclaiming the gospel so Christ might be magnified in and through him – in life or in death.
“Perhaps the fundamental difference between our prayer lists and the prayer concerns we find in the Bible is that we pray about personal problems, while most of the biblical prayers focused on Christ’s purposes. Worship-based prayers set the foundation for something other than ‘me’ prayers, because they start with ‘Thee.’ This changes the nature of how we pray.”
I pray diligently for other people, including many of my fellow inmates, but it is discouraging I’ve seen so little fruit. Only one man that I am certain has given his life to Christ since I have been here. Yet I’ve spoken to many about their salvation. Even some who have been gone for four or five months I still pray for.
The other day though, I received a letter from a man in my hometown that volunteers at Advancing Native Missions (www.advancingnativemissions.org) who I have actually never met. He sends me a letter every week, but last week’s was super encouraging. It told the story of Dr. William Leslie, a former pharmacist, who lived and served among an unreached, remote tribal group in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the early 20th century. After 17 years, he returned to the U.S. a discouraged man – believing he failed to make an impact for Christ, dying nine years after returning.
But in 2010, a mission team visited the remote corner of the jungle where he served, being flown into the region to where they had to hike and travel with dugout canoes in order to visit the Yansi people. When they got there, they found a network of reproducing churches throughout the jungle that traced their roots back over 90 years to Dr. Leslie’s efforts.
Apparently the man telling me this story had been in prison himself, because he said, “This story can be retold anywhere. Example: I got a new cellie who gave a few days to settle in a get his routine down. Then little by little I introduced him to Jesus. No interest. I tried to be a light shining for Jesus in all I did.
“He had no outside support. I had a job in the kitchen and shared what I made with him for 17 years and never once did he seem interested in Jesus. I got moved a couple of times. 5 years later I got moved and walked into a Bible study in my pod and that guy was leading it. You never know your impact. Colossians 3:23.”
Today, my heart is heavy for “S.” He was the second person I’d met when I arrived in prison, and was very excited to meet me at the time because I was a Christian. He asked me if I was a “devout” Christian, and I told him I was. He said, “Good, I can learn a lot from you.” He told me how he came to believe just a few months earlier, and he seemed eager to learn. I shared some good Christian books with him, but within a month he lost interest and refused more, and soon began missing out prayer circle. Initially being excited about a Bible study, and helping to set the time we would meet every week, he’d always have something else to do. It turns out “S” had come to prison very likely because of a gambling problem, which had now overtaken his life even here in prison. Then, he soon became addicted to drugs. He was one who heard the word of the kingdom, received it with joy, but set down no firm roots. It was only temporary, and he fell away. Today, they hauled him off to the “shoe” for failing a drug test. He had been scheduled to go to a halfway house in about 30 days, and home in 5 months. I wonder what his 13 year old son will think!
My friend “C” believes nobody truly repents and accepts Christ as Lord and Savior until tragedy comes and they hit rock bottom. So tonight, even though I’ve prayed for “S” daily for months, I’m upping the intensity of my prayer. As he sits for months in the hole, may he truly turn to Christ in a genuine and real way, making Him Lord of all. I pray that the long-term fruit that results from my being here will bear fruits tremendously, even though I’ll probably never know, just like Dr. Leslie, until I am united with the Lord in heaven. For Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, “I suffer hardship, even to imprisonment as a criminal; but the Word of God is not imprisoned. For this reason I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen, that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus, and with it, eternal glory” (II Timothy 2:9-10).