Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you, and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men. For not all have faith.
You recall from Ephesians 6:17-18 that Paul said, "Take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God ... praying." Prayer is the power that wields the weapon of the word. Last week we pondered the truth that the weapon serves the wielding power.
Nevertheless—and this is the magnificence of prayer—God has put his word into the hand of prayer. He himself remains the source and goal of all things, but he has chosen to make prayer the power that wields the weapon of his word. He himself remains the source to that power, but he grants to use the privilege and joy of being the instrument of his power in prayer.
A Universal Desire to Mirror God
I believe all of you somewhere within your heart want to be the instruments of God's power, and therefore, even if you don't feel like it now, there is buried somewhere in your subconscious the longing to be a man or a woman of fervent and effective prayer.
The reason I am confident of this is that every one of you is created in God's image. Each one of you was created to be a conscious mirror of God's image. You were created to consciously reflect his glory like a mirror of God's image. Before sin entered the world, I think Adam and Eve had an overwhelming longing to be used by God to image-forth his power and wisdom and love in the world. They wanted to be mirrors of his glory.
And that longing is deep within every person today, but it has been distorted by sin. In a sense, the distortion is only slight; but it is the difference between day and night. It is the difference between wanting to reflect his face and wanting to take his place.
The glory of a mirror is to put its face to the light and to let that light shine. This is what mirrors are made for. This is the deep longing of the heart. But then sin entered the world and its first manifestation was Adam and Eve's discontent with being mirrors. They began to want to be their own source of light. They began to feel that mirrors are just glass with a thin black coating of tin and mercury.
They suddenly became conscious of the fact that to be a good mirror you have to turn whichever way the light moves. You can't be your own master. So they chose to be their own source of light; they turned their brilliant mirror-faces away from God, and now all they can do is block his light and cast a shadow across the world.
But I want you to see that the longing of Adam and Eve to be the light is a distortion of a legitimate longing, namely, to reflect the light. The Bible teaches that everyone since the fall of Adam and Eve is born with these same distorted longings. We come into the world longing to be God. We want the world to revolve around our interests.
We want to decide for ourselves which way to turn our faces. We want people to esteem us and admire us and compliment us. We don't like the thought of being a mirror which has no beauty except in the thing it reflects. We don't like the idea of having to turn our face wherever the light wants to go. We want to be our own light. We want to be God.
This comes with our fallen humanity. It is the very essence of sin. If you are honest, you will admit that you have felt this way. But this universal experience of sin is Satan's distortion of something wonderful. And the wonderful thing is the pure and righteous longing to be used by God to reflect his glory in the world.
It's not wrong to want to be significant. It's wrong to want your significance to reside in yourself instead of in the one you reflect. It's not wrong to want to be important. It's wrong to want your importance to be in yourself instead of the one you reflect. It's not wrong to boast, but "Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord!"
Concealed deep beneath our pride and our craving for esteem and our love of power and influence is a good thing that has been distorted, namely, the longing to be a mirror of God. To be a mirror of God is the highest honor to which a creature can aspire. And the most ludicrous sight in the world is a created mirror turning away from the light of God and then trying on its own to make a little spark to brighten the shadow it casts on the world.
We Mirror God Through Prayer
Now you might have lost track of what this has to do with prayer, so let me try to retrace our steps. What I have been trying to show is that each of you, if not consciously, at least subconsciously wants to be a person of fervent and powerful prayer. That is, you want to have a significant place in the purposes of God. You want to be his instrument in accomplishing something worthwhile.
My argument for this has been that behind the universal desire to be God there is a distorted longing to be a mirror of God - to have the significance and the importance of reflecting the glory of God. But my unspoken assumption so far is that praying is the way we mirror God.
Surely that is easy to see. A mirror faces away from itself to its source of light so that it might have some use in the world, and prayer faces away from itself toward God so that it might be of some use in the world. A mirror is designed to receive light and channel it for the good of others, and prayer is designed to receive grace and channel it for the good of others.
The value of a mirror is not in itself, but in its potential to let something else be seen. And the value of prayer is not in itself, but in its potential to let the power and beauty of God be seen. A mirror is utterly dependent on the source of light from outside itself, and prayer is the posture of the childlike, utterly dependent on the resources and kindness of the heavenly Father.
So praying is the way we mirror God. And if I am right that each of you, in the image of God, has a deep desire to be a mirror of God, then it is also true that, even if you don't feel like it now, there is buried somewhere in your subconscious the longing to be a man or a woman of fervent and effective prayer.
My prayer is that God will use this message to bring that desire to the surface and make it insatiable all through 1985.
God's Word Triumphs Through Prayer
One of the texts that has done that for my own desire to pray is 2 Thessalonians 3:1-2. It's short, but full of incentive for those of us who want to have a significant role in God's purposes: "Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed on and triumph, as it did among you, and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men; for not all have faith."
This text gives tremendous significance to prayer in God's victorious purposes. We could state the doctrine like this: Through prayer the word of the Lord overcomes obstacles and reaches a glorious victory.
The word of the Lord is pictured as an athlete running in a race to attain the prize of glory. An athlete is glorified when he wins and is recognized and acclaimed as superior to all the others in the race. So the word of the Lord is running in the world. It will one day win the race of words—the race of philosophies and theories and worldviews. It will be recognized and acclaimed as superior to all other words and philosophies—IF we pray! "Pray for us that the word of the Lord may speed on in triumph."
Now just think of it. Almighty God has spoken. If he is God, it is sure that his word will accomplish all his purposes. God's truth must win the race of words, but the text says, "Pray that the word will be victorious!" I take this to mean that God will indeed cause his word to be glorified, but he does not intend to win the victory without prayer. Or to put it in the most amazing way, he does not intend to win without giving you a part in the victory.
This is simply amazing. God's whole purpose of creation and redemption hangs on the success of his word. Jesus said that the gospel must first be preached to all the peoples (Mark 13:10) before the end will come. In the end there will be people in the kingdom from every tongue and tribe and nation (Revelation 5:9). The word must run in triumph to those peoples if the purpose of God is to be accomplished. If his word fails, if there are insurmountable obstacles, then the new heaven and new earth abort.
Therefore, since God does not intend to win the race of words without the prayers of his people, the very purpose of God in creation and redemption hangs on your prayers.
True Significance Comes Through Prayer
If you're hungry for significance—for ultimate, eternal significance, not a little nationwide 50-year significance—then devote yourself to prayer for the word of God to run and be glorified, because through prayer the word of the Lord will be victorious and you with it.
We count people great in proportion to whether they have produced anything great, so some people long to write a great novel, and some long to build a business that will rival IBM or Mobil Oil, and some long to be the coach of a Super Bowl champion team, and some dream of commanding a brilliant battalion in victory, and some dream of discovering a new form of energy.
In about two seconds, all of them and all of us are going to gather before the judgment seat of God. James says that your life here is like a mist that appears for a little while and then is gone. Earthly life is like the breaths you saw in the air as you walked in this morning—about two seconds. So the only greatness worth pursuing is greatness that is going to last in the age to come. Nobody gets excited about two seconds of greatness. Would there be any takers if God offered to let you feel the greatness of being chief executive officer of IBM for two seconds in exchange for your life?
So we are all there before the judgment seat of all. The novel is gone, IBM is gone, the Super Bowl is gone, the battalion is gone, and the new form of energy is a first grade science project in heaven. But off to the side of this group of erstwhile greats is John Doe Christian who, in his life, had spent 30 minutes a day on his knees praying that the word of the Lord would run and be glorified.
And behind him, stretching as far as the eye can see, are people from every tribe and tongue and nation praising God and shouting, "Worthy art thou, Lord God Almighty, for thou hast put it in the heart of John Doe Christian to pray, and by his prayers didst cause thy word to run and be glorified in our faith. Long live the King! Long live John Doe Christian! Great is the Lord and great is the mirror of his glory!"
For those of us who long for eternal significance and hunger after true greatness, 2 Thessalonians 3:1 is a very exciting text. God has appointed prayer as the means by which we have a role in his saving purposes, which is greater than any greatness the earth has to offer. You just have to see things the way God does.
God will be duly glorified when the knowledge of his glory fills the earth like the waters fill the sea. And the earth will be filled with the knowledge of his glory when the word of the Lord runs and is glorified. And the word of the Lord runs and is glorified through prayer.
Brothers and sisters, this is a high calling. Believe it or not, this is the kind of greatness and the kind of significance you are longing for—to be an instrument in the hands of God to cause the word of the Lord to speed on in triumph!
A Challenge to Pray
We stand at the end of the week in prayer and at the beginning of 1985. We have begun it in the way we should. The ministry of the word will run and be glorified at Bethlehem Baptist Church this year to the degree that we remain faithful to God's word and to the degree that we pray for its victory. Everything of eternal significance happens by the word and prayer.
Let me hold out a challenge to you. Would you be willing to join me in resolving to pray this prayer every day this year? "Lord, cause your word to run and be glorified in the ministries of our church and in the missions we support."
It implies praying that the word of God will win converts to Christ in our midst. It implies praying that the word of God will conquer sinful habits in our lives. It implies praying that the word of God will rise up and send out from among us ministers of the word at home and abroad. It implies praying that the teachers of the church will be kept from the evil one and will hold to the truth and be filled with spiritual power to proclaim and explain the word of God.
But all I am asking is whether you will make the promise. God helping me, I will pray each day in 1985 this simple prayer: Lord, cause your word to run and be glorified in the ministries of our church and in the missions we support.
Before I ask you to make that choice, let me close with an illustration of the kind of discipline and perseverance in prayer that might inspire you.
Illustration and Encouragement to Pray
David Howard, whose son teaches at our seminary and who is general director of The World Evangelical Fellowship, told recently in the Evangelical Missions Quarterly about a great movement of prayer that happened at Wheaton College when he and Jim Elliot were there in 1946.
Jim Elliot—the missionary killed by the Auca Indians in Ecuador—organized a campus-wide round-the-clock prayer cycle so that a student was praying for a missions movement during every 15-minute slot. One of the students named Art Wiens was moved during that week to pray systematically through the college directory, praying for 10 students by name every day. He followed this faithfully through his college years.
David Howard says that he did not see Art Wiens again until 1974, about 25 years later, at the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization in Switzerland. As they renewed their friendship, Art asked David Howard if he recalled the great times of prayer they used to have. Then he said, "You know, Dave, I am still praying for 500 of our college contemporaries who are now on the mission field." David asked him how he knew that many are overseas. He said, "I kept in touch with the alumni office and found out who was going as a missionary, and I still pray for them."
Dave was so astounded he asked if he could see the prayer list. The next day he brought it to him—a battered old notebook he had started in college days with the names of hundreds of their classmates and fellow students.
Have you ever tested the desire to put your hand to a plow and not take it off for 25 years? Well, I would like to give you the chance to put it to the plow for one year, and the plow is very light. It takes eight seconds to say prayerfully, "Lord, cause your word to run and be glorified in the ministries of our church and in the missions we support. I pray in Jesus' name. Amen."