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Chapter 2

The Principle of Prayer

Joy Requires Communion with God


You have made us for yourself, O Lord,

and our heart is restless until it rests in you.

St. Augustine of Hippo (Confessions)



e defined joy in Chapter 1 as the state of being glad and said that joy was ultimately a divine gift. Paul supports this view, because he tells us on two different occasions in Philippians to “rejoice in the Lord”.  Only when we are fully in communion with God can true joy be experienced regardless of circumstances.  It is not surprising, therefore, that our first principle for living a joyful life is the principle of prayer.

In almost every letter that Paul wrote, he began by discussing his prayers for the recipients.  He did not begin by discussing his own needs; he began by letting his readers know about his prayers for them.  This served as an encouragement to the readers and to set them at ease regarding the content of the letter they are receiving. 

Paul felt very strong feelings for the Christians in the churches that he started and his thoughts and prayers were constantly about them, rather than himself.  What we find therefore in Philippians in addition to the primary theme of joy is another common theme that is complementary to the primary theme of joy.  That secondary theme is a focus on others, rather than a focus on one’s self.  As such, we find that:

A focus on others is critical to understanding joy.




1:3 I thank my God in all my remembrance of you,

1:4 always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy,

1:5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.

1:6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

1:7 It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.

1:8 For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.


Paul’s Example of Thanksgiving

Paul says more about being thankful than any other New Testament writer. Of all the New Testament Letters (excluding the gospels, Acts, and Revelation), Paul is the only author who even mentions being thankful[1] – and he mentions it over and over and over again.  To Paul, being thankful is an extremely important part of the Christian life.  

As an interesting bit of trivia, the word translated “I thank” is from the same word that we get the word “Eucharist” – which is the Catholic and traditional Orthodox term used for the Lord’s Supper.  The Latin and Greek words for “thank” are cognates (i.e., the word sounds the same in both languages) and mean grateful or thankful.  So we can use the words thankful and grateful – and in some respects joyful – interchangeably.

Paul believed in the importance of being thankful.  Here in Philippians, he expresses that thankfulness in three different ways.

First, Paul is grateful and thankful of his memories of the church at Philippi.  In fact, his memories of them bring him joy.  Keep in mind, however, that his time in Philippi was not all roses and daisies. If you read Acts 16, you find that his time in Philippi was very difficult indeed.  First, a demon-possessed young woman harasses him continually for many days, hindering his ministry.  The ESV translation says that Paul became “greatly annoyed” with the situation. Then, when he can no longer stand it, he casts the demon out of the girl.  As a result, he gets falsely accused of causing a riot, severely beaten, and then thrown in prison.

Can we really say that if we were harassed by a demon, beaten with many blows, and thrown into prison with shackles on our hands and feet while we were trying to do the work of the gospel that we would have thankful and joyous memories of the occasion?  I doubt that I would have been so generous.

On the other hand, Paul certainly wasn’t choosing to treat these difficulties as if they never happened.  In fact, in his letter to the Thessalonians he says, “But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict.”  

Paul wasn’t choosing to ignore the difficulties he faced in Philippi, but he wasn’t focusing on them either.  Instead he focused on the good that came from his experiences – specifically the converts to Christianity and the church that was planted as a result. 

Too often, we are so intently focused on the negative in our past that no room is left for joyful memories.  It may be true that each of us can look back in our lives and find all sorts of negative things to obsess over.  It is also true, though, that we can look back and see all kinds of wonderful and happy things that we can be grateful about.  For those, we can be thankful – and joyful.

As an example, I cannot help but think about one of my recent ministry positions.  Even though it may have ended under painful and difficult circumstances, I have nothing but fond and joyous memories of the time my family and I spent there.   We developed numerous wonderful friendships.  We saw many lives changed, including a number of new souls – many of them children - surrendered to Jesus Christ.  We can honestly look back and say that we still love the church and the people in the church and are joyful in our remembrance of them. 

If I were to choose to do so, I could focus on the negative.  I could dwell on the circumstances that caused us to abruptly leave.  I could dwell on the pain that we felt because we had to leave.  I could focus on the personal hurt I experienced, the feeling of abandonment that my wife experienced, and the confusion that we all experienced.  If I were to do this, the joy we experienced during our time there would be tainted and diminished.   The pain would so overshadow the joy that we would be left with the conclusion that going to that church was a mistake.  We know that is not the case.  Our time at that church was absolutely God’s will.  Furthermore, I know beyond belief that God had a greater purpose in what happened.  Maybe I know a part of what that purpose is, but maybe I may never come to fully understand what that purpose may have been in this lifetime.  For that reason, I must choose to focus on the fond memories rather than the bad memories and allow God’s joy to fill my heart as a result.

That confidence I feel for God’s purposes in my own situation is very similar to the second way in which Paul expresses his thankfulness here in Philippians.  As expressed in verse 6, Paul is confident in the Providence of God.  He expresses this confidence by reminding the Philippian believers that the work that Jesus began in them will ultimately be completed.

Paul said that he was sure that Christ had a plan for each of the believers in Philippi, and that plan would be carried out in accordance with God’s will.  God likewise has a plan for each of us.  We can rest confidently in the fact that God is sovereign over all of creation.  That means nothing can thwart his plans.   God is in full control of everything that happens – and everything that happens will be used to accomplish his purposes.    We can also rest confidently in the fact that God is good.  Therefore, we can rest assured that whatever plan God may be working out – regardless of what we may be going through at this particular point in time –is a good plan.  Romans 8:28 reminds us that “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

Paul was thankful because he knew God was sovereign and good and would complete the work that he started in the Philippian church. We too can be thankful that God is sovereign and good and will complete the work that he has begun in us as well.

Finally, the third way in which Paul demonstrated his thankfulness is the fact that he was affectionate in his fellowship with the Philippians.  In verse 8, Paul says that he yearned for the Philippians with all the affection of Christ Jesus.  Good fellowship is certainly something we can all be thankful for, and good, affectionate fellowship is one of those things that naturally bring joy into our lives.

Unfortunately, in our fast-paced, on-demand lifestyle, we do not always put a great and proper emphasis on affectionate fellowship.   Certainly there are varying levels of success in this regard from church to church and from bible study class to bible study class.  However, even those groups that have stellar success in the area of fellowship have to admit that (a) it is not always affectionate, and (b) it gets harder and harder every day to actually have such fellowship.  Ask yourself this question – particularly if you go to a large church (1000 or more active attenders): how many people can you say that you know and for whom you have a deep affection?  Before answering that question, though, we must first ask the question as to what is meant by “deep affectionate” relationships.

Perhaps you have heard the term KoinoniaKoinonia is the Greek word that most often gets translated in the New Testament as “fellowship.”   The definition of koinonia in the Greek, however, is “communion by intimate participation.”   It is often used to describe the manner in which Christ carried out the last supper, which is why we sometimes call the Eucharist by the term “Communion” rather than the Lord’s Supper.  That word, however, is the same word that is simply translated “fellowship” elsewhere.   So with how many people do you have “communion by intimate participation?”

 I recently asked this question to a colleague of mine who was an active member of a ten thousand plus membership church that averages over two thousand five hundred worshippers in attendance on any given Sunday.  He said that, depending upon how one might define affection, he could only say that he had a deep, affectionate relationship with four or five other people in his church.  This gentleman is a very active member and a Sunday school teacher in a church with ten thousand members and he could only say he had close fellowship with four or five other people in the church. I suspect many of us would have to admit a similar answer.

We are called to have joy regardless of our circumstances, but yet there is so much that we could be doing – such as building affectionate relationships with others – that naturally produce joy in our lives.  Paul understood that one of the keys to being thankful and therefore one of the keys to having joy is to have close, affectionate relationships with other believers.  Paul said here in Philippians that he yearned to be with those whom he loved when he was apart from them.  As Christians, we are not meant to be alone.  Christ has a deep affection for us and so we should have a deep affection for each other.  Loneliness is a joy-killer; but - on the flip side – close, affectionate relationships are one of the things we can depend upon to help naturally generate joy in our lives.

[1] Find this hard to believe?  So did I.  I challenge you to test the premise.



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