How do you pray for your children or your grandchildren? I am a parent and a grandparent, and I pray for my kids. I pray they will be healthy, protected, and so on. Most important, however, I pray they make good decisions in life and walk in God’s ways. After all, a lot of bad decisions can be made in life.
Making decisions is an important and often very difficult part of life. Some of us have a tough time making decisions. We are afraid of choosing the wrong path, the wrong door. Many are hesitant to make ironclad commitments for fear of getting stuck in something. We want guarantees that all will work out fine. However, life isn’t always like that.
Open doors. We all face them.
As we talk about open doors in this sermon series, a TV game show comes to mind that I watched when I was a kid. It’s called, “Let’s Make a Deal” with Monty Hall. The idea of the show was to come in costume to compete for money and prizes by striking wacky deals. If Monty chose you, you could trade something for a bigger prize, hopefully trading up to the biggest prize of the day. “What’s behind this door (or curtain)? Will you trade us for it?”Everybody, of course, was anxious because they were afraid of taking the wrong door and getting zonked (the white elephant prize). The final contestants got three doors to choose from – Door #1, Door #2, or Door #3.
When you think about it, life is full of doors. We have so many decisions to make, so many choices. We don’t want to get zonked. “Which decision is the right one?” we ask ourselves. It can stress a person out and even paralyze them from making a choice at all, which is a choice in itself.
People have interesting methods for making choices, for choosing doors. Such as flipping a coin. Superstitions like Ouija boards, horoscopes, and fortunetellers. Some people will say they just follow their gut, which can be dangerous because of our sinful nature. I know what I want and I’m pretty much gonna follow what I want. I tell my gut to do the same.
Some of us operate like Yogi Berra: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it” without any thought at all. Interestingly though, as you look in Scripture, the Bible doesn’t really provide an outline for the various big and little decisions we have to make in life. However, it does tell us quite clearly that God wants us to become good choosers. This would make sense when you think about it. After all, we are created in God’s image, He has given us a mind with which to think and reason, and a will to exercise. He has given us Himself and promised to be with us in all of life’s decision-making.
In today’s passage, we find the apostle Paul telling a congregation of Christians that he is praying for them. Paul is their spiritual father, their pastor. He brought them to Christ. They are like his children. This letter, therefore, drips with love and affection more than any other letter Paul wrote.
Today we learn about his prayers for the Philippians. His prayers boil down to this – that they grow to make good decisions as they face the various doors and opportunities they encounter along the way. His words again: “My prayer is that your love may overflow with knowledge and full insight to help you determine what is best.”
What is Paul really communicating here? It is important for us, as followers of Christ, to become good choosers. We should be able to determine what is best as we live our new lives in Christ so our love for God and one another might overflow. We are to grow as
we live out Christ’s great commandment and great commission.
Paul says, “I pray you grow in love.” The love he is talking about here is called agape love. It means to live sacrificially for the sake of others, to give self away as Jesus did. Jesus once talked about agape love in the Upper Room with His disciples as He described life in the community. He said, “Love one another as I have loved you. By this all people will know you are my disciples.” This is the way to live.
Paul not only prays that they will grow much, but also well. May your life of love be peppered with knowledge and full insight.
Love is not meant to be blind (as some people will say) or a sentiment or an emotion. It is meant to be thoughtful and insightful. This is love at its best.
He says, “May your love overflow with knowledge . . .” Knowledge of what? Knowledge of God from His Word. This is where we find knowledge. It is where we learn His ways, His love for us, His mind, His will for our life, His kingdom principles and values that make for abundant living. It is where we learn knowledge of how we need God.
Full insight – what is that? Full insight basically means spiritual discernment. Another word would be wisdom. It refers to people who have mastered the art of living and tend to make decisions we can describe as wise.
Paul says, I pray these things for you in order to help you determine what is best. That is, make good decisions, choose right doors. To help you make good decisions and act in ways that will truly benefit others and glorify God. To help you not only discern what is morally good or bad, but also know the difference between what’s better and what’s best.
Paul goes on to say, When all is said and done, you will stand before the Lord on that great day, pure and blameless. This is his way of saying you will look like Jesus who is described as the pure and blameless One.
. . . having produced the harvest of righteousness. The word righteousness means right living before God. We know about righteousness. Psalm 23 says, “He leads me in paths of righteousness for his namesake.” We will live a fruitful life for Christ, causing others to glorify and praise God.
This is Paul’s prayer for them, and for us as well – that we live our life loving God, neighbor, one another as Christ’s people, making good, wise decisions.
Therefore, it is important to ask, what are some basic principles to help us grow and become wise, knowledgeable, and insightful.
First of all, ask God for it. Ask constantly, not just once. Asking is the starting point. Paul is praying on behalf of his beloved people. He knows from personal experience that we can’t gain wisdom on our own. We need God’s help. He who knows so much more than we could ever know. He asks God to help us become wise and make God-pleasing decisions.
I am reminded of James’ words: “If any of you lack wisdom, ask for it and God who is generous will give it” (1:5). When Solomon became King of Israel, he prayed for wisdom to lead the people. God blessed him for his request and gave him His wisdom.
Asking requires humility. It means acknowledging we are not wise enough on my own. I think of the Serenity Prayer, which the Alcoholics Anonymous organization uses – “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”
Paul and James would say to us, This God, to whom you pray, is generous. He wants to give you the wisdom you need in life.
Become more intentional in your decision-making. Develop some skills in how to make wise decisions. Begin with little issues before you face the big issues in life. Choosing doors is a process of recognizing opportunities. As we said last week: God opens doors. What is this a chance to do?
Identify some options. What could I do in this situation – A, B, or C? Evaluate whether your decision would be good or bad, fruitful or unfruitful, pleasing or displeasing to God.
Make a choice and get to work. Learn from the experience. Do you have a free evening after supper? This is an opportunity. This time could be spent well. What can I do with it? Look at the options: I could play with the kids. I could read to them or play a game or talk with my wife. I could spend some quiet time reading, or I could pick up the remote and turn on the TV set.
Then evaluate: which option works best for me? What is good? What is bad? What is better? What is best? Choose and then learn from the experience. Look back on it and review.
As you do these tasks in the small events of life, you will find it easier to make the big decisions. You have disciplined yourself to begin thinking wisely.
By the way, it is important to constantly keep your eye on the ball. Ask the right questions – big picture questions. What is God’s priority, His purpose for my life? This is an important thing to recall. God’s primary will for your life is not in the achievements we accrue. It’s not in the busyness we can fill our lives with. It is in the person we become – pure and blameless, producing fruits of righteousness like Jesus.
We need to constantly ask, Why am I here? I hear people typically ask this question after a near-death experience. God spared me, they say. He must have a purpose for me. I wonder what it is. Why do we wait until we have a heart attack or a near-death experience to ask it? It’s good one to ask it on a daily basis. Why am I here? What am I investing my life energies into at this point in my life? Making myself comfortable? Getting my personal security? Or am I investing in larger, more noble things – God things? “What does it profit a person to gain the whole world (all the small things),” Jesus said, “and lose your soul?” (Mark 8:26). Ask the right questions.
Put together a door-selection committee for yourself. Have a counselor or team of wise counselors who know you and who you trust to tell you what you need to hear. The Philippians had the apostle Paul to speak truth into their lives. King Solomon says in Proverbs, “The way of a fool seems right to them, but the wise listen to advice” (12:15). We have blind spots as individuals and restricted vision. We need others who can speak truth into our lives.
Learn to expect that, even after all this, your decisions will sometimes lead to failures. It is okay. If you run into difficulties and failures, you will learn and grow from it. God’s love will still be there for you. He will still value you as you. You can learn from your failures as well.
Finally, THE all-important ingredient for making wise decisions in life, for determining what is best is this: connect yourself and stay connected to one person in particular. This person will prove to be the wisest friend you’ll ever had. In talking of Himself, Jesus said, “Someone greater than (wise old) Solomon is here” (Matt. 12:42). He referred to Himself as THE ultimate door, THE gate to abundant living. He said that when His words about living a good life are applied by someone, he or she will be like a wise person who built his house upon a rock. The storms of life cannot blow it down.
This person told His disciples that He is the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the God life but by Him. He wasn’t just talking about heaven, but also life now and into eternity. The apostle Paul says, “through Him come the fruits of righteousness.” In another letter to the Colossians, Paul talks about the riches available through this person – in Him are hidden all the treasures of knowledge and wisdom.
Of course by now, you’ve figured out who I am talking about. This person is Jesus Christ. This is what He did: Proverbs 9 writes of wisdom speaking to us from on high, from the Temple. Wisdom came down from on high and dwelt among us to rescue us from our sinful ways. Jesus sacrificed Himself for us. He rose again as God’s confirmation for you and me. God said, “This is my beloved Son. It is wise to listen to Him and follow Him.”
He promises to be with you. He’ll teach you and lead you in kingdom ways. As the Good Shepherd, He leads us down paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.
As you choose this door of Jesus who called Himself the Door, you will learn that it is the wisest decision you have ever made in your life. Amen.
Pastor Steve Kramer