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Summary: Is prayer a first response to you? Or is it a last resort? Do you pray in an attitude of gratitude? Or are you always grumbling? When you pray, do you make sure that God receives the glory, & not you? (Powerpoints available - #137)

MELVIN M. NEWLAND, MINISTER

RIDGE CHAPEL, KANSAS, OK

(The Powerpoints used with this sermon are available for free. Just email me at mnewland@sstelco.com and request #137)

This morning I would like for us to go back nearly 2,000 years to the city of Rome. It is an exciting time to be in Rome, a metropolis of gladiators, chariots, & palaces. But we’re not going to stop at the coliseum or the emperor’s palace.

Instead, we’re going to look into a drab little room. Inside we see a man seated on the floor. He’s an older fellow, shoulders stooped & his head balding. Chains are on his hands & feet that are also attached by a longer chain to a Roman guard.

It is the apostle Paul. The apostle who has traveled all over the world of his day. The apostle whose message has liberated people in almost every port. The apostle who was bound only by the will of God is now bound by chains, restricted by walls, accused by enemies, & scheduled for trial in the court of the cruelest of emperors, Nero.

Paul is writing a letter. No doubt it is a complaint letter to God, a list of grievances. No doubt he is writing the New Testament version of the book of Lamentations. You see, he has every reason to be bitter, to complain.

But he doesn’t. Instead, he is writing a letter that now, 2,000 years later, is known as the “letter of joy.” And that is the letter we are going to be looking at this morning.

ILL. Bobby Jones, champion golfer, once said, "Have you ever noticed how much golfers practice? Smart businessmen have been quick to take advantage of that, developing public driving ranges where we can practice driving the ball, & putting greens where we can practice our putting."

"But why hasn’t someone developed public sand traps? Sand traps are an inevitable part of the game of golf, & every golfer ought to practice ahead of time how to get out of trouble."

APPL. I think that’s good advice for all of us. For even as we talk about being thankful for the blessings that come our way, we must admit that problems & troubles also come our way.

ILL. It was Norman Vincent Peale who said, "Problems are a part of life. All of us are going to have problems right up to the moment we die. And some of you are going to have problems after you die."

So it only makes sense, if we’re going to find ourselves in sand traps, that we learn how to get out of them. And the letter to the Philippians, written by the apostle Paul, can help us do just that.

He writes this letter while imprisoned in Rome under what we would call "house arrest." Today, courts enforce "house arrest" by attaching electronic monitors on the wrist or ankle of prisoners. But back then, they simply chained the prisoner to Roman soldiers 24 hours a day.

Now that was usually better than being in a dungeon, but Roman soldiers could be cruel, & "house arrest" was not something to desire. Yet, Paul’s letter is filled with thanksgiving. And in it, Paul writes, “I always pray with joy..." (Philpppians 1:3)

PROP. So let’s look at the first 11 verses of Philippians 1, & see what they teach us about praying with joy.

I. PRAYER SHOULD BE A FIRST RESPONSE RATHER THAN A LAST RESORT

A. Paul begins by saying that prayer should be a first response rather than a last resort. Listen to vs. 3, "I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy..."

Then, in chapter 4, vs. 6, he says, "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God."

What is Paul saying? He is saying that whenever anything happens to him, whether positive or negative, he prays. That’s his first response. He prays, "God, thank you for the blessings that you give me. God, I even thank you for the troubles that come my way. Now teach me the lessons that I need to learn from them." Paul always started with prayer.

B. But for many of us, we wait until we’re knee deep in the sand traps of life, & there seems to be no way out of our problems. Then we call upon God & cry, "Help me. I’m in trouble." We turn to prayer almost as a last resort.

ILL. About 15 years ago a US AIR airplane crashed near Pittsburgh. The cause of that crash was a mystery, because the plane just seemed to fall from the sky. So it was with great interest that the investigators listened to the information recorded in the plane’s black box.

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