The Reasons for Romans - Part 5

Romans 15:14-33

Tom Pennington  •  March 14, 2021
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Romans, chapter 15. It was in the year 1793 that William Carey, rightly called the "Father of Modern Missions," was leaving England to give his life as a missionary in India. His friends came together for a farewell meeting. During that meeting, the four leaders of the missionary society, that was sponsoring him, promised Carey that, "As he went forth in the society's name and their masters, they should never cease till death to stand by him." One of those men was a man name Andrew Fuller.

Andrew Fuller later compared the mission of William Carey to India to a few men who were planning to descend into a deep unexplored mine. Fuller said, "That day, it was as if Carey said to them, 'Well, I will go down if you will hold the rope.'" I'll go down if you hold the rope. Of course, that analogy stuck and is used now countless times throughout the world of missionaries; and as missionaries today descend into the mine, seeking to shine the light of the gospel on those who live in the dark, they still count on those who hold the rope; they count on us to hold the rope.

You see, God designed missions as a team effort; and if you're a follower of Jesus Christ, you're on the team. Paul reminds us that one of the greatest ways we can hold the rope for those who go down into the mine is through our prayers. That's the theme of the passage we come to this morning.

We continue our study of the conclusion of Paul's letter to the Romans where we're looking, specifically, at Paul's, "Reasons for Writing," second half of chapter 15. Two main reasons he wrote, the first was "A Timeless Spiritual Purpose," and that was to remind all the believers of the gospel of what it is that we have believed, and what a great journey it was as we saw those great truths unfold. Secondly, he wrote with "A Timely Ministry Purpose," and that was to prepare the Roman believers for the visit that he had planned, beginning in verse 17, and running down through the end of the chapter.

Now, as these verses have unfolded, Paul has sort of explained his ministry in various ways. So far, we've considered, "His Former Ministry Accomplishments," "His Fixed Mission Strategy," which was to proclaim Christ where he was not named or He was not worshipped, where he was not known. We looked last week at, "His Future Ministry Plans," which included Jerusalem, Rome, and ultimately Western Europe, Spain and Western Europe. This morning, we come to the last few verses of chapter 15 and, "His Fervent Prayer Request," his fervent prayer request.

Let's read it together, Romans 15, verses 30 the 33:

Now I urge you, brethren, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God for me, that I may be rescued from those who are disobedient in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may prove acceptable to the saints; so that I may come to you in joy by the will of God and find refreshing rest in your company. Now the God of peace be with you all. Amen.

Now, just to remind you of the context, back in verses 20 and 21, we learned from Paul's example that each of us must have a passion for the advance of the gospel in pioneer frontline missions. Paul was called to go. Christ doesn't call most of us to go; He hasn't gifted us to serve full-time for the sake of His name and the gospel somewhere else. Of course, we're called to be missionaries where we are, sharing the gospel, communicating the truth of the gospel. But in terms of calling and gifting us to go and to proclaim that gospel in some other place, that isn't true for all of us. But he calls us, all of us, to support those who do go with our love, our generous financial support, and with our prayers. And it's our support in prayer that Paul stresses in the passage we just read. If we're not called to go, we are called, and we must pray for those who do.

How can we best pray for our missionaries? Well, this is obviously a historical section of the book of Romans; Paul is describing prayers that he needs for himself from the Romans as he carries out his specific 1st century ministry. But as we look at the historical, there are timeless truths that just jump off the page at us here. The prayer request that Paul gives the Romans provides, in fact, a wonderful pattern for our missionary prayers. In fact, in this passage as we see it unfold, we're going to discover two key lessons about such prayers.

So, let's start with the first lesson, and that is, "The Pattern of Praying for Missionaries." We learn here this wonderful pattern for shaping our own prayers for those who go on our behalf to serve the Lord. Paul begins, as we look at this pattern, by highlighting, "The Effectiveness of Missionary Praying," the effectiveness of missionary praying. Verse 30, "Now, I urge you." As Paul anticipates the long trip to Jerusalem that he described last time, and then the trip on to Rome, he asked the Romans to pray. And he doesn't just ask them to pray, he uses a much stronger word than that. The word 'urge' means 'to urge strongly, to appeal to, even to plead with.' Paul says, "Listen, I plead with you, pray, pray for me."

Now, why did Paul write in these words? You have to remember Paul's not just being nice, he's not being southern here and just saying something that's supposed to be said. No, he means this! Paul is writing this because he was convinced about, "The Effectiveness of Prayer." You see, Paul believed prayer actually secured from God the blessings for which we pray. He was so convinced of that that he pled for the Roman Christians to pray for him and his ministry.

Now, let me just step back from the text a moment and ask you a personal question about prayer in a general sense, "Do you believe what Paul believed about prayer?" I'm not asking what's in your doctrinal statement; I'm asking what's in your heart. Do you truly believe that God, the one true and living God that we read about in Isaiah, that He hears you when you speak to Him? Do you really believe that? Do you believe that He will answer you?

I love the affirmations of that throughout Scripture; I love the way Psalm 34 puts it in two places. Psalm 34:15 says, "The eyes of (Yahweh) are toward the righteous And his ears are open to their cry." You say, "Who's the righteous; is that me?" Well, the answer is yes! In both testaments, the righteous are those like Abraham back in Genesis 15:6, who, "believed God and it was counted to them as righteousness." If you have trusted in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, you're the righteous, "And the eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous and his ears are open to their cry." Verse 17, of Psalm 34 says, and I love this; I often remind myself of this, "The righteous cry, and the Lord hears." As soon as you cry, even before you cry, there several texts that talk about that, the Lord hears, He hears.

You see, we must be convinced of the effectiveness of prayer; and being convinced, we must pray for the missionaries of this church and for all who serve Christ in difficult places. Paul says, "Please pray for me." I can promise you that is the plea of the missionaries of this church. If they could stand here and ask you to do one thing, it would be, "Please, please pray for us?"

Can I just challenge you individually and even families with something? Out here on the wall, just outside the worship center, around the corner there, there's a wall that has our missionaries on it. Go out there, and there may not be enough missionary cards for everybody in here to get one, but do what I've done; just take a picture. There are two groups of pictures; take a picture of those two groups of pictures; you can zoom in and you can pray for our missionaries. Just choose at least one that you will pray for on a weekly basis. "Please," Paul says, "Pray."

Secondly, we learn, "The Motives for Missionary Praying." Paul bases his appeal for their prayers as he pleads with him to do so, on three primary motives, and these are the same motives that should govern us that should drive us to pray for those who are sent out from us. The first motive is our family relationship. Notice how he puts in verse 30, "Now I urge you, brethren." Paul appeals to them as brothers and sisters in the family of God. He says because of this family bond that we enjoy in Christ, please pray for me. Remember, Paul knew some of these people; we're going to see that in chapter 16, but he didn't found these churches, and he'd never been there. So, what is the link? The link is the family relationship that exists because of Jesus Christ. The missionaries you and I support are members of our family; we should be as diligent to pray for them as if our child or our parent or our siblings were serving in that place.

A second motivation for praying is our Lord's authority. Notice; verse 30 goes on to say, "Now, I urge you, brethren, by our Lord Jesus Christ." I agree with most commentators here in saying, we could translate this, "in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ." In other words, Paul is appealing here to Christ's authority. He's in essence saying this, "I'm asking you to pray for me, I'm pleading with you to pray for me, but let me just add that Christ demands that you pray for those who go, and I'm one of those He's sent." In other words, we must be faithful to pray for our missionaries because to fail to do so (Have you ever thought about this?) to fail to pray for those who are sent on behalf of the name of Christ is to disobey Jesus Christ. He says, "I urge you by our Lord Jesus Christ."

A third motivation for praying for our missionaries is our mutual love. Verse 30, goes on, "Now I urge you, brethren, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit." Now, there are three ways to understand that expression. It could be by the Spirit's love for us, or it could be by our love for the Spirit, but most likely it's a third, and that is, by our love for one another that the Spirit has produced within us, the love for one another the Spirit has produced within us. Paul argues that the Romans should pray for him and we should pray for our missionaries because we share a mutual love that the Holy Spirit has poured into our hearts.

You know, if you're a Christian, and 1 John makes this very clear; if you're Christian, you can't help yourself; the Holy Spirit has produced in you a love for your brothers and sisters in Christ. Remember, the fruit of the Spirit is . . . love, the very first one. If the Spirit is in your life, then you love your brothers and sisters in Christ, and Paul says, "I know you love me because I'm in Christ and so I appeal to you on that basis." And that is why we should pray as well for those who've gone out.

In Colossians, chapter 1:8, Paul refers to "your love (for one another) in the Spirit" that is in the sphere of the Spirit; He's produced this in you. So, understand what Paul is saying here, each of us should be committed to praying for our missionaries because they're part of our family, because the Lord has commanded it, and because we just naturally love them because that's been produced in our hearts by the Spirit who indwells us.

Next, we discover, in our text, "The Heart of Missionary Praying," the heart of missionary praying. That is, the real essence of what it means to pray for those who have gone out on our behalf to serve the Lord in other places. Notice how he puts it in verse 30, "…I urge you, brethren, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God for me." That's a really interesting expression; look at it again. He says, "…to strive together with me in your prayers to God for me." Now, let's see if we can take that apart and understand a little more about the real heart, the essence of praying for others.

The Greek word translated 'strive together' occurs only here in biblical Greek. Paul, I think, maybe made this word, but the simpler form of this word occurs eight times in the New Testament. Let me give you the Greek word because you'll recognize it; it's a word from which we get an English word. It's 'agonizomai;' it's the word 'agonize,' that's the word. It means literally 'to engage in conflict.' Christ uses it literally in that sense in John, chapter 18, verse 36. "Jesus (said), 'My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be (Here's our word.) fighting,'" fighting; they would be engaging in conflict.

The word is also used for competing in athletic games. Paul uses it that way in 1 Corinthians, chapter 9, verse 25, you remember that, some of you are old enough to remember this, "the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat." You agonize, you're pouring out your full physical strength to compete and to win in that competitive sport. Generally, the word means 'to struggle or to exert oneself.' But what Paul does here in Romans 15, is he takes the word 'agonizomai' and he adds a prefix that means 'with.' So in essence, what he says is this, "Fight together with me, engage in conflict together with me, struggle together with me, compete together with me," that's the idea. Now, what does Paul mean when he says, "Engage in conflict with me, or fight together with me?" Well, obviously, he means that prayer is hard work, right? He's saying, "I want you to agonize with me in prayer." I think he's also saying that prayer can't be half-hearted; it can't be something that's casual; it must be earnest, wholehearted, persistent.

But I think there's something else Paul is primarily saying when he says, "Strive together with me, engage in conflict together with me." He's saying that prayer allows those who send missionaries to struggle with, to work alongside, to fight alongside those who go. Paul is encouraging the Roman Christians to struggle alongside him, to work alongside him as he carries out his ministry. How? How can the Romans work alongside Paul? How can they engage in conflict with Paul? They're not in Jerusalem; they're not going to be in Spain. How can they do that? Through their prayers!

Folks, here's the real heart of missionary praying. Do you understand that if you will truly pray for our missionaries, you will be engaged in the conflict with them; you'll be striving with them there on the mission field; you will be working alongside them? That's what Paul is saying.

Charles Hodge puts it this way, he said, "We should pray for others in such a way as really to enter into their trials and conflicts and believe that our prayers, when sincere, are a real and great assistance to them."

I like the way John Calvin says it. Listen to this, "Paul shows how the godly ought to pray for their brethren; that they are to assume their person as though they were placed in the same difficulties," assume their person as though they were placed in the same difficulties. Listen, when you go to pray for people, that's the spirit and attitude. It's not some disconnected casual, "Yea, help those missionaries over there." No! It's thinking about what they're enduring, thinking about what they're facing, the trials that that must be; what would it be like for you to be there, away from family? What would it be like for you to be in a culture completely dissimilar to your own? What would it be like for you to be engaging truly with the powers of darkness on a daily basis? What would it be like to have maybe not all that you need to carry on your ministry at times, although we do our best to make sure that never happens? What would it be like? You put yourself in their place, and then as Calvin says, "You assume their person as though you were placed in the same difficulties." You strive together with them.

This is truly amazing. Even though you and I have not been gifted and called by Christ to go as missionaries, as frontline missionaries, serving somewhere else in the world, at least many of us have not, we can still truly strive together with them and work beside them if we will simply be faithful to pray for them. That's the heart of missionary praying; that's the essence of it. You're working with them; you're engaging in the conflict with them. So far then, we've seen "The Effectiveness of Missionary Praying," "The Motives for Missionary Praying," and "The Heart of Missionary Praying."

Fourthly, Paul teaches us "The Basic Requests in Missionary Praying," the basic requests. In these verses, Paul teaches us two key requests, and what's interesting is, although he is asking these for himself at a particular time in a particular space in history, we can take them and make them timeless, and they are wonderful prayers that we can all pray for our missionaries.

First, we should pray for their personal safety, for their personal safety. That includes their physical safety. There's, notice verse 31, he says, "(Pray, strive with me in your prayers to God for me.) that I may be rescued from those who are disobedient in Judea." Paul knew that danger awaited him in Jerusalem. In fact, turn back to the book of Acts, look at Acts, chapter 20, verse 22, Paul is in Ephesus; this, by the way, was after he wrote to the Romans, so he's now left Corinth; he is on his way to Jerusalem, so he's in transit and he says this in Acts 20, verse 22.

And now, behold, bound (in) Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me. But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course in the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God.

Paul knew danger was ahead, and so he pled with the Roman Christians to pray for his rescue.

Now, that word 'rescue,' is an interesting word. It can have a couple of senses, and I think Paul probably intends both of them here. On the one hand, he says, "Pray that God will keep me from danger," and then on the other hand, he says, "But if that's not God's purpose and I find myself in danger, pray that God would preserve me through danger." So, "God, keep me from danger; God preserve me through danger if that's your purpose." That's what he's saying, "That God would rescue me."

Now, the danger that Paul was concerned about, notice verse 31, came "…from those who are disobedient in Judea." You look back in chapters 10 and 11, you'll see this expression 'disobedient' used of those who are disobedient to the gospel. That's the idea here. Paul was concerned about physical danger from unbelieving Jews in Judea and in Jerusalem, and with good reason. If you've read the book of Acts, you know how this story goes. When Paul finally arrives in Jerusalem, what happens? Well, they accuse him before the Roman governor; they incite his imprisonment for two years, forty of them even bound themselves together to kill him. So, he says, "Pray, pray for my physical safety."

There's a great irony here because Paul's request is that he now needs protection from those who are just like he used to be. Do you remember what he was before he came to Christ? In Acts, chapter 9, at the time of his conversion, a man named Ananias, God tells Ananias to go meet Paul after he is converted, and Ananias says this in Acts 9:13, he said, "Lord, (not a good idea.) I have heard from many about this man, (Listen to this.) how much harm he did to Your Saints at Jerusalem." You know, we get this idea of Paul as this sort of squeaky clean, guy. Let me show you what Paul was like. Turn over a few pages to Acts 26; Acts 26, verse 9. He's before Agrippa here, giving an account of his life before Christ and his conversion. He says in verse 9:

"So then, I thought to myself that I had to do many things hostile to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And this is just what I did in Jerusalem; not only did I lock up many of the saints in prisons, having received authority from the chief priests, but also when they were being put to death I cast my vote against them. And as I punished them often in all the synagogues, (That would've been flogging; that would've been the Jewish beating of forty stripes save one, thirty nine stripes, He says, 'I did that all the time in all the synagogues.') and while I was punishing them (while I was beating them, verse 11) I tried to force them to blaspheme and being furiously enraged at them, I kept pursuing them even to foreign cities."

That's who Paul was.

By the way, this is a wonderful testimony of what Christianity is about. Christianity is not about turning over a new leaf; it's not about, you know, saying a prayer; it's about the Holy Spirit changing who you are at the most basic level, being born again. Only God can do that. Paul went from being that to what he is in the pages of the New Testament. So, Paul understood that there were those in Jerusalem just like he used to be who wanted to silence him. And so, he urges the Roman Christians to pray for his physical protection.

Now, let me just mention in passing that in other places, he also urges us to pray for their spiritual safety. In Ephesians, chapter 6, you remember, verse 12, he talks about the fact that the real struggle isn't against people, "It's not against flesh and blood." It's against demonic forces as he goes on to describe them, verse 18, "(Therefore) with all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints." In other words, pray not only for their physical safety but for their spiritual safety.

Folks, do you understand we need to pray for the physical safety of our missionaries? Many of them serve in difficult and some of them even in dangerous places; places where Christ is hated, where His gospel is considered blasphemy. If those missionaries were members of your earthly family, would you pray for them? Well, they are part of your family.

We also need to pray for their spiritual safety. You know, missionaries are wonderful people, they're mature believers who love Christ, but they're also people, they are sinners saved by grace just like us, and they can be prone to sin and temptation, just like us. Pray that God would keep them growing in holiness, He would keep them growing in devotion to Jesus Christ, that He would make them stand strong against temptation and sin for the sake of the gospel. Pray for their personal safety, physically and spiritually.

Second, we should also pray for our missionaries that they would enjoy ministry success, ministry success. First of all, in equipping the saints, verse 31, he says, "(Pray) that my service for Jerusalem may prove acceptable to the saints." Now, clearly from what we learned last week, you know that what Paul is referring to here is the financial gift for the poor that he had collected from Gentile churches and is now taking to the church in Jerusalem, verses 25 and 26. And he asked them to pray that that gift, the gift he's bringing from the Gentile churches in Eastern Europe and Greece, may prove acceptable. Notice how he puts it, "…may prove acceptable to the saints." Now, if you're thinking and I hope you are, you're like, "Well, why would this be a problem? I mean, they're poor, they have needs, other Christians have made collections and have sent them to them, what could possibly go wrong with this?"

Well, there were several potential problems with their accepting the gift. I mean, first of all, just at a human level, there's the sort of the natural difficulty people often have accepting help from others. But I think there's far more involved here. They faced the possible pressure from Jewish relatives in Jerusalem not to accept money from Gentiles. You can imagine how that could play out. And then you have the perceived affirmation of Paul and his ministry. If they accepted this gift, they would be acknowledging Paul's ministry to the Gentiles was valid, and that too would create conflict with fellow Jews.

In fact, when Paul arrived in Jerusalem, the Jewish leaders welcomed him, but if you read Acts 21, you discover that they said, "Listen, Paul, we think it's wonderful what you're doing, but there are many believing Jews who have real problems, real questions with what you're doing," and that they worked out a solution, a way to try to affirm that Paul hadn't deserted everything Jewish in the process. Paul understood these potential problems, and he asked the Christians in Rome to pray that his ministry to the saints there in Jerusalem would be successful. And, folks, we should pray that God would grant our missionaries success as they work with the saints, with the church where they serve.

But we should also pray that our missionaries would enjoy ministry success in evangelizing the lost. There are a lot of verses I could take you; I have several in my notes, but let's just turn to one. Look at 2 Thessalonians, chapter 3; 2 Thessalonians, chapter 3, verse 1. Paul says to the church in Thessalonica, "Finally, brethren, pray for us that the word of the Lord will spread rapidly and be glorified, just as it did also with you." There's a great prayer for you to pray for missionaries, "Lord, use your Word through them; may it spread rapidly and be glorified."

In our text, if you'll go back there with me, Paul explains the practical results if they will pray these things and if God would be pleased to answer their requests, verse 32, "…so that (Here's the practical result.) I may come to you in joy by the will of God and find refreshing rest in your company." Paul says, "Pray for my personal safety and for my ministry success so that I may come to you in joy and find refreshing rest in your company." The Greek word translated 'find refreshing rest' here means, 'to be refreshed together with,' that's the idea.

Now, it's interesting, you could even say this is a kind of third request, Paul says, "Pray for safety, pray for ministry success, and then pray that I'll be able to come to those who are supporting me in my ministry." Of course, the Romans would do that for his ministry in Western Europe; that was his hope. So, kind of come back to my supporting church, if you will. Those are great prayers for us to pray for our missionaries. But notice Paul adds to this crucial caveat, he says, "I only want to come, and I only will come (Notice how he puts it.) by the will of God." He submitted all of his plans to the will of God.

Now, Paul finishes by telling the Romans his prayer for them. He's asked for their prayers, but in verse 33, he offers a prayer for them and for all who would read this letter, including us. Notice what he says in verse 33, "Now the God of peace be with you all. Amen." The God of peace simply means 'the God who gives peace.' What Paul has done here is he has taken a normal Jewish greeting, the word 'peace,' was how they greeted one another. The Hebrew word 'shalom,' and he's translated it into Greek and he's praying that blessing on them.

It reminds me of the priestly blessing in Numbers 6, verse 26. My wife and I used to sing every night over our daughters as we put them to bed, that priestly blessing, "May the Lord bless you and keep you, may He make His face shine upon you." And the last expression of it is, "And give you peace," 'shalom.' You see, 'shalom' includes the sum of all God's true blessings, temporal, spiritual, and eternal. "May you know God's peace in every conceivable sense." That's what Paul prayed for the Romans; it's what he prayed for us, but it's also appropriate for us in turn to pray this for our missionaries, God's peace in the fullest possible sense of that expression on them. So, folks, there is a wonderful pattern of praying for our missionaries.

But, there's a second key lesson here we learn about prayer that is profoundly practical for us and that is, the relationship between prayer and sovereignty, the relationship between prayer and sovereignty. Because in this passage, Paul's prayer requests and the will of God intersect. Since we can now look back, and we know how his requests were actually answered, we can learn much about the relationship between our prayers and God's sovereignty.

Now, I'm really not going to spend much time here; I just want to give you these categories of thought for you to meditate on and sort of fill out in the days ahead. But briefly, let me point out three lessons about the relationship between prayer and sovereignty. And, we've already worked our way through the passage, so now were going back and we're looking at it in a slightly different sense because this is here, this relationship.

So, let's look at it. Lesson number one, about the relationship between prayer and sovereignty, recognize God's wisdom and sovereignty; and both in your heart and in your prayers, submit your plans to His will. Our Lord did that. Do you remember in Luke 22, verse 42, in the Garden of Gethsemane? He asked, if possible, the cup, the cup of God's wrath, could be removed from Him, the separation that He would experience from the Father, and yet He added this, "…yet not My will, but Yours be done." He set the pattern for our submitting our plans and requests to the will of God.

Paul did the same thing in Acts 18:21, and in other places. But in Acts 18:21, He says, "…taking leave of them and saying, 'I will return to you again if God wills;'" he set sail from Ephesus if God wills it. By the way, God did will it, and on his third missionary journey, he spent three years in Ephesus.

Of course, there's James, chapter 4, verses 13 to 15:

Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit." Yet, you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that."

Submit your plans, your purposes, to the Lord's will and purpose. I love the way one author puts it, listen to this:

The purpose of prayer is emphatically not to bend God's will to ours, but rather to align our will to His. The promise that our prayers will be answered is conditional on our asking according to His will. Consequently, every prayer we pray should be a variation on the theme, "Your will be done."

Now, there are some professing Christians, especially those in the charismatic movement, who argue that if you say and pray, "If it's your will, that's really not faith; you're not really believing God is going to do it." What's your response to that? If somebody says that to you, what's your response? It should be twofold. First of all, you should use James 4, and say, "No, it's not a lack of faith; it's a proper sense of humility before God." And, secondly, you should point them to 1 John 5:14, a key text; 1 John 5:14. Listen to it, "This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us." How do we know it's His will? Well, God has expressed His general will for all his people, where? In Scripture, in Scripture! For example, I don't have to wonder if it's God's will for every one of His people to be holy. I know that's His will; He says it in God's Word; so I know that when I pray that for myself or for others, I can do so with complete confidence, knowing it's His will; and I don't have to say, "If it's your will," because I know it's His will because it's there; it's on the pages of Scripture for all of His people.

But, when we pray concerning God's particular will for us as individuals, in matters that the Bible doesn't explicitly say are His will, things like our career path, or a particular job, or a spouse. When you get into things that the Bible doesn't say, "This is His will for you," then you always need to pray, submitting that to His will saying, "If you will, if this is your will." So, you need to make sure you submit your plans, your request, to the will of God.

A second lesson about prayer and sovereignty is this, understand that prayer complements and cooperates with God's sovereignty. You know, the eternal decree, I've taught on that if you have any question, you go online and find it and listen to it, but the eternal decree of God says this, "God has freely and unchangeably, from eternity past, ordained whatsoever comes to pass;" all of it, every detail.

You say, "Well, what, what's the point in praying?" Because, listen carefully, the same God who decreed the ends of all things also decreed the means by which those things would be accomplished; and amazingly, our prayers and answering our prayers is often the very means by which God accomplishes His sovereign eternal will.

You can see this in a number of places. I like 2 Kings 20, verses 1 to 5, where you have Hezekiah's prayer. Do you remember? God sends the prophet to say to Hezekiah, "Listen, prepare yourself, you're going to die." And Hezekiah prays, and God gives him fifteen more years. Now, what was going on there? I mean, which was God's will? And the answer is God knew beforehand what He was going to do; He knew that He was going to spare Hezekiah's life; He knew that He was going to get fifteen more years, but God determined to do that in response to Hezekiah's prayer. The same thing is true with our prayers.

I mean, let me ask you this question, here's a theological conundrum. "What would've happened if Hezekiah hadn't prayed?" The same thing is true for us. God, who decreed the ends, also decreed the means, including using our prayers. That's why we pray for the salvation of people we love; that's why we pray at all. By the way, here in Romans 15, we see the same thing as we'll see in just a moment.

That brings us to a third lesson, remember that God always answers our requests as He determines is best. What about Paul's requests? How did God answer Paul's request? Well, the same way He answers us. Sometimes, God says to us like he said to Paul, "Yes, exactly as we asked." I mean, Paul asked that His gift would be accepted by the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem. Read Acts 21, and you know what you learn? That's exactly what happened! He got there; they did except it; they received him. Sometimes, God answers our requests exactly as we asked.

Secondly, sometimes God answers, "Yes," entirely differently than we imagined. Think about Paul. Paul asked to be physically rescued from the enemies of the gospel in Jerusalem and he was. He was delivered from their plot to kill him; forty of them, you remember, bound themselves together that they were going to take his life, and they had a plan, a workable plan. But Paul was rescued! How? By being seized by the Romans and spending two years in prison in Caesarea. I don't think that when Paul said, "Pray that I'll be delivered from the enemies of the gospel," he had that in mind. God said, "Yes, but I'm going to do something entirely different than you imagined!"

Think about Paul asking to make it to Rome. He wanted to get to Rome; that was his prayer and his request, to enjoy their company. And guess what? He did, but Paul's plan was to go immediately after he left Jerusalem to Rome, of his own free will and accord. But that wasn't Christ's plan. Paul made it to Rome, but think about this, he made it to Rome only after being threatened in the temple with public stoning, being arrested by the Romans and almost being flogged by them, being held in prison for two years in Caesarea, being asked for a bribe by a Roman official so that he had to appeal to Caesar, going on a long dangerous journey to Rome, suffering a ship wreck on the way, and oh by the way, being bitten by a deadly viper, and then he makes it to Rome!

When Paul said, "Pray that I make it to Rome," I don't think he thought it was going to unfold like that. God said, "Yes," but it's going to be entirely different than you imagined.

Acts 23:11 says, after all that event in the temple unfolded in Jerusalem, on the night immediately following, the Lord stood at his side and said, "…Take courage; for as you have solemnly witnessed to My cause at Jerusalem, so you must witness at Rome also." God said, Christ said, "I have a plan; it's not your plan, but I've said, "Yes, you're going to Rome; it's just going to be a different route and a different timeframe than you thought."

Folks, read to the end of Acts. Paul makes it to Rome, and he enjoys the company of the Christians there, but it was not what he could've imagined. And sometimes God says "Yes" to our requests, and He has a totally different idea and plan in mind than we do.

In other places, we learned that sometimes God answers "No," forever. In other words, sometimes God says, "It's never going to happen." For example, in 2 Corinthians, chapter 12, Paul, three times, asked the Lord to remove his thorn in the flesh. And Christ said, "No, No, No," and then He said, "My grace is sufficient for you." The answer is, "No, now and through the rest of your life." Sometimes God answers that toward us as well.

And then fourthly, sometimes God says, "No, for now." In Romans, chapter 1, verse 10, Paul says, "I have been praying constantly that I'll get to Rome." And many times, Christ said, "Not yet, not yet, not yet; no for now." And sometimes He does the same with us.

Folks, what I want you to see is prayer is not a vending machine; you don't put your prayer in and automatically get your selection. Instead, prayer is a child asking his Father for something he believes he needs, and the Father who loves the child and who has wisdom and experience beyond that of the child will do what the Father knows is best, even if it's not exactly what the child asked. We pray, and then God works everything out providentially according to His perfect and wise plan. What it comes down to is this, God is trustworthy, and you just need to trust Him. Pray because often His sovereignty intersects with that prayer, and He determined in eternity past to do what you have asked in answer to your prayer. And other times, He's going to say, "Yes, but it's going to be different than you think." And sometimes He's going to say, "No, for now," and sometimes He's going to say, "No, never." Can you trust Him?

Let's pray together. Father, thank you for this passage; thank you for the reminder of our responsibility to pray for our missionaries, to pour out our hearts to strive with them in prayer for them. Lord, help us to do so faithfully. Thank you for those you've sent out from the church. And Father, thank you for the lessons as well about how our prayers and your sovereignty intersect so beautifully, how they complement each other. Help us to submit our requests and our plans to your will; help us to trust you in your wisdom and your sovereignty.

Father, help us to remember that you will always do what you, in your love and care and great heart for us, determine is best. Forgive us, forgive us for doubting you, for doubting your love, for doubting your wisdom, for doubting your power; help us instead to trust you more. We pray in Jesus's name. Amen.