Ephesians 1: 16 I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers
Serious athletes understand that it is impossible to achieve athletic goals without serious sacrifice. In my younger years I recall making sacrifices that others my age were not making. It was rare that I was out late on a Friday or Saturday night, because I was often up by 5:30 or 6am the next morning for a long cycle, intervals on the track, swimming laps in the pool, or skiing a hill workout in the winter. To perform at my very best I had to have a strict schedule that really had to revolve around me, and what was best for my body and mind to be ready to perform on the day.
As I grew older, got married, and had children, I found that it became increasingly difficult to train and compete. Since I wasn’t a professional athlete, I had a full-time job, other commitments, and obviously significant commitments with my family. I recall training for a Winter Triathlon in Ottawa, when our kids were very young. I was excited as I had never tried one before. However, the night before the event, our youngest daughter got a gland infection and we had to go to the hospital. We spent the entire night and she had to have surgery. I missed the race. It was around then that I began to realize that I could no longer devout the many hours of training, and drag my wife (even though she was incredibly gracious) and children around for me to compete. I realized that sports and athletics are, and in many ways, must be, selfish endeavors. My wife and I both remain very active, but to compete at the highest level, to perform at your best, you need to make sacrifices – you need to be selfish. This works well when you’re younger with fewer obligations, because those sacrifices can be social activities, but as you gain responsibilities, those sacrifices become other people, and ultimately, for me, I recognized that my desires were selfish and immature.
My thoughts about selfishness in training and competition reminded me of a quote about prayer that I recently heard on the radio. The pastor asked: “If God answered the prayers you are praying, would it change anyone else’s life other than your own?” I thought that this was such a simple yet profound question, and it really digs deep into the maturity of a believer. Are your prayers predominantly filled with things you want, and you are asking for, for your self benefit? Are you treating God like a vending machine? Prayer in; thing you want for yourself out. Are your prayers selfish?
The Apostle Paul really challenges me when it comes to prayer. As I read his letters to the various churches in Rome, Corinth, Ephesus, Philippi, Colossus, and Thessalonica, we see a man who was fully devoted to prayer for others. “I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.” (Ephesians 1:16). “I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy.” (Philippians 1: 3-4). Paul thanks God for these people, he prays for their wisdom & knowledge, for hope, for unity, for spiritual power[i].
It has made me consider what I pray about. As I have a family, I certainly pray for more than myself, but how far beyond my family and immediate friends do my prayers extend? Am I selfish in my prayers? I recognized that, yes, in many ways I am. I want to be more like Paul. I want to be a man of selfless prayer. My prayer is the same for you. What a powerful church we would be, if we all prayed like Paul.