So How Shall We Pray? Part 3.
Over the last few issues of The Contact we have been looking at the how the Apostle Paul prayed for believers. We first looked at the prayers of Paul for the Colossians. In the following issue, we looked at his prayers for the Ephesians. This time we will look briefly at how the Apostle Paul prayed for believers in Thessalonica.
Prayer has become a growing burden for me as I look at the needs of the saints at EFC, at the opportunities for further ministry, and at the necessity of ongoing renewal and revival among the people of God. In the ministry and practice of prayer, it is good to have models to follow and sound teaching to guide us. How encouraging, therefore, it is to learn from Paul, this great servant of Christ, who recognized his continual need for fellowship with His Savior and for divine empowering and intervention in every aspect of his ministry. It is good to learn from such a wise teacher. I encourage you to open your Bible and follow along as we look and learn from this tried and tested missionary.
In 1 Thess. 1:2, Paul gives thanks for the believers in Thessalonica, telling them he remembers them before God. In the verses that follow, Paul mentions several things for which he is thankful, but they all center around the results of the Gospel in their lives. He mentions their faith, hope and love in their labor and service, the spiritual growth that is becoming more evident in them, the joy that they have in the Spirit of God, and that the testimony of their faith is going forth into the surrounding regions, among other things. What an impressive list of fruit the Gospel has produced in their lives!! This seems to be a living, vibrant, loving, and growing groups of believers.
Yes, he has to deal with some issues and misunderstandings in their doctrine and behavior. They are still a young church and need to keep on growing and learning. But even as he instructs them we see his pastoral love and passion for them shining through as he not only awaits further word on what is happening among them, but also he expresses his desire to go and be with them for a season. One thing he does “constantly” is that he prays for them, wanting them to become more like Christ.
At the end of chapter 3, he gives thanks for them again (9) and reminds them that he is praying “earnestly day and night” (10) that he might see them and strengthen them in the faith. In anticipation of that eventual occurrence, in vv. 11-13 he gives a list of things for which he is praying. It is wonderful to hear what is of his heart for them:
That God would open the way for Paul to come to them;
That they would “increase and abound in love for one another”;
That their hearts would be established as blameless before the Father;
That they would live in light of the return of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul understands that it is all about the Gospel yesterday, today, and forever. He knows that our greatest need is to be found blameless and holy in the presence of a holy God. So he prays for them to that end. He knows that Christians show their faith by loving one another and, knowing that such a thing is not easy, prays to that end. He knows that our time on earth is short and that Jesus will soon appear, so he prays for them to live today in light of that day. These are wonderful things for us to be praying for one another, don’t you think? How kind of God to give us such a good example to learn from.
As Paul moves through the next section (4:1-5:22) on the need for holiness, offering hope to those worried about those who have already died, he exhorts the Thessalonians to be alert, to love one another, to be faithful in their tasks, to respect their spiritual leaders, and to do good to everyone. With a flourish of short commands, he tells them to do good to each other, to rejoice always, to pray without ceasing, and to give thanks in all circumstances (5:15-18). If believers were to live out those things, imagine how many of the challenges, problems, and divisions that we commonly see would be done away with!
Then, in 5:23-24 he offers a closing prayer for those who have become dear to him (2:8). He prays that they would experience a growing measure of sanctification that will touch all aspects of their lives and that they would be kept blameless at the return of Christ. Again, we see the need for Christians to not only pursue holiness and grow in it, but to seek the Lord to empower them to do so. The desire for holiness is a sign that there is spiritual growth. Not to earnestly desire to become more like Christ is always a worrisome sign.
Not to be one to say that he has arrived, he commands the believers there to do as he does. “Brothers, pray for us” (5:24). It seems reasonable that he would have the Thessalonians pray the same things for him that he prays for them. In all of his letters, Paul shows a passion to preach the Gospel, a commitment to helping believers grow, and a desire to become like the Savior.
A brief look at 2 Thessalonians reveals a similar pattern to Paul’s prayers. In 2 Thess. 2:16-17, he prays that the Father and Jesus, through whom He has given them comfort, hope, and grace, will comfort the believers and establish them in every good work and word. That is a good way to pray for one another today. It focuses the attention on God and what He has done, and on the need for believers to stand strong and grow together.
In 2 Thess. 3:1-5, Paul asks the believers to pray for him. What does he ask for?
That the Word would go on ahead;
That he would be delivered from wicked men;
That their hearts would be directed to God’s love and steadfastness of Christ.
In asking them to pray for him, he gives them a model for prayer and for on-going growth in the Christian life, a life that includes active obedience and obedient action.
His last prayer for them is found in 3:16, where he prays for them to have God’s peace at all times. As we summarize how Paul prays for the Thessalonians, and how he asks them to pray for him, we can see similar themes cropping up as they do in other letters he wrote. His prayers are God-focused, involving all three members of the Holy Trinity. They are Gospel-centered, showing the need for God’s Word to go out further and further into the world and deeper and deeper into our lives. They look for spiritual fruit and growing Christian character, focusing on eternal verities more than temporal vanities. They hope for the greater good in the communion of saints living in light of the return of the Lord Jesus Christ.
I am thankful for the examples of prayer that Paul provides in these two short epistles. There is much more that could be said, but it is my hope that this article (and the others) will stir your heart to prayer for one another, that we would be a growing church, full of those who long for the Lord, live for His glory, and look for His glorious return.