We all know we should pray. We are also well aware of the fact that through prayer we tap into the resources and power of Heaven. I trust you have become convinced over the years that God answers our prayers.
Having said this, the reality is that most Christians do not pray. We may send up our little arrow prayers during the course of the day (which is good) but we are sometimes lax when it comes to intercession for others and for the world.
Obviously, the number one reason we struggle with prayer is because we are not appropriately captivated by the love and awesome character of God. If we were to really “get it”, we would count our times of prayer the most precious hours of our day.
But there is another, more practical reason that I know I struggle sometimes in prayer for others. It is because I don’t know how I should pray.
- How do you pray for someone who has been declared “terminal” or who is advanced in years and sick? Do you pray for healing or for strength and peace in the journey?
- How should I pray when there are two different opinions as to what is best in a situation?
- How should I pray for those who aren’t going through any particular difficult time?
I hope to answer some of these kinds of questions today. I want to give you the kind of prayer that is appropriate in all circumstances. And I hope as we answer these questions we will be led to love the Lord more fully.
There are many prayers recorded for us in the Bible. Our text this morning in 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13 we have one of those prayers. This prayer was never meant to be a pattern prayer (like the Lord’s prayer given by Jesus), However, I believe there are some helpful tips for our own prayer lives contained in this example of prayer.
11 Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you. 12 May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. 13 May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.
He Submits His Will and His Calendar to the Lord
Paul had earlier in this letter confessed his frustration at not being able to return to visit the Thessalonians. He had been run out of town and was concerned for the church he left behind. Paul wanted to return to the church but in 2:18 Paul told us that Satan had somehow stopped his return. We don’t know what barriers were erected; we just know they were present. So, Paul’s first prayer is for God to remove the barrier to his return to Thessalonica.
First, notice that Paul refers to God the Father and the Lord Jesus as co-regents. This is a bit of a side road but it is significant on two fronts. First, Paul was raised a Pharisee. To elevate Jesus to the position of God would have been unthinkable for any Jewish person. Paul would never say such a thing unless he was absolutely convinced that Jesus was also God (even if he didn’t quite understand how it worked.)
This is significant secondly because this is an early letter. 1 Thessalonians was written perhaps around 59 AD. What this tells us is that Jesus was recognized as God from the very beginning! This was not something the church decided on years later. Jesus claimed to be God and Jesus was recognized and declared to be God by his followers.
Second, Paul committed His personal desires to the Lord. Paul wanted to go back to Thessalonica. He was frustrated at not being able to return. He asked God to make it happen.
There is nothing at all wrong with telling God what you would like to see happen in your life. It is appropriate to tell Him you want someone to get well, some obstacle to be removed or some door to open. We need to be honest before God.
Third, Paul submitted His will to the Lord. By making his request of the Lord, Paul recognized that God is the one who is in control. He understood that God is able to overthrow the plans and devices of Satan. Paul turned to God with his frustrations because he recognized that God’s power and wisdom are superior to his own.
Since Paul recognized God’s power, His sovereignty, and His authority, Paul is not demanding that God open the door to his return to Thessalonica. That would be the height of arrogance! Who are we to presume to ever TELL God what to do? Those who do such things either have a faulty view of God or an inflated view of self.
Instead, Paul declares his desire (which he believes is the best option) with a humility that recognized that his desires might be wrong. Paul sought God’s guidance. He wanted to see the Thessalonians. He knew that God could make such a visit happen. However, he also submitted this desire to the Lord. Paul knew that God sees what we do not see; God knows what we do not know. His wisdom is superior to our own.
When Jesus was in the garden he asked the Father to “let the cup pass from Him”. He didn’t want to face the horrible death that awaited him. Jesus added the words, “yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42) Some people say that adding, “not my will but yours” to our prayers makes it a weak prayer. (Try telling that to Jesus!) A person who subjects his own will to the will of the Father does not pray a weak prayer but a faithful prayer.
Let’s face it, if it was up to us, our parents and Grandparents might never be granted the joy of Heaven! We would hold on to them and never let them go. If it were up to us, we would never be tested; we would always have God remove the trying times. If it were up to us we would never face opposition; we would never have to control our desires. In short, if it were up to us, we would never grow! If it were up to us, we would miss some of the most life-enriching experiences.
Whenever we come to God in prayer we must come realizing that we are like children. We think we know what is best. We definitely know what we want. However, we must trust that like a good parent, God sees clearly what is in our best interest. We must come to Him for guidance and direction with a humility that is willing to wait on God’s timing.
He Prays for Love to Grow
If you are at a loss to know how to pray for another person, here’s a prayer that is always appropriate, “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. (v.12)
From this simple request notice three things. First, we all need to learn to love more effectively. Paul doesn’t simply encourage us to love . . . he encourages us to overflow with love. This implies to me that we can ALWAYS love more. We can always do a better job in this area.
Someone has described love by a simple acrostic using the letters L-O-V-E,
L—listening with the heart when another is speaking,
O—overlooking petty faults and forgiving all failures;
V—valuing other people for who they are and not for what we would like them to be;
E—expressing love in a practical way. Love is not just a feeling; it is a feeling that results in action. —Denis Waitley, Seeds of Greatness
Suppose you have a large bucket. You put your garden hose in the bucket and you turn on the water. The water level rises until the water begins to overflow. If you turn the hose off, the water will stop overflowing. If you leave the hose off for many days, the water will actually start to evaporate.
It’s the same way with our love. As long as we are allowing God’s love and heart to flow into us, we will be able to overflow with love. As soon as that connection is blocked, love stops overflowing and we begin becoming more self-absorbed. This is why people who drift away from God start to become hardened again. Paul prays for God to make our love overflow. We need to grow in love.
Second, notice that this love starts in the body of Christ. Paul prays for the Thessalonians to overflow in love for each other. The church is designed to be a place of support, encouragement, and strength. For that to happen we must love each other. The Bible is filled with commands that encourage us to care for each other as brothers and sisters in Christ.
If we want to be obedient in our walk with God we are going to have to work on loving each other. I like to think of the church as the laboratory of Christian growth. It is in our relationships with each other where we learn how to love. We will only learnt to love each other as we learn to first love the Lord.
However, this does bring a question to mind. “If the church is supposed to be a place where people love each other, why is there so much conflict in the church?” I can think of a couple of answers. First, not all the people in the church are pursuing the mind of Christ. Some are here for reasons other than to glorify God. Consequently they pursue things with a worldly mentality. They are out to get what they can in any way that they can.
Second, we hold each other to an unrealistic standard. We should expect more from those who wear the name of Christ, but we must be careful. We are all still in the process of growing. We find ourselves saying things like, “I thought that person was a Christian.” Somehow we seem to think that Christian people shouldn’t have a bad day. They shouldn’t yell at their kids. They shouldn’t get their feelings hurt. Anytime we start to say, “But I thought they were a Christian” it would be helpful to remind ourselves that Christian or not, they are still human.
This is why we need to pray. Love is hard. Forgiveness doesn’t come naturally. We naturally feel threatened by the accomplishments of others rather than cheer for these things. We have a hard time with people who won’t conform to our expectations. So the place to start is to pray for our own ability to love. We need to take this list of commands and use them to measure and evaluate our own lives.
After the U.S.S. Pueblo was captured by the North Koreans, the eighty-two surviving crew members were thrown into a brutal captivity. In one particular instance thirteen of the men were required to sit in a rigid manner around a table for hours. After several hours the door was violently flung open and a North Korean guard brutally beat the man in the first chair with the butt of his rifle. The next day, as each man sat at his assigned place, again the door was thrown open and the man in the first chair was brutally beaten. On the third day it happened again to the same man. Knowing the man could not survive, another young sailor took his place. When the door was flung open the guard automatically beat the new victim senseless. For weeks, each day a new man stepped forward to sit in that horrible chair, knowing full well what would happen. At last the guards gave up in exasperation. They were unable to beat that kind of sacrificial love.
This is the kind of love we should be seeking to have toward each other as brothers and sisters in Christ.
Finally, we are to love those beyond the body of Christ. I’m going to keep beating this drum: the greatest witness we have to the communities around us is the love we show. Talk is cheap. Action makes an impact. I happen to think that as we work at loving those in the body of Christ, we will find it easier to love those outside the body.
He Prays for a Deepened Walk With God
Paul continued his prayer, “May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.”
Notice a couple of things. First, he prayed for God to strengthen their hearts. Paul understood that any growth in Christlikeness must come from within and not from the external things that we do. It is not simply a matter of praying more, reading your Bible more, and attending church more often. True Christlikeness is about attitudes, outlooks, values and the way we think about things. Holiness is about character more than behavior. If we get our hearts right the actions will follow.
Second, notice that Paul focuses on a compelling goal. Our goal should be to stand before our Savior knowing that we have become what He wanted us to be. Isn’t it interesting that Paul doesn’t pray that the church maintain the status quo? He doesn’t ask that they measure up to the expectations of those around them. This is to aim too low. Instead he prayed for them to be holy and blameless before the Lord. He prayed that they would live such good lives that they would be ready when Jesus comes back with all the saints who have died. He wants us to be able to welcome the Lord and the saints as those who have been faithful and need not be ashamed.
Suppose you were a musician. Let’s say you had studied for years with a master instrumentalist. One day you are with your friends and they ask you to play. Your skill amazes your friends. They applaud and say all kinds of nice things about you. Since the crowd is so pleased would you give up your lessons? Would you conclude that you were good enough? Some would.
However, the person who goes on to be a master musician realizes that they serve the music and not the audience. They are striving for a goal that is greater than merely the applause of men.
We are like that musician. Paul prays that we would continue to strive to reach the standard of the Master rather than settle for what is merely “good enough.” Here’s a question for all of us: “If I knew Jesus was going to return this afternoon, would I live my life any differently?” If there are things you would change you need to ask two questions:
- What makes me think He is not coming today?
- What hinders me from living this way now?
I hope you see that this is a prayer you can pray for anyone. We can even (and must) pray this for ourselves. We ask,
- That God would help us to submit our wills and our calendars to Him
- That God would fill us with His love and help us to grow in our ability to love God, those in the church, and those in the world.
- That God would help us grow in the areas of holiness and blamelessness. We should pray that we would strive for a higher standard than that set by the world. And that we would be able to stand before our great Savior without regret when He returns.
Jesus suffered the wrath of God for us. His death on our behalf is what sets us free from our sin and for a new life with God. Our prayer should constantly be that we never take His love or His grace for granted, and that He so work in us that we might demonstrate His love to those around us.
If you keep this foremost in your mind; then you will never have to wonder how to pray for someone ever again.