Sunday – March 11, 2018
Scripture: 1 Timothy 2:1-4, 8
1 I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— 2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3 This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.
8 Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing.
David Mains, former pastor of the Circle Urban Church – an inner city church in Chicago, one day, in the course of his ministry among such great need, prayed, “Lord, let me see the world as you see it, and break my heart with the things that break yours.” The next day he found himself weeping so much, he had to ask God to stop.
Martin Luther once said, “I am so busy now that if I did not spend three hours each day in prayer, I could not get through the day.” How do you get through the day? Could you use a little more prayer in your life?
1 Timothy is a letter written by Paul, to his partner in ministry, Timothy. He writes the letter to urge Timothy to stand strong, as he leads the church, against false teachings. With this in mind, he spends time talking about what church should look like. He hits a lot of fascinating themes, including some that require some serious thought and a few extra readings in order to understand what’s he’s saying. One of the first issues he tackles, however, is prayer.
Verse 1 reads nicely in English but it could just have well been translated as “I urge, then, first of all, that prayers, prayers, prayers and more prayers be made for all people.” It uses 4 different words for prayers but all of them can be translated simply as “prayers.” However, each word lends a different flavor to prayer. In fact, they could be called 4 elements of prayer.
First up is “petitions,” from the word “deeseis (deh-ay-sace).” It’s often translated as “prayer” but, more specifically, it refers to a need. It means bringing our needs before God, especially our spiritual needs as we God for help.
The next word is “prayers,” from the word “proseuchas (pros-ook-ahs).” The verb form of this same word is used in verse 2:8 where it is translated as “pray.” It seems repetitive to use it here with several forms of prayer but it likely indicates some form of liturgical prayer that was in use in the early church – like the Lord’s Prayer. Interestingly enough, when Jesus offers his example of prayer, in Matthew 6:9-13, the word he uses for “pray” is the verb form of the noun used here.
The third area of focus is intercession. The word here is “enteuxeis (en-took-sace),” which is a term for coming before a king. It’s used here in the sense of approaching a king (God in this case) on behalf of others. A part of our prayers, then, is to lift others up before the Lord.
The last area of focus is thanksgiving. Here the word is “eucharistias (yook-ar-ist-ee-os).” You might recognize the word “eucharist,” another word for communion, the celebration of the Last Supper. It’s another compound word: “eu” means “good” and “charizomai (kar-iz-om-aye)” means “to give freely” or “to show favor or kindness.” “Charizomai” has another familiar word inside of it, “charis (kar-iss),” which is translated as “grace.” To say “grace” before eating means to give thanks for God’s provision of the food about to be eaten. These two ideas are close to each other: grace and thanks. We often refer to God’s grace as “unmerited favor” bestowed upon us. It’s unearned and undeserved, yet is freely given. The Eucharist celebrates God’s grace in our lives through the death of Christ and, by taking Communion, we are giving thanks to God for what Jesus has done. In the sense used here in verse 1, Paul is urging us to recognize the undeserved good that God gives us and show him favor because of it. In other words, we recognize that God has given good to us that we could never earn and we freely return thanks to him.
Prayer is an essential element of worshiping God and it takes many forms. Prayer is how we talk to God and these 4 elements of Prayer offer us a proper posture to take before the Him. Each element shows something different. But God already knows all these things we are lifting up before Him so why pray? Prayer is more about helping us to see the world in and around us more clearly than it is about delivering requests to God. As I pray, the Spirit is able to direct my thoughts to clarify my priorities, recognize my spiritual needs, focus on more than myself and discover where God is currently focusing my relationship with Him. Have your prayers become the same old thing each day? Do you pray out of a sense of duty without considering the relationship you have with the One you are praying to? Try talking to God . . . really talking to Him. Get to know Him better through the scriptures and the way He speaks to your soul. Prayer can wake you up to a whole new relationship with God if you are willing to go deeper.
The next couple of verses are handling a pretty difficult subject. Our prayers are meant to be for all men but then Paul singles out kings and those in authority over us. Submission to the authority of those who govern us is always an uneasy topic for the Christian. Our faith is one that transcends nations and the governments that rule differently in each country. It transcends the different cultures even as it gains some of their flavor. We swear our allegiance to God above all others and we find moral conflict with the laws of Man when they disagree with the laws of God. Throughout history Christianity has been seen as a threat to the governance of men and has, at times, been the vehicle of power within governments that might have polluted the faith more than injected its moral guidance into those governments. We live in a country now that has tried find balance between government and the Christian faith from its beginning and we still find an uneasy alliance. Imagine, then, the difficulty the early Christians had living under Roman rule and oppression, especially when it sponsored intense persecution of them. We have a faith that transcends men and their borders and each generation of Christians must learn how God wants us to respond to those in authority over us.
So what does God want us to do? He wants us to pray for those kings and other leaders. God wants them saved and in heaven just as much as he wants you saved and in heaven. So pray for your leaders so that they may give you the opportunity to simply live your faith in peace.
Our last two verses are incredibly important for understanding what prayer is really all about. Paul says, “3 This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” God wants us to pray for all because He wants all to be saved. The word for “wants” is key here. It’s “thelei (thel-ay),” which is usually translated as “wills” or, in stronger circumstances, like this one, “desires.” “Wants” is not a bad translation but it’s a little weak to describe the strength of God’s desire to see all people saved. It’s His will that all be saved but that doesn’t mean it’s a certainty that all will be saved.
Paul is giving us a piece of God’s heart here. We see a similar statement from Peter, in 2 Peter 3:8-9, where he says, “8 But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” The word for “wanting” is “boulomai (bool-om-eye),” which is an even stronger word than thelei. The love of God, for all His creation, is so strong that He doesn’t want anyone to go to Hell. If that is the desire of His heart, it will happen so far as it depends on His will. But our world is in the state that it is in precisely because He doesn’t force his will on us.
A common scripture we like to use, as believers, is found in Psalm 37:4: “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” That’s something worth considering. Just what is the desire of your heart? We’ve just read a verse about the desire of God’s heart and we’ve already learned the Greatest Commandment – to love the lord with all your heart, mind and soul. How does your heart line up with God’s heart? The Lord’s Prayer, in Matthew 6:10, prays “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” How does your will line up with God’s will?
Earlier I said that “Prayer is more about helping us to see the world in and around us more clearly than it is about delivering requests to God. As I pray, the Spirit is able to direct my thoughts to clarify my priorities, recognize my spiritual needs, focus on more than myself and discover where God is currently focusing my relationship with Him.” Prayer aligns your will and your heart with God’s will and heart. This is the real goal of prayer, not to tell our troubles to God and give Him His marching orders, but to align our will with His.
The best example of I know of bringing our wills in alignment with God’s will comes from Jesus – who is always setting the example for us. In Matthew 26:36-42 it says, “36 Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37 He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” 39 Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” 40 Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. 41 “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 42 He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.””
“Thy will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven.” God’s people are to be a praying people. How does this change your view of prayer? Knowing all this, how will you pray in the future? Will you stop trying to convince God to yield to your will and, instead, yield to His?
I’d like to end with a prayer from John Wesley. It’s his covenant prayer and it goes like this: “I am no longer my own, but yours. Put me to what you will, rank me with who you will. Put me to doing, put me to suffering. Let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you. Exalted for you, or brought low for you. Let me be full, let me be empty, Let me have all things, let me have nothing. I freely and gladly yield all things to your pleasure and disposal. O Lord, my God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, you are mine and I am yours. So be it. And may this covenant, made on earth be confirmed, remembered and rewarded in heaven. Amen.”