The sixth message in the 1 Thessalonians series covers one of Paul’s prayers, which shows us the priorities that he had in praying for the church and ourselves. These should be our priorities also.
The video recording is below followed by the notes. These can be used together or separately.
How do we pray for each other as a church?
Sometimes, at a prayer meeting, the prayer needs are simply a list of illnesses. Of course, it is right to pray for physical needs. However, if that is all we pray for or even if that is the main thing we pray for, we have missed the priority given in scripture. If you go through the prayers in the Bible, the vast majority of them are to do with spiritual health more than physical health.
Today we’re going to look at one of Paul’s prayers. How he prayed for the local church, when he couldn’t be with them, shows us how to pray.
I) Manner of prayer (v9-10)
Paul describes his prayer as “thanksgiving.” The focus of his thanksgiving is what God has done for the Thessalonians, “What thanksgiving can we return to God for you… for your sake.” (v9)
Paul is overjoyed about their salvation and their growth. “Return to God” has the sense of repaying, so he is saying, “it is impossible to thank God enough (or to repay Him) for His work in you.”
We can understand Paul saying this about his own salvation, but he is saying this about them. Are we thankful about the work of God in other people?
He is not only thankful to God for His work in them, He is filled with joy for them (v9b). This, too, is a challenge. Are our brothers and sisters a cause of joy or grief to us? If we are honest, it is probably a combination, but it will help us to look for things to thank God for rather than looking at others’ faults. The phrase “they joy we feel” is better translated “the joy with which we rejoice” (NKJV). Joy fuels joy. As we look for things to thank God for in one another, that will stir greater joy.
Paul is rejoicing “before our God.” This reminds us that we pray In the presence of God (as the NIV translates this). This should also help us with the way we pray. We are coming into the presence of the Living God. This makes prayer so precious.
Paul continues to describe the manner of his prayers – “most earnestly.” Paul here sticks together two Greek words to show that he is praying with a superabundance of passion, a real fervency of heart and mind. Do we pray like that?
He also prays “night and day.” This reflects his persistence in prayer and that the urgency of the situation demanded that he spent extended time in prayer. Again, this is a challenge to us.
II) Purpose of prayer (v10)
“That we may see you face to face” (fellowship). As I said last week, let’s not get too used to this separation; this is not the way it is meant to be. We need to see each other, and it is good to pray with passion for this to happen.
“That we may… supply what is lacking in your faith.” He is praying that their fellowship together would be fruitful. He wants to “supply (perfect/complete) what is lacking (what is needed).” They have been truly saved (they have saving faith) but faith needs to grow. It needs to mature. They don’t need to become more saved (they are already saved), but they need help to walk in obedience to Him, and to be strengthened to face the battles that lie ahead. So do we.
If we look at the letter as a whole, the “supply” has to do with teaching of both doctrine and practice. Not just one or the other, but both. We need to understand the truth and we need to understand how that truth is worked out in the way we live.
So Paul is praying for growth and maturity. So do we. We also need to pray for the means that God uses to bring growth : His word. The Lord uses His word over time, through ongoing preaching. Paul had been there, Timothy had been there and taught, Paul had sent this letter, but he wants to come back and teach some more. It is therefore the job of the elders of a church, especially those appointed to preach, to make sure they provide ongoing teaching through which the Lord builds up the faith of His people. That takes a lifetime. We never stop needing to hear His word.
So, we need to pray for the teaching of God’s word.
III) Our attitude in prayer (v11)
In v9-10, Paul has been telling them about his prayer. In v11-13, he writes down the prayer that he is praying. This is a good thing to do. Where we are not able to meet face to face, we can pray over the phone or, if it is a message or letter we have received, we can write our prayer. That will minister encouragement.
Paul is submissive to God in his prayer. “May He direct our way.” There is no place for demanding that God do what we want.
But, while it is not demanding, there is also a boldness and a confidence in God’s desire to answer because he says, “Now may our God and Father.” We come to Him in prayer as a child to our Father.
We come with confidence because of Christ – “and our Lord Jesus.” This is a reminder that Christ is God. Also Father and Son (with the Holy Spirit) are One. This is an encouragement because we come to a holy God through Christ – we are accepted. God our Father – who loves us as a Father – and has accepted us in Christ. We can therefore pray.
“Direct our way” – lead/guide/make the path straight. This is also an acknowledgement that God is in charge of all things. He is in charge of where we go and what opportunities open up for us. Notice it says “our God and Father Himself.” He is actively involved in our lives. Prayer is acknowledging that and submitting to His involvement. It is asking for Him to work personally. Often the way God answers prayer seems very ordinary, but He Himself is at work in both the ordinary and extraordinary.
It appears that this prayer was answered because, in Acts 20:4-5, he had four Thessalonians in his missions team. Our days and location are in the Lord’s hands. He planned all our days. But we can still lay our plans before Him.
IV) Content of prayer (v12-13)
We’ve seen some of the things we pray for already in v10. This expands in more detail.
He prays for an increase in their love and holiness. We need to pray that the Lord would supply the grace for us to obey His commands.
“increase and abound” – becoming more and more full (increase) so that it overflows (abound). The use of two similar words by Paul is done for emphasis – may this really, truly happen.
It also tells us that there is room for growth in every believer – see 1:3 (they already have love but need to grow in love).
The direction of that love:
- one another (the church)
- for all (the world around). Loving the lost.
Both of these are outward. Let’s not be like the world around. Let’s seek to put others before ourselves.
“As we do for you” – the apostles had demonstrated that love already. Do we? I know I fall short of showing love; we need to pray for our own love to grow also.
Also, Paul prays for their godliness in v13.
- “Establish your hearts” (same as 3:2). To confirm, to fix your innermost being…
- “…blameless in holiness before our God” – free from accusation before the Lord. Paul wants them to know their standing before the Lord. Through Christ they are blameless in God’s sight because of His righteousness (Ephesians 1:4).
- But the word “blameless” also refers to a person who has fulfilled their obligations as a citizen. So, he is praying that they would live lives that reflect who they are as citizens of the kingdom of God.
- This is confirmed by the words “in holiness”, or set apart for the Lord, separated to Him. He’s praying that their lives would reflect the fact that they belong to the Lord.
- “In holiness” needs to be seen in the context of v12. Holiness is not only avoiding certain sins but in the way in which we express our love for each other by serving each other.
This is such a challenge to the way in which we usually pray. How often do we pray for one another’s godliness? Or even our own?
V) Goal of prayer (v13)
Notice how the prayer concludes – “at the coming of the Lord Jesus.” The ultimate goal of this prayer is that the believers would be ready for the second coming of Christ.
This prayer has an eternal perspective. It is not prayer for a quick fix to make life on earth easier, but a prayer that they would be living in the light of eternity. And that is the call for us also – living ready to stand before Him.
Does our praying match the priorities of Paul? Let’s just quickly run through them again.
- That we would be able to meet together and that our meeting together would be fruitful.
- The spiritual growth of the church.
- That the word of God, which is the means of spiritual growth, would be taught and would be effective.
- That our mutual love would grow.
- That our love for the lost would grow.
- That we would live lives set apart for the glory of God.
- That we would have our eyes on eternity and be ready for Christ’s coming.
Why don’t you write these down and start praying them this week? Let’s look forward to God’s work in all of our lives, a growing love for Him, each other and the lost.