Scripture: 1 Timothy 6:6-19
There are a lot of different expressions of Christianity. There are the ones that a lot of people have heard of like Catholic, Baptist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, or even Methodist. There are ones that are kind of obscure like Moravian or Coptic, and that does not even account for the thousands of “non-denominational churches”. We might all be the collective body of Christ, but there are still some real differences in belief and practice between all of these different expressions of the faith. While there are areas we disagree, there are thankfully a lot of areas where we are all in agreement. One of the areas that all Christians can agree on, regardless of their particular church affiliation, is that prayer is important. In fact, 97% of people who are fairly certain in their belief in God pray daily.
So we all agree prayer is important, but how we pray is a completely different story. When we pray, we do not all pray the same and honestly sometimes the ways we pray can be a little quirky, a little weird or a little odd, as this video from Ginghamsburg UMC points out:
This video reminds us that sometimes we just need to laugh at ourselves. The video pokes fun at some of the quirky ways we approach prayer, but I am not sure God cares a lot about the how of the way we go about prayer. There is truly no wrong way to pray. It does not matter if you are the lister, or the whisperer, or even the fall asleeper. Prayer made in a genuine desire to connect with God, is all good and worthwhile. There is no wrong way to pray, but perhaps there are better ways to pray. Praying better and more effectively has little to do with how we pray and everything to do with why we pray and what we pray for. This morning’s scripture, Is about prayer. It is about how to pray effectively. It was good advice when Paul wrote it, and it continues to be good advice today.
This morning’s scripture once again comes from 1 Timothy. As Paul traveled around the ancient world, he inspired people to come alongside him, travel with him, and be a co-worker in sharing the good news of Jesus with others. Timothy was one such person. At one point Timothy had traveled with Paul around what is now modern day Turkey and Northern Greece. 1 Timothy is a letter that Paul wrote to him, so at this point they were not traveling together. Instead Paul had essentially charged Timothy with leading the church in Ephesus. In 1 Timothy Paul switches back and forth between encouraging Timothy and giving him practical instructions about leading a church. This morning’s scripture is specifically one of the one’s about leading a church. Paul attempts to convey to Timothy a lot of wisdom in just these few verses. I see a couple of major points that Paul is trying to convey to Timothy, and these points are just as valid for us.
First, Paul answers the question of what and who we pray for. It seems that from the video, the “lister” is not far from what Paul was advocating because he begins by stating, “I urge you, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people.” Prayer is communication with God, but it should not always be focused on just ourselves and God. This scripture makes it clear we are supposed to pray for other people as well. This scripture states that we should make petitions, intercessions, and thanksgiving. Petitions are when we ask God for something, this is when someone has a prayer request and we ask God to grant it. Intercessions are when we pray on someone else’s behalf. We intercede for someone, not because they asked us to, but because we want God to be at work in their lives in some way even if the person we are praying for has not expressed that. Finally, in thanksgiving we give thanks to God for people, because every person is fearfully and wonderfully made. Every person has been created by God, and for God every person is someone worth caring for, so it is appropriate in prayer to give thanks for God for the unique creations that God has made. Right off the bat Paul tells us we are to pray for people through petitions, intercession, and thanksgiving. Paul also makes clear we are not supposed to be picky about who we pray for.
Some people are easy to pray for. It goes without saying that most of us pray regularly for the people we love the most. Other people though require us to be a bit more intentional about lifting up in prayer. As an example of this, Paul lifts up “kings and all of those in authority.” Now at first glance, this might appear as an appeal to a civic duty to pray for those in position of power, but that is not quite what is being advocated here. Throughout his ministry Paul’s relationship with those in authority was rocky at best. On more than one occasion he was arrested, he was imprisoned, he was put on trial, and he was physically punished. This all happened as a response to Paul preaching the truth of Jesus. Despite being mistreated by those in authority, Paul say to pray for them anyway. To really drive this point home, at the time Paul wrote to pray kings, Nero was the emperor of Rome. It was Nero who set off the first persecution of Christians. Nero is the man who gave the order to have Paul executed. Paul encouraged Timothy to pray for the very man who would eventually have him killed.
We are not to exclude who we pray for, if we know someone who needs God’s intervention and work in their life then we are to pray for them. It is that simple. Now, from a practical standpoint all of us cannot pray for “all the people” but we all have people we can pray for. All of us can probably easily identify co-workers, family members, neighbors, or friends that God has really placed on our heart to pray for. One of the struggles in prayer, is knowing what to pray. On one hand, praying for others can be easy because we just pray for their health. We tend to be really good (like really, really good) at praying for people’s health. We should pray for people when they are not well. The bible does say when someone is sick we should lift them up in prayer, but it seems far too often our prayers get stuck on illness and injuries. We can struggle with lifting up people in prayer, when they are healthy, or when we cannot see the battles that they are fighting. One of the other struggles in prayer, is knowing if what we are praying is what God would have us to pray. After all, we do regularly pray that we want God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven, so how can we know that when we pray for other people, that our prayers are part of God’s will?
An answer to that question, is the second major point that Paul conveys in this morning’s scripture. We may not always know what God’s will for someone is. However, this morning’s scripture makes clear that there are somethings that we can be certain of in prayer. Verses 3 and 4 state, “This is good and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” Praying for the salvation of others is always in the will of God. In the Methodist expression of the faith we believe strongly that it truly is the desire of God to be reunited with all of God’s people. After all it was because God so love the world, not just a few, that God sent Jesus to be the mediator between God and humanity. It was because of a great love for all that Jesus gave himself as a random for all people, not just the elect. Because God seeks to be reconciled with all people, we can always be confident that praying for salvation is always in the will of God.
These verses can also apply for praying for those who are already saved as well, because verses 3 and 4 also state that God our savior wants all people to come to a knowledge of the truth. Knowledge about the truth of God’s infinite love for us, is an area we can all grow in. There is a line from a modern worship song called “How He Loves” that I especially like that states “If grace is an ocean, we’re all sinking.” The depths of love that God has for each and every one of us is unfathomable, and we can all come to a greater knowledge of that truth.
Again, in churches we tend to be good to pray for each other when it comes to our physical needs, but I challenge you to go a step further. May we go further than just physical health, may we also pray for one another’s spiritual health. As people of faith, our lives should be about more than just being healthy and happy. As people of faith saving grace should be the guiding force that drives our lives as well as our prayers for one another. We should pray for the spiritual health, for the faith of one another. Because faith is about more than being content. Faith is about following Jesus, the mediator between God and humanity. Faith is about growing in love and knowledge of God. Faith is about daily experiencing God’s grace that sanctifies us and makes us more like our Lord and Savior. Faith is about moving beyond happy to being filled with a joy and peace that can only come from knowing that we are forever reunited, forgiven by, and reconciled by the God who created us.
Praying for one another that our relationship with Christ would grow and our knowledge of God would increase is ALWAYS good and pleasing to God. We can be confident that those are prayers that are within the will of God. We can be confident that our good and faithful God will answer those prayers and make it so. In fact, I encourage you to join me in a prayer experiment to put this to the test. I encourage you to partner with one person sitting in the pews with you this morning, and commit to praying for one another for the next two weeks. Commit to pray, not just for their physical health, but for their spiritual health. Commit to pray for one another that your knowledge of God’s truth would increase and your faith in the grace of Christ would grow. If you have a hard time thinking who here you can partner with, then come to me because I will happily commit to lifting you up and praying that you become a more faithful disciple. I am confident if we take on this challenge, we will experience results. If we faithfully pray for the spiritual health of one another then as a congregation we will collectively be better equipped to serve others and share with the world the good news of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The “how” of praying is not as important as the “why” of praying. This morning’s scripture instructs us to pray for other people. When we pray, saving grace should be the basis of our prayers for other people. When we pray for those who do not yet know Jesus may our single greatest prayer be that their heart softens, that they say “yes to God’s yes”, and they be saved. When we pray for those who already know Jesus, may we pray for more than just wellness. May we become just as good at praying that God meet spiritual needs as we are about praying for physical needs. May we also pray regularly for one another that we grow in faith and we grow in grace. May we pray these prayers with confidence, because as this morning’s scripture confirms, these kind of prayers are always within the will of God. So may we pray for one another, and as we engage in these prayers may we trust God to make it so.