Tim Keller writes, “I can think of nothing great that is also easy. Prayer must be, then, one of the hardest things in the world.”1 Prayer is great. But prayer is hard. Prayer is a challenge for many reasons. Sometimes we find it hard to make time to pray. Sometimes we struggle with the motivation to pray. Sometimes we simply don’t know what to say when we pray.
When it comes to this last challenge, I find the Bible’s commands to pray helpful. Rarely do you find Scripture simply saying, “Pray!” More often you find God saying in his Word, “Pray like this…” 1 Timothy 2 is a great example. In these verses Paul gives us some helpful categories for content that can fill our prayers. First, he instructs us to pray for the good of the church.
Pray for the good of the church
“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions” (1 Tim. 2:1-2).
Now, this is the reason we pray for our President, the leaders of government nationally and locally, as well as anyone in a position of authority in our land. This is why your pastor is not necessarily getting political when he prays for someone in Washington D.C. He’s simply obeying 1 Timothy 2.
But notice the reason we are called to pray this way: The prayer for these leaders is a means to an end. There’s a greater purpose on God’s agenda than earthly government and authority. Paul says, “Pray for kings and all who are in high positions that we (that is, Christians) may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”
The reason we pray for good government is ultimately for the good of the church.
We are asking the Lord to provide a context in which his church can mature and thrive in the most unhindered way possible. And notice what a maturing and thriving church looks like: God’s definition of a good church is one full of people who live a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.
Christian, when you pray for your life, is that the life you’re praying for?
- A peaceful life: A life free from bitterness, rivalry, and anger.
- A quiet life: Which doesn’t mean a silent life, but a gentle and humble life.
- A godly life: A life aligned with God’s character.
- A life dignified in every way: A life worthy of respect.
Is that the kind of home life, the kind of work life, the kind of social media life, that your asking the Lord to give you? You know who that sounds like to me? Jesus! He lived a peaceful, quiet, godly, dignified life. And we want to look more like him.
So the greatest good we can pray for the church is that every member might look more and more like Jesus, our Prince of Peace, our Humble King, and our God, who is worthy of our highest respect and adoration.
It is good to pray for sick members in the church, for volunteer needs in the church, and for any number of the pressing praises and petitions that often fill our minds. But at the deepest level we should plead with our Father that we might look more like his Son.
When you pray, pray for the good of the church. Also, pray for the salvation of all people.
Pray for the salvation of all people
Paul says we should pray to “God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4).
Notice how wonderfully inclusive the gospel is. We are called to pray for all people, because God desires all people to be saved. There is not a single person you know, there is not a single person on this planet, who is beyond God’s saving reach! So we should always pray for others with hope and confidence.
But, also notice here how seriously exclusive the gospel is. The salvation of God is exclusively available in Jesus Christ. Paul clearly says, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5).
Contrary to the popular notion that there is either a variety of gods or a variety of ways to come to God, the Bible is very clear: Christ alone is the way we approach God in confidence and righteousness and hope. Christ alone has done what was necessary to open the access back to God. We lost the access in our sin and rebellion. Christ opened it to us once again. How?
“[He] gave himself as a ransom for all” (1 Tim. 2:6).
As Peter reminds us, “You were ransomed… not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ” (1 Pet. 1:18-19). We come before the throne of God in Jesus’s name covered and cleansed by his precious blood. So when we pray we confess our great need of his grace. And we also plead for our family, our friends, our neighbors, our coworkers, and our world, that they might find salvation in him as well.
Every time a tragedy strikes people will talk about “sending their thoughts and prayers.” And when deadly tornados ravage Alabama, and famine grips Yemen, and Christians are arrested in China, we’ll pray too. The church rightly prays for the alleviation of suffering, because we have a God who can do it! Jesus is Lord of all! He can calm a storm, he can feed the hungry, he can release prisoners. He’s done it before.
But this is not all we will ask him to do. Because, as John Piper has often said, “We Christians care about all suffering, especially eternal suffering.” More than anything else, we want to see more people rescued from a future of eternal hell by receiving the gift of eternal life. So we plead with God to save sinners by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.
And when we pray this way, we pray for the pleasure of God.
Pray for the pleasure of God
“This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior” (1 Tim. 2:3)
Paul says this kind of prayer, for the good of the church and the salvation of all people, is pleasing to God. Now, how does he know that?
He knows that, because he knows his Bible. And he knew verses like Ezekiel 33:11 where the prophet says, “As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live.” God takes pleasure in saving wicked people. Paul saw that clearly in his Bible. So he prays for it with confidence.
This is why we pray the Word! Yes, we want to pray what’s on our hearts, but more importantly, we want to pray what’s on God’s heart!
And when we pray for the good of the church, and when we pray for the salvation of all people, we pray in a way that is pleasing to God.
- Timothy Keller. Prayer. (New York: Penguin Books, 2014). 24. ↩