Spiritual Reformation 2 & 3

The first of Paul’s prayers that Carson looks at is in 2 Thessalonians 1:3-12. There’s a lot in there, but I’ve come away with three big things to chew over and try to improve (there’s a lot of room to do better!) with regard to how to pray for other people – namely: view, aims and content.

Paul’s view in this prayer is through a wide angled lens. Everything is set in the context of the grace of God which saved the Thessalonians and is the only means of their ongoing sanctification. Furthermore, the end of this world seems to be always in Paul’s mind, with many references to judgement and the new creation. I too often focus on what people want today or – if I’m really good – tomorrow.

Paul has two aims for his prayer – that “Jesus Christ will be glorified in us on account of what we have become by his grace, and we will be glorified in him on account of what he has done for us” (p59). He doesn’t aim for comfort or happiness for the Thessalonians, but for what is actually best.

It is hardly surprising when Paul is looking at the big picture and is praying for the glory of Jesus and Christians that he doesn’t pray for temporal, material things. The content of his prayer is largely concerned with thanking God for evidence of grace in the lives of the Thessalonians (specifically faith, love and steadfastness, v3-4) and asking God to continue with their sanctification (“that our God may make you worthy of his calling”, v11). There is also prayer that the godly agendas of the Thessalonians would be fulfilled (v12) – not, that is, exams, competitions or social events but “every resolve for good and every work of faith”.

Honestly, my response? Despondancy. Not only does Paul pray all the time, but he’s really good at it! When I do manage to pray, I so rarely have the view, aim or content that Paul manages. What’s more, my earlier resolve to have a list of 12 people to pray for every time I prayed has gone completely splat and I’m tempted to give up on the whole thing. But I know that that’s Satan’s tactic and not the council of my King. I know that what I must do is get up off the mat, then get back down on the mat on my knees (see what I did there?!). I need to admit I’ve failed, and that I could never do anything other than fail. I need to admit that I’ve given in to the temptation to revel in self pity. I need to ask forgiveness. I need to praise God for his grace that there are so many fresh starts and a promise that one day it won’t be a battle but I’ll be perfected. I need to ask that God would teach me to pray. Then I need to take a smaller slice of the elephant that is learning to pray better and – relying fully on God – start chewing.

So, new resolve. I’ve just nicked the student prayer list from my church and added the the twelve names from before and a few others. Now each day there are four people – three Christians and one non-Christian. Each morning, immediately after the Bible (or I’ll never get round to it) I will, at the least, go through the Lord’s prayer, pray for the appropriate four people and read a prayer from Valley of Vision. I believe that, by grace, this is an achievable target. If not, I just need to learn to carve a thinner slice. I really should get some specific accountability on this, but until I manage to set that up (and once I have!) here’s trusting in God.

Heavenly Father, I long for Jesus to be glorified in me. I do also long for the day when I will see him and will be sanctified and glorified. For now, Father, I cling to your grace. I thank you that my motivation to improve has come from your grace. I pray that your grace would sustain me and allow me to pray at least this much each day and that soon I would outgrow this and seek more time in your presence. Please keep me from legalism and from apathy – please keep me in grace. I thank you that you have given us teaching on how to pray. I thank you that the Spirit prays in my weakness, and he knows the deep things of you. I thank you that my salvation isn’t based on being able to maintain discipline, but I thank you that I can please you by doing so. Please teach me to pray, please conform the amount, the view, the aims and the content of my prayers to your will. Amen.

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