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Paul's Prayer for the Thessalonians, Part 1

September 1, 2019 Series: 2 Thessalonians

Passage: 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12

So that gets us through v. 10. Let’s begin talking now about Paul’s prayer for the Thessalonians in vv. 11-12. This is such an uplifting prayer! We will begin discussing it today and finish it next week.

The prayer is made up of three requests and then a reason for those requests. Okay? You got that? Three requests and a reason. Most of the rest of our time here this morning we will spend on trying to understand Paul’s requests. What exactly is it that he is asking for? But before we jump into that, I want you to see two things about his prayer in general. 

First, I want you to see that Paul’s prayer is theologically-motivated. I get this from the first word in v. 11. What is the first word in v. 11? (“therefore”) And of course, the old adage of Bible study teaches us that whenever you see a “therefore,” you should ask yourself what? (“…what it’s there for!”) In this case, the “therefore” indicates that what Paul is about to pray flows out of the theology he has just discussed. 

Do your prayers for others flow out of sound biblical theology? Just yesterday, I was praying through my list of everyone who regularly attends Sunday school–I was praying for you! –but my prayers felt somewhat weak and anemic. I didn’t know exactly what to ask God for you all! Have you ever been there? But then I went back to my notes for this passage and began fleshing them out some more, and the prayers just flowed. I prayed that God would help you to grasp the dignity of your calling and the significance of your regeneration. I prayed that you would be encouraged as you notice good desires and works of faith in your lives. I prayed that you would walk worthy of the Lord and that you would long for Him to be glorified. 

There are all kinds of biblical things that we can pray for each other about; but if we aren’t soaking our minds in Scripture, we will end up praying for each other to “have a good week” or “get better” or something like that–not that it is wrong to pray for physical needs, but as we grow as Christians, our prayers ought to become more specific and more biblical.

Second, I want you to notice that Paul’s prayers for the Thessalonians were constant (v. 9). That word “always” shows up a lot in Paul’s prayer reports for the various churches! And so, if you’ve been around preaching and teaching a lot, you’ve probably heard that concept explained. But it’s still somewhat difficult for us to grasp, isn’t it? How can Paul pray for the Thessalonians “always”?

The word “always” does not mean that Paul prayed for the Thessalonians 24/7. It can’t mean that, right? He had to sleep. Paul wasn’t so spiritual that he was praying while he was asleep. So then what does it mean?

Imagine a husband is separated from his family for a long period of time. Maybe he is on active duty in the military. And let’s just say that the nature of his employment is such that he cannot communicate with his family via cell phone, text messaging, or emails. He has to write letters. And in one his letters, he says to his wife, “I think about you and the kids all the time.” Do you understand what he means by that? That is what Paul means when he says to the Thessalonians, “I pray for you all the time.”

Now let me ask you, do you intercede for your brothers and sisters in Christ that often? You say, “I don’t have time.” I read recently that the average American checks his or her phone every (get this) four minutes! Of course you don’t have time. Because you cannot “pray without ceasing” and “text without ceasing.” You cannot “pray without ceasing” and Facebook without ceasing. You cannot pray without ceasing and podcast or audiobook without ceasing. You cannot “pray without ceasing” and Fox News or radio or music without ceasing. You see, in order to “pray without ceasing,” you need empty space in your life, and that just isn’t the American way! I’m preaching to myself as much as to you right now. I am not good at this. But one of my prayers for you in regards to this lesson is that you would want other believers to succeed in the Christian life so much, that you would be willing to invest significant amounts of time praying to that end.

Let’s take a look at Paul’s three requests for the Thessalonians.

  1. Request #1: “Count Them Worthy” (v. 11).

This is an intriguing request. “Count them worthy?” What does that mean? Well, it’s a reference to what Paul had said in v. 5–that one of the results of Christian suffering is that we are counted worthy of the kingdom of God. It also connects back to something Paul said in 1 Thessalonians 2:12 (1 Thess 2:11-12).

I hope that you are seeing that this is a major theme in Paul’s ministry to the Thessalonians. When he was with them, he said, “Make sure you walk worthy of your calling.” Then, in his first letter, he reminded them, “Remember how I used to tell you to walk worthy of your calling?” In his second letter, he encouraged them, “Your faithfulness is the midst of suffering is a sign that you will be counted worthy!” And then at the end of that same chapter, he says, “I’m praying for, that God would count you worthy of your calling” (in other words, “I’m praying that you would walk worthy,” because to pray for God to count someone worthy of his calling is the same thing as praying that he would walk worthy).

So what does it mean to be called, and what does it mean to walk worthy?

If you are a Christian, did you know that the Bible teaches that God chose you? You say, “Wait a second; I chose Him.” There is a scene from the book, The Silver Chair (one of the Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis) that illustrates this very well. At the beginning of the book, Jill and Eustace are trying to escape from bullies. They become trapped, and as a last-ditch effort, they call out to Aslan to save them from their persecutors by taking them to Narnia. Almost immediately, they find themselves in another world. Shortly thereafter, Jill meets the lion Aslan, and in the course of their conversation, he mentions “the task for which I called you and [Eustace] here out of your own world.” There is a moment of confusion. Jill says, “I was wondering–I mean–could there be some mistake? Because nobody called me and Scrubb, you know. It was we who asked to come here.” Aslan very wisely replies, “You would not have called to me unless I had been calling to you.”

Did you call on God to be saved? Yes. But why did you do so? Because He had been calling to you. He chose you for a special purpose. He set you apart for special service to Him. I hope that you recognize the dignity of your calling!

Dignity is a lost concept these days, isn’t it? You can still find vestiges of it at a royal wedding or a presidential inauguration, but it seems like it is disappearing even from those contexts. Webster defines “dignity” as “the quality or state of being worthy, honored, or esteemed.” Did you know that you can be dignified without being proud or condescending towards others? It just means that you live and carry yourself in a way that demands honor. The queen might tell her daughter who had some impolite habit, “Don’t do that. That kind of behavior is beneath us!” And in the same way, in Ephesians 5, Paul talks about sins that ought not even to be named among the saints. He says later on that it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by the world in secret.

A prayer I have been meditating on lately from The Valley of Vision (that book of Puritan prayers), says this:

When sinners entice me,

  give me disrelish of their ways;

When sensual pleasures tempt me,

  purify and refine me;

When I desire worldly possessions,

  help me to be rich toward thee;

When the vanities of the world ensnare me,

  let me not plunge into new guilt and ruin.

May I remember the dignity of my spiritual release….

May we as Christians never forget that we do not walk through this world anonymously. Wherever you go, you represent Jesus to this dying world. That is a high calling indeed. May we always strive to walk worthy of that calling.

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