PRAYING FOR PEOPLE
Every now and then someone will complain that God is not listening to his or her prayers. Usually this person has been seeking something from God and has not yet received the answer he or she wants. And so, it is sometimes suggested tht prayer does little or no good.
The apostle Paul would disagree. He writes to his young co-worker, Timothy, and gives him instructions on being a good minister. Part of that instruction includes the following powerful passage on prayer.
"First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved adn to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who give Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time. For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying) as a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth. Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension" (1 Tim. 2:1-8).
Paul gives at least five principles which describe what prayer can do.
Prayer Can Touch Lives We Cannot: We are told to pray for all men (2:1). Specifically, we are told to pray for people who hold responsible positions in our world (2:2). Most of these people (kings, presidents, prime ministers) are not pople we can influence. We may write them, or call them, or vote for or against them, but often one voice goes unheard. What do you do when you can't influence people in authority? You pray!
God is bigger than all the governments of the world combined. God can raise up kings and the Lord can bring down empires. When we seek God's help with our leaders, we are confessing that we trust God more than governments. We are turning our troubles and needs over to the One Who can deal with them. You may think your prayers are unimportant, but, unlike politicians, God listens and will respond.
This principle also applies to those who live around us. You might think you can't change the work place, but you can if you pray. You might think you cannot change the school system, but you can influence in your prayers. Whatever your situation, pray for all men, that we can live as God wants us to.
Prayer Can Touch The Lost: Paul begins by telling Timothy (and us) to pray for all men (2:1). That would include people who have never become Christians. Perhaps these prayers for others would be that we could live in safety and harmony with those who do not know the Lord. But, after mentioning that we should pray for kings and others in authority, Paul launches into a moment of praise concerning God's plan of salvation. Clearly, our prayers are to be for the lost, that they might come to know Jesus as their Lord.
Paul is emphatic: there is only one mediator between God and man, and that mediator is Jesus Christ. By praying for the lost we are reminded of God's purpose for us. We are not in the kingdom merely to protect the truth and keep the church doors open. We are in the kingdom, and left to live in the world, so we can share the good news with the lost. By praying that lost people will be saved, we refocus our hearts on God's great commission. And, we remind ourselves to be evangelists when we aren't praying.
Prayer Can Convey Truth: As I mentioned, Paul spends three verses (2:5-7) describing God's plan to save the world from sin. The apostle speaks of God's desire for all men to come to know the truth. He speaks of God and His Son who died in place of sinners. He even mentions God's plan to use Paul to share this good news with the Gentiles.
Paul sees prayer as a way of expressing profound truths. As he teaches Timothy about prayer, he discusses the most basic and most powerful truths about our salvation. While we think of prayer as only serving to petition God, Paul sees prayer as a way to convey truths to others. That is, prayer can be an effective teaching tool. So, when you pray with someone, you might be teaching them things they would not grasp in any other forum. I have seen this countless times when praying with those in hospitals. As we pray, truth dawns on all of us as we describe the majesty and power of our God.
Notice carefully the prayers we find in Acts. In 4:23-30 the church is praying together. In that prayer these believers mention many great things God has done. They speak of His plan to sacrifice His Son and even how God used unbelievers to accomplish His will. Many times, the early Christians used prayer to teach, as well as to interact with God.
Prayer Can Shape Hearts: Paul commands men everywhere to pray, "lifting up holy hands" (2:8). When we devote ourselves to prayer, "in every place," our hearts will be shaped by our time with the Lord. In other words, prayer can mold our hearts to be more like Christ. That is part of what Paul means when he talks about lifting up holy hands. The apostle knows that time in prayer will change us.
That is what happened with Jesus. He prayed that the cup would pass from Him (Matt. 26:39). Yet, God said "no" to His only Son. Jesus did not change God's mind, but Jesus was empowered to walk the path to the cross. Jesus was given what He needed to be what God wanted Him to be.
This is what prayer can do for us. While our petitions, like Jesus', might not change God's mind, prayer will shape us, perhaps in ways we cannot understand. So, keep on praying, even when it seems your prayers are unanswered. In time you may come to understand what God wants of you. But, even if you don't, your heart will be changed to be more like Jesus' heart.
Prayer Can Compel Better Behaviors: "Holy hands" means more than just what we think internally. This phrase applies to the actions we take. Paul understood that the more time you spend in prayer, the less influence temptation will have on you. How many of us can be selfish and cruel, and then turn to God in prayer? What usually happens when we sin? Most people stop praying. When people are praying on a regular basis they tend to stay out of sin.
This means there is a relationship between purity and prayer. Praying more won't necessarily make you holy. But, sincere prayer will cause you to think and respond differently. Time in prayer will compel you to consider your actions when you are not in prayer.
Prayer Works: The great lesson from this passage is to keep on praying. Just because you don't get everything you ask for doesn't mean prayer is not working. Your prayers for leaders might be changing our world in ways you don't fully understand. Your prayers for the lost might be touching hearts in parts of the world you will never see. Your prayers could very well be teaching people about our great and mighty God. Your prayers might be sharing the good news of Jesus' death with people who need to be saved, or with people who need to be reminded of the joy of their salvation. Your prayers may not be answered as you wish, but your heart will be changed as you spend time in prayer. Your prayers may not be getting the response you want, but your life will be more holy as you pray more often.
Start Praying: Paul tells us to pray "in every place". There is no bad time to pray. There is no bad location to pray. Don't give up on prayer. Instead, "pray without ceasing", knowing that you prayers can change the world.
By David Thurman in Gospel Minutes, Vol. 53, No. 38, Sept. 17, 2004.
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