Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Pray First, Eat Cake Second

“First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions,
and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for Kings and all
those who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil
and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good, and
it pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved
and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

For there is one God and one mediator between God and man,
a man, Christ Jesus, who gave himself—a ransom for all,

a testimony at the proper time.

For this I was appointed a herald, an apostle
(I am telling the truth; I am not lying),
and a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.”

I Timothy 2:1-7

When it came to Paul giving Timothy instructions in how to lead the Ephesian church, he is quite clear on the role of prayer for the body of believers. After telling Timothy to stand against false teaching (1:3-11), giving his testimony (1:12-17) and reminding him to “strongly engage in battle” that is keeping with a faithful ministry (1:18-20), the very next instructions given are in regards to prayer. Our modern day is not unlike Timothy’s day—false teaching abounds and there is desperate need for Christian ministers to stand firm and faithful. Since the work we do in making disciples is empowered by God, Paul is clearly reminding Timothy to always, with the entire congregation, be tapping into the source of power. In 1:3-11, the command is specific to Timothy’s role as a pastor, but the “first of all” for the whole church in 2:1-7 is prayer.

Churches are always tempted to be doing a lot of “firsts” that are not necessarily what the Bible tells us is first. We might say a prayer at the beginning of the meeting first in order that we might get to what we consider the real business. We pray first to get on to what we consider of first importance—that which is usually not prayer. Do not get me wrong. Thinking and discussing and planning and delegating are important. However, our posture in all of life must be prayer because we depend on God who is the source of our life and the reason for all that we do. This go and make disciples thing was his idea and we must live in great awareness that such is the case for us as his church.

Paul urges us to pray first!

For whom are we to pray? “Everyone, kings and all those in authority” is the object of our prayer. The reason for doing so is “that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.” Practically, this is fleshed out by praying for everyone we might encounter in any given day. It is good to pray that they might embrace the Gospel and love Jesus. If they have the same value system as us, it makes things smoother when we are living quietly, godly and dignified. I would suggest that your prayer particularly needs to be consistent especially when your neighbor does not share your value system or allegiance to Jesus. It is always tempting to get caught up in his schemes and gossip and drama. God’s desire is that we point our neighbor to Christ and not for our neighbor to point us to whatever it is he loves more than God.

Praying for those in authority is urged as well by Paul. Having a Christian boss or teacher is certainly a joy. Your hope is to benefit from their walk with Christ in being a fair and honest leader. Praying for them when they are not a Christian is very important because having an unethical boss is certainly a challenge to your godliness. However, the good news for Christians is that our righteous God is mightier than an unrighteous boss. We Christians want to pray that those in authority use their power well. The prayer of an American Christian petitioning God on behalf of a president is, I am sure, quite different from a believer that lives in a nation where the leader is oppressive and opposed to God. Nonetheless, the hope for our prayer for authorities is that our godliness might be embraced and lived out faithfully. Whether the authority is Christian or not, we want them to see our good works and glorify our father in heaven.

Remember, when we are praying for everyone and kings and authorities, God is pleased! He wants for these people, the ones we are praying for, to be saved. The inference is so clear—God is working in and around us through the prayers we bring before the throne of grace. The God of all there is and the one who has made us his own works in a powerful and miraculous way when we are praying for everyone and kings and authorities. Somehow, the prayer life of a Christian doing the first work is a part of the scheme of bringing people to faith. Our prayer to a God who wants to save people who has sent the mediator to make it possible is wonderfully related.

When I think of prayer as that it certainly looks more like a privilege rather than boring ritual. Engaging in something else as the first work is to miss out on the beauty and grace that God is working on behalf of those around us. It is a grace to us that we as Jesus’ followers are allowed to get in on the action. Our wonderful communication with our Father is doing something, perhaps, bigger than we can even imagine. Prayer is of first importance since we are called to love God first with all our heart, soul and mind. Yes, as believers that make up the church, we do other important things but we must never loose sight of that thing of first importance and that is walking with God in our love relationship and being in a continued state of communication with him.

On Monday evening I was incredibly blessed to do this thing of first importance with Carolyn, Pam, Chad, Pat, Jane, Emma, Kathy, W.L., Cindy, Jacqueline and Jonathan. It is an honor to gather together with these brothers and sisters in Christ before our Father’s throne of grace. It is overwhelming hearing believers pouring out their hearts to God on behalf of those that they love and know are far from God. It is challenging to hear one pray, “Evangelism has been a ‘have to’ in my life Lord, make it a ‘want to.’” (Yes, Lord, do that in me!) I was struck by the genuine love that filled the room as we prayed. There was a sense of the holy and pleasure of God as ordinary people gathered to meet with our extraordinary God.
The incredible chocolate cake served by Cindy was simply the “icing” on the top of an incredible evening together. I anticipate with joy our next Harvest Home Prayer Meeting at Mike and Jane White’s next Monday.

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