Summary: We are to pray for one another with thankfulness for God’s grace being shown in our lives; with confidence that God is watching over us and will vindicate us in the end. We are to pray that God might see in us the fruit of his Spirit, that he might bring
Today we begin a short series, looking at the prayers of St Paul. What I hope we’ll discover over these 5 Sundays in January is a pattern of prayer that might help us in our own private praying as well as in our communal prayer times together.
Today I want to look at Paul’s prayer for the Thessalonians in 2 Thess 1. Here we find a two part framework of thought that forms the foundation for Paul’s prayer. He begins with thankfulness.
Thankfulness for signs of grace
But notice what it is that he gives thanks for. What do we regularly thank God for in our prayer times? How often is it thanks for material blessing? For good health, for the food on the table, for a promotion, for a new baby that’s just been born, for that new car we’ve just taken delivery of, or a new home we’ve just moved into. Perhaps we give thanks that some disaster has been avoided: a car accident where no-one was hurt, medical tests that gave the all clear, a safe arrival after a long trip somewhere.
Their faith is growing
But notice what Paul says he’s thankful for: "because your faith is growing abundantly." While it’s right to be thankful for God’s material provisions, how much more thankful should we be for the signs that God’s grace is being poured out on us as a church. So he thanks God that their faith is growing.
Growth is something we look for here at St Theo’s, I hope. But let me ask you, how do we define growth as a Church? We tend to think in terms of numerical growth, don’t we? And that’s reasonable. You’d hope that if we’re doing the right sorts of things as a church then the number of people coming would increase, converts would keep being added to our number and so the stats would be moving in the right direction. But still, that’s a limited measure of growth isn’t it? Just as important is the growth in the faith and faithfulness of the individual members of the church.
It’s particularly important in a year like we’ve just had when the numbers have dropped slightly, to stop and look around at the individuals in the congregation and see how they’ve been growing in their faith. I commented in my annual report on the way I’ve noticed certain individuals who’ve really grown over the past year, who’ve become more sure about their faith, about their ability to minister, about their commitment to Jesus Christ. And that sort of growth is worth thanking God for, because he’s the one who works in our hearts to produce growth in faith and faithfulness.
Their love is increasing
But secondly he thanks God that "the love of everyone of you for one another is increasing." Paul is addressing a church here that’s made up of a whole range of people of totally diverse backgrounds and interests. The church isn’t like a social club where everyone’s bound together by a common interest and social background. We’re an incredibly diverse group. We have all sorts of educational, cultural, political backgrounds, we represent the whole range of age groups in society. Yet the thing that characterises us, or should do at least, is the love we show to one another. "See how these Christians love one another" should be the catch cry of those looking in on the church. As Paul observes this church, as he hears reports on their progress, he’s struck by the love they’re showing to one another, perhaps highlighted by the difficulties they’re facing as Christians in a hostile society.
The grace of God is showing itself in their steadfast faithfulness under trial
Here his thankfulness to God is matched by his use of them as an example to others of steadfastness under trial. Not only does he thank God for them but he points out their behaviour to others so they too might be encouraged to persevere, so they too might give thanks to God for his graciousness to believers.
So the first foundation of Paul’s prayer is thankfulness for God’s grace. So let’s stop and think about what it is that we give thanks for. What is it that we treasure most highly? Jesus said that where our treasure is, there our hearts will be also. In this context we might add that the things we give thanks for may well indicate the things we treasure. If we’re to pray the way Paul prays, it might help to begin with the same things Paul begins with: with the signs of God’s grace in the lives of our fellow Christians. You’ll have noticed that over the past year we’ve been praying for the ministry of each member of the congregation week by week. The people we pray for each week are listed in the news sheet for that week. We also have a Parish prayer list that divides the members of the congregation into a daily prayer list. Well let me suggest that we could use one or both of those lists to pray not just for the needs of those people, but also to thank God for the signs of grace in their lives, for their growth in maturity, in conformity with Christ, in the fruit of the Spirit, for their perseverance in the face of trials, for their love for others, for the ministry they perform in God’s name.