1 Thessalonians 3: 6 - 13
“Prayer is not everything but everything is by prayer.” All Christians would agree with that statement. No matter what our background, instinctively we know that prayer is central to the Christian life.
Most of you are familiar with Corrie Ten Boom. Her family hid Jews in Holland during 2 World War. After being released from the Ravensbruck Concentration Camp near the end of the war, she had a vital ministry for Christ around the world for 4 decades. Her story is told in the movie The Hiding Place. How important is prayer? Let Corrie Ten Boom answer that question: “When a Christian shuns fellowship with other Christians, the devil smiles. When he stops reading the Bible, the devil laughs. When he stops praying, the devil shouts for joy.”
On the Brink of War
Many Christian leaders agree that the world is on the brink of a spiritual battle of monumental proportions. I am not referring to the clash between Iraq, the terrorist network, and the forces led by the United States and England. That is only one part of the larger perspective. The real battle is between light and darkness. It is a spiritual battle, a clash of kingdoms, a war that stretches back almost to the beginning of the universe. It is a religious battle but it is not exclusively a battle of religions. It is part of the invisible struggle for the hearts of men and women that has gone on for thousands of years. We should not be surprised that the epicentre of this struggle is the Middle East. After all, this is where history began and this is where it will end.
How should we pray in these perilous times? We should pray that the armies of heaven will overcome the powers of darkness in the Middle East. Pray for spiritual awakening in the body of Christ that would lead to true revival in our time. It is a sad fact of history that war does not usually lead to revival but to a further secularising of society. Perhaps God will reverse that trend and cause the hearts of millions of people to cry out to him in true humility.
Prayer is the Key
If our church is going to go to the next level, we will only get there through prayer. We won’t get there by preaching, finances, programs, buildings or publicity. Prayer must be the key. It is not simply one of the keys. It is the key. Acts 2: 42 - the early disciples devoted themselves to prayer. Is it any wonder that as a result God gave them unity, miracles, and thousands of people coming to Christ? All things are possible when a church prays.
This is a prayer by the Apostle Paul for the young church in Thessalonica (part of modern-day Greece). The church had been going through a time of severe testing and spiritual opposition. The situation was so grim that Paul worried that perhaps the Thessalonians would give up their faith altogether – v. 5. Paul actually feared that under such unrelenting pressure, these new believers would cave in and give up on Jesus.
Most of us can handle a little bit of adversity, and some of us can handle a lot of adversity, but everyone has a breaking point. “You’re not as strong as you think you are, and neither am I.”
Paul knew the Thessalonians were near the breaking point and that’s why he sent Timothy to check on them. When Timothy came back with a good report that the believers were standing firm under the pressure, Paul’s joy knew no bounds. He was encouraged, the news was like a new lease on life to him and he couldn’t stop thanking God for them. That brings us to Paul’s prayer. Here is an excellent way to pray for those going through a hard time. Every week we’re asked to pray for people in difficulty. Very rarely does anyone say, “Things are going great. Pray for me.” In this prayer there are 3 requests that are always appropriate to pray when our friends are going through hard times. These are really 3 things we all need when the heat is on and we feel like giving up.
Request #1: Faith without Holes v. 10
His prayer was constant - he prayed day and night. Effective prayer engages the heart and mind at all hours of the day and night. His prayer was earnest. Paul uses a very unusual expression - it has the idea of going above and beyond all normal measures - “super abundantly.” Prayer must be earnest to be effective. Weak, shallow, half-hearted prayers produce weak, shallow, half-hearted results. God says, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29: 13.) James 5: 16 - “the earnest prayer of a righteous man has great power and wonderful results.”
His prayer was practical. He said he was praying “that we may see you again.” Do you pray about your everyday affairs? If you are a salesman, you should pray about your appointments. If you are a doctor, you should pray for your patients. If you are a teacher, you should pray for students. If you work in an office, you should pray about your projects and also for your fellow workers. Paul understood that all of life is to be lived under God’s watchful eye. Nothing is too small to bring to his attention. If it matters to you, it matters to him.
His prayer was purposeful. “And supply what is lacking in your faith.” Paul had a particular goal in mind. Word “supply” was used for mending torn nets and setting broken bones. He used the same word for restoring sinning saints and for equipping all the saints for the work of ministry.
This request is just a shortened version of the spiritual armour passage in Ephesians 6. Paul prays that the believers would be fully equipped so that they could stand in the evil day when the devil attacks with all his might. So here’s the prayer: “O God, my brothers and sisters are in a great spiritual battle. I pray that they will be fully equipped for whatever they might face. Grant them strong faith—with no holes!—so that they can stand and fight victoriously no matter how hot the battle may be.”
Request #2: Love without Limits v. 12
We all understand these words. Love is the supreme grace. You can never have too much of it. You can never have enough of it. Paul is saying, “I pray that God will make you an overflowing fountain of love.”
What an amazing perspective. If we are full of God’s love, it will overflow to others. It’s not enough to be kind and polite. Our love must constantly be growing. Why does Paul pray for overflowing love for the Thessalonians? How is that relevant to their suffering? The answer is that when hard times come, we naturally start to pull away from other people and start focusing on our own problems. It’s so easy to be self-centred and myopic so that we only talk about our own struggles.
If our marriage is in trouble, that’s all we talk about. If our children are not doing well, that’s all we talk about. If we have health problems, that’s all we talk about. If we have lost a job, that’s all we talk about. It’s all about us, our problems, our struggles, our hardships. We hardly have time or energy for anything else. Sometimes our distress is so great that we become vicious, turning on those we love the most.
Sometimes Christian love is the first casualty of hard times. Suffering believers can become very demanding and very self-centred. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Some people build walls in trials to keep people at arm’s length. Others build bridges so they can connect with God’s people. Only God can do that … and he does it whenever he can find a willing heart.
Request #3: Strength without Flaws v. 13
First there is love and from love comes holiness. Love and holiness go together so that you can hardly have one without the other. Love leads us away from ourselves and on toward holiness. Holiness is the child of love. As God’s love fills your heart, it will burn out the sin. Love unclogs the arteries of your heart.
The word “strengthen” means to buttress something. If we are going to stand strong in the time of trial, our hearts must have a strong foundation, one that is free of cracks, flaws, and weak areas. Nothing reveals the true condition of the heart like difficulty, setbacks, opposition and hardship. Most of us can be strong while the sun is shining and life is good, but when the thunder clouds of trouble rumble overhead, all the inner flaws are likely to be revealed. Whatever is in the heart must come out eventually. Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. If there is anger in the heart, it will eventually come out. If there is greed or lust, it too will come out. If there is love and kindness and forgiveness and mercy, that will also be revealed. Nowhere will your heart be on clearer display than in the trials of life.
The world watches closely to see if our religion works as well in the darkness as it does in the sunlight. Many people have been converted not by a sermon but by the testimony of God’s grace shining through the pain a believer endures.
So when you pray - Ask God to make you strong in your weak places so that you will be like the house built on the rock. Though the rains come down and the floodwaters rise, your house will stand firm because it is built on a solid foundation.
I think the prayer here is, “Lord, let me live with nothing hidden because there is nothing to hide. Bring to the surface any hidden flaws in my life. Give me a strong heart and a good foundation so that I can survive hard times with my faith intact.”
Here, then, is a prayer to pray when you feel like giving up. Pray for …Faith without holes - Love without limits - Strength without flaws.
Think about this way. When your faith has holes, you are easy prey to every temptation that comes your way. You make foolish decisions under pressure because you are not well equipped for hard times. When your love has limits, you become self-centred and prone to outbursts of anger. When your strength has flaws, you look good when times are good but your life collapses when the storm clouds gather overhead.
Think about this for a moment. You are where you are today because somebody prayed for you. Somebody prayed and you came to Christ. Somebody prayed and you found a job. Somebody prayed and you were healed. Somebody prayed and you won a game. Somebody prayed and you were rescued in the middle of the night. Somebody prayed and your marriage was saved. Somebody prayed and you didn’t give up. Somebody prayed and you made the right decision. Somebody prayed and you experienced God’s power. No one knows how much sin and sorrow we’ve been saved from because somebody prayed for us.
What is the application? Pray! Pray, pray, and keep on praying. Do for others what others have done for you. When we can serve people in no other way, we can pray for them.
May God make us a praying people and may he make this a praying church. Amen.