THE PRIORITY OF PRAYER

First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men… - 1 Timothy 2:1

 If you have access to the Bible while reading this, please turn to 1Timothy, chapter 2.  We will be focusing on verses 1-10.  One thing is absolutely certain:  we need to change and the world needs to change.  That change is not nebulous but specific.  We and the world need to change kingdoms.  The “kingdoms of this world” must become “the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ.” (Revelation 11:15)  That is what the Holy Spirit is striving to do in us and in the world today, fomenting a revolution, a change of government within the human soul and in human society.  The great thing about the Biblical practice of prayer is that it is perfectly adapted to this good and glorious end.  In fact, it is essential to achieving it.

I say, “Biblical practice of prayer” because there are forms of prayer that fall short of what the Bible teaches about prayer.  This short article cannot go into an extensive treatment of the subject, but briefly, the Bible says that prayer should include confession and repentance (Psalm 66:18; James 5:16), praise and thanksgiving (Psalm 100:4; Philippians 4:6), petition (in other words, asking God for things: Matthew 7:7; John 16:24) and silent waiting as well as words (Psalm 62:1, 5; 65:1; Revelation 8:1).  Moreover, prayer should be offered sincerely (Hebrews 10:22), from a pure heart (2 Timothy 2:22), in faith (Mark 11:22-24; James 1:5-7), according to the will of God (Matthew 6:10; 26:42; 1 John 5:14), persistently (Luke 11:5-8; 18:1-8) earnestly (James 5:17), with love and forgiveness (Matthew 5:44; 6:14-15) in the name of Jesus (John 14:13-14; 16:23-24) and with the help of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:26-27).  Whew!  That’s a lot of requirements but don’t be discouraged, just keep them in mind as you pray and watch how the Holy Spirit will help you meet them, over time!

So what part does prayer play in the change of kingdoms, from those of the world to that of God and His Christ?  God has given us a stewardship over ourselves and the world in which He has placed us.  We each exercise our sovereignty either responsibly or irresponsibly.  We do it irresponsibly when we follow worldly desires rather than the will of God:  Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.  The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever. (1 John 2:15-17)  By loving the world John means loving it more than the Father, as Adam and Eve did in the Garden when Eve “saw that the tree was good for food [lust of the flesh], and that it was a delight to the eyes [lust of the eyes], and that the tree was desirable to make one wise [boastful pride of life], she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate.” For this piece of fruit Adam and Eve were willing to sacrifice their relationship with God!  We do it for other worldly things but the result is the same.  Instead, we need to value God above created things, however good, and “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness” knowing that “all these things will be added to us” as God sees we have need of them. (Matthew 6:33)

Biblical prayer reorients our priorities, transforming our desires so we see and pursue things according to their true values.  As we pray and develop in our prayer life, the grip of the world on us relaxes and the hold of God on us strengthens.  We begin to see things the way God sees them.  We, more and more, are moved by what moves God.  Our heartbeats, as it were, come into synchronization.  Our wills more closely align.  This can be verified experientially.  No one practices Biblical prayer for any real length before they begin to notice this.  But can it help those for whom we pray, if they are not yet themselves disposed to pray?  The Bible says it can and does.  That is what Paul is saying in 1 Timothy 2:1-10.  Let’s look there now.

First of all…” – this means prayer is of first priority.  The kind of prayer Paul is urging is primarily petitionary prayer, that is, asking God for things.  It is prayer for others, in fact, for “all men” (the Greek word includes both males and females).  Why are we to pray for all people?  The answer is in verse 3:  because God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

Verse 2 is a parenthetical aside related to this purpose.  God wants us to pray for rulers because they can make it difficult for those who are trying to spread the good news of Jesus Christ among the people.  So we are to pray that they will leave us alone to live out and proclaim the gospel.  Paul says what that gospel or good news is in verses 5-6:  For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all…”  In verse 7, Paul declares that he is one of those persons called by God to publicly proclaim this good news to the nations “in faith and truth.”  People will be saved by this good news when they truly believe it.  But is sharing the gospel all that needs to be done?  No.

Paul says, in verse 8, “Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands without wrath and dissension.”  Paul mentions men first because men often tend to feel awkward about praying. They see it as implying weakness, dependency, failure and other “un-manly” attributes.  Males also tend toward aggression so Paul warns them to guard against it.  God wants to save everyone and prayer is absolutely needed if God’s desire is to be satisfied.  Men need to pray, by themselves and with their wives and children, but Paul is especially focusing on praying with other believers.  That is why he goes on, in verses 9-10, to address the women who also need to pray.  People miss this point because Paul doesn’t repeat the infinitive verb “to pray” from verse 8.  Nevertheless, in the Greek, it still applies. Here, he addresses some hindrances to prayer that women especially need to avoid, especially too much attention to outward adornment instead of good works and godliness. (In verses 11-15 Paul is not addressing women but the whole Church and how she should act toward her husband, Christ.)

Men and women believers need to pray because God desires all men to be saved!  It is the Holy Spirit who’s task it is to “convict the world” of its need for salvation and to reveal Jesus to people as their Savior. (John 16:5-15)  The Holy Spirit is set to His work through our prayers. (Philippians 1:19) What we need more than anything today is people who pray as the Bible teaches us to pray.  We need to pray more and better than we do now if we expect to see more people gathered to Christ and into His kingdom.  Here at Sacramento Friends we have a number of opportunities for prayer so let us take advantage of these and create new opportunities as God leads!