Hervey Bay Presbyterian Church

Prayer for a healthy Church

Prayer

(This study is based on the book of Dr D.A. Carson, A Call to Spiritual Reformation, Priorities from Paul and his prayers [Baker Book House Company, 2007])

Scripture Readings

  • 1Thessalonians 3:1-12
  • 2Thessalonians 1:1-12

The Church of the Lord Jesus Christ has a privilege and a duty to pray.  There are many elements for prayer:  praise, thanksgiving, confession, intercession, etc.

I don’t think I would exaggerate if I say in general the church has become lukewarm in her task of prayer.  So, right in the beginning let’s ponder these questions:

  • When you pray, who is it that you pray for?
  • When you pray, what is it that you pray for?
  • If you pray for your congregation, what do you pray for?
  • If your church were a healthy church, what would you pray for?

Let’s discuss these questions.

The framework Paul’s prayer for the Thessalonians

The background

Let’s read 1Thessalonians 3:6-7.  How would you sum up the state of affairs in Thessalonians? It seems they are a church where there was growth in faith and love towards one another.  It also seems that they were looking forward  to more instruction.  Paul writes:

How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you? Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply (and perfect, make complete) what is lacking in your faith. (1 Thessalonians 3:9–10, NIV)

When Paul prays for this seemingly healthy church he:

Gives thanks to God that their faith is growing

This does not refer to their initial conversion, but their continued reliance upon the Lord.  The word “faith” can also be translated as “faithfulness”, and can sometimes be understood as obedience.  Their growing trust on the Lord led to increasing trust in the Lord.  They were not satisfied with their stance in the Lord of yesterday; they pushed forward in greater obedience and trust – as then they grew in leaps and bounds:  their faith grew exceedingly.

Gives thanks that their love is increasing

They went through difficult circumstances and persecution.

Therefore, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring. (2 Thessalonians 1:4, NIV)

This love which was increasing has in mind the love they had for one another.

Just think of the composition of every congregation, what is it that binds them together?  It’s their shared allegiance to Jesus Christ.  There is very little at social, economic, temperamental, educational level to hold members of the church together.  If we lose sight of our allegiance of the Lord and love for one another in Him, we will go into strife.

When Christians do grow in their love for each other, for no other reason than because they are loved by Jesus Christ and love Him in return, that growing love in an infallible sign of grace in their lives. (D.A. Carson – “A call to spiritual reformation”)

Gives thanks for them persevering under persecution

Their faith and love for one another increased and grew strong so that they could persevere under persecution.  it was something Paul could use as example when he visited other churches (he was boasting about them).  The way they withstood the persecution and trials was a remarkable testimony to the grace of God, and it served as encouragement to other congregations.

How do we pray?

Are we looking for signs of spiritual growth in the life of fellow members of our church and do we thank God if we see the signs for it?

Do we make it a point of praise when we observe evidence in one another of growing conformity to Christ as expressed in trust, obedience, love and spiritual resilience?

Now:  the actual prayer for a healthy church

That God would count them worthy of their calling

“With this in mind…”  This calling is not equal to the initial call of the Gospel, which is understood as a invitation.

We may do well to turn to Romans 8:29-30

For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. (Romans 8:29–30, NIV)

What “calling” means with Paul is to belong to God, to be saved and to be accepted as one of his own people.  Peter puts it in these terms:

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:9–10, NIV)

We do not become something worthy so that God would want to call us into the membership of his family.  Paul prays for the Thessalonians that, now that they were saved by grace, they would live up to that calling.  This meant that in all things that please God they would grow so that He would be glorified more and more with them.

It’s something wonderful to be saved – all of that happened by grace.  It’s something different then to life lives worthy of this grace.  We need to become what we are in Christ.

Looking at the Thessalonians Paul prays for more signs of the grace for which he has already thanked God for.

Someday we will stand at the throne of God and we would need to answer the question, “What have you done with the grace I have bestowed on you.”  We need to become increasingly holy, self-denying, loving, full of integrity, steeped in the knowledge of God, delighted to trust and obey our Heavenly Father.

Paul is not telling the Thessalonians to try harder; he is assuring them that he is interceding for them at the throne of God.

That God might bring to fruition he planned purposes

… that by his power he may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith. (2 Thessalonians 1:11, NIV)

Now that they become children of God by converting to Jesus Christ they have developed new sets of goals.

What are the fruits of deeds prompted by faith? Something like:

  • How can I witness to my neighbour who is part of this vindictive persecution?
  • How can I show practical love to those in need?
  • How can I help the old lady down the street with her shopping?
  • Can I perhaps be involved in Scripture teaching at the school?
  • Can I join the group who provide meals and counselling to  those who became trapped in the cycle of substance abuse?

All of these actions should be aimed at being an instrument in the hands of God to make it plausible for the unbeliever to enter into a relationship with the Living God.   Can you name more?

Paul prays that God Himself may take these purposes and so work them out as to bring them to fruition and fulfilment.  Unless God empowers us to do these things there will not be enduring spiritual fruit – and it will remain empty dreams and resolutions.

That Jesus Christ may be glorified as Lord

We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:12, NIV)

All things mentioned up to this point are not ultimate ends in itself.  The ultimate end is that Jesus Christ may be glorified through them becoming mature, their good works in living out their calling as Christians.  If it is our own glory we work for when we serve others, we would surely not understand our calling as Christians.  Lying at the heart of all sin is the desire to be in the centre, to be like God.

That the people of God may taste Christ’s glory

We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:12, NIV)

And those He predestined, He also called; those He called, He also justified; those He justified, He also glorified. (Romans 8:30, NIV)

One day God will perfect the faith of his children.  We will be taken into his glory.  But in the meantime we need to understand this:

And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18, NIV)

The final transformation is introduced by a whole series of transformation as we become increasingly conformed to the likeness of Christ in anticipation for that final glory in Jesus Christ.  Christ is glorified, which manes He receives the glory and praise, as we are glorifies, as we are conformed to his likeness.  Christian life can be lived faithfully only if it is loved in the light on the end.

Conclusion

  • When you pray, who is it that you pray for?
  • When you pray, what is it that you pray for?
  • If you pray for your congregation, what do you pray for?
  • If your church was a healthy church, what would you pray for?

Questions:

  • What does it mean to pray that God might count Christians to be worthy of God’s calling?
  • What good, faith-prompted purposes should we pray for to develop in our church community?
  • What is Paul’s twofold goal in the prayer for the Thessalonians?
  • What do you pray for this congregation?

 

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