The primacy of prayer

Having lived during my college years in a military community, I’ve seen the stress of a husband and father separated from his family for six-month intervals.  Such absences weigh heavily on all members of the family.  One thing that becomes very important, then, is mail.  It is the life-line of information and communication between these separated family members.  One day, a staff commander aboard the USS Ranger, half a world away from his family, received this letter from his 11-year-old son:  “Dear Dad, I didn’t have time to write you yesterday, but today I do.  Love, Paul.”

Sometimes I think the brevity and shallowness of that letter is not all too different from the way believers communicate with God.  One writer has put it this way:  “We profess to believe in the importance of prayer, but for many of us there is a discrepancy between what we say and do.”

There are many exhortations and examples in Scripture to lead us to prayer lives that are aligned more closely to God’s purposes for our praying.  And one of those exhortations resides in the opening verses of 1 Timothy 2.

Paul begins by reminding his readers of the kind and quality of our prayers.  We should pray with entreaties and prayers.  That is, we should pray for the specific needs of particular individuals, recognizing our need for and dependence on the help that only God can provide.  And we should pray as those who are coming to God, desiring His fellowship and enjoying the privilege of coming to Him.  And those requests should also be offered with thanksgiving — gratitude for both past and future provision.  However the Lord answers any prayer, the believer’s response should be thankfulness.

Further, these prayers should be offered for all men.  How extensively should the believer pray?  He should pray not only for his family and for his church family and for the salvation of his neighbors, but he should pray even for kings and all who are in authority.  He should pray narrowly for those with whom his life intersects directly, and he should pray broadly, even for those who are beyond his circle of influence.  And notice that he should pray particularly for the salvation of others, which is the emphasis of verses 4-7.

Why should a believer pray with such diligence (and that kind of praying does take perseverance and hard work)?  Because it will lead him to have a tranquil and quiet life.  Because he has commended all things to prayer in dependence on the Lord, he will live contentedly and peacefully, confident that the Lord will accomplish His divine purposes.

Further, he should pray this way, because it is good, and because it is acceptable to God.  That is, it’s beneficial to us and honoring and pleasing to God.  There are prayers that are displeasing to the Lord (cf. Ps. 66:18; 1 Pt. 3:7), but this is the kind of prayer that always pleases God.

So here are some questions to examine and stimulate our prayer lives this morning:

  • How habitual is my present prayer life?
  • How thankful am I in my praying?
  • How broadly and extensively am I praying?  (Or, are my prayers typically concerned only with my narrow needs?)
  • Who or what have I been overlooking in my prayers?
  • Am I contented and peaceful, at rest with the circumstances of my life?  If not, is it an indication that I am not praying effectively?
  • Am I actively and aggressively praying for the salvation of unbelievers around me and of those who are in authority over me?
  • Since prayer is acceptable and honoring to God, if my prayer life is insignificant, what is distracting me from praying?

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