Add a Name to the Prayer List

“Dear brothers and sisters, pray for us” (1 Thessalonians 5:25).

Paul’s first  letter to the church at Thessalonica is filled with references to prayer.

  • We always thank God for all of you
  • We continually remember before our God…
  • We also thank God continually
  • How can we thank God enough for you
  • May God clear the way for us to come to you
  • May the Lord make your love increase
  • May God strengthen your hearts
  • Pray continually
  • Give thanks in all circumstances

But it’s the quick thought expressed in 1 Thessalonians 5:25 that catches my eye today.

Take time to read it again: “Dear brothers and sisters, pray for us.”

As the letter comes to a conclusion, another name, really three more names, are added to the prayer list.

Pray for us?

Us?

This letter is sent to the Thessalonians by none other than the ministry team of Paul, Silas, and Timothy.

Pray for us!

Paul is asking for prayer. Silas is asking to be on the prayer list. Timothy is asking to be remembered, too.

I will tell you why this strikes me as significant. My prayer list is filled with people who are struggling. My list has numerous names of people who are suffering. My list has name after name of people who are weak in faith, and hope, and love. My list has lots of down and out folks.

But often my list fails to include names like Paul, Silas, and Timothy — the names of a dream team of ministers. My list fails to include men and women who lead mission efforts. My list neglects the strong men and women who lead significant ministries. I confess that I often do not think of them as needing prayer. Why do I need to pray for the powerful? Why do I need to pray for the strong? Why do I need to pray for someone like Paul, Silas, or Timothy?

And maybe some of you have similar omissions on your prayer list.

Who do we need to add to our lists?  Let’s think of the strongest leaders, the deepest thinkers, and most spiritually mature people we know–and add their names to our prayer lists!

If Paul, Silas, and Timothy needed our prayers, today’s leaders do, too.

Looking for a blessing?

Are you looking for a blessing?

Let me clarify. I’m not talking about a blessing for you to keep for yourself, but a blessing for you to give to others.

Still interested?

Let me suggest that Paul’s blessings to the Thessalonians may provide you just the blessing you are looking for.

Check out these blessings.

May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones” (1 Thessalonians 3:12-13).

“May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:23).

“May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word” (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17).

“May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance” (2 Thessalonians 3:5).

“Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you” (2 Thessalonians 3:16).

Now you have checked out these blessings, what are you waiting for?  Pass them on!

Little Words, Big Prayers

The language of prayer runs throughout 1 and 2 Thessalonians. Both letters emphasize giving thanks in prayer. Both consider the faith, hope, and love of the church as being at the top of the prayer list. Both have rich blessings that beg to be repeated.

But what has captured my imagination in my latest reading of these letters is one particular description of prayer. Perhaps it has captured my attention because I really needed to hear it.  Check out the wording Paul uses.

  • We always thank God… (1 Thessalonians 1:2).
  • We continually remember… (1 Thessalonians 1:3).
  • We also thank God continually… (1 Thessalonians 2:13).
  • Night and day we pray…(1 Thessalonians 3:9).
  • Pray continually…(1 Thessalonians 5:17).
  • We ought always to thank God…(2 Thessalonians 1:3).
  • We constantly pray…(2 Thessalonians 1:11).
  • We ought always to thank God…(2 Thessalonians 2:13).

Reflecting on Paul’s prayer language in these letters has me thinking about my prayer life. These little words have me thinking about having a steady, consistent, faithful prayer life rather than being stop-and-start, hot-and-cold with prayer. These little words have me thinking about people who I earnestly prayed for over a period of weeks, maybe even months before letting them just fade away from my list long before their need for intercession was over. These little words have me thinking about people I once prayed for with thanksgiving but now take for granted. These little words have me thinking about sin I used to pray I would overcome but that I now just accept as part of my nature.

Always.

Continually.

Constantly.

Night and day.

These little words can help us offer big prayers.

The Open Door Mystery

“Dear brothers and sisters, after we were separated from you for a little while (though our hearts never left you), we tried very hard to come back because of our intense longing to see you again. We wanted very much to come, and I, Paul, tried again and again, but Satan prevented us. After all, what gives us hope and joy, and what is our proud reward and crown? It is you! Yes, you will bring us much joy as we stand together before our Lord Jesus when he comes back again. For you are our pride and joy.”1 Thessalonians 2:17-20 NLT

Paul uses a lot of family language and imagery in writing 1 Thessalonians. For example, he compares his use of apostolic authority to the gentleness of a mother (2:6-7) and the encouragement and comfort of a father (2:11-12). Further, he repeatedly uses the word “brother” throughout the letter. In this section where he is discussing his separation from the Christians at Thessalonica, he again uses family imagery. The pain of separation from loved ones can be intense, especially when the parting was pushed upon you by the circumstances and against your wishes.

Paul describes the pain of leaving the Thessalonians as being as intense as that of a parent losing his child. Paul assures the readers while they are physically separated; they are still in his heart. Meanwhile, some of Paul’s opponents are trying to convince the folks in Thessalonica that Paul really doesn’t care about them; but, Paul’s heart-pain argues a different position, as do his repeated attempts to return.

But the return visit never happened because Satan cut in and prevented the reunion. Satan “prevented” (NLT), “stymied” (The Message), or “stopped” (NIV) the homecoming.

Have you ever wondered why Satan gets the blame for these plans being interrupted when on other occasions God is credited for changes to the travel itinerary? See for example Acts 16:6-10 where Paul is prevented from entering Bithynia by the Holy Spirit and concluded God had called them to go to Macedonia.

Was this just a human evaluation made in retrospect or did Paul have some supernatural gift of discernment? And just how did Satan blocked Paul’s plans? Jewish opposition? Thorn in the flesh? Political opposition? While we will never know for sure, the Thessalonians may have known exactly how Satan interfered.

These passages in 1 Thessalonians and the Acts reveal another great mystery of how God works. We know God opens doors and closes doors and can make it clear which door to enter. But we also know that Satan can cut in and stop what you believe to be a good thing to do. Questions abound when we experience the opening and closing of doors. Did God close this door or did Satan? Do I respect God’s closing of the door or do I repeatedly try to open the door, thinking Satan has blocked it? How do I tell the difference between God’s closed door and Satan’s closed door?

The open door mystery leads me to seek God with all my heart and mind and to trust Him even when I find a closed door.

Where Are Your Shoes?

For several years I enjoyed regularly attending a prayer group for alcoholics and addicts. The old-timers in the group, those with some mature sobriety, always warned the newcomers about the need to be thankful. Those returning to the group after a relapse would often confess that when they stopped being thankful their relapse quickly followed. So as you might imagine, prayers in these groups tended to be full of thanksgiving. Regularly men and women prayed, “Thank you, God, for letting us get out of bed today.” And from those opening words, they often rattled off a long list of that for which they were thankful.

One of the first things an addict learns about thankfulness when going to a half-way house is something that could benefit all of us. Before they go to bed at night, they put their shoes up under their bed. Why? So that in the morning, they would have to get down on their knees to look under the bed for their shoes. When they found themselves on their knees, they would remember to pray, giving thanks to God for letting them have another day.

Maybe all of us should do that, put our shoes under the bed. We need to do something to remind us that we do not need to even leave our rooms before we get down on our knees to praise God for who He is and thank God for what He has done.

Where are your shoes?

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NLT
“Always be joyful. Keep on praying. No matter what happens, always be thankful, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.”

Grace Be With You

“Brothers, pray for us. Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss. I charge you before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you” (1 Thessalonians 5:25-28).

Throughout this letter Paul has offered prayers for the Christians at Thessalonica (1:1-3; 1:13-14; 3:9-10; 3:11-13; and 5:23-24). Now Paul asks his church family at Thessalonica to pray for him. This was not an isolated or unusual request. Paul repeatedly asked for and acknowledged prayers on his behalf (Romans 15:30-32; 2 Corinthians 1:11; Ephesians 6:19-20; Philippians 1:19; Colossians 4:3-4; and Philemon 22).

The fellowship of prayer is a two-way street. Paul was not above needing or asking for prayers. He did not consider it a sign of weakness to express the need for prayers offered on his behalf. I believe Paul would be puzzled if not appalled at the attitude of my Christian sister who said, “I don’t want to ask people to pray for me, they will think something is wrong.” Her underlying assumption is there are some folks who have nothing wrong with them, some who are above needing prayer. She’s wrong. We all stand in need of prayer.

The church needs to be a people of mutual prayer. I pray for you. You pray for me. We all pray for each other. Our assemblies need to be a time of mutual prayer where we pray for one another. We thank God for one another. We plead in intercessory prayer for one another. We pray for forgiveness, healing, and holiness. Living in community in the church means we have a dependence on God and one another. We need to take off our masks, stop pretending we are above asking for prayer, and fervently pray for one another. That means becoming vulnerable enough to open up our hearts to others, allowing them to see our weaknesses and asking them to pray for us.

Paul teaches the congregation at Thessalonica to be warm and affirming. They are to greet one another with a holy kiss. This might possibly be Paul’s way of asking them to greet one another on his behalf, a first century, “Tell everybody ‘Hi’ for me!” Paul writes elsewhere about “the holy kiss” (Romans 16:16; 1 Corinthians 16:20; and 2 Corinthians 13:12). The church is to be a warm fellowship with a family feel. While it is often mentioned that the greeting is a “holy” kiss as opposed to something erotic, there is another important word in this statement that is rarely noticed – “all.” Nobody is to be left out. Greetings are not reserved for the beautiful and likable, for those who are “just like us” or those from whom we can benefit. Holy kisses are for all.

This letter is to be read to “all the brothers.” What lies behind this charge? Was it the illiteracy of many of the members? Was it division in the church between Jews and Gentiles or even other groups? Was it meant as a deterrent to those opposing the ministry and apostolicity of Paul? Whatever the reason, Paul makes it clear that everyone is to hear the message. No one needs to be left in ignorance.

Grace be with you. Paul’s final words were similar to his first words. Words of grace. Can you think of a better first word or last word to share with a church than “grace?” what happens when we forget that we are saved by and live by grace? How does a “graceless Christianity” (as if there were such a thing) affect the way we view ourselves and others? Grace makes us all equals — equally sinners, equally saved. Where grace is rightly understood you can’t feel superior to others. That message of grace destroys pride. And so in our pride we tend to conveniently forget grace. Maybe that’s why grace was here for Paul and always should be for us the first word, and the last.

Through and Through

“May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it”
(1 Thessalonians 5:23-24).

Jesus is coming again. Christians who truly believe Jesus is coming want to be prepared for Him even though they do not know exactly when His return will be. We want to be sanctified (set apart, holy) people.

How many of us have earnestly prayed the rich words of the old hymn written by Philip Bliss; “More holiness give me, More strivings within, More patience in suff’ring, More sorrow for sin, More faith in my Savior, More sense of His care, More joy in His service, More purpose in prayer.”

Some are satisfied with a skin-deep “holiness.” You know, the ability to look Christian when you find yourself in situations where it would be to your advantage. But we should not be satisfied with a “holiness” that can be turned off and then back on again at your discretion. Some are satisfied with a super-spiritual holiness that affects your “soul” but has little affect on your body while others equate spirituality with a harsh treatment of the body that has little influence on the “soul.”

But we should not settle for anything less than through and through holiness where we are set apart from God in every way – spirit, soul, and body. Christians wanting to be ready for Him (“kept blameless”) when He returns will yearn for this kind of complete holiness that Paul desires for the Thessalonians. But how do we get it? How does it happen? How do we get beyond this surface “holiness” to experience the genuine through and through holiness that makes us fit for the coming of the Master?

Paul answers our questions in the text.

God. God himself. The God of peace. The faithful one who calls you.

He will do it.

He will sanctify you, every part of you, not just a layer or two but “through and through.” He will keep you blameless.

He will do it!

Do we believe it?

God our Father, You are our faithful God of peace, able to reach deep within us. We honor You as the ultimate source of peace and holiness. Forgive us when we withhold any part of our being from you. Let us come to know You and submit to You. Sanctify us through and through. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

The Spirit’s Fire

“Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:19-22).

Treating prophesies with contempt and cynicism stifles the Holy Spirit. Such suppression of the Spirit was a temptation in the first century prior to the completion of the canon of scripture and it is a temptation for us today. Just as surely as one could scoff at a prophecy straight from God presented in Thessalonica, one can scoff cynically at a message from God’s word presented in Jackson.

Have you ever been around somebody who specialized in “putting out the Spirit’s fire?” Somebody cynical about preaching? Scoffing at preachers? Sarcastic with brothers and sisters in Christ? Skeptical to the point they can find something negative in just about everything? Scornful toward God’s family? Mocking the body of Christ?

Some who have grown up in a suspicious church-culture have decided they have had enough. And they have reacted to the disdainful attacks they have witnessed or experienced by deciding that nothing is worth a fight. The absence of conflict at all costs becomes the supreme virtue. Angry sermons sown by bitter preachers reap a dangerous harvest.

No, we should not be arrogant, contemptuous, or condescending in stifling the preaching of God’s word. But neither should we be so gullible that we check our brains at the door while walking into the assembly. Evaluate everything, carefully test it. When your testing uncovers good, you should hold on tight. When you find anything tainted with evil, you should avoid it.

Testing is hard work. It would be so much easier for someone else to do your work for you and just tell you what to believe. But who is testing those who want to think for you? What are the testing standards of those so eager to tell you what to accept? Have they personally tested everything? Are they relying on hear-say or second hand testimony? And even if they rightly have reached their conclusion, does that excuse you from the examination you are called to administer?

Scripture warns against false teachers and their dangerous teachings (for a couple of good examples, see 1Timothy 4:1-8 and 2 Timothy 3:6-9). Remember, you can recognize false teachers by their fruit (Matthew 7:15-23). This is not an exhaustive list, but a way to get started. False teachers love to argue and promote controversies (1 Timothy 1:3-7, 6:3-5; 2 Timothy 2:14-15; Titus 3:9-11). False teachers disobey the commands of Jesus, specifically the command to love (1 John 2:1-11). False teachers deny the deity or humanity of Christ (1 John 2:22-23, 4:1-3; 2 John 7-11). False teachers contradict the teachings of the apostolic message, for example, teaching a “gospel” of works-based salvation that enslaves rather than a gospel of freeing salvation based on grace and faith (Galatians 1:6-9, 3:1-6, 5:1-6, 5:12-15) or abusing grace as an excuse for sinful behavior (Romans 6:1-14).

What does all this mean? Don’t stifle the Spirit with your cynicism. Recognize it is a serious matter to contemptuously regard a message claiming to be from God. Testing these messages is important enough to put forth the mental and emotional energy and too important to leave to someone else who is enthusiastically waiting to tell you what to think. Check fruit — false teachers and their teaching can be recognized. When all is examined, hold the good and avoid the evil.

No Matter What

“Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

Joy is effortless when things are going well in your life. Joy just happens when your health is reasonably well, your family is happy, your work situation is conflict-free, and your car is flowing smoothly through the traffic. But what happens when the doctor orders testing, your children are miserable, your boss is unreasonable, or your car is just inching down the road?

Be joyful always.

The prayers go up effortlessly when the blessings are pouring down. The praise comes easy when your portfolio is out-performing the averages, your children are making good grades, friends, and the team, your job review resulted in an unexpected raise, and your struggle with sin seems to be a distant memory. Or maybe the prayers start surging when the blessings seem to dry up. The petitions surge when financial reversal limits you, when your children’s struggles burden you, when your job termination stuns you, or when your heart is grappling with temptation and sin. Some find it easy to pray when things are going well but feel like any life difficulty erects a barrier from God. Others forget God during the good times and turn to Him only when suffering.

Pray continually.

Thanksgiving naturally gushes forth in time of plenty; when at the table spread with turkey and all the trimmings and surrounded by those who are most dear to you. But what when you are enduring one of those end of the month fried bologna meals? What about when you find yourself alone, isolated from all those you love?

Give thanks in all circumstances.

In this passage God reveals His will for our lives. God teaches us the need for consistency in our walk with Him. Wonderful are the days when the joy, the prayer, and the thanksgiving just come naturally. But as you grow in Christ you find just as wonderful the days when the joy, the prayers, and the thanksgiving are experienced and offered right in the face of circumstances that could be used as an excuse for a joyless, prayerless, and thankless life.

“Be cheerful no matter what; pray all the time; thank God no matter what happens. This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 The Message).

Payback

“Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else” (1 Thessalonians 5:15).

Lashing out to achieve revenge is so very natural, at least to me. When someone hurts us, mistreats us, or wrongs us it is a natural reflex to strike back. I remember saying more times than I care to confess, “I’m going to give him a dose of his own medicine!” We like to even the score with someone who has taken advantage of us or wounded us. And, let’s be honest, sometimes just getting even is not enough. Sometimes we want to “do them one better.”

This kind of vengeful payback is “natural” in more than one way. It is “natural in the sense of being an almost automatic response. But payback is also “natural” in the sense of being “fleshly.” Scripture is clear; there is nothing remotely spiritual about settling the score with someone who has acted in an evil way toward you.

  • “You must make allowance for each other’s faults and forgive the person who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others” (Colossians 3:13 NLT).
  • “Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:16-18).
  • “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you” (Matthew 5:38-42).

Rather than retaliating when wronged, God’s people are called on to respond with kindness. “Look for the best in each other, and always do your best to bring it out” (The Message). “Always try to do good to each other” (NLT). A response that’s all about kindness, goodness, and looking for the best in others rather than retribution is expected from followers of Jesus.

Eventually, inevitably, someone will wrong you. Sometimes the wrongdoer will be your brother or sister in Christ. Other times it will be someone who is outside the family of God. Revenge is to be avoided whether the offender is a Christian or an outsider (“to each other and to everyone else”). This is difficult teaching, for sure. But it really comes as a relief when the offender is not a brother or a sister or an outsider, but me instead.