A Prayer That Surprises Us

One neat thing about Scripture is that we get to see the prayers of many. We see the Lord Jesus praying in the garden before his crucifixion and outside of the tomb of Lazarus before Lazarus’ resurrection. We see how Daniel prayed for the mercy of God on Judah during their Babylonian captivity. And we get to see how Paul called the early church to pray.

 

What has been striking to me is some of the things that Paul tells the church to pray. If you look at what Paul writes, his calls to prayer simply do not match the way that many of us expect that Paul would command the church to pray. If you read much from modern church growth experts or denominational missions organizations, you would expect that all the prayers of the local church would be for God to give us boldness, a platform, and the spiritual power to turn the world upside-down. But then you read the Scripture, and you see Paul tell us the following:

 

1 Timothy 2:1-2 – 1 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.

 

Pray what? Pray for leaders. Ah, pray that our leaders will be radically saved and turn the nation to faith? No, pray for leaders so that you can live, as a Christian, a peaceful and quiet life in all dignity. Does that feel funny to you?

 

Now, let’s be clear so that no odd Internet accusations arise. I am pro-evangelism. I share my faith. I call people to repentance and to come to Christ for salvation. And I believe that the Christian life that has no evangelistic focus has problems.

 

But with that said, does it not seem interesting that the prayer that Paul urges for the early church is that we could live simple, quiet, dignified lives? This does not seem to fit the big splash mentality of the modern church growth movement. This does not sound like the kind of prayer you pray when you want to start a megachurch.

 

So, Is Paul’s prayer here non-evangelistic? Not at all. Actually, the next lines say that our prayers for leaders that we might live quiet and dignified lives are pleasing to the God who wants to save all sorts of folks.

 

1 Timothy 2:1-4 – 1 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 3 This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

 

Obviously, praying that we are freed by God to live a peaceful and quiet life in all dignity is not counter-evangelistic. IN fact, if we take the Scripture seriously, it seems that such a prayer for a peaceful, quiet, and dignified life is an evangelistic prayer. Could it be that, somehow, God will use us to be tools in his hands to bring about salvations even without a big-splash strategy?

 

Again, I am not anti-evangelism. But I find it fascinating that the prayer here is not a prayer to be noticed, to have a footprint in the community, to be a player in town politics. Of course, the world worked very differently back then. However, I am not so sure that the kind of prayer that Paul here commands would fit with some of the strategies and pressures now put on congregations by pastors and staffs, even well-meaning, who would say that community evangelism is the highest or even the sole purpose of the church.

 

May we indeed be a people who share the gospel of the Lord Jesus. May we develop friendships, genuine friendships, with people who will desire to ask us for the reason for the hope we have (1 Peter 3:15). May we willingly and openly bring the message of Jesus and his grace to those who need it. May we be a light in our communities, a city on a hill, as we gather for worship, hold forth the word, and live incredibly differently. May we see what Jesus said to his disciples as a powerful tool in proving who we are to the world: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Yes, share. Yes avoid laziness, fear and compromise. Yes, pray to have the opportunity to share your faith.

 

At the same time, take the word seriously. We are to pray for our government and for those over us that we would be allowed to live a peaceful, quiet life in all dignity. That does not mean that we pray that the government give us a platform for mass evangelism. It means just what Paul said. It means that we pray that God will let us live out love for him, love for family, love for the church, love for his word, love for the kindness of Christ in such a way that we will see people saved.

 

I’m not sure how this all works out. I’m certainly not wanting to tell anyone to slow down their evangelism. But I think there is something here that many modern Christians need to take seriously. And for those who have an evangelism-only mentality as it relates to the church, her purposes, strategy, and resources, I think this passage and the rest of the New Testament point us toward some other things that also need to be central to the lives of believers.

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