My latest article on 1 Thessalonians is in the current Evangelical Magazine. It is similar to this
In 1 Thessalonians 3:6-13 we see five helpful rules on how to pray for each other.
In verses 6-8, having spoken of his concern for them, Paul explains how Timothy had arrived with good news of their faith and love. Paul learned of the pleasant memories of him and his team they had and their longing to see him as much as he longed to see them. This was not a complete surprise. In all his distress and persecution Paul had been encouraged by the thought of their faith. However, now he lives. They really are standing firm in the Lord!
Paul prayed for them all the time they were apart but was anxious – afraid he says that in some way the tempter might have tempted you and our efforts might have been useless. Timothy has now reassured him on that score. What a relief! Paul always found faith in others encouraging, especially in distress and persecution, so he was greatly cheered to know of their progress.
We are all the same. One thing we can all do to help ourselves to pray better is to try and be better informed about one another. We must pray for fellow believers whether we hear of them or not but, generally speaking, it is easier if we keep informed, one of the things this magazine seeks to do.
Paul asks (9) 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? It is clear that he often gave thanks. Why was he so thankful? Because of the joy it gave him, in God's presence, to know others were saved and were demonstrating that in their daily lives. He finds it difficult to see how he can be as thankful as he ought to be, so much joy have they given.
At the start of the letter, he wrote how he always thanked God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers. It is a note often struck in his letters. It is usually the place to start when praying for believers. How lonely without them! What joy to know that they also are saved. Are we giving thanks for them? Do our thanks equal the joy they give us by their Christian living? At the very least, we ought to be regularly thanking God for one another.
Request fellowship opportunities and growth
Paul constantly prayed for them. He says (10) Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith. He gives the prayer - Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you. Besides giving thanks Paul makes a specific request – to see them again and preach to them. His prayer is that our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus will clear the way for him and his companions to come to them again.
We should make specific requests to God. More importantly, we should often pray for fellowship. That is what Paul longs for with the Thessalonians. His specific desire, as a preacher, is to supply what is lacking in their faith but we should all long for fellowship with each other.
Pray too for the supply of what is lacking in people's faith. Give thanks for faith but recognise that no-one has perfect faith so we ask for growth and increase. People don't do it so much now but there was a time when a woman would sit and darn the socks. Our faith often has holes and needs repair. Pray for faith to be “darned”.
Pray for each other – for opportunities of fellowship, the supply of what faith currently lacks.
Request increased and overflowing love
Paul prays May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you (12). He prays not only for an increase in faith but also love. The CEV has - May the Lord make your love for each other and for everyone else grow by leaps and bounds. It's like faith – every Christian believes and every Christian loves but there is room for growth. Let's pray for each other that our love will grow in leaps and bounds. In particular pray that we may have
Love each other more and more. Brotherly love is a basic Christian trait but too often we are found wanting. Pray for a real increase in love to one another.
An increasing love for outsiders too. Love is to extend beyond us to all sorts of others. Pray it will.
The pattern is the same as Galatians 6:10, Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.
Request strengthened hearts and blamelessness when Christ comes
Having spoken of faith and love one expects a reference to hope. That is not what follows but there is an emphasis on the future hope. What Paul prays is (13) 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. The prayer is interesting as it requests God to strengthen their hearts. The end of this is seen as increased holiness so that they will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.
So here's another thing to pray for each other – a strengthening of the heart so that, in light of Christ's return, we may become more and more holy. We tend not to think of holiness as a matter of being strong in heart but Paul saw that is often the issue. More strong heartedness would mean greater separation to God and more holy living. Pray that will increasingly be the case with all of us. Then those we pray for will be among the holy believers who return with Christ when he comes.
The very mention of Christ's return, a subject Paul keeps returning to in this letter, reminds us that if we would pray, we must set our minds on Christ's return. It is in the light of that event that we must always pray.