2 Thessalonians 1; Isaiah 25-26; Psalm 117
In every bad situation, there are blessings from God that can be gained if we look for them. Last year, my wife conquered cancer. During that time, one blessing I had was learning the power of prayer. I had heard many times when people talked about feeling the power of prayer in their lives, or experiencing God’s presence as people prayed. Having never felt that, I shrugged when I heard people say that. Then, as we went through cancer, I experienced that for myself. There is no power like that experience of power when the peace of God overwhelms you when you’re going through a difficult time, and you realize that people have been praying for you. Since God blesses us to bless others, I’ve made it a point to pray for others when I see posts on social media or ask for it personally. I may like a post for a request someone makes – which is my way of saying I’ve prayed, I may pray and then post “just prayed.” Then, every time that post comes to my attention, I pray again.
Prayer in those difficult times is important. I believe that prayer sustained us in our battle. I’m still convicted about my need to pray when I see how Paul prayed for people. He always prayed God’s grace on them. He prayed for them before the trouble hit. He prayed for them in the midst of the struggle. As we focus on people with severe needs, we often miss that prayer that supports and builds up before any trouble starts. Maybe we can learn from Paul. “With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling, and 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)
The church at Thessalonica was dealing with persecution. They were going through other trials. As Paul prayed, though, he went beyond focusing on strength in persecution. This wasn’t a “hold on until Jesus comes,” prayer. He did remind them that God was in charge and that those doing the persecuting would be judged by God, but his prayer for them went beyond dealing with troubles. He hit right at the heart of the matter and talked about praying the God would change them. He prayed for God to make them worthy of His calling. How we live as followers of Christ makes a difference. It especially makes a difference to those who don’t know Jesus. Paul’s prayer deals with their lifestyles and living God’s way in a hostile world. He prayed that God’s power would bring to fruition their desire for goodness. Notice the last two words in that prayer. Many stop at wanting God to take care of their desires; Paul reminds us that our desires should focus on goodness, which only comes from God. He also prayed for God to bring to fruition every good deed prompted by faith. In other words, Paul prayed for success when we’re acting in faith.
The easy, comfortable way to interpret this verse would be to note that Paul would pray the same things for us today. The problem with that interpretation is that it makes us feel good without inspiring us to action. The takeaway that I get from this passage is that I am called to pray for others. I am called not only to pray for those with immediate needs, I’m called to pray for strength before the bad times happen. There are people in my life who, when they ask me to pray for them, my response should be “I’ve already been doing that.” (And that should be a truthful response.) Too often I have considered prayer a minor thing or a last resort. What I need to remember is how much prayer empowers people and make it a point to pray for people before the trouble comes.
Oh Lord, how often I miss the point of prayer? How often do I relegate prayer to “for emergency use only” status? Help me to pray for others for your strength at all times – especially before trouble comes.