Our Text – 2 Thessalonians 3:1-5
Our Theme – “Prayer for fellow believers is integral to their success in ministry”
Have you ever locked the keys in your car while shopping at the mall? Have you ever thrown your car keys in a garbage can by mistake? I have and it isn’t a very pleasant experience. If you have a coat hanger handy you might be able to open the locked door with it; however, usually you have to call a policeman to help assist you in opening the locked car or if you’re a member of AAA they will assist you also. In our present world of technology, many car owners never have to worry about locking their keys in the car. They are drivers with OnStar. All they need to do is press a button or call a number, and a pleasant voice will answer, “OnStar, how may I help you?”
The apostle Paul and his missionary companions repeatedly faced dangerous situations and wicked men in their missionary journeys. They knew the value of enlisting others to pray for them on a regular basis, so they specifically asked the Thessalonians to pray for them as they ministered. As the believers prayed, the missionaries would have a spiritual OnStar service with them all the time. How would you feel if you called OnStar and they promised to help you but then didn’t come through? How seriously do you take people’s requests for you to pray for them? When was the last time you told someone you would pray for him/her and actually did it? Many times we promise to pray for someone but forget to do it!
I was heading out the door one morning when my wife Sharon said, “Don’t forget to pray for Howard. He has surgery today.” This wasn’t unusual for my wife to remind me before I left for work. “Don’t worry, I replied, “I’ll be on prayer patrol!” In reality, we all need to be on prayer patrol all the time. When we are, we follow in the tradition of patrol members such as:
(1) Daniel, who prayed despite opposition (Daniel 6:10);
(2) The widow Anna, who prayed night and day (Luke 2:36-37);
(3) Paul, who prayed for his friends in Rome (Romans 1:9); and
(4) Cornelius, a God-fearing soldier who did double-duty by being in constant prayer (Acts 10:1-2).
God’s Eternal Word tells us to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17); Continue steadfastly in prayer (Romans 12:12); Pray morning, noon, and night (Psalm 55:17), and Pray always and don’t get discouraged (Luke 18:1). It’s not difficult to find enough things to pray about because there are needs everywhere. The tough part is following through on our commitment to pray. We must remind ourselves throughout the day that we have a job to do and people are counting on us. The apostle Paul understood the value of prayer. He requested prayer for himself and no doubt expected the Thessalonians to honor his request. He also prayed for them, enlisting God’s help and direction in their lives.
Chapter 3 begins the last major section of 2 Thessalonians and the apostle Paul begins to bring this epistle to a close, but in doing so, we are privileged to see a wonderful model as Paul demonstrates how his team’s confidence lay not in human plans, promotion, programs, or human personalities, but in the Lord Himself. Their confidence for whatever they might need and face was an unending trust in the provision and faithfulness of the Lord and His powerful Word.
The Lord Jesus said emphatically, “I will build my church and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” While God uses frail human instruments in accomplishing His work on earth, the ultimate accomplishment of the work depends on the work and faithfulness of the Lord and His Word. Our modern ‘go-go’ tendency is to be quick to plan and act rather than pray, wait on the Lord, and then in God’s timing and leading, work in His strength, leading, and provision. This is not only the position of wisdom but of humility as we put our trust not in ourselves, but in a sovereign God and Savior. Again, the apostle provides us with a model, not just for ministry but for life.
If I were going to title this particular text, I would simply entitle it, “What the pastor desires from his people.” It’s just a little pause in his letter in which the heart of the apostle Paul is made manifest. It’s very tender and very personal. It’s Paul saying, “This is what I expect from you, this is what I cherish in terms of your Christian conduct”. Obviously the expectation of the people toward the pastor is very high. That is usually the case. Today, any day in the history of the church, anyone who steps into the role of pastor, deacon, shepherd of the flock, anyone who ascends to the pulpit and preaches the Word of God and sets himself forth as the example for the flock has a very high standard to meet. And the people have every right to hold the pastor to that standard.
We say that being a pastor, the shepherd of the flock of God, is the highest calling. Not only is it the highest in the terms of privilege, but it has to be the highest in terms of responsibility or obligation also. We have to give an account to God for how we have served in this unique calling, as with any aspect of our service to our Lord. It’s the most serious task that any man could ever be given. It has the greatest potential for good and the greatest potential for harm. That’s why a severe judgment is set for those who teach the Word and defect. With that in mind let’s take a look at the Apostle Paul’s prayer.
I. PAUL’S PRAYER REQUEST (3:1-4)
3:1, “Finally pray for us, brothers and sisters, that the Lord’s message may spread quickly and be honored as in fact it was among you, 3:2 and that we may be delivered from perverse and evil people. For not all have faith”
A. His concerns (3:1-2)
What an excellent prayer, “that the word of the Lord will spread rapidly and be glorified.” Paul asked the Thessalonians to pray for him and his fellow missionaries. Notice that Paul did not list specific people whom he wanted to pray for him. The prayers of the new believers he had never met would be just as effective as the prayers of the most mature, seasoned believers in the church because all believers have equal access to the Father. Paul knew that he would need prayer for as long as he lived. He would never reach a point in his life when he would be exempt from prayer.
Paul requested prayer first for the message and then for the messengers. He wanted the Thessalonians to pray that “the word of the Lord,” the message, might “have free course, and be glorified” (v. 1). “Free course” simply means “run.” Paul desired the message to spread quickly. As the message spread, the people who heard and received it would glorify it (Acts 13:48-49). So Paul hoped the message would be shared rapidly and received positively, as it had when he was at Thessalonica. Paul then requested prayer that the missionaries, or the messengers, might be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men (2 Thessalonians 3:3).
Paul, Silas, and Timothy were facing opposition, and Paul wanted God to rescue them from it. This opposition came from perverse, wicked men who were hindering the gospel from spreading rapidly. We should never forget that Satan is going to spiritually and physically attack God’s servants who are doing a great work for the Lord. In fact, the more a believer gets involved in God’s work, the more Stan will bring opposition into his or her life. Overcoming that opposition is possible, but only through prayer. So, when missionaries share their struggles and trials, those who support them should rally behind them in prayer. “Prayer support” for missionaries and for all believers isn’t just a good idea; it is absolutely necessary.
GOD ANSWERS PRAYER
Have you ever felt the urge to pray for someone and then just put it on a list and said, “I’ll pray for them later.”? Or has anyone ever called you and said, “I need you to pray for me, I have this need”? Here’s a story that will bring you chills of a missionary on furlough who told this true story while visiting his home church in Michigan.
“While serving at a small field hospital in Africa, every two weeks I traveled by bicycle through the jungle to a nearby city for supplies. This was a journey of two days and required camping overnight at the halfway point. On one of these journeys, I arrived in the city where I planned to collect money from a bank, purchase medicine and supplies, and then begin my two-day journey back to the field hospital. Upon arrival in the city, I observed two men fighting, one of whom had been seriously injured. I treated him for his injuries and at the same time talked to him about the Lord. I then traveled two days, camping overnight, and arrived home without incident. Two weeks later I repeated my journey. Upon arriving in the city, I was approached by the young man I had treated. He told me that he had known I carried money and medicines. He said, “Some friends and I followed you into the jungle, knowing you would camp overnight. We planned to kill you and take your money and drugs. But just as we were about to move into your camp, we saw that you were surrounded by 26 armed guards.”
At this I laughed and said that I was certainly all alone in that jungle campsite. The young man pressed the point, however, and said, “No sir, I was not the only person to see the guards. My five friends also saw them, and we all counted them. It was because of those guards that we were afraid and left you alone.” At this point in the sermon, one of the men in the congregation jumped to his feet and interrupted the missionary and asked if he could tell him the exact day this happened. The missionary told the congregation the date and the man who interrupted told him this story: “On the night of your incident in Africa, it was morning here and I was preparing to go play golf. I was about to putt when I felt the urge to pray for you. In fact, the urging of the Lord was so strong; I called men in this church to meet with me here in the sanctuary to pray for you. Would all of those men who met with me on that day stand up?”
The men who had met together to pray that day stood up. The missionary wasn’t concerned with who they were, he was too busy counting how many men he saw. There were 26. This story is an incredible example of how the Spirit of the Lord moves in mysterious ways. If you ever hear such prodding, go along with it. Nothing is ever hurt by prayer except the gates of hell.
THE PRIVILEGE OF PRAYER
Thus, prayer for a believer in Christ is a privilege and one of the most powerful tools we have at our disposal. It allows us to have access and talk to the God who spoke into existence the heavens and the earth. There is no secretary to screen His calls. No need for a decision on whether or not we should bother Him. No need to leave a message so that He can get back to us later. The psalmist reminds us, “The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their cry” (Psalm 34:15).
As believers in Christ we have been given at least one gift. Although everyone isn’t called to be a pastor, teacher, or evangelist, the privilege of prayer is available to all who have trusted Christ as Savior. Writer Phillips Brooks said, “If man is man and God is God, to live without prayer is not merely an awful thing; it is an infinitely foolish thing.” John Wesley was convinced that the prayers of God’s people rather than his preaching accounted for the thousands who came to Christ through his ministry. We must keep foremost in our mind that Satan our enemy is committed to defeating God’s servants in whatever way he can; however, our prayers will keep Satan from winning.
3:3, “But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen and protect you from the evil one. We have confidence in the Lord that you are doing and will continue to do the things we command”
B. His confidence (3:3-4)
God is forever faithful, and the apostle Paul believed that He would help the Thessalonians to not yield to Satan (v. 3). Paul knew that God would establish them and guard them from the evil one. What does verse 3 imply about who is in danger of being successfully attacked by Satan? All believers in Christ. Because of God’s faithfulness to the Thessalonians, Paul was convinced that they were doing, and would continue to do, the things that the missionaries had commanded of them (v. 4). The word “commanded” in verse 4 refers to a military order that a superior officer passes on to those under his direction. God was the source of those commands, while Paul was the conveyor of them. Paul had ultimate confidence in his Superior Officer. So he spent time praying for the Thessalonians, and believed that his prayers would be answered (2:16-17).
II. PAUL’S PRAYER (3:5)
A. For the love of God (3:5a), “Now may the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God””
Paul closed this section with another prayer that came out of his preceding confidence statement. He prayed first that the Lord might direct the Thessalonians’ hearts into the love of God (v. 5). The word “direct” means to “clear the way.” As God answered Paul’s prayer, the Thessalonian believers would be able to understand God’s love for them. As they focused on the love of God, even while they were being persecuted, they would reciprocate His love by obeying Him. Christ’s words in John 14:15 echo this principle; The Lord said to His disciples, “if ye love me, keep my commandments.”
B. For the patience of Christ (3:5b), “and into the patience of Christ”
Paul also prayed that the Lord would clear the way of any obstacles so that Christ’s endurance (patience) would encourage the Thessalonians in their circumstances. Jesus persevered when He was persecuted, and He provided an example for the Thessalonians and for us to follow today. Hostile men had opposed Him as other hostile men were opposing the Thessalonians. If the believers allowed Jesus’ endurance to encourage them, they would be able to obey Paul’s commands.
Today many believers in Christ are not enduring persecution, nor are they even threatened by it. Their biggest threat is being lulled into spiritual inactivity by the world’s emphasis on comfortable living and busyness. But Christ’s example of patiently enduring is still extremely valuable for today’s believer. As believers meditate on His actions, they understand His servant’s heart and sacrificial love. Paul wrote to the Philippians about Christ’s patient endurance on the cross (Philippians 2:6-8). Paul prefaced his teaching with the simple statement, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (v. 5).
TRUE STORIES OF PRAYER
We prayed. Quietly sometimes, and aloud other times. For more than 17 years we prayed. We prayed for our daughter Melissa’s health and direction, for her salvation, and often for her protection. Just as we prayed for our other children, we asked God to have His hand of care on her. As Melissa rolled into her teenage years, we prayed even more that He would keep her from harm that He would keep His eyes on her as she and her friends began to drive. We prayed, “God, please protect Melissa.” So what happened? Didn’t God understand how much it would hurt so many people to lose such a beautiful young woman with so much potential for service to Him and others? Didn’t God see the other car coming on that warm spring night? We prayed. But Melissa was killed. Now what? Do we stop praying? Do we give up on God? Do we try to make it alone? Absolutely not! Prayer is even more vital to us now. God, our Creator and sovereign Lord, is still in control. His commands to pray still stand. His desire to hear from us is still alive. Faith is not demanding what we want; it is trusting God’s goodness in spite of life’s tragedies. We grieve. We pray. We keep on praying.
Ruby Hamilton, a businesswoman in her fifties, was stunned at the loss of her husband of 32 years in a car accident. Her anger and disappointment went deeper than a more typical expression of grief though. She had become a follower of Christ in her late twenties, but her husband didn’t share her newfound interest in spiritual things. Nonetheless, she had set about praying for him feverishly and unceasingly that he would come to know the Lord. And one day when she was praying, she felt a wave of peace wash over her, and that still small voice assuring her that her husband would be okay. She eagerly awaited the day when her husband surrender his life to Jesus. And now this.
What do you do when faith doesn’t make sense? When God doesn’t seem to be answering or opening doors or being found? Ruby Hamilton stopped living for God. Roger Simmons was hitchhiking his way home. He would never forget the date – May 7th. His heavy suitcase was making him tired and he was anxious to take off that army uniform once and for all. Flashing the thumb to the oncoming car, he lost hope when he saw it was a black, sleek new Cadillac. To his surprise the car stopped.
The passenger door swung open. He ran toward the car, tossed his suitcase in the back and thanked the handsome, well-dressed man as he slid into the front seat. “Going home for keeps?” “Sure am.” “Well, you’re in luck if you’re going to Chicago.” “Not quite that far – do you live in Chicago?” “I have a business there, the driver said. My name is Hamilton.” They chatted for a while, and then Roger, a Christian, felt a compulsion to share his faith with this fiftyish, apparently successful business man. But he kept putting it off, till he realized that he was now just 30 minutes from his home. It was now or never.
“Mr. Hamilton, I would like to talk to you about something very important.” Then he simply told Mr. Hamilton about the plan of salvation and ultimately asked him if he would like to receive Jesus as his savior and Lord. The Cadillac pulled over to the side of the road. Roger expected that he was about to get thrown out of the car. Instead, the businessman bowed his head and received Christ, then thanked Roger “This is the greatest thing that has ever happened to me.”
Five years went by. Roger married, had a couple of kids and a business of his own. Packing his suitcase for a trip to Chicago he found a small white business card that had been given to him by Hamilton five years previous. In Chicago, he looked up Hamilton enterprises. The receptionist told him that it was impossible to see Mr. Hamilton, but he could see Mrs. Hamilton. A little confused, he was ushered into a beautiful office where he found himself facing a keen-eyed woman in her fifties. She extended her hand “You knew my husband?”
Roger told her about how Hamilton had picked him up while he was hitchhiking home after the war. “Can you tell me what day that was?” “Sure it was May 7th, five years ago, the day I was discharged from the army.” “Anything special about that day,” she asked. He hesitated, not knowing if he should mention how he shared the message of Jesus with her husband. “Mrs. Hamilton, I explained the gospel to your husband that day. He pulled over to the side of the road and wept against the steering wheel. He gave his life to Christ that day.” Explosive sobs shook her body. Finally getting a grip on herself, she sobbed, “I had prayed for my husband’s salvation for years. I believed God would save him.” “Where is your husband, Ruby?”
“He’s dead. He was in a car crash after he let you out of the car. He never got home. You see, I thought God had not kept his promise. I stopped living for God five years ago because I thought God had not kept his word!
1 Peter 5:7 tells us to cast all your care upon Him, for He cares for you. The psalmist wrote, “Be still, and know that I am God” (46:10). The apostle Paul exhorted the Philippians to “be anxious for nothing” (Philippians 4:6), and Peter instructed his readers to cast all their cares on God (1 Peter 5:7). You know what, If Paul and Peter were here today, they would tell us the same thing. So, how can someone stop worrying and be “still”? Only through prayer and trust in the loving God (Philippians 4:6-7).
Those who place their cares on Him can set aside the noise and confusion, ambitions and strivings, and enter into the peace of God. This doesn’t mean that those who are “still” before the Lord will escape life’s dangers and dilemmas, but it does mean they will have the ability to live with tranquility in the midst of them. Though trouble may remain, the confusion, apprehension, and despair begin to fade away. Such people show poise under pressure; they’re unshaken by life’s alarms and they radiate peace wherever they go.
When we pray for others, we become partners with God in His work of salvation, healing, helping, and comfort. God can accomplish those things without us, but in His plan, He gives us the privilege of being involved with Him through prayer. When we through prayer:
(1) Intercede for a grandson in trouble,
(2) Or a mother having surgery,
(3) Or neighbor who needs Christ, or
(4) Or pastor who needs strength.
We are asking God to provide for that person what we cannot provide ourselves. If we begin to open our life to the people we pray with, they will learn from our example, and will open their own lives. The result will be meaningful, heartfelt prayers that God would be delighted to answer. I’m mindful of the early Christians who prayed for Peter to be released from prison and then were “astonished” when God answered them (Acts 12:16). My brethren, many times we respond that way too, but we shouldn’t be surprised when God answers our prayers. Remember, His power is great and His resources are endless.
Prayer is the voice of faith.