Learning what to pray

praying hands

Though I have been a Christian for almost 50 years, when it comes to the matter of prayer, I still have a lot to learn, and I find it helpful to learn how to pray from those whom I look upon as “masters” of prayer—people like David and Moses and Habakkuk and Paul.

My prayers easily sink to the level of trite and trivial, or to shallow and selfish.  But when I look at the prayers of these “masters,” I discover better things to pray for on behalf of those whom I care about.

Nearly all of Paul’s letters include a rich expression of what he prays for on behalf of the people he writes to.  For example, in 1st Thessalonians 3:9-13, Paul prays about four things that I want to incorporate more fully into my prayers:

1: In verse 9, Paul expresses how he thanks God for the joy the Thessalonians have brought to his life.

Gratitude is an incredibly powerful force, changing us from the inside out.

Brother David Steindl-Rast states, “The root of joy is gratefulness…. It is not joy that makes us grateful; it is gratitude that makes us joyful.”  It is not surprising that Paul expresses both gratitude and joy in his prayer for the Thessalonians.  Gratitude and joy go together.

Thornton Wilder adds, “We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.”  It is gratitude which makes us conscious of our treasures which makes us come alive!

When we recognize the “treasure” that others are in our lives, and when we express our gratitude for them, our love for them and bond with them is deepened.

No wonder Paul so frequently articulates his gratitude for others.  What a great element to add to my prayers for those whom I care about.

2: In verse 10, Paul writes about how he prays most earnestly night and day to be able to see them face to face and to “restore whatever is lacking in your faith.”

Paul’s prayer is that God will give him an opportunity to be of help and encouragement to them.

In his inaugural address, John Kennedy stated, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”  Often our prayers focus on asking God to do things for us.  What a great thing it would be if our prayers began to ask God to give us opportunity and wisdom to be of help and encouragement to others.

3: In verse 12, Paul asks God to make the Thessalonians “increase and abound in love for one another and for all.”

Since 1 John 4:16 stresses that “God is love,” when we pray for a person’s love to increase and abound, we are actually praying for that person to live more fully in God, and for God to live more deeply in that person.  Can there be any greater prayer than that?

Geoff Gorsuch remarks, “The question to ask at the end of life’s race is not so much, ‘What have I accomplished?’ but, ‘Whom have I loved, and how courageously?’”  So when we pray for a person’s love to increase and abound, our prayer is addressing the most important question of life.

4: In verse 13, Paul prays for God to strengthen their hearts in holiness.

Susanna Wesley captures well the truth about the Christian faith.  She writes, “There are two things to do about the gospel: Believe it and behave it.”  Our faith is not just about believing certain doctrine, but about living out our faith.  So our prayers for one another ought to include prayers for integrity in how we live.  Desmond Tutu stressed, “Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”

What a great way that would be to pray for those whom I care about: That God would strengthen their hearts so that they behave the gospel and overwhelm the world with their “little bit of good.”

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