The Apostle Paul’s letter to his spiritual son, Timothy, holds powerful truths for us today. Prayer is indispensable in life and ministry. Let’s study it together.
By Mark D. Harris
How many of us have ever had a “Sweet Hour of Prayer?” How would our lives be changed if we did? Reflect on the words of the old hymn:
- Sweet hour of prayer Sweet hour of prayer
- That calls me from a world of care
- And bids me at my Father’s throne
- Make all my wants and wishes known
- In seasons of distress and grief
- My soul has often found relief
- And oft escaped the tempter’s snare
- By Thy return, sweet hour of prayer
- Sweet hour of prayer Sweet hour of prayer
- The joys I feel, the bliss I share
- Of those whose anxious spirits burn
- With strong desires for Thy return
- With such I hasten to the place
- Where God my Savior shows His face
- And gladly take my station there
- And wait for Thee, sweet hour of prayer
- Sweet hour of prayer Sweet hour of prayer
- And wait for Thee Sweet hour of prayer
How to Pray
V1 – Paul strongly encouraged, and even commanded, Timothy to support all the people to whom he ministered.
|Requests||δέησις deēsis||Seeking God on behalf of another||Luke 1:13, Acts 1:14, Phil 4:6|
|Prayers||προσευχή proseuchē||Prayer addressed to God and focused primarily on Him||Matthew 21:22, Luke 22:45, Acts 6:4, Ephesians 1:6|
|Intercession||ἔντευξις enteuxis||Coming together to converse for any cause||1 Timothy 4:5|
|Thanksgiving||εὐχαριστία eucharistia||Giving thanks||Ephesians 5:4, Revelation 7:12|
All of these activities are done between a man and God, but they have different functions. Prayer is focused on experiencing the person of God, while supplication (requests) is focused on lifting up the needs of oneself and others before the Lord. Intercession highlights the aspect of coming together, and gratitude is a necessary response to the good gifts of the Lord.
The word “prayer” is commonly used as a general term covering all these activities. However, the common practice, merely asking God for things, excludes most of what Paul told Timothy to do. As a result, our times with the Lord are weak and unfulfilling. Using a model for prayer such as Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication (ACTS), includes these important steps. Paul did not mention confession in this verse because he was describing what Timothy must do for others, not what he needed to do for himself.
Do we include all four parts in our prayers? Do we enjoy God in our prayers? Do we pray together as a group? Do we take time, lots of time, to give thanks?
Who to Pray for, and why?
V2 – Not only are we to pray for our family, friends and colleagues but also for those in authority over us. From the supreme earthly ruler, the king, down to the most menial magistrate, Christians are to pray for them in all the areas noted above. It is not enough to pray for the position of king or governor, which people tend to do when they don’t like the occupant of the office. We must pray for the individual. There is no Biblical precedent to pray for a position but exclude the person. People matter; they last forever, while positions pass away.
We do this so that our lives will be quiet and peaceful. Rulers are charged by God with establishing and maintaining the conditions that govern our earthly lives. They evaluate the environment around us and devise the laws to best allow us to meet our individual, family, and community needs and wants within that environment. Peace and stability, as opposed to war and confusion, promote this.
Note that the ambition of believers is to live a peaceful and quiet life on this earth. Quiet (ἤρεμος ēremos) suggests the lack of outward disturbance. The word “peaceful (ἡσύχιος hēsychios)” speaks the tranquility of a godly and holy spirit (1 Peter 3:4).
The modern spirit of the times (zeitgeist) is to gain fame; to make as much noise as possible. Napoleon Bonaparte observed “Glory is fleeting, but obscurity is forever.” The popular saying “well behaved women rarely make history” is another example of this idea:
- Making history – being remembered in the history books – is a good thing.
- Behaving badly – which generally results in fame – is a good way to make history.
If this world is all that exists and annihilation is the end of each person, then it makes sense to gain as much fame as possible because the only immortality is the remembrance of a man through his works. If there is a world to come, undying and unforgetting, and the people of God will inhabit it, then fame in this life is not only unnecessary but is potentially unhelpful. Not only must our lives be peaceful and quiet, they must be focused on God and lived with integrity.
Is it your ambition to live a peaceful and quiet life? What are you doing to make your life peaceful and quiet? Do you pray for those who you dislike? Are you praying for people or for positions?
V3 – Our savior, the Lord God of the Universe manifest in the three persons of the Trinity, knows what we need. A life without godliness and honesty, a life spent “behaving badly”, is unacceptable to the Lord and unhealthy to ourselves.
V4 – God would that all mankind, every man, woman and child who had ever lived, would return to Him and be saved. Jesus Christ was not sacrificed only for the elect, those who God had chosen for salvation, but for everyone. As God created everything, including every person, and is therefore our Father by reason of creation, His offer of salvation is for everyone. The Lord wants to be the Father of every person not only by creation but also by individual will. Unfortunately, not everyone will accept His gift of salvation.
V5 – Polytheism is wrong; there is truly only one God. Moreover, the One God is Himself the mediator between Himself and man; in the person of Jesus Christ. The word mediator (μεσίτης mesitēs) suggests “one who intervenes between two, to make or restore peace and friendship or to form or ratify a contract.” The same word can be used for arbitrator, who unlike the mediator can make decisions which bind both parties.
The significance of this mediatorial function is often lost on modern American Christians. We believe that since all men are created equal, no one needs to stand before God on our behalf. Even in the Orthodox and Catholic churches, priests “stand in” for the congregation during confession, and serve as doctors for spiritual diseases, but they do not stand between God and man., While this is appropriate, it is a short step to the idea that since “we are all priests,” we don’t need Jesus Christ, a man, to mediate for us before God. We want to reach God and fail to remember
- How far we are, in our sins, from God.
- How close we are, in Christ, to God, since He is God.
The need for mediation between God and man was not lost on the saints of old. Job was sorely afflicted by Satan through the permission of God. He did not know why, and since he understood the sovereignty of the Lord attributed his suffering to the Holy One (Job 19:6-22). Feeling unjustly persecuted, Job wished for a mediator who could obtain justice between him and God, but he knew of none (Job 9:33). In an amazing statement, Paul announces that such a mediator exists, the God-man Jesus Christ.
V6 – Christ effected this mediation through His sacrifice. Every man was a slave to sin, and Jesus’ blood was the ransom (ἀντίλυτρον antilytron) to purchase us from our wicked master. In consequence, He owns us, and we are now free from sin.
This section on the supremacy of Jesus balances the earlier admonition to pray for “kings and those in authority.” The God who wants His followers to live peaceful and quiet lives is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He commands every potentate, including those who don’t know Him and don’t want to know Him. God is Lord even of those people who hate Him, no matter how powerful.
Our prayers for blessings for leaders, good or evil, is the same: that God would manifest Himself to them and that they would turn from their sins. Good leaders will embrace such an event, and wicked leaders will either repent or be destroyed by it.
Do you see your sin? Do you recognize your need for a mediator?
What to do… ministry
V7 – Paul was set apart as a preacher to proclaim the story of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the God-man, the mediator and the redeemer, to the Gentiles. Peter and others were set apart to proclaim the story to the Jews. We are also set apart, just as Paul, Peter, and the other early Christian were.
I have written much on prayer at the MD Harris Institute. Thankfully, the Lord has helped me to pray more than I write. My prayer is that every Christian who reads this, and every Christian who doesn’t, experiences their Sweet Hour of Prayer.
- Beseeching God in Tribulation
- Magic, Science, and Prayer
- Posture in Prayer
- Prayer in Life and Ministry
- The Purpose of Prayer
 Confessing in the Presence of a Priest, Orthodox Church in America, https://www.oca.org/questions/sacramentconfession/confessing-in-the-presence-of-a-priest.
 Priests and Penance: Confession and Confessors, Homiletic and Pastoral Review, https://www.hprweb.com/2015/12/priests-and-penance-confession-and-confessors/#:~:text=In%20the%20confessional%2C%20priests%20are%20called%20to%20mediate,freedom%20%28cf.%20Jn%208%3A32%29%E2%80%94and%20by%20how%20he%20listens.