Have you ever listened to yourself pray?
Seriously, when was the last time you sat down and thought through what you talk to God about? If you’re like me it’s probably been a long time, if ever. Recently I was reading Paul’s first letter to Timothy and I came across a few sentences that got me started thinking about this. Check them out:
I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. This is good and pleases God our Savior… (1 Timothy 2:1-3a).
I can’t help but notice that Paul skipped me. He skipped you too. As he talks about prayer and the subject of our prayers, his focus is on other people. It’s about them. That prayer inventory I’ve been doing on myself has not yielded very good results. I pray for myself more than anyone else. “God help me out of this jam,” or, “God show me what to do in this situation.” Sometimes it’s, “God help the boys to sleep through the night so I can get some sleep.” Me, me, me.
But Paul challenges me (and you) to pray for others. And not just as part of our normal prayer routine, but as the primary subject. We should be praying two things: 1) that God would help them, and 2) prayers of thanks for them. I so appreciate the lack of complexity here. Thank God for them and ask Him to help them… simple. In other words, go to God on their behalf; speak up for them. Pray for them what we so desperately want for ourselves; and when we do, God is pleased. What an interesting thing: God is pleased with us when we pray for others. It certainly speaks to the selflessness that is such a deep part of what it means to be like Jesus, who died for everyone else.
And we simply can’t move on until we note what might be the most difficult part of these sentences for some of us. Paul tells Timothy to pray for all who are in authority. All is a tough word here. There are no exceptions or caveats… just pray for the authorities. When was the last time you asked God to help our president? When was the last time you thanked God for him? Democrat, Republican, or anywhere in between—it sounds like we’re called to pray for the president; whether we agree with them or not, we should certainly be praying for them. Hard stuff to be sure, but it can’t be glossed over. I wonder what would happen in America if the millions of Christians that live here made a daily practice of asking God to help the president, with an emphasis on God’s will above our own. And did you see the reason we pray? Peaceful, quiet lives.
It might feel frustrating to come back to that prayer inventory. It sure is for me. And by the way, I don’t think God doesn’t want us to ever pray for ourselves. He longs for an intimate relationship with each of us; that’s for sure. But it seems that at least part of growing to be like Jesus plays out in selfless, others-centered prayer. The beautiful thing is, if others are following God’s instructions… they’re praying for you.
After serving as the Student Ministries Pastor for 10 years, Josh Petersen is now the Lead Pastor of Immanuel Church. He’s married to Heidi and together they live with Jake, Logan, Cole and Sawyer at the circus they call home.