How do you plan to talk to God in 2022?
As we approach yet another year amidst COVID-19 uncertainties, how do you plan to move forward? Typically, when a new year begins, we hope (to be optimistic); we plan (to be more organized); we exercise (to be healthier); we resolve (to be a better version of ourselves), and we pray (to God). But what do we ask God for, especially during uncertain times?
How would you describe prayer? What does your prayer life look like? Is it a list of things you give God to fix, maybe to make you more comfortable? Is it to ask for healing? Is it the privilege to talk to God on behalf of others? Is it crying out to God, “Help!”? Or is it asking God to reveal opportunities to minister to others? I want to take a brief look at one of the apostle Paul’s prayers (1 Thess. 3:9-13) in order to provide us with a plan to talk to God in 2022.
The Occasion of 1 Thessalonians
Paul is writing to the Thessalonian church because he cannot be with them (cf. Acts 17:10-11); he was run out of town. Timothy’s report provides Paul with the context for his writing. Recall, Timothy returned to Paul with the news of the Thessalonians’ faithfulness, love and desire to see Paul again (1 Thess. 3:5-6). This first Thessalonian letter is anything but corrective. However, due to the persecution the Thessalonian believers were under, as well as their faithful work, sacrificial love and enduring hope (1: 2-3) two basic themes are communicated in Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians: (a) the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ and (b) the living of a life that hopes in his coming.
The Synthesis of 1 Thessalonians
(1:2-3:13) – Paul thanks God for the Thessalonians’ salvation and commitment to sharing their faith. He reminds them, as a result of their salvation, they will be delivered from God’s wrath (1:9-10). Paul describes his commitment to the Thessalonians and their life (godly walk) by modeling ministry to them (2:1-12). He reinforces correct Christian behavior in light of the coming of the Lord.
(4:1-5:22) – Paul encourages the Thessalonians to walk and please God both toward the Church and the community (4:1-12). Paul teaches the Thessalonians to have a knowledge regarding the coming of the Lord so that when persecution comes, they can endure (4:13-5:11). He once again encourages godly behavior amidst the community (5:12-22).
The Prayer in 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
Paul’s prayer here demonstrates a passionate desire to minister to the Thessalonians, a theme not foreign to Paul’s writing to the Thessalonian church (cf. 2:6-10). His ministry was to strengthen and encourage, clearly seen in sending Timothy, his son in the faith (3:2-3). Paul had a desire to minister to others. This brief paragraph has three components: a thanksgiving (3:9), a petition (3:10) and a wish-prayer (3:11-13).
Paul’s Thanksgiving (3:9)
Paul could not thank God enough for His work in and through the Thessalonian church. He rhetorically asks, “How can we ever repay you, God?” There just was not a way to reciprocate a gratitude for God’s preparatory work on behalf of the Thessalonians. God was preparing them with a spiritual tenacity amidst great opposition. Paul was overjoyed!
Paul’s Petition (3:10)
Paul prayed with insistence; he invested a great amount of prayer to God. As a matter of fact, the text says that he made a regular habit to pray (“praying night and day,” 3:10). And not just a habit, but a habit that was quite beyond measure, most earnestly contending on behalf of the Thessalonian church. So, I wonder, like Paul, during our current times of great struggle do we make a habit to pray or to complain? To contend on behalf of others (selfless) or ourselves (selfish)? Paul petitioned God for two purposes, to see the Thessalonians again and to strengthen their faith. Clearly Paul was thinking of others and their spiritual growth.
Paul’s Wish-prayer (3:11-13)
Paul’s prayer is first directed toward God (“Now God himself. . .”). He calls on God to clear the way to the Thessalonians. In other words, Paul is asking God to remove the objects that may be used to obscure the path (cf. Satan hindered Paul, 2:17-18). Do we see the value, the importance of directing our prayers to God? After all, the removal of spiritual hindrances requires spiritual power.
Not only does Paul direct his prayer to God, but he also shows his confidence in the Lord Jesus Christ to make the Thessalonians’ love increase and overflow. The Thessalonian church was already showing evidence of love for one another (3:6) & for the community (1:7-8). But Paul wanted it to increase. When Paul is asking for their love to increase, he is emphasizing that it is to go beyond the limits, overflow. Therefore, Paul’s use of love is critical here. The Thessalonians were taught by God to love one another (4:9, 10), and following the example of Christ requires loving even those who are unbelievers and opponents of the faith. Do we love like this? Will we love like this in 2022 in spite of the challenges that may come?
For what purpose does Paul pray? That the Thessalonians would remain committed, standing firm in the faith when Jesus comes for them (cf. 4:16-17); unblameable in holiness. In a sense Paul is directing his prayer to both God and His Son so that the Thessalonians would conform to the very character of God; if God is loving, then they are loving. F. F. Bruce captures Paul’s intent, “The coming of the Lord is not only the event at the end of time which brings the sanctification of believers: it should provide the Thessalonians, as it provided Paul himself, with an incentive to holy living and faithful service” (WBC, 73).
A Challenge for Your New Year, 2022
What will shape your prayers in this new year? Will it be an attitude of thanks, rejoicing for what God is doing and has already done in your life?
Will you pray for continued growth both in your life as well as others’ lives? The spiritual growth of others was a desire of Paul’s.
Will you pray that your love increases toward others throughout 2022?
How do you plan to talk to God in 2022?