Saturday, January 07, 2006

Sunday School Lesson: Everyone Needs Prayer

Purpose: To help us experience the reconciling power of praying for everyone, even those we do not like.

Scripture: I Timothy 2:1-8

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth. I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling;
(1Ti 2:1-8 ESV)

The first thing I want you to do is pray. Pray every way you know how, for everyone you know. Pray especially for rulers and their governments to rule well so we can be quietly about our business of living simply, in humble contemplation. This is the way our Savior God wants us to live. He wants not only us but everyone saved, you know, everyone to get to know the truth we've learned: that there's one God and only one, and one Priest-Mediator between God and us--Jesus, who offered himself in exchange for everyone held captive by sin, to set them all free. Eventually the news is going to get out. This and this only has been my appointed work: getting this news to those who have never heard of God, and explaining how it works by simple faith and plain truth. Since prayer is at the bottom of all this, what I want mostly is for men to pray--not shaking angry fists at enemies but raising holy hands to God.
(1Ti 2:1-8 MSG)

I read in a commentary this week that prayer is perhaps the most neglected area of spiritual discipline. Do you agree that prayer is a neglected - possibly the most neglected - spiritual discipline?

What are some reasons that we don’t place prayer at the proper level in our worship lives?

The commentary gave several reasons for the neglect of prayer:

Many Christians were never taught to pray or how to pray.

Many Christians have not known what to pray for or have never prayed in faith.

They may have felt that their prayers were never answered and gave up in frustration.

They may not have understood how and in what ways God answers prayer or were not happy with God’s timetable.

Many prayers are prayed with the wrong motives, are prayed for the wrong things, or are prayed for the wrong reasons.

We may neglect our prayers because of the busy-ness of our modern lives.

Think about your prayers for a moment.
What does your typical prayer consist of?

If it’s like mine, your typical prayer is a hurried breathing of:
"God bless this food."
"God bless MY(OUR) day, MY(OUR) family, MY(OUR) work, MY(OUR) church, MY MY MY, OUR OUR OUR, blah, blah, blah, etc, etc, etc....."

Today’s scripture lesson will help us direct our prayers and help us to be more focused and purposeful in our prayer life and in the prayer life of our church. The greatest benefit may be for those whom we are praying for. This scripture can help us to change the focus of our prayers and redirect the focus of our prayers from our own needs and toward the needs of others.

What emphasis or priority do you think we place on prayer in our lives and in our corporate worship?

What role should prayer play in the life of the church?

What emphasis/priority did Paul place on prayer?

The First Epistle to Timothy was a letter of instruction from the veteran itinerant preacher Paul to his young protege, Timothy, whom Paul had appointed to remain at the church of Ephesus for a time to lead the church away from false teaching and into proper worship, right belief, and faith.

Chapter One included a warning against false teachings and Chapter Two begins instructions on worship in the church. The first words of Chapter Two tell us exactly what priority Paul placed on prayer in the church: "First of all" leaves little room for emphasis on any area of spiritual discipline ahead of prayer. "First of all" indicates emphatically that prayer comes first and is most important in our worship.

Think for a moment about the response that is shown when we have a service dedicated to prayer. Then contrast that thought with the response that is shown to the typical covered-dish dinner.

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made.. (1Ti 2:1 ESV)

What are supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings?

There are seven different Greek nouns that are commonly translated as "prayer". Four of them are used in this sentence and while each can be replaced with the general term "prayer", they each have a peculiar meaning of their own. Prayer is a common term meaning conversation with God, but conversation "with God" is not the same as conversation with others. Conversation "with God" just by the fact of being "with God" makes prayer an act of worship. Does my earlier example (bless ME, MY, OUR, MINE) sound like an act of worship? Does that example show reverence? A shopping list expression of MY wants and needs does not constitute worship in my opinion.

The other three words used in this first sentence of 1 Timothy 2 are more explicit in their description of prayer.

What are supplications?

Supplications are prayers for one’s own needs or a request for a felt need. Think of supplications as a request to "supply" our deep personal needs that we cannot supply for ourselves. What are those needs that are so great that we petition God for their supplication? What needs do we desperately have, but cannot supply ourselves? Strength to resist temptation, grace to lead us to forgiveness, justification, and sanctification. Our physical needs (those of us not living in poverty or with disease, at least) are not nearly as dire as our need for grace. Grace supplies our greatest need and can only be supplied by God.


Intercessions are much the same as supplications, but are directed toward the needs of others instead of ourselves. Another word for intercession is petition. Intercessions are petitions that we offer up to God on behalf of others. Jesus gave us great models of intercessory prayer. One of my favorites is the entire chapter of John 17 where Jesus prayed for his disciples and for all believers. I read a portion of that chapter last year when we laid hands on our youth and prayed for their well-being and success as they left for Mission Macon. That was a great example of intercessory prayer. The men of our church, who had baked and sold cakes as a fund-raiser, the funds designated to finance camps and trips for the children and youth, laid hands on the youth kneeling at the alter as we said a prayer over them. That was a moment where our intercession on their behalf probably had as great an effect on us as it did on those for whom our prayer was directed.


The giving of thanks should definitely be a central part of our prayers and of all our worship. We should pour out our hearts to God for all of the blessings that are bestowed upon us. God makes provision for our physical and spiritual needs.

Every desirable and beneficial gift comes out of heaven. The gifts are rivers of light cascading down from the Father of Light.(Jam 1:17a MSG)

We should never hastily add thanks to the end of a selfish or self-serving prayer of supplication. Listen to this prayer of David from Psalm 103.

... Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's. The LORD works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed...... The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. ....... Bless the LORD, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his word, obeying the voice of his word! Bless the LORD, all his hosts, his ministers, who do his will! Bless the LORD, all his works, in all places of his dominion. Bless the LORD, O my soul!
(Psa 103:1-22 ESV)

That prayer consists entirely of thanksgiving.

Who does Paul tell us that we are to pray for? Everyone.

Is it humanly possible to seriously pray for "everyone"? Can our prayer list become to long to be practical?

Is there a limit to "everyone"? Exactly who is included in the "everyone" that we are told to pray for?

Does it mean everyone in OUR family? Everyone in OUR church? Everyone in OUR community? OUR nation? Our world?

Paul gives some indication of the extent of "everyone" when he says to pray for "kings and those in high positions". Who was the king in the time of Paul? Who were "those in high positions" in the city of Ephesus? Were any of these on friendly terms with the young Christian Church?
One emperor of the first century was Nero, who was notoriously cruel, especially to Jews and Christians. It is recorded that one of Nero’s past-times was burning Christians. Following the fire that destroyed much of Rome (which was started by Nero), he blamed the Christians to shift the blame away from himself. This resulted in even more widespread persecution of the early Church.

The leadership in Ephesus consisted of Pagan, Roman-appointed officials, who also tried to undermine the Church.

What does Paul’s command to pray for these leaders tell us about the limit of "everyone" and about praying for leaders?

"Everyone" includes even enemies of the church. Should our prayers include our personal enemies?

Even when we do not or can not respect a person in authority, we must respect their position and authority and pray for them.

The best commentary that I found on this subject comes from our Adult Bible Studies student book:

"As we have said, Paul urged prayers for everyone. That raises the question of how to pray for those we do not like or who are our enemies. We could pose an extreme form of the question this way: Should we pray for Osama bin Laden? How about persons intent on destroying the church? We know, of course, what Jesus had to say: "You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (Matthew 5:43-44)

That would seem to answer the question. Yet there are additional questions that make it difficult to declare the matter settled.

One of these deeper questions is, "How do I deal with the fact that I do not want to pray for my enemies?".... "How can I pray for bin Laden when I cannot pray for the scumbags in my own community? How can I pray for him when I cannot forgive the guy who cheated me when he resurfaced my driveway?"

There are Christians who have trouble praying for a two-timing spouse, a drug-using child, a shoplifting employee, a selfish neighbor, or the coach of their son’s Little League team who never lets their boy play. There are Christian parents who refuse to pray for that trusted person who abused their child. So the deeper question is, "How do I deal with the feelings that enemies engender in me?"

A second deeper question is, "What should I pray about my enemies?" Given bin Laden’s murderous goals, should we pray for his success, health, and long life? Or that he dies? Should we pray that he gets converted and becomes a Christian? Should we pray that he becomes a good Muslim, since many say Islam is a religion of peace? Should we pray that regardless of his faith, he abandons all warlike ideas and becomes a peacemaker?

What should we pray about our personal enemies? Should we pray that they come to see things from our point of view? That they become more open and sensitive human beings? That their plans fail? That they be spare the consequences of their actions?

Each question poses additional ones, but we must return to Paul’s statement that prayers be made for everyone. Perhaps the best way to find some clarity is to begin our prayers by asking God’s Spirit to intercede for us.... ...literally praying for everyone is an impossibility; but Paul’s use of that word tells us that our prayers ought not be limited to our needs and those of friends and family members. We should pray for those close at hand; but our prayers should have a broader reach, too.

We can ask God to help us know what to pray for those people we do not like. We can ask God to help us see the other person as He does. If we pray those things as we begin, it is likely that God will help us know how to finish our prayers, too."

What else does Paul say in this passage about "everyone"?

Paul says that God "desires everyone to be saved and come to the knowledge of truth."
Does "everyone" mean all human beings without exception?

If God desires all human beings without exception to be saved, why do so many remain lost?

God’s offer of salvation excludes noone and includes everyone. There are many, many passages of scripture that repeat this.

For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not die but have eternal life.
(Joh 3:16 GNB)

For "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved."
(Rom 10:13 ESV)

The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some count slackness; but is longsuffering to you-ward, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
(2Pe 3:9 ASV)

These are but a few of the hundreds of such verses in th Bible speaking of God’s open offer of salvation to everyone, but God created us to be free moral agents, with the free will to oppose the great offer given us. We can choose to be with God or to alienate ourselves from God. Our prayers of intercession on behalf of those who have chosen to be the enemies of God may be the greatest prayers we have to offer. What greater need is there anywhere than the need for grace to those who have forsaken grace.

Sunday, January 01, 2006


Lord, make me what you will.
I put myself fully into your hands:
put me to doing, put me to suffering,
let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you,
let me be full, let me be empty,
let me have all things, let me have nothing.

I freely and with a willing heart
give it all to your pleasure and disposal.

This I pray this day and make this covenant and commit myself
in the name of my savior,
Jesus Christ.