Following Jesus: The Prayer List

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For

there is one God;
there is also one mediator between God and humankind,
Christ Jesus, himself human,
who gave himself a ransom for all

—this was attested at the right time. For this I was appointed a herald and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.  ( I Timothy 2:1-7 NRSV)

Trouble happens.  Good people can turn on each other.  What was once a thriving organization can turn into a cutthroat existence.

Even in churches.  Especially in churches.

Timothy is serving in the First Church of Ephesus.  There are divisions in the congregation.  We’ll read later in this letter about those divisions, but suffice it to say, the writer is an experienced leader passing along his best advice to a young Timothy.

When a new leader enters a troubled organization, he or she will often and wisely go to the heart of things.  In this case, worship.  Worship is where a congregation remembers who it is and to whom it belongs.  Worship reminds us of our sinful ways and affirms our forgiven status.  Worship is a place for learning and prayer. 

In fact, worship IS prayer.  An intentional order of worship includes adoration to God, admission and forgiveness of sin, supplication, intercession and moments to hear the Word of God.

And that’s where the author of this letter begins.  “First of all…” he writes.  Get worship in order.  We’ll talk about the issues later.  First things first.

Since prayer is worship, he explains the Prayer List: Everyone.  Everyone, including the Emperor — the man who holds power of this tiny congregation in his ruthless hands.

Why should we pray for our leaders?  Perhaps to keep in the Emperor’s good graces?  Perhaps in a vain hope to remain under the radar?  Maybe, if we’re really good and do the right thing, God will protect us from the cruelties of the Roman Empire.

That’s not what the author has in mind.  He writes two things that may seem less than straight-forward: “so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity” and ” God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved…”

Prayer transforms us.  It changes us; it gives us understanding; it convicts us of our biases and affirms our belief.  Prayer deepens our faith.

So, back to the prayer list.  Who should we pray for?  The author begins the list with those in power.  So, who will you pray for, President Donald Trump or House Speaker Nancy Pelosi?  Why?  Will you pray for the President because you think he’s your President and you’ll vote for him again next year?  Then add Nancy Pelosi to your list?

Why?  Because she opposes many things that the President is doing.  Pray for her as well as the President. 

Are you a Pelosi supporter?  Pray for the President, as well as her, for the same reason.  It’s easy to pray for those of “us” who think alike.  Praying for those with whom we disagree helps us understand politics and the issues in a new light.

Prayer changes our attitude.  Try praying for someone you absolutely detest for a week.  You probably won’t fall in love with her, but maybe you’ll feel less angry and a bit more forgiving.  Will it help her?  Possibly.  Will it help you?  Absolutely.  Does it mean she’s an okay person?  Not necessarily.  If she’s done bad things, she still needs to be held accountable.

The Old Testament is filled with references to pray for those in power.  Both those who hold great power and local people who hold only a small amount of power. 

Pray for your President and your local city council. 

Pray for those both within the faith and outside.  I have Jewish friends.  I wish them good and pray for them often.  I have friends who don’t attend Church.  It’s not up to me to decide who’s a Christian and who’s not.  It is up to me to pray for them when they’re ill, in distress or to celebrate with them in prayer when things go well for them.

Got your prayer list started, yet?  So far, we have our President, Congress and Senate.  Might as well add our Supreme Court.  And how about the Fourth Estate — the news media?  Do we pray for North Korea?  Iran?  Russia?  How about our friends, Great Britain and the European Union?  You decide who to pray for.  God alone is Lord of the conscious. 

We can pray for our State, for the issues that upset us the most, for the people we feel have let us down or hurt us.  We can pray for the neighbor who has been a good friend when you needed it most.  Pray for those who don’t have anyone to lean on.  Pray for the sick and medical community.  Pray for other nations who have issues of their own.

Once again, we can ask, why?  Why such a varied list?  Do I have to pray for politicians, especially the ones I don’t like?  What does any of this have to do with my life of faith?

The Church at Ephesus was probably worn out.  Jesus had died and resurrected at least 40 years earlier and his return was delayed.  The early Christians had sold their land and pooled their assets after his ascension.  They were convinced that they wouldn’t need anything of value because he would return soon.

Time marched on and there was no return.  Conversations became divisive on what had happened.  The issues in the world were every bit as important in that day as ours are today.  The arguments continued, divisions were occurring and everyone seemed to have the “Truth.” 

Like us, they were called by Christ to live in a complex world with all of its difficulties and “truths” and false news and rumors.  Therefore, they were called to pray FOR the Emperor, not TO the Emperor.  We pray to God on behalf of the rulers.  We pray that they do their job which is to bring shalom into our society. 

We pray for everyone.  I like to say we do it to be an inclusive community.  But, there’s more to it than that.  God desires all to be saved.  God offers salvation to all.  It’s up to us to pray for them, to keep the conversation going.

The thing about it is, we get something huge out of this kind of prayer.  We are changed and transformed.  We learn from unexpected people; we experience what others experience and we come to understand oppression and justice; grace and mercy. 

In short, we are better for our prayers.  We are better when we pray for those we wouldn’t normally pray for. 

Watch what happens around you.  Who is changing, you or the one you’re praying for?  How are you seeing things differently?  How have you become a teacher to others?  How have you opened up to new ideas?

God hopes that all are saved.  God’s plan is for all to receive salvation.  We resist this concept when we refuse to pray for those with whom we disagree or dislike.  We resist Christ’s transformative power when we shrink into our safe place of closed mind and heart. 

Pray early.  Pray often. Pray as you move through the day.  Pray as you watch the news.  Pray when you wake up and go to bed.  Pray for our world and our nation.  Pray for friends and enemies.  Pray for your neighbor, even if they are Samaritan.

It takes great courage.  Christ who went to the cross and sought forgiveness for his killers, will help us.  It leads to an openness and a change in heart that comes from wisdom.

Now, it’s your turn.  What’s your Prayer List look like?

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.

 


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