Worthy of Prayer

Martin Luther loved dogs. He had a dog named Tolpel. He said, “The dog is the most faithful of animals and would be much esteemed were it not so common. Our Lord God has made His greatest gifts the commonest.” Luther could see God’s hand even in the most common things of life like his dog Tolpel. During an interview, Luther remembered how often Tolpel would sit at the table begging for food. He said, “Oh, if I could only pray the way this dog watches the meat! All his thoughts are concentrated on the piece of meat. Otherwise he has no thought, wish, or hope.[1]” Do you pray with the concentration of a dog focused on a piece of meat? Do you pray with a single-minded devotion?

            John Bunyan writes, “He who runs from God in the morning will scarcely find Him the rest of the day.” Our lives are filled with so many things, but often so little prayer. When reading of the great movements of God throughout history, the common factor is extraordinary prayer.[2] If prayer is so powerful and essential to the movement of God, why do more believers show up for potlucks than for prayer meetings? If we want to recover God’s resurrection power in our lives, the life of our church and the life of our world, then we need to recover the prayer life of and for the kingdom of God. As Paul turns to the close of this letter to the Thessalonians, he exhorts them to pray for the advance of the word of the Lord. 2 Thessalonians 3:1-5,

Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you, and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men. For not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one. And we have confidence in the Lord about you, that you are doing and will do the things that we command. May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.

I pray this morning that you will be encouraged to pray as one who is worthy of the kingdom by focusing on three aspects of kingdom prayer.

 Kingdom Prayer is Mission Driven

            Paul is closing his letter to his dear friends and he wants to remind them of the mission that binds them together. Christians have always been bound together in their common mission. 2 Thessalonians 3:1, “Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you.” Paul asked them to pray that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored. It is not unusual for Paul to ask for prayer, but it is unusual for him to use ask using the phrase “the word of the Lord.” When referencing the Word in prayer Paul typically uses the Word of God or simply the Word. I think that Paul uses the word of the Lord here to pay specific attention to Jesus.

            Paul wrote this letter for several reasons with the primary reason to confront false teaching about the Day of the Lord. There were some teaching that the Day of the Lord already happened, but Paul teaches that the Day of the Lord could not have happened because the tribulation has not occurred and the Anti-Christ or Man of Lawlessness has not yet been revealed. Paul wrote the letter to draw attention to sound doctrine and encourage the church to hold fast to the Word of the Lord. 2 Thessalonians 2:15, “So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.” The Thessalonians need to refute false teaching and hold fast to the Word of God.

            Spreading the Word has always been the primary aim of the church. The church has been called to confront the world with Word of God. The church can do many good things for the world, but if they refuse to bring the Word of the Lord they are not fulfilling their mission. Listen to these key texts from the end of the gospels regarding the mission of the church,

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. (Mark 16:15-16)

Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. (Luke 24:44-48)

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” (John 20:21)

The mission is defined by making disciples in the Word of God. The mission of God’s people has always been to bear witness for Jesus through word and deed as the church.

            Paul asks the church to pray that the word may speed ahead and be honored and in doing so if helps to clarify our mission. The mission of the church is not limited to the proclamation of the Word, but it cannot be done without it. If the Word is honored and respected, then people will be more apt to listen and believe in the message. It is true that our lives must be honorable and respectable if people are going to listen to our words. Why should we expect our neighbors to give us a hearing, if our lives do not match up to our confession? That being said, we still must share the Word. It is popular among the younger generation to be very active with social justice. Scott McKnight has been a loud detractor of this growing trend among young evangelicals. McKnight, the author of Kingdom Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church, writes,

For many today it is far easier to be committed to social justice in South Africa, to the restoration of communities on the Gulf Shore following Katrina, to cleaning up from the devastating tornadoes of the Plains, or to fighting sexual trafficking in any country than it is to be committed to building community and establishing fellowship in one’s local church…It is more glamorous to do social activism because building a local church is hard.[3]

It is more glamorous to do social justice because the world respects the good deeds of the church.

People applaud rebuilding efforts after natural disasters and caring for the least of these in our society. And the church should be about these things!! We pray that the world would take notice in how we live our lives sacrificially for others. And yet, we must do all these things so that the word of the Lord may speed ahead, for how can people be saved without the hearing of the word? Romans 10:14-17,

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:14-17)

People need to hear the gospel. And we need to pray for the boldness to share the gospel and we must pray that God would bear fruit in the hearers of the gospel.

            Beloved, the gospel is offensive. For it exposes sin and declares what people deserve because of their sin. The wages of sin is death and judgment in hell apart of God’s presence. We all deserve to be punished for our sin. It is a message we are discouraged to teach. This is not new. The doctrine of hell has been under attack for years. Over 100 years ago, Anglican Bishop JC Ryle writes,

I believe that the time has come, when it is a positive duty to speak plainly about the reality and eternity of Hell. A flood of false doctrine has lately broken in upon us. Men are beginning to tell us that God is too loving and merciful to punish souls forever; and that all mankind, however wicked and ungodly some of them may be — will sooner or later be saved. We are invited to leave the old paths of apostolic Christianity. We are told that the views of our fathers about Hell, and the devil, and punishment — are obsolete and old-fashioned. We are to embrace what is called a "kinder theology" — and treat Hell as a pagan fable, or a bugbear to frighten children and fools! Against such false teaching I desire, for one, to protest. I, for one, am resolved to maintain the old position, and to assert the reality and eternity of Hell…It is a question which lies at the very foundation of the whole gospel. The moral attributes of God — His justice, His holiness, His purity — are all involved in it. Once let the old doctrine about Hell be overthrown — and the whole system of Christianity is unsettled, unscrewed, unpinned and thrown into disorder!

Settle it firmly in your mind, that the Lord Jesus Christ Himself has spoken most plainly about the reality and eternity of Hell. No lips have used so many words to express the dreadfulness of Hell, as the lips of Jesus: Hell; Hell-fire; the damnation of Hell; eternal damnation; the resurrection of damnation; everlasting fire; the place of torment; outer darkness; the worm that never dies; the fire that is never quenched; the place of weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth; everlasting punishment — 
these, these are the words which the Lord Jesus Christ Himself employs! Away with the miserable nonsense which people talk in this day, who tell us that the ministers of the gospel should never speak of Hell! 
He is the kindest friend — who tells me the whole extent of my danger! The watchman who keeps silence when he sees a fire — is guilty of gross neglect! The doctor who tells us we are getting well when we are dying — is a false friend! The minister who keeps back Hell from his people — is a wicked and cruel man! What is the use of hiding eternal punishment from the impenitent and the ungodly? Surely, it is helping the devil![4]

Why spend so much time thinking about the doctrine of Hell in a sermon about prayer? The only way people will be spared from Hell if God’s people pray that the Word of the Lord may speed ahead and that God would open the mind of unbelievers to believe in Jesus Christ.

            Our lives are filled with so many things, but with so little prayer. Faith comes by hearing and hearing through the Word of Christ. Why would we not want to share the good news? Although we all are sinners deserving of eternal punishment in hell, Jesus Christ has come to rescue us from the wrath to come. He reminded the Thessalonians to pray that God would do for others what He has already done for you. They, “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” Jesus delivers us from the wrath to come through faith in his death for us on the cross and his resurrection from the grave. Jesus Christ is the only hope for salvation, but that salvation is offered to all!!! For anyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved. If you have not trusted in Christ, you are in danger of hell, but if you call upon the name of the Lord you will be saved. Turn from your sins and trust in Christ!!

            Kingdom prayer is mission driven, because God has given us a mission to share his Word. We will not be motivated to pray unless we realize it is essential to accomplish our mission.

Kingdom Prayer is Life Sustaining

            Kingdom prayer is not only characterized by our mission, but also sustains our life. The second aspect of Paul’s prayer request was for this protection from wicked and evil men. 2 Thess. 3:2, “and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men. For not all have faith.” Paul faced persecution throughout his ministry. He was beaten, stoned, and jailed for preaching the gospel. Paul wanted the church to pray for his protection. Paul knew that his ministry and his life would not be sustained without the help of God through the prayers of his people. Paul was in jail when he wrote Philippians. And from his jail cell he wrote,

Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. (Philippians 1:18-21)

Paul knew his life was sustained and delivered through the prayers of the saints.

            As Paul brings up his own need for deliverance from evil men, he knows that the Thessalonians would naturally be drawn to their own need for protection as well. We know from this letter as well as 1 Thessalonians that this church faced serious persecution.

Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring. This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering— (2 Thessalonians 1:4-5)

For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved—so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them at last! (1 Thessalonians 2:14-16)

Paul knows of the persecutions facing the church. He does not speak of an outsider but one who has tasted the bitter pain of walking with Christ in a fallen world. One who has been beaten, mocked, and stoned writes, “The Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one.” How sweet is that promise!! The Lord is faithful.

            I’m reminded of the last words of the early church father Polycarp. He was asked to bow to Caesar or die. . The following is a paraphrased version of the Christian historian Eusebius’s (History of the Church, IV, 15) account of Polycarp’s final hours:

“Are you Polycarp?” the Roman proconsul asked. “Yes.” “Swear to Rome, and I will set you free. Curse Christ!”

“For eighty-six years,” replied Polycarp, “I have been his servant, and he has never done me wrong. How can I blaspheme my king who saved me?”

“I have wild beasts,” said the proconsul. “I shall throw you to them if you don’t change your attitude.”

“Call them,” replied the saint. “We cannot change our attitude if it means a change from better to worse.”

“If you make light of the beasts,” retorted the governor, “I’ll have you destroyed by fire, unless you change your attitude.”

Polycarp answered: “The fire you threaten burns for a time and is soon extinguished. There is a fire you know nothing about—the fire of the judgment to come and of eternal punishment, the fire reserved for the ungodly. But why do you hesitate? Do what you want.”

The proconsul was amazed, and sent the crier to stand in the middle of the arena and announce three times: “Polycarp has confessed that he is a Christian.” The crowd roared in unison that Polycarp must be burned alive. When the wood was laid around his feet, Polycarp prayed:

O Father of thy beloved and blessed Son, Jesus Christ, through whom we have come to know thee, the God of angels and powers and all creation, and of the whole family of the righteous who live in thy presence; I bless thee for counting me worthy of this day and hour, that in the number of the martyrs I may partake of Christ’s cup, to the resurrection of eternal life of both soul and body in the imperishability that is the gift of the Holy Spirit.[5]

Beloved, the Lord has done you no wrong. He was faithful yesterday. He is faithful today. He will be faithful tomorrow.

            Paul was concerned with physical protection, but much more concerned that he and the Thessalonians would honor Christ in life and in death. Paul was confident that the Thessalonians would continue in their profession of faith in obedience to the word of faith. 2 Thessalonians 3:4, “And we have confidence in the Lord about you, that you are doing and will do the things that we command.” Beloved, we need to pray that our lives would be marked by holiness and righteousness. There were some in the church that needed to be rebuked and disciplined for unholy living (which we will focus on next week), but the general character of the congregation was one that walked with Christ. I am confident in the Lord about you, that you are doing and will do the things that God commands. Let us do so more and more.

Kingdom Prayer is God Focused

            Lastly, kingdom prayer is God focused. This short prayer request and prayer of Paul is a tall order; the Word of God advancing in face of wicked and evil men. How will the church survive? By placing their minds on the love of God and the steadfastness of Christ. One of the greatest things that prayer does is that it focuses our minds on God. When we pray we are reminded of God’s love for us. His love for us is far greater than the problems we face in his life because his love has already solved our greatest problem. God has fixed our problem with Himself by reconciling us with Him through the shed blood of His Son. Prayer reminds us to look to Christ who persevered and remained steadfast to the end. Hebrews 12:2 says that we should run our race of faith by, “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. (Hebrews 12:2-3)

            I am convinced that one of the greatest problems in the church is a lack of affection for Christ. The church too often loves the world more than it does Christ. We do not need more programs, but more love for Christ. The best way to grow our love for Jesus is by spending time with him in his word and prayer. And sometimes we do not pray because we do not realize how much God delights in us. We are his treasured possession. He did not spare his own Son, but he gave him up for us. God wants you in his presence. He wants you to delight in Him because he delights in you. You are his children. Spend time in his presence. Let me close with the words of the great puritan Thomas Watson,

All good things are transmitted and conveyed to us, through Christ. As our rich commodities, such as jewels and spices, come to us by the sea, so all heavenly blessings sail to us through the red sea of Christ's blood! Christ is that spiritual pipe through which the golden oil of mercy empties itself into the soul! Christ is all in all. He is a treasury and storehouse of all spiritual riches! You may go with the bee, from flower to flower — and suck a little sweetness here and there — but you will never have enough until you come to Christ — for He is all in all. 

There is enough in Christ . . . to scatter all our fears, to remove all our burdens, to supply all our needs. Christ is the most supreme good. Put what you will in the balance with Christ — He infinitely outweighs it. Christ is the most sufficient good. He who has Christ needs no more. He who has the ocean — needs not the cistern. Christ is the most suitable good. In Him dwells all fullness, Colossians 1:19. Christ is whatever the soul can desire. Christ is . . . beauty to adorn, gold to enrich, balm to heal, bread to strengthen, wine to comfort, salvation to crown!

Make Christ all, in your affections. Desire nothing but Christ. He is the aggregation of all good things. Why should the soul desire less? How can it desire more? Love nothing but Christ. Love is the choicest affection; it is the richest jewel the creature has to bestow. Oh, if Christ is all — love Him better than all! He who is all, let Him have all. Give Him your love — who desires it most, and deserves it best.[6]

Beloved, let us love Christ with all our affections. Those who are worthy of the kingdom are those who see the supreme worth of Christ. Do not fill your life with many things, but fill your life with best thing. Kindle your affections for Christ in prayer.

 

[1] Luther’s Works, Volume 54, Table Talk (Philadelphia: 1967), pp. 37, 38. May 18, 1532

[2] Ott, Wilson. Global Church Planting.

[3] [3]Scott McKnight. Kingdom Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church. (Ada: Brazos Press, 2014), 96-97.  t

[4] J.C. Ryle, "Holiness, Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties, and Roots" 1879)

[5] Boa, K., & Kruidenier, W. (2000). Vol. 6: Romans. Holman New Testament Commentary (403–404). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[6] Thomas Watson, "Christ All in All")