Outside of the Lord Himself, it seems no one instructs us more about how to pray for the church than the apostle Paul. We pray about things that are important and meaningful to us. And so does Paul in praying for the church. Thoughtful consideration should be given concerning what and how he prayed for God’s people. Let’s focus on just one example.
Paul closes 2 Thessalonians with the following wish and prayer: “Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all. I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. This is the sign of genuineness in every letter of mine; it is the way I write. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all” (3:16-18). Let me suggest that this prayer contains much for which we ought to pray for God’s people today.
God’s People Ever Need the Lord’s Peace (vs. 16).This prayer for peace beautifully bookends with how the book began (cf. 1:2). Praying for Christians to know the Lord’s peace is nothing unusual for the apostle (see Rom. 15:33; 16:20; 2 Cor. 13:11; Phil. 4:9; 1 Thess. 5:23). Is it for us? What’s more, the way Paul words things is uniquely done. Paul often speaks of the “peace of God,” but here he mentions “the Lord of peace” (cf. Isa. 9:6). 2 Thessalonians 3 alone refers to “the word of the Lord” (vs. 1), the faithfulness of the Lord (vs. 3), “confidence in the Lord” (vs. 4), the “direction” of the Lord (vs. 5), “the name of the Lord” (vs. 6) and to commanding and encouraging “in the Lord” (vs. 12). Typical of Paul, 2 Thessalonians is full of Jesus. He even adds the intensive pronoun “Himself” – because Christ’s peace is like no other (John 14:27; Philippians 4:9). Paul’s prayers are full of Jesus. How about ours?
Further, Paul intentionally repeats the word “peace.” “May the Lord of peace give you peace.” He prays that they experience true peace in their lives; he wants them to have the depth and richness of real peace. The Old Testament word would be shalom. And Paul prays that they have peace as broadly as possible – “at all times” (temporally) and “in every way” (experiential). In 2 Thessalonians God’s church was dealing with increased opposition and persecution (1:3-12), with some doctrinal confusion and anxiety about the day of Christ (2:1-17) and with a number of members who were both disruptive and idle (3:6-15). Surely God’s people encounter similar matters today. How we need to pray for the peace of the Lord to see us through!
God’s People Ever Need the Lord’s Presence (vs. 16). Paul prays “The Lord be with you all.” It was important for this church to realize that while Paul was personally unable to be with them at this time, he was praying that One far greater would continue to be present. This statement was a common greeting in the Old Testament (cf. Ruth 2:4; Judges 6:12), but Paul appropriates what strictly belongs to God in the Old Testament and applies it directly to Jesus (cf. Numbers 6:24-26). How encouraging this would have been to his readers! There are occasions in life when we cannot really be with God’s people as we’d like. But our Lord can be! Isn’t that something to remember and pray about constantly? Paul also inserts the adjective “all.” The apostle’s concern is for “all” the church. Do we share a similar concern in our prayers?
God’s People Ever Need the Lord’s Grace (vs. 18). “Grace and peace” began the letter in 1:2. Now, “peace” (3:16) and “grace” (3:18) conclude it. Paul typically closes his letters by speaking of grace (it ends every one of his letters). Perhaps we would do well to conclude our prayers this way too. The statement consists of a wish or plea – “grace.” It speaks of the Source – “our Lord Jesus Christ.” And it speaks of the recipients – “you all.” God’s grace would see them through opposition and persecution (1:3-10). It would comfort, inform and stabilize them in times of doctrinal instability and confusion (2:1-17). And the grace of the Lord would keep all both faithfully loving and serving until our Lord does return! (3:6-15). In prayer, we are privileged to go to the throne of grace in order to receive mercy and grace for all our needs (Hebrews 4:16). Are we ever mindful of the grace of our Lord when we pray?
It isn’t surprising that when Paul prayed for the church he prayed that they know the Lord’s peace, presence and grace. And that’s because he was so captivated by and full of the Lord himself. How this needs to impact our praying more today!