Monday, 24 September 2012

Pray thankfully, passionately, with anguish and with perseverance

This morning, I was working on the prayer diary for the Fresh Expressions team, and found myself drawing from 1 Thessalonians for the opening passage of scripture. I used 1.2-3 'We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly 3remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labour of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.' 

From there, I found myself wanting to encourage those who pray for the church to pray like Paul, and facebooked  'Pray for the church like Paul did, with thanksgiving, passion, anguish and perseverance.' Several people 'liked' it, and I thought that it might be helpful to unpack it a little.

For Paul, to pray with thanksgiving is to acknowledge what God has already done, in this case in the church at Thessalonika; to rejoice that the ministry that we share with God in Christ is bound to bear some kind of fruit (even if it's sometimes hard to see); to recognize that he and they are bound together for eternity; and to allow himself a little pat on the shoulder. We're not very good at this last one as Christians, feeling that it's somehow arrogant. I think that God gives us encouragements in our ministry precisely so that we can feel our hearts lift. All we have to avoid is being puffed up! He actually says in 2.20 that these Christians are his 'glory and joy'!

To pray with passion is to pray knowing that it makes a difference. And what a difference Paul prays for. In this letter, apart from praying that he will be united with them, he prays in Chapter 3 12And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. 13And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints. Fancy praying for your own congregation or assembly, that they be so holy that they appear blameless on the great Day of Christ's coming. Passion is coupled with expectation, faith in boundless possibility and a great enthusiasm, therefore, to ask.

To pray with anguish is to carry the burdens of those for whom we have a care or a responsibility. I found myself asking when was the last time that I wept in prayer, and I'm not sure that I know the answer. Last year, I led worship with a group who had just had a gruelling study day on the abuse of children. I was 'warned' that they might be vulnerable, but didn't know what I was letting myself in for. The intercessions passed quietly enough, but at the end of the service, a young woman started to sob. I sat with her and her friend for a while as she sobbed and railed at heaven and screamed at God to stop the injustice of it all. So it was for Paul to pray with anguish.

To pray with perseverance to to do what Paul is talking about when he enjoins us to pray without ceasing. This text has been much misused in some contexts to pile one liturgical action on another. Nothing could have been further from Paul's mind. He simply calls us not to let go of the issues while they are still in front of us, to pray on our knees and throughout the day, to hammer like the importunate widow on the doors of heaven, to wrestle with issues until they are resolved. Why? Because God has amazingly invited us to share in his pain, his plan and his care for the world, as fully as he does, and calls us to be dissatisfied - as he is - until all the weeping and tears are over.

I write this not because I have achieved it, but because I haven't, as an encouragement, not as a condemnation, to kindle a fire that will not go out, because God first burned with love for you.

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