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The verses before us this morning (3:9–13) record one of Paul’s many inspired prayers. Since the prayer is clearly rooted in specific historical circumstances facing the Thessalonians when Paul wrote to them, it is impossible to directly apply the Thessalonian circumstances to our churches. Nevertheless, there are important principles we learn from him about prayer. Most significantly, perhaps, we see how profoundly God-centred his prayers were.

Remember that Paul lifted this prayer to God for the Thessalonians on the back of their affliction. We saw yesterday that these believers were experiencing deep affliction for their commitment to righteousness. As their values were transformed into Christlike values, they came into conflict with the world, which responded the only way the world knows how: by opposing the Thessalonian Christians.

While he certainly prayed for the saints in Thessalonica, Paul clearly had a more theocentric (God-centred) focus in his prayer. He was not primarily interested in their comfort, as he might have been, considering their affliction. Instead, he was primarily concerned about their “holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.” Evidently, he was far more interested in their holiness than their happiness, in their conformity than in their comfort. He was more concerned about what God wanted than what they might want. Or, more accurately, he was more interested that they be as concerned as he was about what God wanted.

We will be helped by this text when we recognise that the primary purpose of prayer—even intercessory prayer—is to bring us into alignment with God’s will. Yes, we should pray for others. To fail to do so is sin (see 1 Samuel 12:23). But even these prayers must be God-centred. When we pray for others, we should pray for what is best for them. And what is best for God’s church is always to be brought into conformity to his will. As we survey Paul’s prayer here, we discover at least four keys to helping us pray in a God-centred way.

First, we learn from this text that God-centred prayer should be raised within the framework of thanksgiving (v. 9). Ingratitude is, in some ways, the root of all sin. When we fail to gratefully recognise what God has given to and done for us, we soon choose to live in ways that dishonour him. Thanksgiving helps to maintain a healthy focus on recognising God’s kindnesses to us and, to the degree that we pray with thanksgiving with others, it serves as a testimony to God’s goodness toward us.

Second, we learn from this text that God-centred prayer should be lifted within the framework of ministry (v. 12). As he prayed for them, he prayed that they would “abound in love for one another.” God-centred praying is concerned about ministry—about reaching out to others. The Thessalonians no doubt had many personal needs, but Paul was equally concerned that they reach out to one another in the midst of their affliction. There was no better way for them to be strengthened than for them to reach out to one another. As Michael Holmes observes, “one of the surest ways to gain some perspective on our own situation is to serve others.”

Third, we learn from this text that God-centred prayer should be lifted within the framework of the future (v. 13). Paul directed his readers’ attention to “the coming of the Lord Jesus with all his saints.” The Bible consistently holds before us the reality of our mortality and future judgement. We should live life in the present in light of the future. Every decision we make in this life should be made in light of eternity, or else, as Solomon put it, life is vanity. As we pray for others, therefore, we should pray that they will live life in light of eternity.

Of course, Paul’s prayer was driven by his personal love for these believers. Even as he prayed for them to display love to one another, he was moved to pray for them by his love for them. We always pray most fervently for those whom we love most deeply.

As you reflect on 1 Thessalonians 3:9–13 this morning, ask God to develop within you genuine love for your fellow church members so that, in accordance with his will, you pray for them as Paul prayed for the Thessalonians.