“I urge you, first of all, to pray. …” 1 Timothy 2:1a (NLT)
The easiest discipline to talk about and, yet the most difficult it seems to exercise regularly is prayer. If you’re anything like me, you busy yourself in ministry, work and church. You become so preoccupied with life that setting aside time to pray doesn’t seem to fit into your schedule. It’s easy to excuse it and sound spiritual when we say, “I’m living in an attitude of prayer.” While we should live in an attitude of constant communion with God, it is important to note that Jesus exercised regular times of prayer. Even the Apostles observed regular times of prayer rolled over from their Jewish heritage and the example of Jesus.
One of the dilemmas is that we’ve made prayer a panic button instead of a spiritual habit. So, what are we to pray about if it’s not a crisis or a problem? Paul answers that in 1 Timothy 2:1-4, when he is writing to a young pastor about how the church should be conducting itself in a fallen world. He charges them and us, “I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. This is good and pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth.” 1 Timothy 2:1-4 (NLT)
How much of a priority is prayer in your life? Is it the first thing you do? That’s convicting. Imagine how different our lives might be if we prayed first. Paul said let it be the first thing you do. Before we talk to people about God, God wants us to talk with Him on their behalf. Something amazing transforms our hearts toward others when we do! God begins to change our attitude and shares with us His heart for others. After talking with God about people, we are more qualified to talk to people about God. We’re less judgmental and more compassionate. Our love for them is genuine as we begin to see their needs and become thankful for them.
Not only does Paul challenge us to pray for all people, not just the ones we like or who agree with us, but also, we are told to pray for those in government, “… all who are in authority.” Regardless of your political persuasion, every Christ follower is commanded to pray for their leaders at every level of government. Here’s why: “… so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity.” Paul says, “… This is good and pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth.”
Those statements must have been received with mixed emotions as the primary believers he wrote to were living under a notoriously cruel emperor named Nero. The Life Application Bible notes: “When Paul wrote this letter to Timothy, persecution was a growing threat to believers. Later when Nero needed a scapegoat for the great fire that destroyed much of Rome in AD 64, he blamed the Roman Christians so as to take the focus off himself. Then persecution erupted throughout the Roman Empire. Not only were Christians denied certain privileges in society, some were even publicly butchered, burned or fed to the animals.”
How excited do you think the church in his day was to pray for Nero? The truth is that Paul was giving them – and us – a positive response to a negative world. Someone said that prayer changes things. Maybe. But, I think prayer changes us and, then, we change things as God empowers us. I challenge you as I am challenged – to make prayer a priority in our lives; to pray first – praying as we are directed in this passage. If the church is the only hope of the world, prayer is what will enable us to hear the voice of our Heavenly Father and know what to do amid the confusion of our times