1 Timothy 2:1-3 “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercessions and thanksgiving be made for everyone – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Saviour”
Everything that the New Testament Church had we have today. We may not have the degree of blessing upon our congregations that they were privileged to receive, but we have the very same means of grace which they enjoyed. Paul in our text is writing to Timothy about something which in his list of priorities he puts “first of all.” It is important to divide our Christian lives up into essentials and incidentals. The essentials are those things we experience with the whole church throughout time and space: the Lord Christ with us, the miraculous presence of the Word of God in our services, prayer, preaching, baptism and the Lord’s Supper, praise in the heart and on the lips, leadership, righteous and loving living, family life, discipleship, giving a reason for our hope to any who asks us, an abundance of good works, and so on. Those are Christian essentials. Then there are also the incidentals, and they are anything that the New Testament church did not have. Machines, buildings, web sites, para-church organisations and offices, musical instruments, publishing houses, homes for those with learning disabilities, schools, magazines, shops, seminaries, hymnbooks and so on. All such things, then, are Christian incidentals. At their best they are fascinating bonuses, but they can also become by-paths and snares.
Our priorities must always be to set before us what the New Testament puts first. The Lord Jesus himself has told us to get our priorities right: “Seek first God’s kingdom,” said Jesus (Matt.6:33). Don’t waste your life. There are lots of good things out there, even in the church. We have to choose between them. Don’t fritter away the resources of the congregation on activities that are not all that strategic. My life is not a renewable resource; neither is yours. It is linear not cyclical. Death is not a process; it is an event. We live our lives once, and we either do it well, or we do it poorly. We can’t return and do it again. There is not another ‘take’ on mistakes. Unless we prioritize, we will perish. Paul is telling Timothy here, first things first: “I urge you, then, first of all…” What does he start with? Timothy and the church as praying people.
Prayer is a Christian essential. To justify that we can simply appeal to the New Testament and the fact that the words ‘pray’ or ‘prayer’ are found in the New Testament 163 times, whereas the word ‘music’, for example, is found just once, in the parable of the Prodigal Son when the older brother returns home and hears the sound of music. That is the solitary mention of ‘music’ in the King James Version. So music is incidental to Christianity. It is not a means of grace. Prayer, on the other hand, is one of the essentials. Our calling is to major in Biblical majors. If the word ‘music’ occurs only once what does it matter if your church’s music programme is the greatest in the world? So what? What has that got to do with Christianity? We could say that prayer is 163 times more important, and it must be made obvious that a Christian congregation considers it to be a priority.
It is in these verses which we have been read in your hearing (vv.1,2 & 8) that Paul is referring to Timothy praying. So we have to address this theme now, if only to give it the prominence that its place in the whole Bible requires. But providence too is always reminding us of the importance of prayer. Something occurred this week at a time I was thinking about this passage. I had an e-mail from one of my family in the USA. It was an urgent request to me to stop what I was doing and pray because something was alleged to have happened. I read that a missionary family in Africa were driving along when their car was stopped and surrounded by a group of Muslim men. After much pleading they allowed them to start, but then a teenager was deliberately hurled in front of the car and run over. The boy was killed and the missionary was promptly arrested and charged with murder. He is now in jail awaiting trial, I was told. His wife and three children, aged between 8 and 12, are filled with concern. The letter ended, “Please pray for Michael.” That letter with its plea for prayer will now be circling the globe. The desperate wife and bewildered children would find enormous consolation in the fact that thousands of people in churches everywhere are praying for this missionary and the family of the boy so grievously killed, if this had actually happened. Three days later my niece had looked into the case a little more thoroughly. She had approached a distinguished Mission Board and had asked for more information, and was told that this incident had not actually occurred. It was one of these Christian myths that mischievous people circulate. She wrote to me and said, “Sorry. Please forget this.” The immature perpetrators of this tall tale know that a plea for prayer in such circumstances would not fall on barren soil. We cannot refuse a request for prayer. Who knows when it will be our turn to ask the church for its intercession?
“Please pray,” people say at times of real crisis, and even those people who have long lived without God, to their surprise and guilt, find themselves saying a prayer. This indestructible need to lift our voices up to God is a mark of man’s true condition – he is created by God in his image. Conor Cruise O’Brian is a well-known elderly Irish journalist and politician. He has ceased going to church for many years. But a few years ago his wife entered hospital for a serious operation and he had to leave her there the night before the surgery and walk out alone into the hospital car-park and drive home without her. He found himself, he wryly acknowledged, outside the hospital in the darkness, praying for her. He had kept God out of his thoughts for years. He had ceased praying, but then, in spite of himself, his love for her and his fears of life without her constrained him to pray.
All men pray in times of need. Men treat God like a lawyer: they go to him when they are in trouble. The rich, the healthy, the happy seldom pray. But the Christian is a man of prayer. When God told Ananias in Damascus how he would know Saul of Tarsus the Lord said to him, “Behold he is praying.” The Christian is conceived in prayer, continues in prayer, and his consummation will also be prayer – “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain.” How noble then is prayer. Who would not be a man of prayer? What wise person – what sane person – would continue to neglect it?
Paul here exhorts Timothy, as a matter of some importance, “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone.” So let us begin by asking firstly why we should pray:-
1 Prayer is Good, and it Pleases God our Saviour. (v.3)
“This is good, and pleases God our Saviour:” “your Saviour, Timothy, but mine too.” It is crucial that we begin with the God who has become our Saviour, because when we speak about prayer we are not talking about any kind of praying. For example, we are not thinking about the praying of the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, chanting for hours, “Baal, we cry to thee” and cutting themselves with knives to draw blood and his attention. The heavens were silent. That sort of praying was not good and pleasing to God our Saviour. There was also much empty religion at the time of Isaiah, and God said to the people through his prophet, “When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood; wash and make yourselves clean” (Isa. 1:15&15). Here were a defiled people who had not been purified in the laver of regeneration. Their guilt had not been taken away by the blood of the divinely appointed sacrifice. They were violent, angry men and women whose hands needed to be washed and made clean. There could be no acceptable praying before that had been done. God himself says, ” even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen…wash and make you clean” Until that had been done their praying was not good and pleasing to God our Saviour.
It is futile marching the troops onto the parade ground and make them all address God as their Saviour and then repeat the disciples’ prayer, “Our Father which art in heaven…” Such praying is not good and pleasing to God our Saviour. To be their Father he must first become their Saviour. To be their Saviour they must first see they are sinners and need him. Before we talk to people about speaking to God we have to address them about why they don’t speak to him. What has he done that they ignore him so? Has he ceased making goodness and mercy to follow them? Have they all been living on a pauper’s diet in Cardboard City? If not, why is there alienation in their hearts? Has that been dealt with? The Lord in his mercy has provided a means by which sinners can we washed, and that is only through his Son Jesus Christ. We must come to know him as “God our Saviour.”
Let me bring this home to you more personally and clearly. You must acknowledge your very own sin, and you must also understand who the Lord Jesus Christ is. Jesus of Nazareth lived among us as a human being, and at the same time he was also the only begotten Son of the living God – he was the second person of the Trinity in human flesh. He came to live amongst us to obey the will of God perfectly and to die on a cross, where he atoned for our sinfulness by his redemption. To believe in him means to thrust ourselves upon him. We must trust him. We must cling to him. We throw ourselves upon his mercy and ask him to forgive us our sins, and we depend on him for everything. Our prayers will be answered only when we go to God through the Saviour. There is no other way at all. All else is a dead-end street. Have you come to the point where you realise that everything else in which you have trusted is inadequate, totally inadequate? You have been praying because you wanted things. There has been no adoration, no worship and no praise. There has only been a series of requests, and you have depended upon your own worthiness to get what you want from God. Have you learned to plead the worthiness of the name of Christ the Saviour? Only those who call God their Saviour please him when they pray.
We then are being exhorted to pray. He tells us these two things, that firstly it is good for us to pray, and secondly that it is pleasing to God for us to pray. It is pleasing to him because it honours him as the Omnipotent Lord. When we prostrate ourselves before him, and call on his great and holy name, and own his immutability, his power, his goodness and his grace all that is pleasing to God. It redounds to his glory. We acknowledge that we are insignificant and utterly dependent upon him. He is the Author and the Fountain of every good and perfect gift, and acknowledging that in prayer is pleasing to him because it is true.
It is also good for us because God has appointed prayer for our blessing as a means by which we grow. We learn things in the presence of the Lord that we can learn nowhere else. For example, when prayer is answered we say, “I love the Lord because he heard my prayer.” Think of George Muller, and how he looked to God continually to supply all the needs of his hundreds of orphans. As Muller’s prayers were answered, he realised how powerful and faithful his Saviour truly was. Prayer is good for us.
Men ask, Why should we pray if God is sovereign and works all things after the counsel of his own will? One answer is what Paul says here, because it is pleasing to God and good for us. That does not remove the difficulty, nor does it answer the question. But whenever you bring together the Sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man you are confronted with this mystery and simply must do both these things, bow before the Sovereign to please him, and do your duty because that is good for you. Now I want to address the question how we should pray.
2. Prayer is composed of Requests, Prayers, Intercession and Thanksgiving. (v.1)
Now this is not a complete catalogue of prayer. There is no worship or adoration mentioned, and no confession of sin in this list. Prayer is also David’s 51st Psalm and Mary’s Magnificat. We certainly cannot say that we know the precise nuance of each of the four words mentioned. It is as though Paul is using all these terms to emphasise how ‘big’ real praying is. Prayer is all of these four terms, and much more, the apostle is telling Timothy.
i] ‘Requests’ is the word with which the apostle begins. This is a specific term that indicates an entreaty for some particular benefit or need. To pray in a manner that pleases God we don’t turn over on our pillows and mumble, “Bless them all, the long and the short and the tall,” and then go to sleep. Christians are always precise because they serve a precise God. There are particular people to pray for. When we teach children about prayer we use our hand as an aid. “The thumb is closest to you. It therefore reminds you to pray for people who are close to you. We pray for family members, for instance. We bring before God a parent who is having trouble at work, perhaps a sister who feels left out of things.
“Your index finger is used to point. It therefore reminds you of people in authority. We must pray for teachers, police, bus drivers, crossing guards. You middle finger is highest. It reminds all of us to pray for presidents, prime ministers, governors, councillors – for all who are in high authority.
“The ring finger is weakest, as all pianists know. It reminds us to pray for weak people – for people crushed by poverty or ignorance or sickness or cruel governments. They can be found in our own schools or our own families. Amongst them may be people Jesus calls the least of his brothers. He says that they especially need our help and care. He even says that helping them counts as helping him. Finally, there is the little finger. It comes last and reminds us, at last, to pray for ourselves” (“A Sure Thing,” Cornelius Plantinga, Jr., Bible Way CRC Publications, Grand Rapids, 1986, p.212). Begin by focusing on specific people within these groups. Ask for particular benefits for them.
ii] ‘Prayers’ is the next word. This is a more general word and here it means being conscious that we are bringing these specific requests right before God for his help and his blessing upon these people. Think of the wretched publican in the temple, his head cast down, beating his breast, conscious of his sin. How does he pray? “God be merciful to men who are sinners?” No. “God be merciful to me the sinner.” He brings himself to God for his help. He is specific. It’s not my father nor my mother but it’s me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer. Or think of Abraham pleading for the city of Sodom, and specifying fifty righteous people, or forty-five, or forty, or thirty, or twenty, or ten righteous people. What if the number is ten? Will God destroy the ten with the wicked, treating them all alike? “Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen. 18:25). God assures him that he will not condemn the righteous alongside the unrighteous, and Abraham is satisfied – because he has been specific in speaking intimately to God about thee things.
There was that great missionary to the South Seas Islands, John G.Paton, and he was seriously ill with a fever. Living in the Mission House with his wife and children was Kowia who had once been a cannibal chief. One of the other missionaries, Mr Johnston was to die and then his wife, while John Paton was drifting in and out of unconsciousness. You understand what cannibalism was. Men were captured in battle and then kept alive until the fire was prepared and ready, and then they were clubbed to death, their bodies cut up, roasted and eaten. Kowia had been involved in this barbarism since coming of age. But through the gospel of Jesus Christ he had become a new creation. All those old sins had gone and now he loved the living God, and the Bible, and the people of God. He too had contracted this virulent fever that had already killed the others, yet he summoned enough energy to dry Paton’s brow and bathe his lips. Above all he prayed, and Paton was never to forget his prayers. As he came out of a semi-coma he could hear Kowia cry, “O Lord Jesus, Mr Johnston is dead; Thou hast taken him away from this land. The woman and Mr Paton are very ill; I am sick, and Thy servants the Aneityumese are all sick and dying. O Lord, our Father in Heaven, art Thou going to take away all Thy servants and Thy worship from this dark land? What meanest thou to do, O Lord? The Tannese hate Thee and Thy worship and Thy servants; but surely, O Lord, Thou canst not forsake Tanna and leave our people to die in the darkness! O, make the hearts of this people soft to Thy Word and sweet to Thy worship; teach them to fear and love Jesus; and O, restore and spare dear Mr Paton that Tanna may be saved.” The former cannibal was bringing specific people right before God.
iii] ‘Intercessions’ is the next word. This refers to the urgency and boldness with which these specific prayers are brought. Think of Christ Jesus in Gethsemane. If anyone had no need to pray it was him. Here is the Lord Omnipotent enfleshed so that winds and the waves obeyed him. Here is one who walked every second of his life with God. Why did he need to spend so much of that Passover night alone in prayer? And in such an agony of prayer, even unto blood? There were no sins of his youth coming back on him in the Garden. He wasn’t trying to get over twenty years of neglect of God and man. The intensity of his intercession wasn’t an attempt to get through to an offended Father. Rather it was that his vision was concentrated on what lay before him that next day, the awesomeness of that unrepeatable task that no other would ever be able to do again. Only by the strength of God could he get through it. This was his very last submission, and his very last surrender, and his very last obedience in his state of humiliation. He was entering upon uncharted territory and he had to drag his human heart to God’s feet, with all his might, until his sweat was blood, in the most awesome agony, pleading “Could there be another cup?” If not, may God’s will be done.
In intercession there is urgency and boldness. Do we pray for the mortification of sin in our hearts? For faith in God – to believe that he is when we come to him? For love to Jesus Christ? For love to our neighbour? For love to our false friends? And to our enemies? For the complete cleansing of our hearts of all hatred, and lust, and self-pity, and greed, and envy, and anger and such like? Is there someone in this distinguished congregation who in the last twenty-four hours went to God and interceded, and then stopped, and then went back, and interceded again, and then stopped, and then returned crying for more love, for more humility, more self-denial, more courage? For a clean heart? For a life dead to the praise of men? Is there one woman here who prayed like that? Is there one young person? Is there an officeholder who interceded like that? Men and women, God is your witness. “The darkness hideth not from him.” When your secret place of prayer is opened; when your labours are no longer; when the Holy Spirit has finished his sanctifying work in you, how will it have been? Have there been intercessions? What will be written in God’s book?
iv] ‘Thanksgiving’ is the last word in the list. It is the most beautifully simple way to come to God. We can’t stop thanking him. At every meal, sitting down with those we love, while green pastures and still waters have been our experience for years, we come with gratitude to the Father. And at those other times, “when sorrows like sea billows roll,” then too God has taught us in everything to give thanks. The following letter was read this week from a mother whose six year old girl has a malignant brain tumour. She says: “We come against many bumps in the road and I believe that the faith (that has been many years of a process), which has brought me to the point at which my family is now. I sit by my sweet little Ivana who just turned six. She is on her first full day of a 48-week regimen of chemo drugs.
“Just a short scenario has brought us to this point: she was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour in November 1998. It was so hard to receive this news from my husband who had taken her to have the CAT scan that morning…This is when faith steps in. It has been a whirlwind ever since, but each day God has been our strength, along with prayers of family and friends…His graciousness to our family through brain surgery, radiation, and chemo with many weeks ahead of us, has been a wonderful time to give him thanks for all his blessings.
“A friend wondered if we might be angry at God. My husband and I talked about this and we both agreed this did not apply. Maybe frustration because of all the office visits and everyday radiation for six weeks. But anger? No. God does all things well. Psalm 23 has always been my comfort since I was a little girl. It was the first passage I memorised. It has been a promise all these years that God is always our Gentle Shepherd. Only God can give the peace that passes understanding. My own strength is empty. I have given my life to God. He gladly took over to work out all his purposes and plans.”
There is this extraordinary possibility that God gives to his people, that in the midst of the worst possible scenario, one of our own dear children having a brain tumour, I am not plaintive, nor self-pitying, nor bitter with the Lord, but enabled to acknowledge, “this has been a wonderful time to give him thanks for all his blessings.” And so the apostle is urging Timothy to encourage his church to become a praying congregation with all the texture of a life of devotion evident.
So let me announce this: on Tuesday night at 7.30 we will hold a Prayer Meeting and invite the whole congregation to be present that “requests, prayers, intercessions and thanksgiving be made for everyone.” But you say, “Pastor, we have that meeting for prayer every single week.” Sure we do, but this passage in the New Testament is our rationale for the gathering as a stated church service, and lest you grow weary during the church intimations and your eyes become glazed over when I announce the Tuesday prayer meeting I want to say that fifty people met last Tuesday for prayer, and urge you all to join us in two days’ time. The only able-bodied persons who may not attend are those who will spend 7.30 to 9.00 in requests, prayers, intercessions and thanksgiving at home.
But let me turn this exhortation in another way. Prayer is a public means of grace. Timothy was to lead the Ephesian church in its Lord’s Day devotions. This was part of his call to serve the apostle and the people of God. He must indicate he possessed a gift of prayer as that which the Lord Jesus Christ is pleased to furnish all those true servants of his whom he calls to be his ministers. A man called Ebenezer Porter of Andover recounts how once in the last century a ministerial candidate had just preached in the presence of ministers, and a number of them had been impressed by his talents and evident ability. One older minister, however, was not so easily satisfied. “I want to know,” he said to a friend, “can he pray down the Holy Spirit.”
One praying man cries to you, “Stop! Pause! Consider! Where are we? What are we doing? Praying to kill? No. Praying to God! The great God, the maker of all worlds, the judge of all men! What reverence! What simplicity! What sincerity! What truth in the inward parts is demanded! How real we must be! How hearty! Prayer to God is the noblest exercise, the loftiest effort of man, the most real thing! Shall we not discard forever accursed praying that kills, and do the real thing, the mightiest thing – prayerful praying, bringing the mightiest force on earth to bear on heaven and earth and draw on God’s exhaustless and open treasure for the need and beggary of man.” Pray! The apostle tells Timothy.
And then, thirdly, the apostle says that…
iii] Prayer is to be Made For Everybody, including Kings and All in Authority.
“Open the windows,” says Paul, “and look out to the uttermost parts of the earth.” Let prayer be commensurate with the terms of the Great Commission. Get out of your little creek and pray for every kind of person. That is what the exhortation means. There is a data base advertised for sale which has on it the names and address of everyone on the electoral rolls of the British Isles. Your name is on it and mine. You can buy it quite inexpensively and put it on your computer programme and bring up on screen everyone’s name in the United Kingdom. I am saying that it is not the calling of the church to spend its years reading out that list of 50 million people and saying to God, “We pray for so-and-so. We pray for so-and-so. We pray for so-and-so. You have told us to pray for everyone.” The words are meaningless. Such a task is folly because it is insincere. That list is just one little country. There are today more than six thousand million inhabitants of the world. I am saying that God has not told his people they have a responsibility to try to find out who each one is and then say a prayer for them.
There are, however, people outside the confines of the kingdom of God whom providence has brought to our attention, some utterly evil people, others broken because of evil, insignificant folk and others who are in the headlines each day, and we may not instinctively think of any such people as subjects for our praying. Yet there is none alive now for whom is unsuitable. For every kind of person pray – that is the directive here.
The apostle then selects one class of people to illustrate this principle, and tells us to pray “for kings and all those in authority.” There was not a single Christian ruler in the world when he wrote this, and there have been very few since. We recently sat around the table talking and one of my sons-in-law asked, “If you could meet a world leader today, which one would you like to meet?” That was a conversation-stopper. In the silence we thought of Europe, and of North America, South America, Asia, Australia and New Zealand. There are so few people in leadership in the countries of the world whom one has any desire to meet. Then my wife said, “Nelson Mandella”, and I thought also of the brave elected lady who should be leading Burma, but is under continual house-arrest from the military junta who have put themselves in power by the gun and tank. There are some others one would covet meeting, but not many, and perhaps that is due in part to the fact that we pray so little for kings. Where are the leaders who will remind their people that there is more to national success than economic growth, or that man’s greed creates spiritual malfunction? Our representatives refuse to acknowledge what Christians know to be true. Small wonder that we have no deisre to meet them.
J.C.Ryle has a sermon entitled “For Kings” which is based on this text (“The Upper Room”, p.456ff, Banner of Truth), and though it is locked into the Great Britain of a century ago, it has stirring exhortations to pray for kings and those in authority. Ryle says, “Consider in whose hands the government of the world lay at the time when the Epistle to Timothy was written. Think what a monster of iniquity wore the imperial purple at Rome – Nero – whose very name is a proverb. Think of such rulers of provinces as Felix and Festus, Herod Agrippa and Gallio. Think of the ecclesiastical heads of the Jewish Church – Annas and Caiaphas. Yet these were the men for whom St. Paul says Christians were to pray! Their personal characters might be bad. But they were persons ordained by God to keep some outward order in this sin-burdened world. As such, for their office’ sake, they were to be prayed for” (p.549).
In the Old Testament they were not neglecting that duty. Jeremiah told the exiles to pray for Babylon’s peace and prosperity (Jer.29:7). The edict of Cyrus, which ordered the rebuilding of the Jerusalem temple, included a request to the Jews to “pray for the well-being of the king and his sons” (Ezr.6:10). The apostle Paul appeared before kings. He had appealed to Caesar for freedom to teach, evangelise and worship with congregations of the Lord Jesus Christ. He had done this as the representative Christian that throughout the Roman Empire followers of the Lord Jesus might obtain that legal right from Emperor. That was the next stage in the spread of the gospel. Think of how crucial that would be today in vast areas of the world like the Middle East and China, to have the right to gather and evangelise. Pray for kings! Think of Kosovo, and think of East Timor and pray for kings!
But Paul is careful to add, “and all those in authority.” Most Third World states are run by the IMF, the World Bank and assorted transnational corporations. For the most part they are run badly. Most of those countries have constitutions which are impeccably progressive, so that they might have been written by Liberty, Amnesty International and Charter 88, yet in their interiors those in authority can be drug barons whose death squads “socially cleanse” all those they dislike. Or consider the source of authority in Europe today. Increasingly it lies in Strasbourg, and in unelected bureaucrats, and its threat is the evil of banality.
Pray for all kinds of people in authority. Joe Bayly, who died in 1986, and was a writer and editor, tells of driving his two sons to school early on in the Watergate affair. One of the boys was a teenager and the other a pre-teen. The news on the car radio was all about the White House tapes and the possible impeachment of the President. The boys were already developing a cynicism about politicians, and so before Joe opened the door of the car to let them out he said, “Boys, let’s pray together…” He prayed for what was happening in Washington and asked God to bring truth to light, to make corruption come to the surface, to judge the guilty and protect the innocent. Later on he wrote this, “Looking back, I was glad that I had a part – an infinitesimal part, but a part – in the resolution of Watergate, by turning to a Judge greater than the Senate or the Federal Court.” We know that out of Watergate came Chuck Colson’s conversion and the spread of the gospel in prisons. You, maybe a penniless students or an unwell pensioner, with no political clout at all, pray for kings!
What are we to pray for when we bring them to God? We must begin by remembering what the duty of governments is. They might quite properly do all kinds of things, and the bishops and the denominations in the World Council of Churches would like governments to do a lot more. There are, however, only three things they are compelled to do (governments have to choose between essentials and incidentals just like a congregation). The more of the optional things they do the more likely they are to neglect the three essentials. So what are those three? They are external defence, internal order and the maintenance of honest currency. Those three things must be done by government because nobody else can do them. If these are neglected, as hyperactive governments do because they have taken on too many other tasks, then it is the poor, the weak and the old who always suffer most. Look at the state of Russia today as an example of that, and how the life of the church has been affected by it. The congregation becomes burdened by its ministry of mercy. The Roman Empire was destroyed not so much by external invasion as by internal inflation and the steady infiltration of its frontiers by the barbarians. It is the state, not bands of vigilantes, who must punish evildoers, and reward well-doers. Pray that Caesar will perform that which he is God’s appointed servant to do (Romans 13:1ff). J.C. Ryle says that we are to consider three enormous difficulties kings have: the temptations that surround them, the countless knots they have to untie, and the immense responsibility of a king’s office. So pray for them.
However, the church must always remember the word of Christ, “My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would its servants fight” (John 18:36). The pulpit must never find itself in the pocket of the King. Brave Knox before the Queen, and courageous Latimer before the King are the two models to be held up before us. Mary, Queen of Scots, is reputed to have said, “I fear the prayers of John Knox more than an army of 20,000 men.” Fearless disaffiliation of the kingdom of God from Caesar’s kingdom must be maintained. The life of the church depends upon it. It is fascinating to read of the response of the Dutch churches to the German invasion of their nation in 1940. They had prayed for their own leaders and for Hitler, and now the unthinkable had occurred, Germany had bombed their way into a swift conquest of the Netherlands.
The oppression began on Friday May 10, 1940, and on the Sunday the Spirit of God stirred the hearts of preachers throughout Holland to speak words of comfort to the people. One pastor preached about the confrontation between Esther and Haman and he mentioned that Haman, while looking for ways to get Mordecai killed, dug his own grave. Suddenly he stopped preaching and he said to the congregation, “Let’s sing about that,” and announced Psalm 7 and the final two verses
He made a pit, and digged it deep,
Another there to take;
And he is fallen in the ditch
Which he himself did make.
On his own head shall be returned
The mischief he hath wrought;
The violence that he hath done
Shall on his crown be brought.
And through those devastating Maydays and throughout the five years of Nazi oppression Dutch Christians did not cease to pray for those in authority, that they might be saved, that their evil designs might be thwarted, and that they might fall into the ditch which they themselves had dug for others.
But let us end positively and read a few sentences of Ryle: “It is easy to criticise and find fault with the conduct of kings, and write furious articles against them in newspapers, or make violent speeches about them on platforms. Any fool can rip and rend a costly garment, but not every man can cut out and make one. To expect perfection in kings, prime ministers, or rulers of any kind, is senseless and unreasonable. We should exhibit more wisdom if we prayed for them more, and criticised less” (p.461).
What then is the end of our praying? What expectations do we have for our own lives as Christians in this world? You will see how essentially modest they are. Paul says that the end of our intercession for all men is living…
4. Peaceful and Quiet Lives, in All Godliness and Holiness. (v.2).
Consider how important to Old Testament Christians were years of peace. A psalmist exhorts us to pray for the peace of Jerusalem, “They shall prosper that love thee….Peace be within thy walls, and prosperity within thy palaces.” Think of the silent years in the life of incarnate God in Nazareth. The Lord Jesus lived a peaceful and quiet life in that carpenter’s home. There is this possibility in the life of a Christian, of doing everything with all his might to the glory of God, being steadfast, unmovable and always abounding in the work of the Lord, and at the same time living a peaceful and quiet life. Anna L. Waring (1820-1910) sings,
I would not have the restless will
That hurries to and from,
Seeking for some great thing to do,
Or secret thing to know;
I would be treated as a child,
And guided where I go.
I ask Thee for the daily strength,
To none that ask denied,
A mind to blend with outward life,
While keeping at Thy side,
Content to fill a little space,
If Thou be glorified.
The foundation of such contentment is the high view Christians have of the vocations God has given to them. Even in eating and drinking the Christian can quietly glorify God. Tyndale said that if we look externally, “there is a difference between washing dishes and preaching the word of God; but as touching pleasing God, none at all.” Williams Perkins agrees, saying, “The action of a shepherd in keeping sheep is as good a work before God as is the action of a judge in giving sentence, or a magistrate in ruling, or a minister in preaching.” So the Christian believes that every task had its own intrinsic value and he integrates every vocation into his life of devotion. In every task he performs he considers the possibility of glorifying God and expressing his love for his neighbour in that work. Latimer could say, “This is a wonderful thing, that the Saviour of the world, and the King above all kings, was not ashamed to labour, yes and to use so simple an occupation. In this he sanctified all manner of occupations.” Perkins again said that Christians can serve God “in any kind of calling, though it be but to sweep the house or keep sheep.” It is that conviction which lies at the basis of the Christian living a peaceful and quiet life. The simplest actions, such as a man loving his wife and children, eating and drinking at the family table, Monday’s washing and changing the sheets become acts of obedience and are of great account in God’s eyes. All of life is the Lord’s. In every activity we may confidently expect the presence and blessing of God. We live our vocation by faithful obedience to God our Saviour, not in our prayers alone, but in common tasks we spend our days trusting and loving the Son of God.
Prayer for peace and quiet is the essential foundation for the spread of the gospel. Think of how Paul benefited when some Roman official would intervene on his behalf. For example, in Ephesus there had been “a great disturbance about the Way” (Acts 19:23ff). Didn’t the Christians cry to God at that time? Surely they did. We know that the city clerk was aroused and used his authority in quelling the riot. Then unobtrusively the preachers could carry on their work of building up believers in the faith. Christians desire an ordered society for the sake of all its citizens, but especially because then we can fulfil our God-given responsibilities without hindrance.
These have been great years for quiet and peace in the United Kingdom. God has heard our prayers for peaceful and quiet lives. We have been able to establish theological training colleges and seminaries, launch publishing houses, put up church buildings in new towns, open up web-sites, home-school our children or begin Christian schools. We have built a Christian Book Shop. We can preach in most places in the open air, and give out tracts, and meet as Christian Unions in universities. We can awaken the country to the wickedness of the killing of the unborn. I have been with a delegation to the Houses of Parliament to talk about some of these privileges being sustained. All these are great freedoms allowing us to live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. But all is not perfect, and Caesar must always be watched or he will take our freedoms from us. The closure of the Christian school in east London because the state has criminalised corporal punishment in every single school, even when the parents give their unanimous approval, is a grievous matter. I have no doubt that other such intrusions into our living peaceful and quiet lives are ahead of us in the next century. Surely the signs indicate we will meet more fierce opposition than ever before.
In the rest of the world things are very different. Many states are fiercely antagonistic to Christianity, especially in the Islamic controlled nations. The World Mission Digest has calculated that 119 million Christians have been martyred during this century. Almost all are unknown to us, but they are known to God. The sufferings of followers of the Lord Jesus are not likely to be sympathetically and widely reported in the Western world. All of us, but especially church leaders, need to become acquainted with Paul Marshall’s book, “Their Blood Cries Out: the Untold Story of Persecution Against Christians in the Modern World.”
Sometimes one inwardly hesitates when one urges people to believe upon the Lord Jesus Christ because of the weight of the cross that they will have to bear following him. Yet we are convinced that there is no rest apart from him. Faith in Christ changes everything in a person’s life. Consider a house purchase: someone may say to you that you can buy a new home whenever you want, and that the only thing you have to do is take out a mortgage and sign the papers. It is a very simple thing to sit down at a desk and sign a document, but what you have done then will change the rest of your life. Similarly, but on a measurelessly deeper level, and in a way that will affect all aspects of your experience, you faith will change your life when you come for rest to the Lord Jesus Christ.
You will begin a living relationship with him which will be proved and tested through may years. You may know times of barrenness and estrangment. You will know times of joy unspeakable. You can drift from him when things go smoothly but then the Lord arranges times so that we flee to Christ with new intensity. Above all God gives us peaceful and quiet lives and so enables us to live in all godliness and holiness.
17th October 1999 GEOFF THOMAS