The Command to Pray

Matt Connally

Matt Connally is a pastor in the United States. He received an MDiv from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and a Bachelors of Journalism from The University of Texas, where he served as editor of The Daily Texan from 1991-92. He has also worked with Campus Crusade for Christ for several years both in the United States and Asia.

What is the first responsibility of Christians when they gather together in churches? Is it to preach the Word? Is it to care for one another? Is it to make offerings of money and service and heartfelt praise? Is it to organize missions and evangelism?

“First of all, then,” writes the elderly Apostle Paul to a young pastor named Timothy, “I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all those in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.” (1 Timothy 2:1-2)

We may not want to be dogmatic about this, but surely there is tremendous wisdom in heeding Paul’s instruction. His letter, the first of two to Timothy, counsels us on how to organize and run churches—how to appoint elders and deacons, how to care for widows, how to deal with conflicts, and above all how to teach the Bible and guard right doctrine. But how can we do any of that effectively if we are not at peace, free from distraction? It is so terribly easy to fret and to lose focus, to holler and yell about political issues rather than passionately proclaim the Gospel.

If you watch an Olympic sprinter on a slow-motion replay, you will see their cheeks and whole upper body quivering because there are completely relaxed—and some of those runners are as strong as football linemen. Ask any athlete. For that matter, ask any musician, any surgeon, any fisherman, or anyone trying to concentrate their energy on a difficult task. Tranquility is key.

And so it is with making disciples of Jesus Christ. The church is God’s plan, and the reason Paul gives that we should first things pray is “so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.” We have got to calm down and focus our hearts not on the world but on our Lord. Therefore, the first thing we do is bring our concerns about the world to Him.

But that will not be a passive peace, which is an oxymoron. Instead it will go hand-in-hand with actively concentrating on the very difficult task that God has entrusted us with. We have a race to run, a choir to train, healing to bring, and a Gospel to preach. Somewhere the fields are white for harvest, and we must also believe that God can do more than we can imagine. We do not want to be like Jonah, who had no vision for a repentant Nineveh. Paul says to pray not just so we can calm down but so that we can appropriate God’s heart of compassion. “This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:3-4)

Tranquil hearts believing God for miracles, that is a people He can use.

What Do We Pray?
We do not need to gush about world peace and political harmony. We do not need to pretend that everything is going to work out in the end. We need rugged, masculine, passionate, astonishing prayers. For an example of astonishing just read any of the Psalms. Try to imagine a choir singing Psalm 11 or 12 or 13 or 14 or 18, etc.

Pray for a fear of God.
The only hope for any society is a fear of judgment, because people are sinful. That is why policemen carry guns and issue speeding tickets. That is why we don’t just need a group to enforce the laws (the executive branch), but also a group to write laws (the legislative branch) and a group to judge laws (the judicial branch). Nevertheless, the bottom line is that fear cannot be legislated. No matter how many statutes and lawyers our democracy produces, it will not be able to usurp the throne of God. And no politician will make a claim of self-righteousness, but will instead say he is accountable to God. Pray that accountability would resonate deep in their hearts. “The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life, that one may turn away from the snares of death.” (Proverbs 14:27)
Pray for broken hearts.
Politicians must have grandiose ambitions, and we do want them to have vision. But they need to give an honest appraisal of the world and realize that no amount of money, no amount of education, no amount of opportunity is going to save us. As Solomon put it, “I have seen all the works which have been done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and striving after the wind. What is crooked cannot be straightened and what is lacking cannot be counted.” (Ecclesiastes 1:14-15) That is to say that though education and science and technology and medicine all do wonderful things, mankind is just as fallen as ever. That should break any leader’s heart and temper his ambitions, and drive him to look upward for hope.
Pray for laborers to go to them.
It might be difficult for political leaders to find true friends. Pray that Christians could go to them with no other agenda but to present Christ and Christ crucified. Pray that the leaders would be so clearly confronted with the Gospel that they would have to choose to draw closer to Christ or to go against him. And if they do grow hostile, that at some point they would realize the foolishness of that decision, and repent and be saved.
For the Christians also pray…
• for fellowship in a local church
When Barack Obama takes the oath of office on Jan. 20, 2009, regardless of what we think of his politics we can be thankful that he calls himself a follower of Jesus Christ. Pray that he and other Christians in government would find strong fellowship in a local church, and that the church would hold them spiritually accountable.
• for a hunger and thirst for righteousness
Pray leaders would want to be godly not just out of fear or out of a desire to do be good, but much more out of a love for holiness and a longing to be filled with the Holy Spirit.
• for faithfulness to endure
Jesus never promises to protect His followers from persecution or suffering. He never promises to deliver us from our enemies. Instead He promises to be with us through it all. “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.” (Revelation 2:10)


copyright 2008 Matt Connally