I just finished reading through this powerful book by D.A. Carson. In this book Dr. Carson goes through several of Paul’s prayers. I couldn’t put the book down and thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I thought I would try to write some about this book as a way to help process what I read and thought this might be beneficial to others. One of the first prayers of Paul that Carson looks at is found in 2nd Thessalonians 1:3-12 which I included below:
“We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. 4 Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring. This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering— 6 since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7 and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels 8 in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, 10 when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. 11 To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, 12 so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
A Fundamental Component of Prayer – Thanksgiving
What we see at the beginning of this passage is Paul talking about giving thanks to God for these Thessalonian believers. One thing that has struck me lately is how often Paul gives thanks for fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Carson says: “Clearly, thanksgiving is a fundamental component of the mental framework that largely controls Paul’s intercession.” As we examine our own prayer lives, I think a good question to ask would be to ask ourselves if thanksgiving is a fundamental component of our mental framework that largely controls our prayers? I think that we need to drill down even deeper though into this question of thanksgiving in our prayer lives.
D.A. Carson gives us some additional questions to ask: “For what do we commonly give thanks? We say grace at meals, thanking God for our food; we give thanks when we receive material blessings―when the mortgage we’ve applied for comes through,…we may utter a prayer of sincere and fervent thanks when we recover from serious illness. We may actually offer brief thanksgiving when we hear that someone we know has recently been converted. But by and large, our thanksgiving seems to be tied rather tightly to our material well-being and comfort. The unvarnished truth is that what we most frequently give thanks for betrays what we most highly value. If a large percentage of our thanksgiving is for material prosperity, it is because we value material prosperity.”
When we look at Paul’s prayer here in this passage we find that: “Paul gives thanks for signs of grace among Christians, among the Christians whom he is addressing.” Paul says: “We…give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly…” These believers are growing in their faith. They are: “stretching upward in spiritual maturity, and for this Paul gives thanks.” Paul continues by giving thanks to God for their increased love for each other. Paul says: “We…give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because…the love of every one of you for one another is increasing.” Carson says that: “If their love for one another is growing, it can only be because they are Jesus’s disciples: did not Jesus himself say that such love would be the distinguishing mark of his followers (John 13:34-35 – “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”).
Carson probes this line of thought a little bit further. He points out how groups with shared ideals and goals frequently find it relatively easy to foster love, tolerance, and inner cohesion among themselves. Groups like a rock-climbing club, a football team, or a trivia team. However, he says the church is different. “It is made up of people who are as varied as can be: rich and poor, learned and unlearned, practical and impractical, sophisticated and unsophisticated,…disciplined and flighty, intense and carefree, extrovert and introvert―and everything in between. The only thing that holds such people together is their shared allegiance to Jesus Christ, their devotion to him, stemming from his indescribable love for them.” Then he points out that when Christians are growing in their love for each other, this is a sign of grace in their lives and is the work of God. When we see brothers and sisters in Christ growing in their love for each other we should direct our thanksgiving to God, as this is a sign of grace in their lives. So, when is the last time we thanked God for believers who were growing in their love for one another? If it has been a long time since we have done this I think we need to hear from Carson again who writes that: “we must look for signs of grace in the lives of Christians and give God thanks for them.”
I will end this post with another series of questions from Carson. He asks: “For what have we thanked God recently? Have we gone over a list of members of our local church, say, or over a list of Christian workers, and quietly thanked God for signs of grace in their lives? Do we make it a matter of praise to God when we observe evidence in one another of growing conformity to Christ, exemplified in trust, reliability, love and genuine spiritual stamina?”