The Peace of the Prayerful Life

1 Timothy 2:1-8

2First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, 2for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. 3This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 4who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, 6who gave himself a ransom for all—this was attested at the right time. 7For this I was appointed a herald and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth. 8I desire, then, that in every place the men should pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or argument;

Sermon: The Peace of the Prayerful Life, preached by Rev. Sandi Anthony, 9/22/19

The temporary Sunday School teacher was struggling to open a combination lock on the supply cabinet. She had been told the combination, but couldn’t quite remember it.  Finally, she went to the pastor’s study and asked for help. The pastor came into the room and began to turn the dial.  After the first two numbers he paused and stared blankly for a moment.  Finally, he looked serenely heavenward and his lips moved silently.  Then he looked back at the lock, and quickly turned to the final number, and opened the lock.  The teacher was amazed. “I’m in awe at your faith, pastor,” she said.  “It’s really nothing,” he answered. “The number is on a piece of tape on the ceiling” ( 

Okay, here’s another one:  A little boy was kneeling beside his bed with his mother and grandmother and softly saying his prayers, “Dear God, please bless Mummy and Daddy and all the family and please give me a good night’s sleep.”  Suddenly he looked up and shouted, “And don’t forget to give me a bicycle for my birthday!!”  “There is no need to shout like that,” said his mother. “God isn’t deaf.”   “No,” said the little boy, “but Grandma is” (

How many of you pray?  No judgment here.  I’ve struggled with my theology of prayer for a long time.  Sometimes I’ve thought, What’s the use?  I’ve prayed for people to be healed, to be released from pain, and to recover and have, more often than not, been woefully disappointed.  I’ve often done as our 1 Timothy text says today and prayed first those who are in authority—and have been woefully disappointed because they don’t change policies.  I even wonder if there is something wrong with my faith when the mountains don’t move.  But the more I struggle with scripture and go deeper into it, I am learning that I need to disabuse myself of the notion that prayer acts like some sort of heavenly vending machine.  The pastor in the opening joke didn’t magically pull a code out of the sky, and the little boy who wanted a bike already knew that if he were to get one, grandma would be the benefactor.  So why should we even pray?  In short, we should pray because prayer changes us and makes us aware of how we can be the change this world so desperately needs.  We pray for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven—not for bikes and Cadillacs.  Through prayer we can often come to recognize our own negativity and self-absorption.  Prayer, in giving us conscious pause, can expose that which lies unconscious in us: our tendencies to scapegoat and blame and project our own shortcomings upon others.  Prayer reminds us that we are not all that is and that God is indeed active in this world.  And I don’t know about you, but that thought gives me a special kind of peace, because I am so apt to get caught up in the things of this world that I forget who I truly am—a child of God.  Prayer for me is becoming more and more about allowing God to work in my life and on my heart rather than seeking out some particular kind of gratification.

Clint and I take turns saying grace every night before we eat dinner.  If he prays, he says something original and new.  If I pray, I always say the grace I grew up with: For health and strength and daily food, we give thee thanks, O Lord, Amen.  Some people might criticize how rote and unchanging my dinner prayer is.  Yet, I’ve observed that for a moment, even in that rote-ness, I stop and think about God and how grateful I am for all of God’s provisions in our lives.  I stop thinking about myself and my illusion of control and self-sufficiency.  In that quick little prayer, I remember the proper order of the universe—that everything flows from God, that there is so much more than meets the eye.  My health and strength and daily food come from God, and I am indeed grateful.  Prayer helps us start at a place of gratitude, which can do wonders for our dispositions, and can give us peace.  Meditation, you know, a type of deep prayer, is becoming more well known for the peacefulness it imparts.

Today and next Sunday I am going to be preaching out of I Timothy.  We haven’t talked about Timothy before, at least as long as I have been a pastor here.  So, I thought it was high time; the lectionary epistle reading has us in Timothy the next few weeks.  Let me give you some background on Timothy.  First and Second Timothy along with Titus are commonly called the Pastoral letters.  These letters are traditionally ascribed to the Apostle Paul, but there are problems associated with assuming Paul’s authorship, including the letters’ vocabulary and style and some common Pauline themes, which are prominently missing.  So, the authorship of 1 Timothy is disputed.  Back then, there was a widespread custom of a loyal disciple of someone writing under another’s authority.  What may have happened is that someone incorporated fragments of letters written by Paul or framed the letter with Paul’s personal greetings to give Paul’s authority to the teachings in these Pastoral letters.  That’s why Paul is identified in the greeting; if you go back and read the first chapter, just prior to today’s passage, you will see that.  Suffice it to say that whoever wrote 1 Timothy, this person wanted “to bring Paul’s word to bear on a situation that developed after the apostle’s death” (Harper Collins Bible Commentary, Jouette M. Massler, p. 1137).

Regardless of authorship, the dual purpose of 1 Timothy is to provide guidance in the problems of church administration and to oppose false teaching in the Christian community.  That’s the short version anyway.  The author, a veteran missionary, writes to Timothy because Timothy is a younger colleague responsible for a group of churches.  The veteran missionary exhorts Timothy to preserve the church in Ephesus from destructive influences on the outside as well as dissidents from within.  Timothy, we know from I Corinthians and Romans among other places, was a trusted companion, travel partner, and co-worker of Paul. 

We know that Timothy, who was from Lystra in Asia Minor, had an exceptional reputation among local Christians and that he came from a mixed racial background (his mother, Eunice, was Jewish and his father was Greek).  Both Timothy’s Jewish mother and grandmother, Lois, prepared Timothy’s heart for Christ by teaching him the Old Testament Scriptures.  They also prepared him to recognize the Messiah when he appeared.  Paul considered Timothy “a true son in the faith” and said of Timothy that he had a “genuine faith.”

And before I delve into our specific passage today and actually talk about prayer, I want to give you some cultural and political context, because this helps us understand what this epistle communicates to its original hearers.  Timothy’s time, which was either late 1st century or first half of the 2nd century AD, was a world dominated by Roman imperial power and might.  Being a Christian then and being a subject of Rome were heartily in tension.  There were dynasties of emperors; to become one, you had to be born into the right family. Christians had it hard, they had to find ways to worship and live out the faith.  Christianity rightly practiced was subversive and at odds with the state.  Jesus was called Lord, not Caesar, for instance.  Caesars were divinized—this did not sit well with Christians.  Christians talked about the kingdom of God, which was readily understood as a challenge to Roman power.  Christians chose to live a counter-cultural kind of life, lives that shared wealth communally and repudiated the military force of Rome.  That said, the author of 1 Timothy said to pray for kings—pray for the Roman government.  These kings may not be godly persons, but the text still says to pray for them.  What is important to understand here is that Christians would not pray to the divinized emperors.  What the author of 1 Timothy says is to pray for them.  Interestingly, these words were written during the reign of the Emperor Nero, one of the cruelest of Roman Emperors.  We know how he persecuted Christians.  And the author of Timothy says that we are to pray for even bad leaders.  And that still applies today—there is certainly instruction here that we in 2019 can import.  Given our current state of affairs, we have much prayer work to do.    

So, it is with this background that we approach our text about prayer for today.  This is where we actually get into the author’s instructions for Timothy—and these instructions have to do with the assembled church.  Prayer is to feature primarily into the service, all kinds of prayer.  Prayer is the starting point.  Our mission statement here at CCOV used to contain the words that this is a house of prayer for all people.  That is beautiful.  So, before anything else, Timothy is exhorted to pray for everyone, for all people, and particularly mentioned are those in authority, kings and all who are in high positions, and yes, even for the bad rulers Timothy and the church people in Ephesus may not like. And why pray for them?  Because they had the most potential to create a quiet and peaceable life in which people could live in all godliness and dignity.  That’s why in many a pastoral prayer in church today, we pray for our leaders up front; that instruction comes from these verses.  Specifically, Timothy is instructed to make supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings for everyone.  It seems like all imaginable forms of prayer are listed here.  So, what are each?  A supplication is a request for oneself (O God, help me feel better). A prayer is petition or general request to God (Bring rain to the Amazon).  An intercession is a request for those in need (Help my friend battle cancer successfully).  A thanksgiving is an expression of gratitude—we also sing many expressions of gratitude in our hymns (Fairest Lord Jesus).  So, here we see the primacy of prayer before any other exhortation in this pastoral letter.  And why?  Why does the author say to pray at all?  Because all prayers come to pass and are always answered in the affirmative?  Simply put, no.  The text says “so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity.”  That is the reason he is instructed to pray before he does anything else.  Praying people know a deep peace.  Praying people remember their connection to God. 

We all have stories of unanswered prayer.  Just as we all have stories of answered prayer.  But know this:  Answered prayer may not always be apparent.  We don’t always see the effect—because prayer is not a magic wand.  But often, light slowly seeps in and consciousness is raised.  Prayer helps the praying people see their own nature and the reality of life around them.  Prayer goes to work on the praying individual and the praying community—and prayer effects change in us and in the community.  We trust God as to how our prayers go to work on the power structures of this world.  Sometimes we may not see the results of our prayers in our lifetimes—but our faith says that a trajectory is in place, that good will ultimately triumph over evil, that all of creation is moving like the Psalms do—from a lot of lament toward a loud clamor of praise at the end.  It’s as Martin Luther King Jr. put it, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”  We are praying for the long haul.  And one thing I will tell you is that I think there is an unseen reality all around us.  There is real spiritual warfare to be waged—there are dark forces in this world, to be sure.  We must always pray for the good—for that which is kind and compassionate and for care for the most vulnerable—that’s why Jesus taught us to pray in the Lord’s Prayer, thy will be done.  We pray God’s will into this world.  Our prayer life helps us focus so to see what may be going on behind the scenes and move us to action—be it in the political sphere where there is the greatest distributive potential, or in places where we as individuals can meet someone’s need, like what we are doing now at church for Jacob and his family.

Now, not all prayers are answered, especially ones outside of God’s will.  Even Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane that the cup (of suffering) would pass from him, but that was not God’s will—there was a bigger plan in motion.  We see in Jesus’ prayer how God worked upon Jesus’ own heart and how he submitted to the work on the cross ahead of him.  When Jesus concluded praying, he said, not my will, but thine.  Similarly, no matter how hard we pray, we won’t live in these bodies forever.  Some diseases are indeed terminal.  Sometimes our prayers are not answered as we would have them answered, yet we know God is with us in a profound way during prayer.  We are never alone, and that is huge.

Now, I’m sure all of you could share times when your prayers were answered.  Miracles do still happen when God has something larger in mind—some holy purpose, sometimes not made completely known to us on this side of the veil.  Usually that plan is about salvation going forward for all; wholeness becoming available for all; the long historic trajectory from oppression to liberation and freedom.  And if we continue reading our passage today, we will get a glimpse of God’s will, God’s desire:  The author of 1 Timothy writes: God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth, which is that there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all.  There we have the essence of the gospel.  That is why we pray.  We desperately need the Christ consciousness in this world—that is real truth.  Mark said Christ came not to be served but to serve, he came to surrender his live for others.  He came to show us that we can only have peace in the repudiation of our own egos—and prayer goes a long way toward that end.     

Now, how does this ancient text apply to us now?  Christians likewise are called to pray intentionally and regularly—this has never changed.  We are called to pray particularly for those in charge, because they can affect the lives of so many, and our leaders are often the difference between war and peace.  We are called to pray for that which is outside of our own immediate gratification—though we can at least ask for that too.

I’ll end with this: A journalist was assigned to the Jerusalem bureau of his newspaper. He gets an apartment overlooking the Wailing Wall. After several weeks he realizes that whenever he looks at the Wall, he sees an old Jewish man praying vigorously.  The journalist wondered whether there was a publishable story here. He goes down to the wall, introduces himself and says: “You come every day to the wall. What are you praying for?”  The old man replies: “What am I praying for? In the morning I pray for world peace, then I pray for the brotherhood of man. I go home, have a glass of tea, and I come back to the wall to pray for the eradication of illness and disease from the earth.”  The journalist is taken by the old man’s sincerity and persistence. “You mean you have been coming to the wall to pray every day for these things?”  The old man nods.  “How long have you been coming to the wall to pray for these things?”  The old man becomes reflective and then replies: “How long? Maybe twenty, twenty-five years.”  The amazed journalist finally asks: “How does it feel to come and pray every day for over 20 years for these things?”  “How does it feel?” the old man replies. “It feels like I’m talking to a wall” (

Friends, let us never give in to how we might feel about our prayer results.  We are indeed not talking to a wall.  God’s work is accomplished, often through the long-haul; let us have faith.  We may not always see prayer results in our own lifetimes; prayer is not about our own gratification, but it can give us peace even in the midst of adversity.  Make no mistake, we are participants and co-creators with God through our service in this world and through our prayers.  Like the author urges Timothy, first of all, prayer.  May it be so, Amen.