How to Pray When Life Blows Up
1 Thessalonians 3:10-13
September 12, 2016
“Prayer is not everything but everything is by prayer.” So said Ray Ortlund. All Christians would agree with that statement. No matter what our background, instinctively we know prayer is central to the Christian life.
We all know we ought to pray.
We all feel we should pray more than we do.
Life changes so quickly
Life can change so quickly. The phone rings and a voice says, “I’ve got bad news.” It could be anything:
A failed exam.
The test came back positive.
Your granddaughter is sick.
Your son goes to jail for drunk driving.
The company doesn’t need you anymore.
“I’m being sued.”
A friendship suddenly ends.
You discover another woman or another man.
Time stops. Life will never be the same again. How will you find the strength to go on? You try to pray, but the words won’t come. How do you pray when life blows up? We can find an answer in 1 Thessalonians 3:10-13.
How do you find the strength to go on?
Paul knew the Thessalonians were near the breaking point, and that’s why he sent Timothy to check on them. When Timothy came back with a good report that the believers were standing firm under pressure, Paul’s joy knew no bounds. He was encouraged (v. 7), the news was like a new lease on life to him (v. 8), and he couldn’t stop thanking God for them (v. 9). That brings us to Paul’s prayer in verses 10-13. Here is an excellent way to pray for those going through a hard time. It’s worth pondering because every week we’re asked to pray for people in difficulty. Very rarely does anyone say, “Things are going great. Pray for me.”
Here are three ways to pray when life blows up. First, you should pray for . . .
Faith Without Holes
“Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith” (v. 10).
Note these four facts about the way Paul prayed:
1. His prayer was constant.
Paul says he prayed day and night. When was the last time you lost sleep because you were praying? I remember Len Hoppe often talked about how God would wake him up in the middle of the night to pray. Has that ever happened to you?
2. His prayer was earnest.
Paul uses a very unusual expression that has the idea of going above and beyond all normal measures. You might translate it with the phrase “super abundantly.” Prayer must be earnest to be effective. Weak, shallow, half-hearted prayers produce weak, shallow, half-hearted results. God says, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13). James 5:16 reminds us that “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (NKJV). So what is a “fervent” prayer? The Greek means something like “boiling.” It has nothing to do with your posture, whether you are sitting or standing or lying down, and it doesn’t matter whether your eyes are open or closed. A boiling prayer has nothing to do with how loud you pray or how many words you use. It’s not about folding your hands or waving them above your head.
What is a boiling prayer?
So what’s a boiling prayer? Let me put it this way. When they take your four-year-old granddaughter away for life-saving surgery, no one will have to tell you what to do. You will pray a boiling prayer right there in the waiting room at the hospital. You may not utter any audible words, but your heart will pray a boiling prayer
I remember hearing a preacher say that when his wife was in a terrible automobile accident, he was so overcome that all he could do was cry out, “Oh God! Oh Jesus!” Looking back, he said it felt like that was the first time in his life he had really prayed.
When anything becomes life or death to you, you’ll pray an earnest, fervent, boiling prayer, and it won’t matter how long or how short you pray.
Paul cared so much for these young Thessalonian believers that he couldn’t help but pray earnestly for them. We should do the same for the people we love.
3. His prayer was practical.
He said he was praying “that we may see you again.” Do you pray about your everyday affairs? If you are a salesman, you should pray about your appointments. If you are a doctor, you should pray for your patients. If you are a teacher, you should pray for your students. If you work in an office, you should pray for your fellow workers. Nothing is too small to bring to God’s attention. If it matters to you, it matters to him.
4. His prayer was purposeful.
Paul had a particular goal in mind. He wanted to supply what was lacking in their faith. The word “supply” was used for mending torn nets and setting broken bones. He used the same word in Galatians 6:1 for restoring sinning saints and in Ephesians 4:12 for equipping all the saints for the work of ministry. It’s what an equipment manager does before the start of a football game. He makes sure the players have their helmets because if they go into the game without a helmet, they are going to get clobbered in the head.
So here’s the prayer: “O God, my brothers and sisters are in a great spiritual battle. I pray they will be fully equipped for whatever they might face. Grant them strong faith—with no holes!—so they can stand and fight victoriously no matter how hot the battle may be.”
We pass on to the second way to pray when life blows up.
Love Without Limits
“May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you” (v. 12).
Love is the supreme grace. You can never have too much of it. You can never have enough of it. Paul is saying, “I pray God will make you an overflowing fountain of love.” He is praying they might become “Super Lovers.”
Many years ago this song was made popular by Diana Ross and Dionne Warwick:
What the world needs now is love, sweet love
What the world needs now is love, sweet love
It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of
What the world needs now is love, sweet love
No, not just for some but for everyone
I’ve had occasion to think about that over the long, hot summer months that brought such turmoil to cities across America. We happen to live in Dallas. Not in a suburb, but in the city itself, not far from White Rock Lake on the east side of the city. Many times I’ve taken a bike ride along the Santa Fe Trail to downtown, ridden Main Street through Deep Ellum, and then on Main Street down to Lamar in the heart of the city. That’s where I head north on Lamar to Houston, where I turn right and ride past American Airlines Center where the Dallas Mavericks play basketball. I catch the Katy Trail, then cross North Central Expressway, and start winding my way back home. I mention that because I’ve ridden my bike many times at the intersection of Main Street and Lamar where the shooting took place on July 7th that ended with five Dallas police officers killed and nine others wounded.
That tragedy shook our city and made headlines across America. The morning after the shooting, Dallas police officer Bryan Woodard posted a video on Facebook (viewed over 7 million times) that urged people to pray for peace. Near the end, he repeated a phrase that has gone around the world: “I refuse to see hate live while love dies.”
“I refuse to see hate live while love dies”
That strikes me as a truly Christian point of view. If we know the Lord, then love must be our rule of life, even when people around us have given in to anger and hatred. We discover a lot about ourselves when we are tired, discouraged, angry and afraid. I don’t mean to suggest that increasing and overflowing in love is easy. It isn’t, especially in trying times. But it is precisely at this point that what we believe about the gospel gets put to the test. If someone asks me to give the answer to the problems that plague our world, I don’t know the political answers or the legal answers, but I do know the gospel answer. We are all sinners in desperate need of the grace of God. The ground is level at the foot of the cross because God doesn’t play favorites. We’re all in the same boat, and the boat is going down. If God doesn’t do something, we’re all going to drown.
But God has done something!
In the cross of Christ, the love of God has broken through to rescue us, to heal us, to forgive us, and to make us a community of brothers and sisters who show the world that reconciliation and healing is possible. I know we’re far from that reality today, but if we believe what the Bible says, then we must believe real change is possible, not only on a personal basis but also on a community basis.
We’re all pretty good at liking people like us
When the church is united, God is glorified and the world is amazed. In a world filled with so much killing, so much pain, so many broken hearts and so many fractured lives, a truly united church will be irresistibly attractive to many hurting people. But it’s easier to talk about this than to put it into practice. We’re all pretty good at liking people like us. But lots of people aren’t like us, and they aren’t very easy to like either. How can we apply this truth? I have two suggestions:
A) Pray for unity. Pray for the Holy Spirit to bring unity in the larger body of Christ. Pray for a deeper unity in your congregation. Ask God to reveal and remove any wrong attitudes that hinder the work of his Spirit in your midst.
B) Ask yourself a hard question: “Am I willing for God to change me?” It’s a lot easier to think others need to change. “My kids are driving me nuts. Change them, Lord!” “My husband ignores me. Change him, Lord!” “My wife is getting on my nerves, and my boss is a jerk. Change them both, Lord!” Perhaps we should all pray this simple Chinese prayer: “O Lord, change the world. Begin, I pray Thee, with me.” As the old spiritual says, “It’s me, it’s me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer.” Before we ask God to change anyone else, we’d better look in the mirror.
Let’s pray for ourselves and for each other that our love might increase and overflow, not only to our friends but to those we don’t know and even to those who may not like us very much.
There is yet a third way to pray when life blows up. Pray for . . .
Strength Without Flaws
“May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones” (v. 13).
The word “strengthen” means to buttress something, like the famous “flying buttresses” of cathedrals in the Middle Ages. If you are going to stand strong in the time of trial, your heart must have a strong foundation, one free of cracks, flaws, and weak areas. Nothing reveals the true condition of the heart like difficulty, setbacks, opposition, and hardship. Most of us can be strong while the sun is shining and life is good, but when the thunder clouds of trouble rumble overhead, all the inner flaws are likely to be revealed. Whatever is in the heart must come out eventually. If there is anger in the heart, it will eventually come out. If there is greed or lust, it too will come out. And if there is love and kindness and forgiveness and mercy, that will also be revealed. Nowhere will your heart be on clearer display than in the trials of life.
Trials reveal what is in your heart
God uses our trials to say to the watching world: “Here is what a real Christian looks like!” He has been battered and bruised by life, his face is streaked with tears, the days are hard and the nights are long, but here—yes, here!!! —right here, this is what a Christian looks like. Is he always victorious? No. Is he always triumphant? No. Does he sometimes have doubts? Yes. But here he stands, a supernatural creation of the grace of God. Take a look, world. He is not perfect, but he is a child of God.
Here, then, is a prayer to pray when life blows up. Pray for . . .
Faith without holes,
Love without limits,
Strength without flaws.
Think about this for a moment. You are where you are today because somebody prayed for you.
Somebody prayed for you!
Somebody prayed, and you came to Christ.
Somebody prayed, and you found a job.
Somebody prayed, and you were healed.
Somebody prayed, and you were rescued in the middle of the night.
Somebody prayed, and your marriage was saved.
Somebody prayed, and you said no to temptation.
Somebody prayed, and you didn’t give up.
Somebody prayed, and you made the right decision.
Somebody prayed, and you experienced God’s power.
No one knows how much sin and sorrow we’ve been saved from because somebody prayed for us.
What is the application? Pray! Pray, pray, and keep on praying. Do for others what others have done for you. When we can serve people in no other way, we can pray for them. By prayer we cast a pebble of faith into a lake of hope. Though the pebble sinks, the ripples go on and on and on. We’ll never know the difference our prayers have made until we get to heaven.
Prayer casts a pebble of faith in a lake of hope
I close with the question Jesus asked in Luke 18:8, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” As we move closer to the Last Days and the end of the world as we know it, anxiety will rise, tumult will increase, nerves will fray, society itself will be shaken to the core, troubles will mount, and it will seem as if the world is spinning out of control. What should we do to hold on to our faith?
We should pray.
Earnestly, fervently, repeatedly, unitedly, persistently.
If you believe Jesus is coming back . . . pray, pray, and keep on praying.
When the Son of Man comes . . .
Will he find faith in your church?
Will he find faith in your family?
Will he find faith in your heart?
Lord Jesus, grant that we might not be discouraged even a little bit by the things that happen around us. We want to pray and to pray more than we do. We ask for “praying grace” so when the Son of Man comes, he will find faith on the earth made manifest in our prayers. Amen.