The Priority of Prayer in the Local Church

1 Timothy 2:1-4
“1 First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, 2 for kings and all those who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. 3 This is good, and it pleases God our Saviour, 4 who wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

Paul writes this passage to Timothy in the context of Timothy assuming a pastoral role in the church at Ephesus. His overarching concern is that Timothy “fight the good fight, having faith and a good conscience.”

After a strong beginning about correcting the doctrine of misguided, self-appointed teachers, Paul turns to the behavior of the local congregation. The first thing he focuses on is public prayer. In this chapter he points to the priority of the local church being a praying church. I think it would be accurate to say that one of the most important things the church does when it gathers is pray.

I have to contrast that with my own experience. I have been part of many amazing churches that were committed to missions, disciple-making, and uplifting God’s word. Nevertheless, prayer was usually tacked on to public gatherings, not given anything near to the importance called for by Paul.

Personally in church planting, I usually find myself focusing on the “work” of the church being “make disciples.” I realize that my view is myopic when I don’t recognize the logic that, since it is the Holy Spirit who does the heavy lifting at every point in the process of “making disciples,” including raising up and sending out the laborers to do this work, prayer is crucial! It is the work before the work. It is the work in which the whole congregation can labor, not just the few called out as church planters.

Looking back at the text, Paul’s opening statement seems to cover all the options on prayer, and though they overlap, these terms broaden our understanding of the appropriate activity of the church. We pray for everyone, and we pray specifically for rulers. We pray targeted prayers when we know the facts, and we pray general prayers when we don’t. We pray out of duty and we pray out of compassion. We pray when we see the need and we give thanks when we see it fulfilled. The main thing seems to be to give prayer great priority in the activities of the church.

Paul continues his urging for public prayer by giving the reason for selecting rulers for special mention. It is so that we can live quiet and tranquil lives with godliness and dignity. This applies at whatever scale you choose. We pray for world leaders so that the world faith community can live this way. We pray for national and provincial leaders so that the church in Canada and in Alberta can live this way. Why is Paul’s goal for the church community that they live quiet, tranquil lives? It is so that we may please God our Savior and focus on His priority of the gospel: rescuing people from “perishing.”

My personal application in response to Paul’s urging is to approach world news with fresh resolve to pray and not worry. For example, the Korean crisis will never be solved by rattling sabers, but Christ’s church can pray for Trump and for Kim Jong-un. The “everyone” category mentioned in the text includes the persecuted believers in North Korea and the vulnerable believers in South Korea. I pray for their safety and rescue from death, and I pray that the Spirit of God would turn the hearts of the North Korean leadership and the US leadership away from violence and towards understanding, righteousness, and peace. Until prayer has its rightful priority and place in the local church we are not likely to see God work powerfully through the local church to impact the world.