How is your prayer life? Mine can always use improvement. So, I was studying some verses on prayer when I came across this one:
First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men… 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 Tim. 2:1,3-4
To tell you the truth, I almost skipped right over it. But then I thought, wait a minute… Did I read that right? Here is what I thought I saw, more or less, when I first read it:
“I urge that prayer, prayer, prayer and prayer be made on behalf of all men…”
Well, okay, the word thanksgivings stood out as a little different. But even that made me stop and take a second look. How do you give thanks on behalf of another person? Time for a little word study!
I looked up the Greek words Paul used and here is what I found:
entreaties: (Greek, deesis) to beg, beseech, or implore. This is about asking for needs to be met.
prayers: (Greek, proseuche) This is the word we commonly think of as prayer.
petitions: (Greek, enteuxis) means to intercede, to ask boldly, even to interrupt!
thanksgivings: (Greek, eucharistia) to express thankfulness for past mercies and kindness.
Why would Paul use all of these words in one sentence? How are they different?
The first thing that came to mind is that we know about asking for needs to be met. I think we do a lot of this. And thanksgiving? Yes, we praise God for what He is doing in the lives of others as well as what He does in our own lives. We thank Him for answered prayers… although whether it means more than that to thank God on behalf of someone else… well, to tell you the truth, I am not sure whether I know the answer to that one.
So, praying for needs and being thankful takes care of two out of the four words Paul used. What now? As I looked back at the verse, I noticed the last part that says, 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. So, Paul is talking specifically about praying on behalf of those who are not saved. That means, they do not yet have that privilege that we do, to “draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Heb. 4:16)
That makes me think about prayer as simply coming into God’s presence. Being with Him. Listening to Him. Being refreshed by Him. Might this be a part of what Paul had in mind? Perhaps part of praying for others is simply to carry their burdens into the throne room of God and to allow the Holy Spirit to intercede for us when we do not know how to pray (Rom. 8:26).
What about petitions? The Greek word Paul used means to ask with boldness, even to the point of interrupting! When I think about interceding with boldness, my attention is drawn again to the last part of the verse. Why is Paul asking that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men? Because it is God’s desire that they be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth! So does that mean the goal of my prayers should not be merely the comfort and well-being of others, but their spiritual welfare? Should I be praying for more than jobs and illnesses and relationships and material needs? If so, then how should I pray?
Perhaps I should pray as Paul did. He frequently mentions praying for the believers in this way:
…that God…may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him (Eph. 1:17)
…that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened (Eph. 1:18)
…that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding (Col. 1:9)
…that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord …bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God (Col. 1:10)
…that the fellowship of your faith may become effective through the knowledge of every good thing which is in you for Christ’s sake (Philem. 6)
There is a common thread in many of Paul’s prayers, as you can see in the verses above. Paul prays that the believers would grow in the knowledge of God. In the Greek, there are several words for knowledge, but in each of these verses, the word is epignosis. It means a true knowledge. A certain knowledge. A knowledge that reaches far beyond your mind and heart and into every corner of your being. It is this same word that Paul used when he wrote: 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 [epignosis] of the truth.
Perhaps, then, the fourth kind of prayer Paul had in mind was the kind of prayer he himself prayed when he interceded for others. What do you suppose God might do if we all began to pray the way Paul did? What if we prayed this way for our fellow believers? And for those who do not yet know Him?
Let me challenge you. If you want to change your prayer life, study how Paul prays in the following verses. And don’t just study them. Begin to pray them!
Ephesians 1:15-18 • Phillippians 1:9-11 • Colossians 1:9-12 • Ephesians 3:14-19 • Philemon 4-6