Study 6 HOW, WHEN AND WHERE TO PRAY
PAUL’S FIRST LETTER TO TIMOTHY
by Francis Dixon
Scripture Portion: 1 Timothy 2:1-8
In this study we are to have a lesson on prayer and our teacher is to be the great Apostle Paul himself. Probably there is no-one more qualified to be our teacher, for Paul was a man of prayer, he knew the power of prayer and he constantly exhorted others to pray. Here in this brief passage of scripture we are given some very valuable guidance on the teaching of how, when and where to pray, and there are five main lines of teaching embodied in these verses.
1. THE PRIORITY OF PRAYER
This is brought before us in verse 1 - “I urge then, first of all, that requests, intercession, prayers… be made…” Here is something which must be done first. Paul is telling Timothy that prayer is a priority and that it should always come first. It is the most important spiritual exercise in which we can engage. We often fail in that we put prayer second or third. Instead of making prayer fundamental we make it supplemental; we add it on if there is time left, and when we do this we are foolish and wrong. It is easy to crowd prayer out of our lives, and when we do this we suffer. It is also easy to crowd prayer out of our Church life and to put activities and service first - look up Acts 6:4.
2. THE PROCEDURE OF PRAYER
This is brought before us in verses 1 and 2. If we ask the question, How are we to pray? the apostle answers by emphasising two things:-
- (1) The different ways in which we are to pray. Four ways are mentioned in verse 1 - “requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving” – and to these we might add others, such as adoration, confession, etc. Paul’s use of these four synonyms shows us that there are many aspects of prayer and many ways in which we can express ourselves in prayer. The word “requests” would seem to suggest specific petitions, as for example in Acts 12:5; the word “prayers” would suggest general petitions; the word “intercession” has in it the idea of praying for others; and we are always to come before the Lord with thanksgiving (Philippians 4:6). We need not be anxious as to which particular way we should pray on any special occasion, for we have a wonderful Helper - look up Romans 8:26.
- (2) The different people for whom we are to pray. Verse 1 tells us we are to pray for ”everyone”, and verse 2 instructs us to pray “for kings and all those in authority”. Verse 3 tells us that this is good and pleases God. These are given as examples or suggestions. We are, of course, to pray for all kinds of people, friends and enemies, rich and poor, good and bad, Christians and non-Christians, because the Gospel is for all – notice the repetition of the little word “all” in verses 2,4 and 6. Think how praying Christians can influence the course of history (Daniel 6:10). Do we pray for our Queen and for the leaders of the nations of the world?
3. THE PURPOSE OF PRAYER
This is brought before us in verse 2 – “that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” This is the result of right praying and a reason, therefore, why we should especially pray for those in authority over us. The two adjectives “peaceful” and “quiet” may be rendered “tranquil”, which refers to freedom from outward hostility, war, riots; and ”calm”, which refers to inward peace (Isaiah 26:3; Philippians 4:7). It is not a selfish motive to pray that God will keep our land free from war, rebellion, terrorism and strife. These things can hinder the progress of the Gospel, though it is true that when He permits them He can use them for the spread of His Word.
4. THE PLACE OF PRAYER
One word in verse 8 indicates this – “everywhere”. The primary reference that Paul is making in this passage is that of the place of prayer in the services of the Church. The apostle is giving instructions regarding public worship, and he says that prayer is to be offered in every place where Christians gather together to worship God. But there is a larger application of this word ”everywhere”, for a Christian can pray everywhere, and that means anywhere - by the river side (Acts 16:13), on the mountain top (Luke 6:12), or in a solitary place (Mark 1:35) - look up 1 Thessalonians 5:17.
5. THE PREREQUISITES OF PRAYER
What are the conditions of successful, effective prayer? They are indicated in verse 8, and there are three:-
- (1) There must be a reverent posture – “lift up holy hands”. These words refer to the custom that was prevalent among the Jews and among Christians to pray with hands uplifted and with the palms of the hands open towards Heaven (1 Kings 8:22; Psalm 134:2). Dr Maclaren says that this attitude meant, “I need. I desire. I expect.” The posture in prayer is important as it indicates the attitude of the soul. Other postures mentioned in scripture are standing (Genesis 18:22), hands lifted up (Luke 24:50), bowing down (Exodus 12:27), lifting the eyes towards Heaven (Acts 7:55), kneeling (Ephesians 3:14), face to the ground (Genesis 17:3) and compare 1 Kings 18:42 with Luke 18:13.
- (2) There must be clean hands – “lift up holy hands”. This means hands that are not engaged in unholy practices. If a Christian filled in an Income Tax Return falsely he could not then pray with holy hands. When the hands are stained with unholy deeds they are not clean hands - compare Psalm 24:3-5 and Psalm 26:6.
- (3) There must be a pure heart - “lifting up holy hands…without anger …” This means ”without resentment”. We must not pray with a wrong spirit (Psalm 51:10); and compare Matthew 5:23-24 and Mark 11:25 with Psalm 66:18.
How wonderfully explicit is this teaching that the apostle gives us on the way in which to pray effectively! May the Lord Himself be our teacher and may we be quick to learn His lessons - look up Luke 11:1.