When I was a child, pastoral prayers were a main feature of our church worship service. When the prayer began, I knew to settle in for a long one. Over the years, it seems that pastoral prayers have diminished in length and prominence or even been eliminated altogether. But now, as an adult, I appreciate the way this tradition made prayer a central and important part of the service.
Paul paused several times in this letter to express pastoral prayers and blessings for the Thessalonians. This became customary in his other epistles as well. Today’s mid-letter prayer and blessing well reflect this book’s key theme of spiritual growth in light of Christ’s return. It also reflects Paul’s passionately pastoral heart for these young believers.
His first prayer request is no surprise—that the way would be cleared for him to return to Thessalonica (v. 11). He invoked the first and second Persons of the Trinity to indicate the serious and sacred nature of his petition. His second prayer request is also a blessing—that God would cause their love to overflow within the church and beyond (v. 12). This is the horizontal dimension of the Christian life, how we’re to treat one another. Paul would have more to say about this soon (see 1 Thess. 4:9–12).
His third prayer request is another blessing—that Christ would strengthen their hearts as they continued to endure suffering (v. 13). This is not about stoicism, but rather a truth of sanctification. The goal of their present lives was to be found blameless and holy when Christ returned. On that day their sanctification would be complete! This is the vertical dimension of the Christian life, how the Lord works within us (Phil. 1:6). Paul would also have more to say about this in the next chapter (see 1 Thess. 4:1–8).
>> Can you personalize the prayers of verses 12–13 from today’s reading? Try replacing the words “your” and “you” with your name. Then, try writing out a prayer of your own.
Almighty God, cause our love for one another to overflow; strengthen our hearts to be blameless and holy in your presence when your Son returns. How we long for the day when you complete our sanctification!