Our survey of prayer in the New Testament is organized by categories—intercession, thanksgiving, worship, and petition. But the savvy reader will notice that these categories are fluid and often overlap. Prayer can morph from lament into praise as in so many of the Psalms. And it can move from thanksgiving to petition as in today’s Scripture.
Acts 17 tells us that Paul, Silas, and Timothy founded the church in Thessalonica with a few Jews and a large number of God-fearing Greeks who heard and believed the gospel. But some of the Jews in town were jealous and created a fracas to cast a negative light on the gospel message. Paul and his companions slipped out of town under the cover of night before officials could detain them.
Paul eventually sent Timothy back to Thessalonica, and 1 Thessalonians is written in light of what seems to be a largely positive report from Timothy. Paul wrote that in the midst of distress and persecution, he was greatly encouraged by the faith of the Thessalonians and this led him to prayers of thanksgiving. “How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you?” (v. 9).
The church in Thessalonica was faring well, and this could have been a source of pride for Paul. But instead it was an opportunity to acknowledge God’s goodness and offer praise and thanksgiving for the work He had enabled. The phrase “night and day” suggests how integral prayer was in the lives of Paul and his colleagues. He then moved from thanksgiving to petition as he hoped for an opportunity to visit Thessalonica soon himself and encouraged the church to love each other well in his absence.