In the Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin pointed to the Psalms as an example of persistence in prayer. Calvin observes, “For in the Psalms we can often see that David and other believers, when they are almost worn out with praying and seem to have beaten the air with their prayers as if pouring forth words to a deaf God, still do not cease to pray.” What is it that keeps us praying, even when it seems as if God has turned a deaf ear? It is our conviction that the God who can grant our request is also a God who hears us.
Paul urged the believers in Thessalonica to pray for the progress of the gospel and for the response of those who heard its message. He expected God to provide opportunities for him to share the good news. He also believed that God could move in the hearts of those who heard so that they would honor its message. The request in the original Greek text could be translated as that the word of the Lord “will run and be glorified” (v. 1). He imagined the gospel being victorious, crowned like a runner who wins a race. This expectation came partly from personal experience. Paul asked the Thessalonians to pray that God would work in others as He had already worked in them.
He also requested prayers for his protection. The grammatical construction suggests that the Apostle had a specific group of “wicked and evil people” in mind.
Paul concludes his requests with a prayer of his own, prefaced by an affirmation of his confidence that they would continue to be obedient to the faith. This was an expression of confidence in God who can direct the heart. This kind of confidence is the secret to perseverance in prayer. A prayer is not a wish, it is a request. Prayer assumes that God hears us and has the power to grant what we ask.