Most of us feel ambivalent about our prayer life. We believe in the importance of prayer, but we do not think that we pray well. Like the disciples who asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, we know there is room for improvement. Prayer is mysterious—but it is not rocket science. In today’s passage the apostle Paul describes the two foundations of the believer’s prayer life: thanksgiving and request.
One dimension of prayer, described in verse 8, is thanksgiving. Prayer provides us with an opportunity to express our gratitude to God. This is Paul’s third expression of thanksgiving in 1 Thessalonians (see 1:2; 2:13). Paul’s inability to fully express his gratitude underscores the inexhaustible nature of God’s goodness. His gifts always outstrip our gratitude.
This prayer of thanksgiving also reveals something about the source of spiritual growth. By giving thanks, Paul acknowledges that their continuance in faith is the result of something God has done.
The Thessalonians don’t deserve the credit and neither does Paul. He and Timothy were instrumental in helping the Thessalonian believers to mature, but it was God’s empowering grace that enabled these new believers to “stand firm in the Lord” (v. 9).
The other dimension of prayer expressed in these verses is request. Paul prayed that he would see the Thessalonians again and be able to continue the work God had begun through him. The language Paul uses in verse 10 reflects both strong desire and persistence. Paul repeatedly expresses his desire that Christ would “clear the way” for a return visit (v. 11). The language Paul uses in this request also indicates Christ’s equality with the Father. The two persons of God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ are the subject of the singular verb translated “clear the way” in verse 12. The Apostle saw them as jointly involved in granting the answers to his prayer.