The Lord we worship is a God who puts up with a lot of us. How does God deal with it? God responds to our many misgivings with love and grace. The the true essence of gratitude is that our God gives us love and grace.
In his letter to Timothy, Paul states, “First of all, then, I ask that requests, prayers, petitions, and thanksgiving be made for all people. Pray for kings and everyone who is in authority so that we can live a quiet and peaceful life in complete godliness and dignity. This is right and it pleases God our savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. There is one God and one mediator between God and humanity, the human Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a payment to set all people free. This was a testimony that was given at the right time. I was appointed to be a preacher and apostle of this testimony– I’m telling the truth and I’m not lying! I’m a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.” (1 Tim. 2:1-7 CEB)
In the Scripture above the statement “I ask” means more than simply asking. “I ask” is a translation of a word centered on personal involvement in what the request desires. The original word indicates deep concern and desire. Used here I believe it is spiritually dangerous to ignore the request due to the results and consequences implied.
In this passage, Paul urges first of all (meaning of first importance) that we pray for all people. I would let this sink in for a moment. If we are believers, people of faith, part of God’s family the church, we have an obligation, a duty that we are urged to perform. It is not something that is forced or commanded because to do so would go completely against the nature of God.
But isn’t it natural to do something asked of us by the One who gave his life so that we might have a life? Why would we need to be urged to do this? Why would we need to be told, “first of all?” Why we may ask. I believe the reason is that there are many who believe that have allowed the world to stunt their spiritual growth.
Far too many believers have lost the vision for God and have grown complacent about responsibilities God gives us.” We may do our religious duties but we lose the delight. We are called to care. A call to care is a call to prayer. It is also a call to share, with others, what we know is true about Jesus. We are instructed to tell what he means to us. In this, we find the true power of gratitude. In this, we do what is really important.
This passage of Scripture is most likely written to the church at Ephesus. The church at Ephesus started as an outreach to the members of the synagogue but quickly became a gentile-dominated church. Then church at Ephesus became an influential church, a wealthy church. However, its success became its undoing. It became a church that thought of itself as special in an elitist manner. It was a church that became judgmental.
The Apostle John pastored this church after Timothy. The church’s failure to do what was important took center stage when John sends a letter to the church recorded in the second chapter of the book of Revelation, “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.” They had forsaken their first love. This is not a way to be grateful to God.
I often wonder how most church-going people would define a relationship with Jesus? It is a relationship of familiarity? Is it a relationship of culture (good people go to church bad people do not)? Is it a relationship of habit? God says it needs to be a relationship of love, of first importance. The kind of love expressed in caring, praying, interceding for others.
This is the way to be thankful. If Jesus is active in our lives, then there will be evidence of first love or else there will be an emptiness. A relationship with Jesus is established by faith, but it is sealed by the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit will not let us ignore our responsibilities. The spirit of God is always moving within us, but the spirit of self and of evil is always close by.
We can stifle the Spirit, we can grieve the Spirit. The Spirit will urge us to do what is of first importance, we will be urged to do what really matters. We can resist the Spirit, we can learn to ignore the inner voice. We can hide behind religion, activities, or just make excuses or comparisons with others so that we don’t look as bad. We can be like the Ephesians. God’s grace is beyond measure but we can reach the point where our love grows cold. This is where the demonic would like for us to be.
The cure, the prevention, the recovery from a lack of love is to pray for others, actively lifting them up to God. This brings us to the second thing that really matters. As the current situation in Ukraine reveals. We must pray for our leaders.
There are also those who love our former president and some who love our current president. There are easily as many who don’t. There are probably some with very strong opinions for other politicians, local, state, and national. There are those who some like and who some loathe. That is fine. This is a country of rights and choices. However, like or dislike we are told to pray for our leaders. This has nothing to do with politics or power. It has everything to do with peace. It has everything to do with what God says is important. We should pray for our political leaders to have compassion. We should pray for them to have a conscience. We should pray for them to have conviction. We should pray this for politcal leaders all over the world. We should pray that they will be open to the leadership of Christ. This is our duty as a thankful, grateful people.
When we do this we are praying for peace. We are praying for justice. We are praying that evil will not prevail. When Jesus was being tempted in the wilderness, Satan came to him and said, all the kingdoms of the world are mine. Jesus did not dispute this. We need to pray that Satan’s influence is limited. We should remember how he moves to create chaos in the political systems of our world.
These are things that please God. These are things that show that we not only talk the talk but walk the walk. It means we have begun to awaken to the importance of every human soul. And are thankful to God for every person. Paul tells us that when we are a people of true faith, a people of intercessory, caring, concerned prayer, and our hearts are in tuned with the heart of God wanting everyone to know (that is not just right-thinking but right thinking and doing) we can experience the growing presence of the Kingdom of God in our lives, then God sees this a being good, not good as opposed to be bad, but good as in being spiritually beautiful, in being morally righteous, in being immersed in the best. This is what pleases God. Is this not the least we human beings can seek to give God in light of what God has done for us? Is this not a good way of showing our thanks.
Paul states God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit wants all to be saved. Now some would say this is a one-time event. If this is what you believe the Bible teaches, good. Who am I to disagree. However, I have come to believe salvation is more than an event. I believe salvation is a process. Most times, in the Scripture, the word “saved” is a Greek infinitive. This tense is expressed in a past action that is still ongoing.
What God desires is that we understand so that we can live a life of being saved and saved and saved and saved. This is a reason to be very grateful. Each day, each encounter of life is an opportunity to live in grace, grow in grace, depend on grace, and blessed by grace. I believe if a person is not being saved, they are in a state of being lost, separated, ignorant of the truth of grace. They are in need of our prayer. I fear there are too many people in this state. 2 Peter 3:9 explains the desire of God in the negative, “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” The word for want (desire) is tied to the event. God’s desire is that this event, perishing, does not happen but that repentance will happen, restoration will happen, unity will happen, that love will happen.
I think it is important think about this. Who is going to perish if they do not enter and remain in the ongoing saving relationship with Jesus? It will be someone’s child, mate, parent, or friend. Do you want someone praying for the people you know and love? Do you want someone to be reaching out to them? Would you not be thankful if there are people who take this opportunity and responsiblity to heart? Should we not do the same? This is doing what is really important! This is showing we are faithfully thankful and grateful to our Lord and our God.
There is a song from the community of Taizé I often sing in prayer. It is a simple song. Its this message says, “In the Lord I am ever thankful In the Lord I will rejoice Look to God Do not be afraid Lift up your voices the Lord is near Lift up your voices the Lord is near.”