The Who, What, and Why of Prayer

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The apostle Paul penned three epistles (think letters) to Timothy, his child in the faith. In his first letter, Paul warned Timothy of the false teachers that were threatening the church at Ephesus. He encouraged Timothy by speaking of Jesus Christ’s sufficiency to save sinners, and Paul entrusted to Timothy the preaching of this gospel. Paul then begins his exhortations on prayer: 

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth. (1 Tim 2:1–7) 

Who Do We Pray For?

According to Paul, who do we pray for? We are to pray to God for all people. We are to pray for every kind of person. There is no category of people for which we do not pray. There should be diversity in our praying.  

We are to pray for leaders in high positions. Paul writes this under the rule and reign of Nero who was violently persecuting Christians. Not just Nero, as best as we know there were hardly any Christian rulers in the world in the first century. Paul says pray for the king, the ruler, the leader, or the emperor who is plotting your persecution. Pray for the king you suffer under, the leader you do not agree with, and pray for the ruler you do not approve of. 

What do We Pray For?

What do we pray for? Paul did not tell Christians to pray that God would blast Nero into oblivion. He said pray for peace amidst persecution, for kings and all who are in high positions so that we may lead a peaceful and godly quiet life, dignified in every way. We are to pray for the salvation of persecutors. We pray that rulers, leaders, and even persecutors would come to the knowledge of the truth about Christ. 

Don’t miss the picture that Paul is painting here: the progress of the gospel in the world is dependent upon the prayers of God’s people in the church.    

A.B. Simpson, the founder of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, would wake up in the morning, bow on his knees, clutch a globe, and weep in prayer. Think about the theological motivation behind this kind of praying. According to Paul, we pray like this because God desires the salvation of all peoples. We pray for Jews and Gentiles to be saved. We pray for friends and enemies to be saved. We pray for Democrats and Republicans, Americans and Palestinians, Hindus and Muslims, rich and poor, white and black, the Hui, the Beloch, the Saudis, Somalis, and thousands of other people groups to come to the knowledge of the truth of Christ.

This does not mean that all people will be saved. This does not mean that God’s will has been thwarted. This does mean that God loves all peoples (2 Pet 3:9; Ezek 33:11). Because God desires their salvation, we pray for the salvation of all peoples. 

Why Do We Pray?

When you pray for the salvation of lost family members, friends, neighbors, and people groups who are hostile to the gospel, pray knowing that God loves them and desires their salvation. Pray like this, not just because God desires their salvation, but pray like this because God deserves their honor. God deserves the honor of all peoples.  

Worship is the fuel of praying in this world, and worship is the goal of praying in this world. We pray night and day, week after week, for all kinds of people throughout the world to come to a saving knowledge of God. And we look forward to the day when all kinds of people will indeed know Him and worship Him. This is what we are after in prayer: world-wide worship.      


This excerpt is slightly adapted from Secret Church 19, “Prayer, Fasting, and the Pursuit of God,” p.219–221 in the Study Guide.  The video for this teaching session can be found HERE.

David Platt serves as pastor at McLean Bible Church in Washington, D.C. He is the founder and chairman of Radical. He is the author of several books, including Radical, Radical Together, Follow Me, Counter Culture, and Something Needs to Change.
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