Men of Passionate Prayer | 1 Timothy 2:8
by John Fitzsimmons
Pastor, Sligo City Church
Listen to and download the audio sermon
By listening to some of what I hear today I’m almost led to the conclusion that our aim in public worship ought to be to make things as light and casual as possible... But what is wrong with intensity and reverence towards a transcendent God? Are they not appropriate responses to his majesty? And what is wrong with a serious pursuit of him? It is true some people take themselves too seriously, but it’s equally true some people never take anything seriously – including their faith. They’re always trying to find a way to lighten the mood, to remove any sense of seriousness, reverence or intensity...
God is not looking for men who make light of worship, he is looking for men to make much of him – who love him intensely and reverence him greatly, men who have a relentless seriousness about pursuing him! God is looking for men of prayer. There is a time to be casual and light hearted, but in general that time is not when we meet for public worship. This does not exclude times of deep joy and appropriate humour etc, it includes them. However we need to recognize there is a difference between fleeting fun and lasting joy. Fleeting fun has its place, but it is just that – fleeting. It comes and it goes. It puts a smile on your face and is then forgotten. It brings a ray of sunshine to a dull day but it cannot satisfy our deepest longings. But the joy we find in serious, reverent, intense worship can – and it can change our lives and families and church as we encounter the presence of an awesome God!
A Call to Men
Paul addresses these issues of intensity and reverence in public worship in our verse for today and he focuses especially on the men. He says; “I desire then that in every place the men should pray...” Chapter 2 opened by urging us to make it our priority to pray for all people, and now Paul tells us that prayer ought to be offered up in all places. Malachi 1:11 declares; “For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense will be offered to my name, and a pure offering. For my name will be great among the nations, says the LORD of hosts.” Paul is calling local churches to play their part in fulfilling this.
When Paul says “every place” he means he wants prayers to be offered up “in every place of worship” as the NLT puts it. This may be a hired hall (as Paul used in Ephesus for two years - Acts 19:9), or it may be someone’s home (as in Philemon 2), or it may be the temple (as in Acts 3:1). The NT helps us to see it’s not the place where we meet that matters; it’s what we do wherever we meet that is important. God desires us to make wherever we meet in a place of prayer! Again those words of Jesus come to mind; “My house shall be called a house of prayer.” A place where people meet with God!
The very essence of prayer is desire. Desire to meet with God, desire to encounter him, desire to know him more, desire to draw nearer to him, desire to see his glory, desire to be filled with his Spirit, desire to understand his Word, desire to see him change lives and breakthrough in circumstances, desire for him to meet our needs and the needs of others. Prayer is how we express our desire for God and prayer is how we express our desires to God... And if we are lacking desire for God then prayer is where such desire will be ignited. There is a desire for God that can be awakened and it can be awakened (and intensified) when you turn away from all the other things and seek God in prayer.
We are not here to play church today we are here to meet with the living God! Paul said to the church in Corinth; “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you” (1 Cor. 3:16). A temple is a place where people come for worship and prayer And in these verses Paul calls men to lead the way in prayer! To lead the way in expressing desire for God and his kingdom!
In a home it is often the woman who is more committed to spiritual things like prayer (this is very true in Ireland)... and in public worship it is often women who are more intense in worship; but this should not be. Paul says here; “In every place of worship, I want men to pray with holy hands lifted up to God.” In other words he is calling the men to not leave it to the women but take the initiative and lead the way in expressing spiritual desire when we are gathered for worship. He is not saying it is only men who should pray since 1 Corinthians 11:5 assumes women pray and prophesy in public worship. He is simply emphasising that men need to step up and show spiritual leadership and passion in the house of God and take spiritual responsibility when it comes to prayer...
When Paul uses the term “holy hands” he is using a term referring to temple worship in the OT. God’s people consecrated themselves by washing their hands before prayer. Pools of water were scattered all around the temple mount. As God’s people went up to worship they said; “I wash my hands in innocence and go around your altar, O LORD” (Psalm 26:6). Psalm 24:3-4 says; “Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in his holy place. He who has clean hands and pure heart...” In the context of prayer James 4:8 says; “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” Therefore clean hands express a heart that is pure towards God and others. When Paul mentions the outward sign of lifting holy hands, he is talking about expressing the inner reality of a cleansed heart. Do you spend time preparing your heart for public worship? All of us should!
The term “holy hands” also means hands that are set apart for God’s glory and good works. We use our hands for practically everything we do... Hands are a symbol of our daily activity. By lifting up our hands in prayer we are surrendering our daily lives to God. We are expressing that our lives, including all the activities we involves ourselves in, we do for his glory! We are set apart for him... God wants to use our “holy hands” to show his mercy and kindness to people, to help those in need, to direct those who are lost. He wants to use our hands; to lay them “on the sick, and they will recover.” This is why we lift our hands to God: To express that we want God to cleanse our hearts and use our lives for his glory and the good of others... We offer him our hearts, our prayers and our lives... Remember prayer always leads to action...
Outward expressions must always be the overflow of an inner reality otherwise it is just an act... However if there is something truly happening within we will have to express it in some outward way. We will have to let it out. Jesus said in John 7:38; “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” He also said “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” Of coursepeople can fake outward things, or just go through religious motions, but it is equally true that you just cannot contain the inner reality of true spiritual desire... If it is there it will show in some way! It is impossible to hide the fire of God in your heart - it burns for all to see. St Patrick wrote; "I cannot be silent about the great benefits and the great grace which the Lord has deigned to bestow upon me."
The posture of prayer
This verse also teaches us something about the posture of prayer. It is very unbiblical to separate spirit and body, we are whole people and therefore the whole of us needs to be engaged in worship and prayer. If a person is alive there are physical signs of life, you just can’t hide being alive. Likewise when a person is dead there is no longer any physical sign of life. This is also true regarding the life of worship and prayer. In his creative book ‘The Screwtape Letters’ C. S. Lewis helps make us aware of the subtle tactics of the enemy regarding our prayer lives. In the book Screwtape is an experienced devil. His nephew Wormwood is just at the start of his demonic career, and has been assigned to secure the downfall of a young man who has just become a Christian. Screwtapes letters are written to help his young apprentice to this end. Listen to part of a letter on the subject of prayer:
“The best thing, where it is possible, is to keep the patient from the serious intention of praying altogether. When the patient is an adult recently reconverted... like your man, this is best done by encouraging him to remember, or to think he remembers, the parrot-like nature of his prayers in childhood. In reaction against that, he may be persuaded to aim at something entirely spontaneous, inward, informal, and un-regularized; and what this will actually mean to a beginner will be an effort to produce in himself a vaguely devotional mood in which real concentration of will and intelligence have no part. One of their poets, Coleridge, has recorded that he did not pray "with moving lips and bended knees" but merely "composed his spirit to love" and indulged "a sense of supplication". That is exactly the sort of prayer we want; and since it bears a superficial resemblance to the prayer of silence as practiced by those who are very far advanced in the Enemy's service, clever and lazy patients can be taken in by it for quite a long time. At the very least, they can be persuaded that the bodily position makes no difference to their prayers; for they constantly forget, what you must always remember, that... whatever their bodies do affects their souls.”
Our posture in prayer is important because our posture reveals in some way the attitude of our heart. We are not called to produce in ourselves some vaguely devotional mood; we are called to engage our whole selves in prayer... The Bible reveals various postures for prayer. Sometimes it speaks of bowing the head, which is a good way of giving honour to a king. Psalm 5:7 says; “But I, through the abundance of your steadfast love, will enter your house. I will bow down toward your holy temple.” Psalm 95:6 says; “Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the LORD, our maker.” Both these verses are written in the context of public worship.
The mention of kneeling in the last verse introduces another suitable posture for prayer. Getting on ones knees is a sign of humility and absolute dependence upon God. It is hard for a man to acknowledge absolute dependence on another, but this is what men of God are called to do. It’s the position Daniel took when he prayed to God. Dan 6:10 says; “He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God.” Kneeling is also how Stephen prayed in the hour of his martyrdom in Acts 7:60...
Moses and Aaron went face-down in the presence of God (Num 20:6)! Job fell to the ground and worshipped [on a bad day] (Job 1:20). Ezekiel assumed the same position (1:28)... This is also how the angels and the elders pray at God’s heavenly throne; they fall on their faces and worship (Rev 7:11). In public prayer standing was often the posture. At the dedication of the temple, Solomon knelt to pray, but the people all stood up (2 Chr. 6:3, 13). Similarly, “Jehoshaphat stood in the assembly of Judah and Jerusalem, in the house of the LORD” (2 Chr. 20:5). This is why standing became the norm in the Jewish Synagogues and was also the universal practice of the early church. Early Christian artwork shows Christians standing with their hands raised just as Paul encourages us to do in this passage.
Interestingly throughout the whole Bible there is only one recorded instance of someone sitting in prayer – King David in 2 Samuel 7:18 (cf 1 Chr. 17:16). So how come we nearly always sit in prayer? And even on this occasion David is not sitting because he is in some spiritually relaxed mood, he is sitting because the prophesy Nathan has just spoken over his life and family is so overwhelming. You get the impression when you read the whole chapter that if David didn’t sit he would faint because of the wonderful things Nathan has just prophesied. He is sitting is awe! Am I saying you cannot sit and pray? No of course not, I’m just pointing out that the posture of your body reveals the posture of your heart and the posture of our body can affect the attitude of your heart – because we are whole people and as whole people we are called to worship and pray with our whole being! According to Scripture posture in prayer does matter. And just maybe the reason we at times find our prayer lives dry and lifeless is because we do not engage our whole selves in it, and are perhaps too casual towards it.
Is it really fitting to stand slouched with hands in pockets checking our watches every few minutes when we come together to meet with an awesome God? Are we worshipping Jesus or waiting on a bus? ... Does this casual attitude not reveal something about our hearts towards worship? Come on, do we really believe we are in the presence of an awesome God who we can encounter? Or did we just come to sing a few songs, endure a sermon, have a cup of tea and go home the same as we came in? These things are essential and are part of how we encounter God, but the point is if we do all these and do not encounter God then we miss the whole point of public worship! The great need in our times of corporate worship is greater awareness of God's presence & greater knowledge of Him we come to encounter.
Unity in Prayer
Paul says when men engage themselves in prayer they must do so “without anger or quarreling.” Quarrelling was a big issue in Ephesus. There seems to have been much friction for this keeps coming up. False teaching was creating controversies. The result Pauls says in chapter 6:5 was “constant friction among people who are depraved in mind” (1 Tim. 6:5). We need to beware of such people...
The sins of anger and being argumentative have a particular relevance to men. Women are not immune to these things (see Phil 4:2). However as a general rule men like a good fight, especially when it comes to doctrine, church and politics etc... It’s more typical of men. We are critical and competitive. We argue first and listen later. We would rather be right than be reconciled. We get angry when we don’t get our own way. So the Bible reminds us not to fight over things that don’t matter, but instead to join our hearts in the good warfare by lifting holy hands, not angry fists. If we do not keep ourselves in check and ask God to humble our hearts we are likely to cause unnecessary agitation in the church.
This points us to the importance of unity in prayer. Arguments and friction are harmful to church in many ways, but especially because they hinder the church’s prayers. Bitterness, resentment and un-forgiveness make for sour prayers. We should never bring our quarrels and anger towards others to public prayer. We come together to unite our hearts in seeking God and his kingdom, not to win our cause or make our point. Issues are never resolved by praying at people. In fact, Jesus taught that if we have an issue with someone we should not come to worship at all until the matter is sorted: “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there you remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the alter and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” This is why it is so important to prepare our hearts for public worship. Those words in Psalm 24:3 come to mind again:
“Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully. He will receive blessing from the LORD and righteousness from the God of his salvation. Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob.”
God is calling us to be a generation who seek him, and men; he is calling us to lead the way through passionate prayer.