1 Timothy 2:1-4
Pray and Give Thanks
Thanksgiving is a natural time for prayer. Tomorrow most people will be talking, at least, about what they have to be thankful for. No doubt this is more due to the historical roots of this day than to any real religious fervor in our country. But the fact remains that people will be asking, what do you have to be thankful for? So it’s fitting on this evening before Thanksgiving that we take a moment and look at one of the many Bible passages that urges us to give thanks. Let’s follow St. Paul’s advice today. Pray and give thanks.
I. For God’s Gift of Government
II. For our Universal Salvation
When Paul wrote this admonition to pray, he wasn’t specifically thinking of the holiday that we’re celebrating. But his words apply. He urges us to make requests, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings. He specifically mentions kings and rulers. Today, as we prepare to observe our national holiday of Thanksgiving, it’s good for us to hear and heed God’s call: pray and give thanks for God’s good gift of government.
Paul really calls us to pray for everyone. There are so many things for us to pray for. There are obvious things, like asking for God’s help when someone we know goes into the hospital, and giving thanks when they come out again. But there are less obvious situations that merit our prayers just as much. For instance, do you ever pray for your spouse at the beginning of the day? He or she is going to face many things and needs God’s help and guidance. Do you ever pray for your children or for your parents in the morning? Children, for the most part, are off to school in a system that doesn’t have much respect for what we hold dear and parents will find many challenges to their faith. And how often do we give thanks at the end of the day when we see that spouse or those children safely off to bed? How often do you children give thanks at the end of the day that your parents are safely home and putting you to bed? All the things that could have gone wrong, that could have snatched those people out of our lives have been avoided for one more day. Now, I don’t want to make a law that you have to specifically follow this advice. But God does say, “Pray and give thanks for everyone.”
Paul seizes on one special area: the government. He tells us to pray for kings and rulers. Now for us Americans, government -- any government -- is not our favorite institution. Sometimes we’re like the priest in the musical Fiddler on the Roof. When asked if there was a blessing for the tsar, he answered, “May the Lord bless and keep the tsar -- far away from us!” But God wants us to pray and give thanks for our rulers. Why? So that they do their job. Not necessarily the job our constitution envisions for them, or our courts outline for them, or the political parties want for them. Paul tells us to make requests for our political leaders so that we can lead peaceful and quiet lives. That’s the job that God gave them.
“Peaceful and quiet lives” means that God wants us to be undisturbed as we live our faith and reach out to those around us. Of course, if we are unmolested in those things, chances are we are living peaceful and quiet lives in general. Go home and read your newspaper -- you’ll discover just how richly we are blessed with good government and peace and tranquility here in America. In spite of Monicagate and Columbine and everything else that our country has gone through in the last decade, we go to sleep at night expecting that soldiers won’t be bursting through our doors before morning. We don’t expect to turn on the news and find out that our capitol or our home town has been ripped apart by protests or upheavals. Most of us don’t even expect that Y2K is going to severely -- or even significantly -- disrupt our lives. We Americans believe that in the morning our lives will go on pretty much the way they did today. And for that we should get down on our knees and thank God, because I can tell you from personal experience that many countries in the world do not have that same expectation. God has given us peaceful and quiet lives.
And he wants us to pray for the men and women that he has sent to provide that peace. Do we do that? During the endless months of the Lewinsky scandal, when we all wished that the media would find something else to talk about, did we pray for Bill Clinton personally? Did we ask God to lead him to repentance? Did we ask God to guide him and the congress so that however it came out, they would continue to do the work that God gave them to do? I’ll be honest, I didn’t offer those prayers nearly as much as I should have. Did you? When it was over, how many of us gave thanks to God that in spite of the sinfulness and pettiness and downright absurdity of that entire scandal, our government still provided peaceful and quiet lives. Our personal freedom was not endangered in any way, and neither was our freedom to continue to reach out with the gospel. Again, I don’t remember offering that prayer.
But I should have. We all should have. God wants us to pray for our leaders and to give thanks for them. As imperfect and unworthy as they are for the positions they hold, they are God’s representatives. And God has used them very effectively to bless every person sitting here today. It’s a horrible comment on our Christianity that we don’t do it. I’m sure I’ve said it to you before, but I’ll repeat myself, as all pastors inevitably do. My greatest failing as a Christian is that I don’t pray nearly enough. Is that yours? If not your greatest, is it a serious failing? God wants us to be faithful men, women and children of prayer. When we aren’t, we defy him. We treat all that he has done for us with contempt and for that he ought to disown us and leave us to flounder without the care that he give us day after day.
But God is greater than our failure to pray. He sent Jesus because he already knew thousands of years ago how unfaithful we Lutherans would be in prayer. Regularly, Jesus set time aside to pray -- and he was a busy man. He taught his disciples how to pray. He prayed for his disciples. On the night he was betrayed, he prayed for all people who would ever come to faith through their work -- he prayed for us. And as he was being nailed to the cross, he prayed for the soldiers who drove the nails through his hands and feet. God has given to you and me Jesus’ perfect life of prayer. In his eyes, we have lived and prayed and given thanks just as Jesus did. In exchange for the richness of Jesus’ prayers that God has given us, he gave Jesus all those times that we were too busy or just too thoughtless to pray. He laid on Jesus’ head all the prayers that we didn’t say for our spouses and our children and our president and our congress. He made Jesus pay for our lack of thankful prayers that should be storming the gates of heaven for the paradise that we live in here in the United States. And we are forgiven. Completely. Totally. Absolutely. We are perfect people of prayer in God’s eyes.
Tomorrow, on Thanksgiving, as you gather your family together to commemorate all that God has done for you, be sure that you remember how much he has forgiven you, how much he has loved you in Jesus Christ. Starting tomorrow, let us be faithful in prayer, faithful in thanksgiving. Let us storm the throne of God in behalf of our president, our congress, our governor, our legislature, our county and city officials. Let us bring our spouses and our children and our parents again and again before the God who loves them as much as he loves us. Let us give thanks for all the care and blessing he has given them and us. Let’s be faithful in prayer, not because we earn something by prayer. But because God has already given us everything.
In truth, through our government God gives us blessing after blessing. All those blessings of peace and quiet and freedom point us to one central truth: Jesus. God calls us today to pray and give thanks for our universal salvation.
Thanksgiving focuses on our material blessings. In school, we all learned the story of the Pilgrim’s desperate first winter in America and how many of them died. The remnant that made it to the first harvest gathered with the Indians who had showed them how to survive in the new world to celebrate the richness that replaced the disaster of the year gone by. To this day, on Thanksgiving we celebrate the richness of our material lives. But this day has also come to be a day on which we celebrate the blessings of family and friendship, a day of coming together and reveling in the love that God gives to us in our human relationships. Those blessings are well worth celebrating.
But there is a far greater blessing for us to remember today and tomorrow. A blessing that all our earthly blessing reflect: God’s saving love for us and for all people. Paul tells us that God honestly wants everyone to be saved. And he always has. Even before creation -- even before Adam and Eve fell into sin, God knew they would and his fervent desire was that all people would avoid the hell that Adam and Eve earned for us. From that first day when he confronted them in the garden of Eden and gave them the first promise of a Savior, God worked to save absolutely as many people as possible. He controlled all of history, driving it steadily to one weekend in one nation: Easter weekend in Israel. To get the world to those three days, he created the nation of Israel, he sent prophets and kings who saw into the future and taught about Christ, and he even entered his own creation. In order to win the eternal life for us, God became a baby in Bethlehem and grew up in carpenter shop, and even learned from his human father how measure and cut and hammer. To get us to heaven, Jesus became the greatest teacher in all of history, and then submitted to cruelest death known to man. So that we can live, Jesus broke the law that reigned over all people since Adam -- he came back from the dead. Jesus did all that because God wants all people to be saved. Jesus paid for all the sins of all people who have ever lived. I don’t care if your name is Adolf Hitler or Joseph Stalin or Jeffrey Dahmler, Jesus paid for your sins on the cross and God wants you to be saved -- to reach eternal life. If that’s true for them, it’s true for us too.
But of course, not everyone will be saved. All that Jesus did for us is ours only by faith. That’s why Paul says that God wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. The truth is the gospel, it’s all those things that Jesus did for us. The gospel gives us faith. If you know the truth -- not just the outline, but if God puts that truth in your heart through the preaching of the word, then you have the eternal life that God wants every single person to have. By the grace of God, we do know that truth. By the grace of God, we trust in what Christ has done for us. So Thanksgiving is, first and foremost, a celebration of life from the dead. So tomorrow, give thanks for what you have come to know. Give thanks for the truth of God’s love in Christ. Give thanks that Christ paid for all the sins of all the world, especially yours.
And one more thing. Tomorrow, before your family enjoys the traditional Thanksgiving meal, pray that God would send that knowledge of the truth into all the world. God still wants all people to be saved and to trust in Jesus, and he wants us to pray for them. Pray for workers for mission fields throughout the world and throughout the United States. Pray for the gospel in countries like Colombia and Cuba and Indonesia where instability or hostility from the government makes it difficult for Lutherans just like you and me to practice and share their faith. Pray for the preaching of the gospel right here in Ottawa and Muskegon counties, where there are still thousands of people who don’t know the truth. Show your gratitude to God for your salvation by praying for the millions who don’t share it yet.
Today and tomorrow are natural days of prayer. The very name of this holiday, Thanksgiving, implies going to God and acknowledging how much he has loved us. God has blessed us abundantly in our government and our families and our material lives. God has blessed us more than we will ever know with the knowledge that Jesus is our Savior. Let us give thanks to him in prayer. Let us give thanks to him by asking for his grace for those around us. That pleases God our Savior, who gave us our rulers and who wants all people to know his Son and live with him in heaven forever. Amen.