I Desire That Men Should Pray
Note: This writing is based on a sermon I was honored to present before the Lord to Lumberport Baptist Church regarding men's responsibility to pray within the church and at home. This essay is not a direct transcript. All quoted verses use the ESV translation.
Scripture: "I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling." 1 Timothy 2:8 (ESV)
The church was still in its infancy at the time of this letter. Imprisoned, Paul wrote to a young man, Timothy, who remained in Ephesus to lead the local church – a very dear church to Paul. Of course, he needed guidance from his mentor, which we find within the pastoral epistles of 1st and 2nd Timothy. Within this specific chapter, Paul addresses the need for prayer within the body of Christ (2:1-8) and the appointed roles of men and women (2:8-15).
When we look at the first verb used within the sentence, it allows us to see there is an unmet need within the Ephesian church. A desire is an intense longing, a personal need that has yet to be fulfilled. What is it that Paul desires? Men in every place should pray. Paul's wording would be much different if men led the church in prayer. Rather than desiring it and saying, "Men should pray," his sentence would be filled with encouragement to continue the prayer practices already in place. “I exhort the men in every place, continue praying while lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling,” would be his response to Timothy’s letter. Instead, we find that Timothy was undoubtedly frustrated with the lack of male involvement and the over-involvement of women within the church.
Today, we share commonality with the Ephesian church. Men continue to neglect the expectations and responsibilities within the holy body of Christ. Men delegate leadership within the church and home to wives and other female counterparts. Some women fill the pulpits of churches or assume the roles of elders. Others are leading their homes while their husbands continue to tinker and stay busy with the temporary tasks of this world. Mom leads the kids in prayer while the father teaches them their baseball swing. Mom reads the Bible to the kids at bedtime while Dad recites sports trivia at the dinner table for their enjoyment. Spiritual matters are for women, and physical issues are for men. It's a sad reality that creates spiritual division within the home and hinders the children from taking their faith seriously. “If Dad doesn’t think it’s that big of a deal, why should I?”
I pray that this reality is as distressing to you as it is to me. It brings a dull ache to my soul when the fathers are absent from church service while their kids and wife are present. What sadness comes upon me to know families are struggling and the fathers cannot be bothered to go before the throne of grace and pray. However, I must digress.
Our analysis will be under three seemingly separate headings: Desire, Prayer, and Holiness. These three are the pillars, and Christ is the foundation. Without Christ, you will not have Godly desires, properly pray, and seek holiness. If you do not have Christ as you read this, I beg you to find Him while He may still be found.
Paul's desire is important as he is not only an apostle ordained by Christ himself but also because Paul exhorts us to imitate his behaviors and attitudes. 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” Paul lived his life so that he could confidently call others to imitate his walk, for he sought to imitate Christ in every aspect of his life. Paul desires all men to pray – as Christ prayed. Can we say that we have similar desires in our own lives? Do we desire prayer or to imitate Christ within our daily walks?
Often, our desires are for the worldly things around us. We can collect stuff, put it on shelves to display, or take pictures to show others and brag. We desire better jobs, more excellent homes and cars, more prominent families, and more money, but do we desire Christ? Do we desire the things of Christ? Do we desire to imitate Christ in our prayers, homes, and churches? Wanting better circumstances in life is not harmful unless it interferes with our devotion to God. Our utmost desire should be for Christ and Christ alone. Paul says it best in Philippians 3:8-10, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake, I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead."
We must understand that all these worldly desires are vanity and rubbish apart from Christ. If we are to be effective within our homes and church, it only comes through total reliance on Jesus, our Savior. We cannot have righteousness, wisdom, hope, strength, stability, and direction apart from our Redeemer. I encourage you, do not let the worldly idols the merchants of vanity fair offer ensnare your feet. Instead, focus on the Son of Man clothed in perfect righteousness and holiness. Desire to draw from the well of living water He has so freely and graciously offered and be eternally refreshed. Desiring the Heavenly sent is much better than choking on qual bones in the wilderness.
We must also be mindful that our desires influence our presence in the church and before the throne. If you are not involved within your local church, the Bride of Christ, today, it's because you don't want to be. You do not desire to be in the presence of the Groom. Your heart's desires are elsewhere. We must ask ourselves if Christ is altogether lovely to us. Do we live to please, honor, glorify, and imitate Him? Please, let your eyes be on Christ and desire unity with Him. We must pray to God daily, asking Him to show us the glory of His holy Son each day. Ask God that His desires would be your own so that you can live as Christ lived.
Of course, many have excuses for their lack of involvement with the church, such as work, children, and the general busyness of living. The distractions are endless. However, is God the most important one in your life? Do you seek to please your Heavenly Father? If you answered no to either of those questions, I must tell you to repent, for you are apart from Christ and are in danger. If you answered both those questions with yes, then I'd like to remind you that we “do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” We are indeed at war, and we do not have much time as our lives are but a vapor. We do not have the time to fence-sit and watch the days go by. Either our service to God is of utmost importance, or it’s not. If you're a husband or a father, you are the head of the home, with Christ being the head overall. You can only effectively lead your homes with Christ at the forefront of everything you do. If you do not lead by example, your leadership will be hollow, and the family will recognize you as a hypocrite. Total submission to Christ is necessary. If we can't submit to Christ, we can't expect our wives to submit to our authority and leadership willfully. Without Christ being our center, we cannot show our wives the true, holy love that God expects.
These are hard realities that we must understand and acknowledge. If there is doubt or rebellion within your heart concerning these truths, seek God in prayer and let Him reveal to you the stakes. The Holy Spirit will help you, and as we give up control of our lives and let God work, we'll find ourselves imitating Christ in all ways – including our desires.
Prayer is the most crucial part of this essay. If we cannot pray, we will not be able to align our desires with Christ, for we will not be imitating Christ, nor will we be able to pursue holiness, for it comes from the throne of grace alone. Men in every place must pray. We are given an imperative within this verse, and we cannot neglect or ignore it lest we place our souls in peril. Each time we push aside the imperatives, we sin before God and create distance between Him and us. It is open rebellion to shrug off the commands and expectations of the Master. Although He may be silent for now, He will only tolerate a rebellious soul for a little while.
I. Let us address what is meant by “every place." In our contemplation of this, we remember Christ’s words to the woman at the well in John 4:21-24, “…the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.” I- No longer does God's Spirit dwell within the temple, but instead within each of His elect. For us, that means that wherever we go, God is with us. He is near and able to hear our prayers, supplications, and worship. For men, our prayers need to be in literally every place, whether it's our homes, at work, or in the car during the morning commute, and especially within the Church, as Paul writes specifically within this passage. As Christ sets the example, men must lead with prayer in all aspects of life. In the mornings, Christ would go to prayer. He was constantly in communion with His Father. If we are to imitate Christ, we have no choice but to do the same.
II. Just as God called men to teach and preach within the church and to be the high priests of their home, they are called and expected to lead the church in corporate prayer. This is not an optional command. As men, we do not have the power or the authority to delegate this heavy responsibility elsewhere.
Naturally, women will ask about their role in public prayer. Women are encouraged to be involved in public prayer, but Paul clearly says they are not to lead it. This is not due to misogyny but God's deliberate design for the roles between men and women in His service. Within the church, home, and wherever else they may find themselves, men are responsible whether they wish to accept it. Women should not be disheartened; their prayers are necessary and integral to the church and home. They should continue to pray for their church and family, the lost souls, leaders, and their husbands, that they would be the men God desires them to be and themselves that they would be the women God desires them to be. All prayers are necessary for the advancement of God's kingdom.
Unfortunately, men are asleep like the disciples in the garden. We are encouraged and commanded to be awake and diligent, watching, waiting, and praying. Christ expects us to pray as He prays for us. We must establish this as a discipline within our daily lives, for there is so much to pray for without our walks. We should pray for God's grace, assurance, guidance, and strength for ourselves and our churches and families to withstand the attacks of Satan, who prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. We beseech God daily for His wisdom and understanding so that we can lead within the home and church as God expects us to. Prayerfully intercede for the church seeking God’s help keeping the bride faithful and dedicated so as not to find itself adulterous with idols. Above all, beg God that the light of Christ shine forth like a beacon to the lost.
We must understand that we live in the last days, and the hour is at hand. We must be like the Israelites in Nehemiah's time with a sword in one hand and the trowel in the other, at work in the house of God with our eyes scanning that vast horizon looking for our Savior. We must pray that we seek God's glory in our daily lives. If we do not live for God's glory, we live for nothing. Seek the power that can only come from the Throne of Grace. Pray as Paul does in Colossians 1:9-12 that we would be “…filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding so we can walk in a manner worthy of the Lord fully pleasing to Him; bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; giving thanks to the Father who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.”
III. We must also consider our sinful state as we approach the Father's throne. Are there any unconfessed or unrepented sins that plague our walk with God? I am not referring to the usual everyday sins associated with being in a fallen state and living in a sinful world. No, I am referring to those repeating daily sins perpetrated without concern. Those sins that we hang onto despite the Spirit's urgings to reject and flee. Do not be deceived; those who live in regular disobedience have tied weights to their prayers that hold them down.
Rarely discussing hindered prayers, the modern church commits a disservice to its congregation. Rather than warning the congregants, they lead the people to believe that God is obligated to hear the prayers and supplications of rebellious people. God hears all but has no obligation to respond or acknowledge the requests.
In 1 Peter 3:7, a warning is issued by Peter, “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.” Men should heed this verse and take it to heart. How we treat our wives will affect how God handles the prayers. A man who does not pray for his wife violates this command and sins. If a man prays for all others but cannot lift his wife up in prayer, how can he say he loves her? To imitate Christ, we must pray as Christ did for those around us. What greater love can we show our spouses than taking their name before the throne and interceding for them too? How can one be comfortable bringing their cares and petitions before the Lord while ignoring the considerations and pleas of their spouse? No, we express our love through unified communication and prayer with the Lord. Show me a struggling marriage, and I’ll show you a couple that doesn’t pray together or for each other.
Ultimately, the main issue is open and unrepentant disobedience. I urge you to repent and consider David's example when confronted with his sin, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love, according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!” Then, take comfort in your confession, dear brother, for 1 John 1:9 states that if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Through that grace, our prayers will be unfettered once more. They will reach the Father like a beautiful incense rather than a rebellious stench.
IV. Finally, it is necessary to acknowledge the typical excuses. We will only acknowledge two reasons for the sake of time and paper. It's curious that so many men have no problem conjuring excuses for neglecting their spiritual duties. Present an excuse to the man at the worksite and watch as he immediately confronts and challenges it. There will not be hesitation to call the worker lazy and worthless. If a man neglects to provide for his family and provides a thousand excuses for his behavior, are not all of them cast aside by their fellow men? Men have little patience for weakness when it is associated with grounded reality.
What about spiritual weakness? What about spiritual laziness? What about spiritual excuses? Their peers easily tolerate these. Any confrontation regarding these matters is frowned upon and seen as too pushy or judgmental. “Who are you to judge me?” or perhaps, “You have no right to challenge my walk.” If this is the case, then we forfeit accountability within the brotherhood. We will be like wolves without a pack, ineffective, starved, and left to suffer our solitary destruction. Christ did not operate alone, nor should we. We must embrace encouraging one another to run the race faithfully and obediently, praying for one another as well as our families and churches, and helping each other during times of struggle and strife.
The first common excuse is that the man is embarrassed or afraid to pray, especially aloud, within the church. I must ask how anyone can be embarrassed to speak to our Lord. "It's not that simple," one may say. To which I respond, yes, it is. If we cannot pray when surrounded by the family of Christ, how will we be able to pray when surrounded by the enemies of God? What will we do on that dark day when they board shut the doors to churches and participating in the local congregation is forbidden? Will we have the courage to pray with our windows open like Daniel? Will we be able to stand rather than bow as they feed the furnace like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego? If we can’t pray in the comfort of the congregation of God, then I fear for our ability to be steadfast in the days of hardship that are fast approaching.
If this excuse is owned by you, dear reader, I warn that you are in sin, for you are guilty of pride. You care more about your image and what others may think than you do of God. You are also guilty of unbelief. Suppose you genuinely believed in the power of prayer. In that case, there is no doubt that there would be zero hesitation to grovel at the Lord’s feet seeking Him and His power. Finally, the sin of selfishness will be accounted to you because you withhold your prayers from the family of Christ. Is your church family not important enough to pray for? Are they not worthy enough to hear you intercede for them? What about your families? Shouldn't they be able to listen to their father or husband humbly pray before God Almighty? It is a tragedy. We deprive the blessing of our prayers from our brothers and sisters and then pretend God will not hold us accountable for our silence. Please repent of these sins and seek the power of God to help you draw closer to Him.
The other common excuse or concern is not knowing what to say. For a long time, that was my fear as well. I cannot deny the terrible scenarios my mind conjured in which I opened my mouth. Nothing comes out; even worse, it is a jumbled mess of words hardly coherent by anyone with ears to hear. Moses had similar concerns, too. In Exodus 4:10, we find Moses using the same excuse, "Oh my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and tongue." God’s response in the following verse reveals that He has little patience for such complaints, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it, not I, the Lord? Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak." This promise to Moses, God extended to all His children through the death of His Son, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and the gift of God's Holy Word. Paul reveals this to us in Romans 8:26-27, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And He who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God." Through the Holy Spirit, God is in our mouths. As we go before the throne and fallen words tumble from our lips, the Holy Spirit speaks with us, for us to the Son and Father. Please do not worry about wrestling with the right words; approach the throne and let the words flow. The Holy Spirit is there by your side, cleaning them up, perfecting them, arranging them before the feet of God, and presenting these petitions through the Son to the Father.
Do not forget the other promise God makes to Moses in that verse: He will teach Moses what he shall speak. The gift of the Word of God, the Bible, helps to extend this promise to all believers through the inner works of the Holy Spirit within each of God’s children. The Holy Spirit illuminates the words and gives them life for our souls. Through the Scriptures, we find the prayers of saints since the beginning of time. The Holy Spirit, the perfect teacher, helps teach us how to pray through the Scriptures. A well-studied Christian will find their prayers reflect God’s Word more than their own, and that’s not by mistake. As we pray, the Holy Spirit will recall the various scriptures we read in our studies and use them effectually in our prayers, for God's Word is perfect and without blemish. Let this also serve as a reminder of the importance of the private personal study, for it helps not only in our daily walks as we face trials and tests and our daily worship as we celebrate God's goodness but in our prayer lives that are necessary to endure and persevere in the sinful times in which we live.
I must admit that the subject of holiness is not very popular today, nor has it ever been. The pursuit of holiness is an arduous, lifelong endeavor never fully achieved in this life. It requires daily sacrifice, total submission to the Lord, and a complete rejection of the world. To be holy is to be set apart in all ways from the rest. God will separate us from our peers, friends, and families. The road to holiness is narrow and, at times, arduous. Few attempt to travel it, and even fewer see its end. This is undoubtedly a rather gloomy assessment of a righteous and required endeavor. Still, when walking through a fallen world, the wide, comfortable roads are saved for the masses.
Paul speaking to Timothy, says that "men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling." Is he being literal? No, he is talking about a state of belief and living. Not just any man should lead the church in prayer; only the one who believes in the power of God and lives accordingly. This is the core tenant of holiness. We must acknowledge God's sovereign authority and power and live accordingly, which is only achievable through Christ.
We must understand that the pursuit of holiness starts with the pursuit of Christ. Without Jesus at the forefront of our life, we cannot begin to live holy lives. We will not believe or live as we ought. If Christ is not at the head, then something or someone else is on the throne of our hearts. Subsequently, we will not be faithful or obedient, nor will we desire to pray and serve. If you are concerned that this may be your state, I encourage you to pray as David did in Psalm 139, “Seach me, O God, and know my heart. Try me and know my thoughts. And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way of everlasting.” Only God knows our hearts. If we are honest and earnest in our prayers, He is faithful to hear and respond. He will pluck out the roots of wickedness that firmly planted itself on the day of our conception and plant in us a new, living, and fruitful tree.
I write of a lifelong endeavor requiring endurance, strength, and patience that can only come from the Throne of Grace through Christ with the help of the Holy Spirit. Holiness is the triune work of the Godhead. Living a holy life in submission to God will cost you everything, but the reward is a heavenly eternity. If we seek holiness, our prayer lives will be productive. God will use faithful prayers as a means to bless others, including our own families. We must strive to devote our lives to this pursuit, for heaven is a place for a holy people, and if we do not desire holiness, then we are lost and have deceived ourselves. We will be as the servants crying out "Lord, Lord," only to be cast out from His midst.
As this essay concludes, I encourage you to devote yourself to Christ and Christ alone. Christ must be the center of our existence, or we are not of God, but our father, the devil. Our desires will not be to pray or live a holy life but to pursue our selfish, fallen passions that will reveal themselves as vanity before God's throne. Let our desire be for Christ and seek Him daily in prayer to pursue holiness as God expects us to. Total devotion to Christ dictates that we seek Him constantly in prayer, both privately and publicly, leading others before the throne. Paul’s writing to Timothy shows that this is not a suggestion but a command we do not have the authority to ignore or delegate. We must not deprive our fellow brothers and sisters of the blessing of our prayers, nor should we allow any of them to bear the whole burden. We should desire to lovingly intercede on their behalf as Christ does for each of us. Let each of us pursue Christ in prayer wholeheartedly so that our desires will be Christ-centered, our prayers will be effectual, and our lives holy unto the Lord.