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Prayer for the week

02 January 2015

Kevin Ellis concludes his selection from St Paul with an extract from Thessalonians


We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labour of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers and sisters beloved by God, that he has chosen you, because our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of people we proved to be among you for your sake.

1 Thessalonians 2-5

I FIND prayer a challenge. There - the proverbial cat is out of the bag. I read what the biblical writers prayed with lots of appreciation and a little bit of guilt (or sometimes the other way around). I wonder what it would mean if I was to pray for members of the churches I serve in the same way as St Paul prayed for the recipients of his letters. As soon as those words are typed, faces of people with whom I have worshipped come quickly and easily to mind.

I am not sure that I know quite what it means continually to give thanks. I try, but it often seems to be dependent on my mood. Having said that, I am immediately confronted by an apostle whose struggles and sufferings render my post-Christmas tiredness minuscule by comparison. I then find myself almost transfixed by what the apostle remembers before God, when thinking about the Christians in Thessalonica. He remembers their work, their labour, and their steadfastness, all underpinned by faith, love, and hope.

So many of my prayers are monochrome by comparison with the theological richness of Paul's, or are simply more centred on the needs of the immediate rather than rooted in our relationship with God.

One of the common themes in Paul's prayers is his breath- taking confidence that those for whom he prays have been chosen by the God who loves them. I am aware that my prayer life would be radically different if I dared to embrace such a concept.

I smile a little at the apostle's reminder that the recipients of this letter know "what kind of people" Paul and his companions "proved to be". As a priest, I am not sure that I would be brave enough to pray that within the hearing of those I have tried to serve.

Just as important, perhaps, is that, when we pray, our intercessions are being offered to God: the apostle is confident enough to present such words to God in the knowledge that he will not be found wanting. Paul's assurance does genuinely seem to stem from his unshakeable belief that his companions, those for whom he prays, and, finally, he himself are all deeply loved by God.

As 2015 begins, that seems to be a good place for my prayers to start: with the conviction that I am indeed loved by God. Prayer would still be a challenge, but it might be shaped differently. It might be less susceptible to lists, routine, and the promise that, if only a prayer is answered, some reform will be made.

Paul does not barter with God, because he is secure in the certainty that he is loved. This year, as we pray, let us resolve to make that confidence our own. God loves us: from that wonderful reality, prayers of all sorts can flow.

In the Name of God, who creates, redeems, and sustains, let us pray.

The Revd Dr Kevin Ellis is the Vicar of the Bro Cybi Ministry Area, in the diocese of Bangor.

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