1627, oil on panel, 72.8 x 60.3 cm, Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart
For Sunday, Sept. 23 (Proper 20)
At first glance it may seem that Paul’s thinking here is, well… off. “I urge that prayers be made for everyone – for kings.” Is that everyone Paul? Is that everyone that matters?
Paul’s thinking isn’t off: he’s just busy doing the work of ministry. In Paul’s hand, compressed a bit by the urgencies of the moment, here is what the work of ministry entails:
- engaging in prayer
- remembering the stakes
- pursuing one’s calling
Engaging in prayer means more than a peremptory “God bless this mess”. In verse one Paul actually refers to four different kinds of prayer that might be interpreted like this: ‘Requests’, referring to individual prayer concerning what is on the immediate forefront of one’s heart; ‘prayers’, referring to planned individual and corporate times of prayer; ‘intercession’, referring to seeking positive change in one’s sphere of influence by talking with God about it; and finally, ‘thanksgiving’, referring to thanking God for his past, present, and future help as one ministers. If churches began to be as intentional about prayer as they are about what is often considered the real work of ministry – programming – oooh . . . imagine the possibilities.
Remembering the stakes means remembering that that there is truth to be known; that there is only “one mediator” between God and men; that this mediator, Jesus, gave his life to ransom us from our captivity to sin; and that we live in the exciting time in which God’s plan for delivering his people is both known and revealed. If Christianity is just one lifestyle option among many, then pardon me, but I have better things to do with my time. But just as Jesus staked his own life on what he claimed, and just as Paul staked his entire ministry on what Jesus claimed, so will I stake everything on the identity and resurrection of Jesus.
Pursuing one’s calling means being clear about what one’s specific ministry is to be about. For Paul, his ministry was all about being “a teacher of the true faith to the Gentiles.” What about you, and what about me? What is our ministry to be about? If we aren’t sure, then let’s go back to point “1” on prayer and work it through, shall we? 🙂
Remember finally that this work of ministry is not just for pastors. It’s also for priests. “Phew… I thought for a minute there you were going to say for everyone.” I did: remember the ‘priesthood of all believers‘? Thus Paul says to us, “I urge you…”