A Pastoral Prayer for the Church

Pastor Phil Andrukaitis, March 5, 2023

The Apostle Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians

 General Theme: Living Righteously While Waiting Patiently for Jesus to Return

Sermon Title: A Pastoral Prayer for the Church

Sermon Text: First Thessalonians 3:11-13

Subject: Prayer for the saints

Complement: The passionate prayer for the church’s spiritual growth will enable the church to stand confidently when Jesus returns.

Dominating Idea: Kneel before God so that others may stand with God.

Overview & Review

I.          Spiritual leaders prove their concern for the church. (1:1a)

II.        Spiritual leaders provide care for the church. (1:1bc)

III.       Spiritual leaders pray for the church. (1:2-10)

IV.       Spiritual leaders pattern a life of loving service. (2:1- 3:13)

            A.         By evangelizing lost sinners with the saving gospel (2:1-16)      

            B.         By edifying separated saints with loving concern (2:17 – 3:5)

            C.        By encouraging spiritual saints with hope and prayer (3:6-13)

                        1.         Refreshing hope for a persecuted church (3:6-10)

                        2.         Praying for the people of God (3:11-13)         Today’s Focus


A contemporary of E.M. Bounds, A.C. Dixon recalls how his friend, who was quite a lover of the hunt, had the following encounter with a fawn and several hunting hounds.

            Rising early one morning, Bounds said, ‘I heard the barking of a number of dogs chasing a deer. Looking at a large open field in front of me, I saw a young fawn making its way across the field and giving signs that its race was almost run.  It leaped over the rails of the enclosed place and crouched within ten feet of where I stood.  A moment later two of the hounds came over, and the fawn ran in my direction and pushed its head between my legs.  I lifted the little thing to my breast, and, swinging round and round, fought off the dogs.  Just then I felt that all the dogs in the West could not and would not capture that fawn after its weakness had appealed to my strength.

So is it when human helplessness appeals to Almighty God.[1]

Transitional Thoughts

Like the exhausted fawn who ran into the safety of its strong deliverer, there are times when…

  • the hounds of sin and a guilty conscience
  • the opposition from Satan’s hinderances
  • the trials of life [i.e. failing health, broken relationships, painful disappointments, etc.]

…move us to bow our knee before God and to appeal for His forgiveness, peace, victory, and strength.

Like the apostle John, Paul also experienced great joy knowing the faith of his brothers-and-sisters-in-Christ he served was maturing.  Listen to John’s words, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 John 4)

Paul gave thanks to God, praying frequently [night and day] and fervently [earnestly] for the church to reach its full potential.  Even though Paul and the mission team’s premature departure prevented them from completing their instructions on the fundamentals of the faith to the Thessalonian church, God’s grace enabled the church to remain faithful and strong amid Satan’s affliction.  Therefore, having offered his thanksgiving to God and his encouragement to the saints, Paul offers up a pastoral prayer (1st Thessalonians 3:11-13).

It is a prayer that sincerely expresses Paul’s desire to be reunited with his fellow saints and to observe their spiritual maturity (1st Thessalonians 3:11-13), because each Christian will stand before the Lord Jesus Christ and have his/her life and ministry evaluated, reviewed, and rewarded before the host of heaven (Romans 14:9-12; 2nd Corinthians 5:6-10).

You see, the apostle Paul desired that they [and us] be able to stand confidently and unashamedly in the presence of Jesus and hear these words, “well done thou good and faithful friend.”

Listen to the apostle Paul’s prayer:

“Now may our God and Father Himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you,

and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all,
as we do for you,

so that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father,
at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints.”

(1st Thessalonians 3:11-13)

Like the exhausted fawn whose helpless appeal came before a strong man, here are three heart-felt appeals we too can bring to our strong and mighty God on behalf of others.

Kneel before God so that others may stand with God.

I.         LORD God, straighten our ministry paths (3:11).

II.        LORD God, strengthen Your love in us (3:12).

III.      LORD God, stabilize our walk of faith (3:13).

I.         LORD God, straighten our ministry paths (3:11).

“Now may our God and Father Himself, and our Lord Jesus,
direct our way to you…”
(1st Thessalonians 3:11)

Paul’s first appeal to God is “send me” to the Thessalonian saints.  Make straight my path into the lives of others.  Paul knew that Satan was behind the failed attempts to be with them (1st Thessalonians 2:10).  Even though Timothy had visited the Thessalonian saints and returned with a good report, Paul possessed a sense of urgency to see his spiritual children again. 

Entrusting himself and the situation to God, it seems that Paul’s wisdom reflects the truths from Psalm 37:1-5 and Proverbs 3:5-6.

  • Psalm 37:1-5 reveals five key commands:  Fret not yourself because of evildoers, trust in the LORD, delight yourself in the LORD, commit your way to the LORD, be still before the LORD.
  • Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths.”

Paul’s use of the word “direct” kateuthunō (Strong’s #2720) means to “make straight,” “guide,” “straighten out,” especially since the church and every saint are engaged in spiritual warfare.   Again, Paul reminds us of the on-going war with Satan and his forces we experience every day.  Lord, remove Satan’s block (2:17-20)

Paul directed his appeals to both God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ Who are worthy of our worship and prayers because both share the same divine essence and the same power to make our ministry paths straight. 

And so, we pray, “Our Father and our Lord, make straight our paths into other people’s lives so that even when Satan throws up his gates to restrain the church’s ministry and witness, hell’s gates will not prevail against the church, but hell’s gates will come crashing down (Matthew 16:18).

Kneel before God so that others may stand with God.

I.          LORD God, straighten our ministry paths (3:11).

II.        LORD God, strengthen Your love in us (3:12).

“…and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love
for one another and for all, as we do for you…”
(1st Thessalonians 3:12)

Paul’s request [to God] for the Thessalonian’s love to “increase” pleonazō (Strong’s #4121) and “abound” perisseuō (Strong’s #4052) was not because they lacked love (4:9) but because there is always room for more spiritual growth and love in our lives. 

Commenting on Paul’s request for God to increase our love for one another, Warren Wiersbe writes:   

            Times of suffering can be times of selfishness.  Persecuted people often become very self-centered and demanding.  What life does to us depends on what life finds in us; and nothing reveals the true inner man like the furnace of affliction.  Some people build walls in times of trial and shut themselves off.  Others build bridges and draw closer to the Lord and His people.  This was Paul’s prayer for these believers, and God answered it:

            “We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is fitting, because your faith grows exceedingly, and the love of every one of you all abounds toward each other” (2nd Thessalonians 1:3).[2]

Wiersbe is right when he says that times of suffering can be times of selfishness.  This truth is sadly predicted for a future time known as the Great Tribulation.  Jesus said, “…because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold” (Matthew 25:12).

With over thirty [positive and negative] “one anothers” throughout the NT, “love” appears most frequently as it is the over-arching term which includes all the “one anothers.”

GOSPEL:  Since God sent His Son into this unloving world, where God’s chosen people did not recognize Him, but rejected Him.  Nevertheless, Christ died for us.  God the Father’s greatest demonstration of His love for sinners like you and me was demonstrated on Mount Calvary where Jesus sacrificed His life on the cross to pay our sin debt, washing away our sins with His shed blood.  And having been resurrected three days later, God further declares His power, righteousness, and justification to declare this promise:  If anyone who repents from his sinful ways, turns to God, believing that Jesus died and rose again from the dead, and cries out to Him for forgiveness and eternal life, will be saved. 

It’s easy to love individuals in our fellowship, especially when others love us back.  However, it is more difficult to love others who are less lovable, especially unbelievers who are outside the community of faith [unbelievers].  Therefore, let’s take to heart Paul’s words from Galatians 6:9-10. 

            “And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.  Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who   are of the household of faith.”

Illustration:  World War II ‘Enemies’ Forge Unique Bond

“In December 1943, German fighter pilot Franz Stigler was in pursuit of American bomber pilot Charlie Brown’s plane, looking to shoot it down.  If he did, it would earn him the Knight’s Cross, the highest honor for a German soldier.  But as Stigler approached the plane, he saw that it had no tail guns blinking, no tail-gun compartment remaining, no left stabilizer, and the nose of the aircraft was missing.

“Surprisingly, he could also see into the plane, the skin of it having been blown off.  Inside, Stigler observed terrified young men tending to their wounded.  Stigler could not shoot the plane down.  He had been trained that “honor is everything.”  If Stigler survived the war, his superior officer told him, the only way he would be able to live with himself was if he had fought with as much humanity as possible. 

“Stigler could tell that Brown didn’t realize how bad a shape his plane was in.  Stigler gestured for Brown to land the plane, intending to escort him.  But Brown had no intention of landing in Germany and being taken prisoner along with his men.  Stigler then yelled “Sweden,” meaning that Brown should land his plane there.  But Brown didn’t know what Stigler was yelling.  Stigler saluted Brown and veered away.  His last words to him were, “Good luck, you’re in God’s hands now.”

“Brown was able to land the plane in England.  He continued his Air Force career for two decades but remained obsessed with the incident.  In 1990, he took out an ad in a newsletter for fighter pilots, looking for the one “who saved my life on Dec. 20, 1943.”  Stigler, living in Vancouver, saw the ad and yelled to his wife: “This is him!  This is the one I didn’t shoot down!”  He immediately wrote a letter to Brown, and the two then connected in an emotional phone call.

“Stigler and Brown both died in 2008, six months apart.  The article in the New York Post also noted that both men were Christians and that the obituaries for Stigler and Brown both listed the other friend as “a special brother.”[3]

LORD God, strengthen Your love in us.

Kneel before God so that others may stand with God.

I.          LORD God, straighten our ministry paths (3:11).

II.        LORD God, strengthen Your love in us (3:12).

III.      LORD God, stabilize our walk of faith (3:13).

III.      LORD God, stabilize our walk of faith (3:13).

“…so that He may establish your hearts
blameless in holiness before our God and Father,
at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints.”
(1st Thessalonians 3:13)

The purpose behind Paul’s pastoral prayer is clear:  To see the Thessalonian saints firmly “established” in their walk of faith, especially when the Lord comes for His church.  To be “established” stērizō (Strong’s #4741) means more than simply surviving times of persecution and affliction; it also involves being able to stand confidently and unashamedly before King, anytime, but especially when the Lord of the church comes for His followers.

In other words, Paul’s desire for the Thessalonian church [and us, too] is for every saint to live blamelessly and holy!  We’re talking about practical sanctification.  After the Holy Spirit regenerates the sinner, that sinner becomes a child of God, a partaker of the divine nature (2nd Peter 1:4).

Therefore, as Christians are led by the Holy Spirit, they become more and more like Jesus.  When Christians grow in Christ, their lives will exhibit God’s holiness and a stable faith in their walk with God.

While Christians cannot make themselves purer before God [since Christ has imputed His righteousness to us and there is nothing more to add], they can demonstrate with their lives that they are “set apart” to God for God!  This is called practical sanctification.  It is a powerful witness of God’s presence for our world today.

Therefore, when our paths are straight, our love is growing and overflowing, and our walk of faith is stable, the results glorify the Lord: 

  • Our lives will not be censured by sin because we strive to live a blameless life.
  • Our lives will be set apart for God’s will and work; therefore, we will bear much fruit for God!
  • Our lives will always be seen by God (2nd Chronicles 16:9).  His eyes are always upon us.
  • Our lives will be delivered from the divine wrath to come; at the Rapture (1st Thessalonians 5:9).

These realities bring the blessings of hope, cheer, comfort, peace and assurance to the obedient Christian.

Kneel before God so that others may stand with God.

I.          LORD God, straighten our ministry paths (3:11).

II.        LORD God, strengthen Your love in us (3:12).

III.       LORD God, stabilize our walk of faith (3:13).

Conclusion with Questions for Our Lives Today

There are two words in the Greek language to describe the second “coming of the Lord.”  They are:  parousia (Strong’s #3952) and apokalupsis (Strong’s #602)

Parousia is found 24 times in the NT [4 times in 1st Thessalonians 2:19; 3:13; 4:15; 5:23] and apokalupsis is found 19 times in the NT, but not once in 1st Thessalonians.

I believe parouusia refers to the “coming of Christ” for His saints before the Great Tribulation (1st Thessalonians 4:13-18).  The Lord’s “coming” parousia is when the church is “caught up” [The Rapture] to be with the Lord. 

As for the apokalupsis, this term defines the revelation of Jesus.  Therefore, in the context of end time prophecy, The Book of Revelation [The Book of the Apocalypse of Jesus Christ] describes the Great Tribulation upon the earth and the Return of Jesus Christ to establish His Kingdom Rule for a thousand years – The Millennial Reign of Christ.

1.         If strengthening the faith and deepening the love of God’s people are our goals for spiritual growth, how do we measure these goals in practical ways? 

  • What does faith look like?  How do we know if faith is getting stronger?
  • What does love look like?  [Hint:  1st Corinthians 13:4-8a]  Are we expressing love?  How?

2.         What kind of prayers does God hear from us?

  • Are our prayers focused on the physical needs or spiritual development of others? 
  • Do we pray specifically for people [i.e. neighbors, family, friends, co-workers]?
  • When we pray, do we approach God with what we want Him to do with our good ideas or do we seek His ideas and power? 
  • Do we pray with the understanding that any delay in God’s response to our prayers may be a learning experience?  God often teaches us to wait, wait on Him.
  • Once we know the direction God would have us to take, do we ask God to tear down the “road-blocs?”
  • Do we pray for the spiritual leaders – Lord God, please show them which way to go and empower them? 
  • Do we pray for our children that they would learn how to worship, serve, and live for God?
  • When serving others in Christ’s name, pray.  Seek God’s direction.  Ask God to clear the way, to remove the “road blocks” Satan throws in our way [i.e. storms, schedules, self-interests, shortages, sickness, strife, etc.]  Therefore, ask God to help you cultivate relationships with others.  After all, at the end of our lives, the only thing a Christian will bring nothing to heaven are the relationships they had cultivated with others.

3.         Would you describe your heart as being established in the Lord, without blame and being holy?

  • If not, what steps do you need to take to achieve these goals?

4.         How then shall we live, because each Christian will stand before Jesus.

            May God help us…

  • …by straightening our ministry paths – removing all obstacles so that we may fulfill His will;
  • …by strengthening our love for all people and
  • …by stabilizing our walk of faith with His Spirit and Word.

            Let each of us be not ashamed of the way we are presently living out our lives or afraid to give an account to our Savior and God when we stand before Him at the Bemaseat. 


Kneel before God so that others may stand with God.

[1] A.C. Dixon, E.M. Bounds on Prayer, [doc online]; https://www.preachingtoday.com/illustrations/2004/january/14764.html, accessed 2019, Feb. 14.

[2] Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, Vol.2, (Wheaton:  Victor Books, 1989), pp. 173-174.

[3] Maureen Callahan, Amazing Tale of a Desperate WWII Pilot’s Encounter with a German Flying Ace, [doc online]; https://www.preachingtoday.com/illustrations/2013/january/7010713.html; accessed 2019, Feb. 14.

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