The sheer quantity of the prayers that find their way into the New Testament anthology—from Jesus’ expansive ‘high-priestly prayer’ in the gospel of John’s seventeenth chapter to the heavenward words that flow like the ink of Paul’s amanuensis—suggests that a world is being re-made against massive resistance.
The life of such pray-ers is seldom tranquil. ‘Sin, the flesh, and the devil’ are ever the wolves at the door. This does not incapacitate the New Testament writers, though it seems seldom far from view that it could. Instead, they pray constantly—’without ceasing’ in the familiar words of the apostolic exhortation—that the outbreak of a New Creation might not be stopped ahead of time and that the casualties not become more than can be borne:
Finally, brothers and sisters, pray for us, so that the word of the Lord may spread rapidly and be glorified everywhere, just as it is among you, and that we may be rescued from wicked and evil people; for not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful; he will strengthen you and guard you from the evil one. And we have confidence in the Lord concerning you, that you are doing and will go on doing the things that we command. May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.
In this passing breath of reported prayer, Paul speaks fluidly of the need for rescue and protection if the ‘word of the Lord’ is not to see its expansion halted. The word ‘evil’ recurs, first with reference to people who have no faith and so resists Paul’s mission, secondly in his desire that ‘the evil one’ (the personal ‘the evil one’ rather than the impersonal ‘evil’ is likely the preferred translation) might not have his way.
Like a grizzled commander of well-trained forces, Paul surveys clearly a lethal environment but does not tremble in his shoes before it. Paul is confident ‘in the Lord’ that the Thessalonian community will continue collaborating fruitfully with the Lord’s bellicose and regenerative purpose in his world. This perseverance in labor that is fraught with both peril and frustration seems dependent upon one more answer to Paul’s copious prayers: that the Lord direct their hearts to the love of God and the steadfastness (that comes from?) Christ.
Failure is an option. Indeed it might seem the obvious conclusion to this world-changing project, as it has been with all others. The environment is simply too lethal, too perilous, too disheartening for any divine project to prosper among flesh. This old world refuses to become new.
Unless … , Paul’s prayers appear to suggest, tapping into an inexhaustible source of reinvigorating protection and power.