“We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers.” 1 Thessalonians 1:2
Prayerfulness is an indispensable trait of a leader. As I currently listen to Keller’s book on prayer, my heart is being exposed to the quintessential need for prayer. Whilst I notice that my mind is filled with truth that is yet to pierce my actions, I find an eagerness in my soul to head to joyful prayer with my Lord. I have no idea what your prayer life is like but I can say with a degree of certainty that all of us would enjoy a deeper, richer and more robust prayer life. What we see in this verse is Paul’s heart expressed through prayer.
The need for gratitude
As is common for Paul, he begins his letter with a prayer of thankfulness and gratitude. Such gratitude is essential as it serves to curb the dissatisfaction that we so often find in leadership. As we want to move people forward we can experience the frustration that we aren’t quite where we want to be. It is quite easy to focus on where people are not rather than how far they’ve come! This is certainly my natural proclivity whereby I spot the problem rather than celebrate the success. There are two simple truths that ought to stir gratitude in our hearts. Firstly, the salvation that has brought them from death to life, from darkness into light, from swindlers to servants. Secondly, the truth that God has entrusted these people to be under my care as a shepherd. I think their salvation and God’s provision is surely a good starting point to stir our hearts to thankfulness?
Yet Paul doesn’t leave the praise 10 000 feet in the air but lands with specific thanks much like a Baptist bulletin. He gratitude is spelt out throughout the entirety of the epistle thanking them for their concern for him (1 Thess 3:6), their brotherly love (4:9), their acceptance of the word (2:13) and their imitation of Christ (2:14). Even right after this verse he praises God as he remembers their “work of faith, labor of love and steadfastness of hope” (1:3). Paul is certainly not lacking to find cause for gratitude. Like an avid treasure hunter seeking gold, Paul unearths the work of God in the people he leads.
Attention to Detail & God-Centeredness
It is as these words wash over my heart that I am moved as much by Paul’s attention to detail as I am by his God-centeredness. He isn’t left expressing vague prayers dissolving like dew on a summer morning. Rather his attentiveness leaves a permanency for his readers to experience. When their eyes read over such words or their ears hear such truths surely they would be revived and refreshed understanding precisely the things that Paul was thankful for. Where Paul directs his attention, there affirmation is found. Where affirmation is found there assurance is experienced. Such attention to detail is a remarkable trait for us as leaders to develop.
Whilst attention is necessary it’s not sufficient. For Paul, God needs to be the centre of attention. Not only is God the recipient of such thankfulness but the means by which there is reason to be thankful! We know biblically that their Thessalonian’s faith was produced by God’s word (Rom 10:17), their love derived from God’s love (1 John 4:19) and their steadfastness is secured by the God of all grace (1 Peter 5:10). God-centeredness not only gives Paul a reason for praise but also models to the Thessalonians where their focus ought to be. Their own lives are to be marked by finding the gold that God has placed there, giving rise to thanks and praise. There’s always something to be thankful for, it just needs a bit of attention!
So what about you? Are you attentive to the work that God’s grace is doing in lives of those you lead? Have you developed a fervent love for praying over your people? These things take time to develop but are indispensable for a leader
Here’s some practical things I’m seeking to implement in my life:
- Whenever I notice dissatisfaction in my heart towards someone I lead I head to prayer to see him or her from God’s perspective. This often involves confession and repentance on my part then expression of thanks as I turn my attention to God.
- I seek then to share what I’m thankful for not only to God but also with the person I’m praying for. Gratitude that is not expressed is not gratitude but mere sentiment.
- I encourage people to see the immeasurable blessings that we have in Christ as listed in Ephesians 1. Thanks is to be expressed regardless of circumstances (1 Thess 5:18)
- Weekly pray through some of Paul’s pastoral prayers over specific groups of my people (ie. Leadership team, new people, married couples etc)
- Write a list of things I’m grateful for including the objective truths and subjective realities.
What I’ve found is that this has helped curb my frustrations, dissatisfactions and discontentment. It has also increased my faith in God’s work, His Word and His powerful gospel. Next week we’ll look at how a leader’s prayers are to be constant in regularity and consistent for all people.
The Take Home
Leaders are attentive to the work of God in their people and express this gratitude in prayer.