The apostle Paul's letters to his protegé, Timothy, speak about various topics. Some encourage Pastor Timothy himself and some are for the shepherd as well as his flock. These verses apply to Timothy and the church:
1 Timothy 2:1-4 – I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone — for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. (NIV)
In this passage, I found four different nouns for what I counted as only one activity called prayer. I can understand how "thanksgiving" differs from the other three, but what is the difference between requests, prayers, and intercession, which all mean virtually the same thing in English? In fact, other Bible versions also use "entreaties", "supplications", and "petitions" interchangeably. Obviously, if I were to figure out what the apostle Paul had in mind, I would need to study the meaning of the Greek.
In Greek word study I found distinct differences in meaning for the words for requests, prayers, intercession, and thanksgiving. This understanding, exercised in my daily prayer times, brought magnificent reward: rich variety, deep satisfaction, and ever more motives to continue and increase all four kinds of expression. If you are wondering how magnificent, I have grown to prefer prayer to chocolate!
Requests – Greek: deh'-ay-sis: expression of personal need or want, seeking, asking, entreating, supplication, petition, requesting God to meet a need. Jesus taught us about this kind of asking in the Lord's Prayer: "Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors." (Matthew 6:11-12 KJV)
Prayers – Greek: pros-yoo-khay': emphasizes the element of devotion and worship, prayer directed towards God. The root meaning is the action of moving forward and toward good. From the Lord's Prayer: "Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever." (Matthew 6:9,13 KJV)
Intercession – Greek: ent'-yook-sis: expresses confiding access to God, child-like confidence, by representing prayer as the heart's conversation with God. The root verb meaning is to meet, to have conversation with, to address, to intercede for anyone. From the Lord's Prayer: "Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." (Matthew 6:10,13a KJV) If in worship we move forward towards good, here with intercession, we seek in the name of Christ to bind evil and destroy its work.
Thanksgiving – Greek: yoo-khar-is-tee'-ah: grateful language to God as an act of worship, the giving of thanks. The prefix "eu" means "good" and the root means "gifts, favour, grace". We acknowledge the source of good.
I encourage us to give more attention to purpose when we express ourselves to God. Worship and thanksgiving acknowledge the Lord. Formal requests because of need bring blessing. Intercession is about taking a position with the Father through our relationship to Him in Christ to resist evil and see it made of no effect. Any or all of these expressions please Him. All of them work together to accomplish His will.
Prayer: Merciful Father, Abba! Your intense love and grace have made us alive together in fellowship and union with Christ, Jesus. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, we ask for the richest measure of Your divine presence. May we fully commit to life as adventurers according to Your will. Amen.