Editors’ note: This excerpt comes from a new group study by D. A. Carson and Brian Tabb, published by The Gospel Coalition and LifeWay Christian Resources. The study builds on Carson’s classic work on prayer, Praying with Paul: A Call to Spiritual Reformation (Baker, 2nd ed.). TGC previously published an excerpt from 2 Thessalonians 1:3-10


2 THESSALONIANS 1:11-12: (11) To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, (12) so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. 

Commentary 

If we adopt Paul’s spiritual framework, his eternal perspective, and his practice of constantly thanking God for signs of his grace at work in our midst, what sorts of requests should we present to God? The opening phrase, “to this end” (ESV) or “with this in mind” (NIV) makes clear that Paul’s petitions follow directly from his thanksgiving in verses 3-10.

Here Paul makes two worthy petitions for the Thessalonian church (v. 11) and spells out the ultimate goal of these prayers (v. 12).

Two Worthy Petitions

First, the apostle constantly asks God to count these Christians worthy of God’s calling (v. 11). The Bible sometimes uses “calling” language to refer to God’s invitation to people who may refuse to come (Matt. 22:1-14). But Paul consistently speaks of God’s effective call; that is, God truly saves those whom he calls (Rom. 8:29–30). God doesn’t call those whom he counts worthy, but he calls unworthy people and then summons them to live according to their calling (Eph. 4:1). In praying that God would make these believers worthy of his calling, Paul is asking God to so work in their lives that they will grow up into Christian maturity. In a strange paradox, Paul is constantly telling people, in effect, to become what they are; that is, since we already are children of God because of his free grace to us in Christ, we must now become all that such children should be. God has graciously called us; now we must live up to that calling.

Our prayers often give us an honest and sobering window into what we truly value.

Do we regularly pray that God would make us worthy of his calling? For parents, what is our greatest priority for our children? Do we ask God to grant them good health and academic and professional success more than we pray that they would be transformed by God’s power and grow into Christian maturity? To what extent are our goals as parents different from those our non-Christian neighbors have for their children? Our prayers often give us an honest and sobering window into what we truly value.

Second, Paul prays that God by his power might fulfill believers’ every resolve for good and every faith-prompted work (v. 11). Elsewhere the apostle says that God “works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13), but here he asks God to fulfill every desire of believers for goodness. These texts aren’t at odds but rather express a profound and complementary truth that when people respond to the gospel of Jesus Christ with faith and repentance as the Thessalonians did, God begins to transform their desires, goals, ambitions, and activities. The person who previously pursued self-advancement and personal pleasure may have new desires to share the gospel with neighbors, to reach out to an acquaintance who recently lost a spouse, to start a Bible study in the workplace.

Paul expects Christians to formulate new purposes for good, but he also realizes that good intentions and properly directed effort are nothing without God’s power. That is why Paul prays constantly for the churches. In 1 Thessalonians 1:3, the apostle thanked God for the Thessalonian believers’ work of faith, labor of love, and steadfastness of hope. Here he prays that God would exercise his power to fulfill or “bring to fruition” (2 Thess. 1:11, NIV) all their desires for good and every work of faith. Unless God works in us and through us, unless God empowers these good purposes of ours, they will not engender any enduring spiritual fruit; they will not display any life-transforming, people-changing power.

Paul’s prayer summons us to reconsider our personal agendas and priorities and also to pray that God would fulfill our good purposes and deeds prompted by faith.

Two Ultimate Goals

In verse 12, Paul reveals the two-part goal of his petitions. First, Paul desires to see Jesus glorified in the church. As the Westminster Shorter Catechism says, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” The Christian’s finest and highest longing is that Jesus be praised; yet so often we secretly clamor for our own praise and advancement. This danger is particularly harmful for those actively engaged in Christian service, even pastors. Paul Tripp writes, “Perhaps there is no more powerful, seductive, and deceitful temptation in ministry than self-glory.” The apostle prays that the Thessalonian believers’ increasing maturity and fruitfulness would occasion greater fame for their Lord and Savior, “when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints” (1:10).

Paul’s prayer summons us to reconsider our personal agendas and priorities and also to pray that God would fulfill our good purposes and deeds prompted by faith.

Paul’s second goal is rather startling. “So that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him” (v. 12, emphasis added). Paul seeks the glorification of believers—but what does this mean? According to Romans 8:30, God glorifies everyone he calls and justifies. When we are finally glorified, all sin and decay will be removed, and we will enjoy the perfection of God’s presence forever in the new creation. But even now, as we behold the glory of the Lord Jesus we “are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor. 3:18). Thus, for believers to be glorified is to be made like our glorious Lord. According to 1 John 3:2, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” On the final day, the Lord Jesus will be glorified in us because of what we have become by his transforming grace, and we will be glorified in him because of what he has done for us.

To sum up: in 2 Thessalonians 1:11–12 Paul’s eternal perspective and his regular practice of thanking God for signs of his work in other believers prompt his worthy petitions for the Thessalonian church. The apostle asks God to make these Christians worthy of his calling and to bring to fruition their ambitions and efforts for good. Paul prays to the end that Jesus would be glorified and praised and that believers would be glorified in Christ, transformed to be like their glorious Lord.

Session 1b — Praying with Paul (D. A. Carson) from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.