Praying for One Another
August 14, 2015
PRAYING FOR ONE ANOTHER
Let me start this morning with a couple of questions. When you pray for other people, what kinds of things do you pray about or pray for? What do you ask God to do for them? And a follow-up question; when you ask other people to pray for you, what do you ask them to pray about? What kinds of prayer requests do you give them?
This series of messages on prayer actually grew out of my final message from the Book of Ephesians. The teaching section of that letter concludes with these words in Ephesians 6:18: praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints…
That call to prayer is what triggered my decision to do a series of messages on prayer. Looking back at that verse, there is this call to “make supplication for all the saints…” The word “supplication” can be defined as “an urgent plea based on presumed need.” We are urged to present these urgent pleas not only for ourselves but for “all the saints”. Again, I need to remind you of the Biblical use of this word “saints”. It is not some elite class of spiritual “over-achievers”. In the Biblical use of the term, every born-again follower of Jesus is referred to as a “saint”, one who has been sanctified, or set aside as belonging to Christ. So this is prayer for one another in the Body of Christ. But when we do pray for one another, what are the “presumed needs” that we bring to God? What urgent pleas do we present to him?
Think about your answer to those questions for a moment. Then tuck your answer away for the time being. We will come back to it for the sake of comparison later in the message.
A good many years ago, when I was a student in seminary, I wrote a term paper on the subject of “The Prayer Life of the Apostle Paul.” In the paper, I analyzed the recorded prayers of Paul. When he prayed, what did he pray for? When he asked prayer from others, what were his requests? When Paul said in his Epistles, “I am praying for you that…” how did he complete that sentence? It was an eye-opening study for me, and I found a stark contrast between these prayers and what I commonly prayed for, and a contrast with the prayer content of many of the prayer meetings I had attended.
There isn’t time to review all of the passages that I studied in my research for that paper. So we will have to be selective. I would like to begin by looking at the prayer requests of Paul: what he asked people to pray about on his behalf.
WHEN PAUL REQUESTED PRAYER FOR HIMSELF
Let’s go back to the passage in Ephesians, where Paul instructs us to “make supplication for all the saints.” He goes on in the very next verses to request prayer for himself and this is what he asks them to pray for:
19 and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel,20 for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.
Those verses pretty much set the pattern for almost all of Paul’s personal prayer requests: Boldness in proclaiming the Gospel. He is in prison; “an ambassador in chains.” But he doesn’t ask for his release. He asks for boldness.
Let’s look at another example in Colossians 4:2-4: Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. 3 At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison— 4 that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.
There are also a couple of times when he does ask that the believers pray for his protection and deliverance, but even then, the focus is on the spread of the Gospel and the continuance of God’s work. For an example of such a prayer, let’s look at 2 Thessalonians 3:1-2:
Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you, 2 and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men. For not all have faith.
So, that is what Paul requested, when he asked others to pray for him.
WHEN PAUL PRAYED FOR OTHERS
1. He prayed for the salvation of the lost.
Romans 10:1 says this: Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved.
In the context of that verse, “them” is a reference to the Jews, Paul’s own people. He refers to them back in chapter 9, verse 3 as “my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.”
Paul says that he had “great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart” for them. That sorrow and anguish took the form of prayer; prayer that they would come to faith in Jesus as Messiah and Savior and be saved.
I believe God calls us to prayer on behalf of those who do not know Christ. These may be individuals; friends, family members. It may be a category of people; a people group, a nation, a tribe. As God burdens us to pray, we should pray. And the first and most urgent prayer is for their salvation, because without the Gospel and without faith in Christ, all other prayers on their behalf will be in vain, only a temporary postponing of the inevitable catastrophe of dying without Christ.
But even while I issue this call to prayer, I must add some caution and instruction. This is the only passage in Paul’s writing where he clearly says that he is praying for people who do not have faith. And we might pose the question: Did God answer his prayers?
It is a difficult question to answer. On one level, I am confident that there were some individual Jews, fellow Israelites, who came to faith in Jesus Christ as a result of Paul’s prayers. But on the larger stage, there was no national movement of the nation to follow Christ. They continued in their hardness of heart and their rejection of Jesus as their Messiah. In fact it was the leaders of the Jews who eventually hounded Paul all the way to Rome, seeking his execution. On the national level, Paul’s prayer was not answered.
When we pray for the salvation of others, either individuals or groups, we enter the realm of one of prayer’s great mysteries, as well as the mysteries of salvation. That is the interface between God’s sovereignty in salvation and man’s free will. We know from Scripture that “God is not willing that any should perish.” But we also know that many will perish because they do not believe. When we pray for the salvation of a loved one, we join our will with God’s will – but we still face the third variable – the will of the one for whom we are praying.
So how should we pray? I find it helpful to pray in a couple different ways. I pray that God will work in the life of that person or those people in a way that will bring them to the end of themselves, to recognize their lostness. I pray that God will bring other believers into their lives who will share Christ’s love and Gospel truth with them. And I pray that God will remove the veil that lies across their spiritual eyes, so that they can see and understand the light of the Gospel. And I ask God to help me be the answer to my own prayers as he gives opportunity; that he will show me when to speak, what to say, and when to be silent.
There is an additional way that we can pray for the lost – especially as we pray for people groups, tribes or nations. This one actually comes from the words of Jesus himself in Matthew 9:37-38:
37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
So, those are some ways to pray for the lost. Mysteries remain, but in spite of them, let us persist in prayer and then rest in the sovereignty of God. I think it is instructive to consider where Paul ended up after three chapters of agonizing over this question of the salvation of his own people. It is found in Romans 11:33-36:
33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?”
35 “Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?”
36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.
That’s a pretty good place to rest.
Now how did Paul pray for other followers of Christ? When he was acting in obedience to his own instructions to “make supplication for all the saints” what did he ask God to do for the saints? I think we can summarize his prayers for the saints as…
2. He prayed for the spiritual growth and strengthening of God’s people
There are many more passages to choose from here and there are a number of prayers we could go to and study with great profit. There are two of them found in the Book of Ephesians which we studied earlier this year; one at the end of chapter one and another at the end of chapter 3. There is another one in Philippians 1. I would encourage you to look at all of them if you are serious about learning how to pray for yourself and others and modeling your prayer life after that of the Apostle Paul. While there are some differences between these prayers, they all share a very similar tone and emphasis. I have chosen to focus on the prayer that is found in Colossians 1:9-14, the passage we read in our Scripture reading earlier in the service. Let me read it again:
9 And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.11 May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. 13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
In Paul’s letter to the Colossians, he is writing to a church made up of people he does not know. He has never visited Colosse. Yet he still opened his letter by telling them that he prayed for them regularly and he gave thanks for them. So this is a prayer that Paul could and did pray for all believers, all saints. And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking…
So, what did he ask?
That you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding…
The first thing Paul prays for them is that they will be filled with knowledge. This echoes Paul’s prayers in Ephesians. In Ephesians 1:18-19 we read: having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe,
Similar language is found in Ephesians 3
17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
So one of the dominant themes of Paul’s prayer for other believers is for knowledge. For knowledge of God’s will. For spiritual wisdom and understanding; for strength to comprehend the hope to which we’ve been called, the riches of our spiritual inheritance, the great power that is at work in us, the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge. “O Lord, open the eyes of their hearts that they may know!”
But it isn’t just knowledge for knowledge’s sake. Let’s continue in the prayer in Colossians:
so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.
It is a knowledge that will result in a different kind of walk; a different kind of lifestyle. A walk that is worthy of the Lord and fully pleasing to him. This is what Paul prayed for these saints he had never met. It is what he would be praying for you and me today if he were here. Renewed minds, filled with the knowledge of God and his will, resulting in a worthy walk that please the Lord. But let’s continue with the prayer in Colossians:
May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.
“Strengthened with all power.” We like that phrase. “According to his glorious might.” Give us more of that. But then we hit this phrase: “for all endurance and patience.” What is that doing in the passage?
This is where Paul’s prayer is a contrast to some of the current teaching on prayer. Such teaching often seems to view prayer and the power of God as a kind of “magic wand.” Suppose I had such a magic wand. Let’s pretend that this wand contains the power of God; the power he has been praying for in the first part of the verse. If I had access to such a wand, such personal application of God’s power, what would I do with it? I’ll tell you what I would do with it: I would use it to get rid of all my problems. My car won’t start? “Vroom”, away it goes with the power of God. Headache? Hit it with the “power of God.” Finances aren’t working out? More power.
Then, once I had my life in order, I tell you what I would do. I would keep this “wand” on my desk at work. And whenever anyone came to see me with a problem, I’d hit it with the wand, and remove your problem. Your marriage is unhappy? Give it a shot of God’s power. Kids misbehaving? Bop them with God’s power. Problems at work? Away they go!
But that’s not how Paul prays. He prays that the Colossians will be strengthened with God’s power to have great endurance and patience. If I had my way with the wand, there wouldn’t be any problems to endure! They would all have been removed! Something else must be going on here. There is a value system and a time table that I am not picking up on.
Let’s look at these two words. “Endurance” literally means “to stand up under; to persevere under hardship without giving up.” “Patience” on the other hand, refers to the attitude we are to maintain while we are standing up under the hardship. It is to be an attitude of humility and magnanimity and gentle forbearance. It is enduring without whining or complaining or finding fault. This is what Paul prays for. Not the removal of all hardships, but the strength in the hard times to endure and be patient. I would also say that there is more involved here than just stoic, stiff-upper-lip, get-through-it endurance. This is endurance in faith. This is maintaining our course as Christians, in spite of difficulty and persecution. This is what the writer to Hebrews had in mind when he urged us to “run with perseverance (same word) the race marked out for us.”
I am reminded here of Jesus’ parable of the sower and the four kinds of soil. One of the types of soil was identified as rocky soil. In his interpretation of this part of the parable, Jesus says this: As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, 21 yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away.
This is a risk. When we pray for ourselves and for other believers, we pray that we will have the strength to endure – not just for a while, but until the end; that we might prove to be good soil, bearing fruit for the kingdom of God.
And Paul prays that this endurance will be characterized by joy and a spirit of thankfulness to God the Father, because he is the one who has qualified us to share in the inheritance that belongs to all the saints; an inheritance in the kingdom of light. It is an eternal inheritance that will never fade away. And it is an inheritance that is grounded in the Gospel and in the Gospel alone, as Paul tells us in verses 13-14:
He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
So this is how Paul prayed for other believers. These are the “supplications” he made for all the saints.
Knowledge of God, of his will, of Christ’s love, of the riches of our spiritual inheritance
Resulting in a worthy walk that pleases the Lord
The strength to endure whatever comes our way with patience and perseverance.
All of this permeated with a joyful spirit of thankfulness grounded in the Gospel; grounded in the fact that we have been redeemed and our sins are forgiven.
So that brings me back to where we started. What do we pray for when we pray? What do we pray for when we pray for other Christians? What are our requests when we ask others to pray for us? How do our prayers compare to Paul’s? What kinds of things make it onto our prayer lists?
Actually, I am not trying to lay a guilt trip on you. This is not an exhaustive teaching on prayer. The Bible also urges us to cast all our cares upon God, because he cares for us. We are urged to pray about everything and to make our requests known to God. Whatever is on your prayer list, keep it there!
But here is my challenge. Do we ever pray this way? For ourselves and for each other? Do we ever ask others to pray for us in this way? We don’t need to delete the other things that are on our prayer lists, but we do need to add these things to our prayer lists!
For ourselves, boldness in witness.
For unbelievers – prayer for their salvation.
For fellow believers as well as ourselves, prayer for spiritual growth and spiritual endurance in the race of faith:
Prayer for more knowledge of God and his will.
Prayer that we will walk worthy of the Lord.
Prayer for the strength to persevere through trials and under hardships.
Prayer for a thankful and joyful spirit that pervades all of life – a joy and thankfulness that is not based in life circumstances, but in the eternal truths of the Gospel.
This is prayer that has less to do with our creature comforts and more to do with Christian character. This is prayer that has more to do with God’s agenda and less to do with our own agenda. This is prayer that is born out of the knowledge of God’s will and motivated by a passion for God’s will to be fulfilled, first in us and then through us.
This is praying like Paul prayed. This is praying like Jesus taught us to pray: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” “Not my will, Lord, but yours be done.”
May God teach us to pray like this!
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS FOR “PRAYING FOR ONE ANOTHER”
August 14, 2015
1. When you pray for other people, what do you pray for? When you ask others to pray for you, what kinds of requests do you give them?
2. Consider these three passages ((Ephesians 6:19-20, Colossians 4:2-4, 2 Thessalonians 3:1-2). What did Paul ask the other believers to pray on his behalf?
3. In Romans 10:1, Paul prayed for his fellow Jews. What was his request? Did God answer him? Discuss your experience in praying for people who don’t know the Lord – both loved ones and people in general. What insight did Pastor Cam’s sermon shed on this question? How does Romans 11:33-36 help?
4. Most of Paul’s recorded prayers were for other believers, even as he urged us in Ephesians 6:18. Survey these prayers: what kinds of things did Paul pray for?
• Ephesians 1:16-23
• Ephesians 3:14-21
• Philippians 1:9-11
• Colossian 1:9-14
5. How does Paul’s “prayer list” compare or contrast with yours? What lessons should we draw from this study?