Prayer Lesson 6: Praying for Other Believers

Lessons from the prayers of Paul[1]

How do we learn how to pray? Many of us have learned from our parents. We may have learned from older, more mature saints in prayer meetings at church. Maybe some of us have learned how to pray by listening to the pastoral prayers on Sunday morning. It is probably safe to assume that most people have learned how to pray from life examples.


While imitating mature believers is a great way to learn to pray, one ought to study the prayers found in the Bible. Paul’s prayers provide clear, directly applicable examples for how we should pray.

It was Paul’s practice to continually pray for other believers

In nearly every book that Paul wrote, he speaks of praying for other believers. Often these prayers are included at the beginning of his books. We find essentially four ways Paul spoke of praying for others in his writings.

Prayers

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. (Ephesians 1.3–4)

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ–to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1.3–11)

Prayer reports

These are passages where Paul tells his readers that he is praying for them and for what he is praying:

I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way – in all your speaking and in all your knowledge – because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. (1 Corinthians 1.4–9)

Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many. (2 Corinthians 1.8–11)

Prayer wishes

These are passages where Paul refers to God in the third person. Often this prayer takes the form “May the God of all peace….”

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15.13)

Exhortations to prayer

I urge you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me. Pray that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea and that my service in Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints there, so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and together with you be refreshed. The God of peace be with you all. (Romans 15.30–33)

My point in identifying these various forms speaks to Paul’s understanding of the nature of prayer. He not only prayed for other believers, he thought it necessary (and edifying) to tell other believers he was praying for them (listing the things for which he was praying).

Further, he exhorted them to pray for himself and others who needed prayer.

It should also be noted that Paul saw prayer as such a vital part of his ministry that every book he wrote (God-inspired) has at least one passage relating to the topic of prayer.

How did Paul pray for other believers?

Paul made God the focal point of his prayers

We see that most all of Paul’s recorded prayers began with God. In many cases, his prayers begin with a statement of thanksgiving/praise to God:

  • First, I thank my God … (Ro 1.8f)
  • May the God who gives endurance … (Ro 15.5f)
  • May the God of hope fill you … (Ro 15.13f)
  • I always thank God for you … (1Cor 1.4–9)

 

While Paul’s pattern usually begins with a statement of thanksgiving/praise to God, he will also begin by identifying the relationship fellow believers have with God:

I urge you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me. (Ro 15.30)

This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. (2Co 9.12)

For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints. (Eph 1.15)

Paul prayed out of love for the people of God

Paul did not pray discriminately. That is, Paul did not pray only for the “good, fun-to-be-with saints.” Paul prayed for all the saints – the pleasant and the difficult. He states that clearly.

I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way – in all your speaking and in all your knowledge – because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful. (1Co 1.4–9)

We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers. We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. (1Th 1.2–3)

He prayed for their spiritual growth

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Php 1.3–6)

He prayed for the good of others

So when we could stand it no longer, we thought it best to be left by ourselves in Athens. We sent Timothy, who is our brother and God’s fellow worker a in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. You know quite well that we were destined for them. In fact, when we were with you, we kept telling you that we would be persecuted. And it turned out that way, as you well know. For this reason, when I could stand it no longer, I sent to find out about your faith. I was afraid that in some way the tempter might have tempted you and our efforts might have been useless…. How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you? Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith. (1Th 3.1–5, 9–10)

Paul did not tell the Thessalonians that he was praying to be with them so that he would be personally blessed. Paul’s sense of ministry was sincerely others-oriented.

Paul was well-liked by most believers and well-respected. He did not give any hint in his that he enjoyed ministry because of personal advantage. Instead, Paul enjoyed the ministry because it was ministry. It was serving others that he enjoyed, not the being served. For Paul, the goal was “How can I be most useful?” not “How can I feel the most useful?”

Those who are engaged in praying for the good of others will seek ministry opportunities for God’s sake.



[1] For a particularly good treatment of this subject, one should read D.A. Carson’s, A Call to Spiritual Reformation: Priorities from Paul and His Prayers (Baker, 1992). Much of this lesson has been extracted from his chapter “Praying for Others” pp 63–77.

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