Prayer #4:Praying for One Another

This is why, since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I never stop giving thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, would give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened so that you may know what is the hope of his calling, what is the wealth of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the mighty working of his strength . . . I pray that he may grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with power in your inner being through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. I pray that you, being rooted and firmly established in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the length and width, height and depth of God’s love, and to know Christ’s love that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do above and beyond all that we ask or think according to the power that works in us—to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Ephesians 1:15—19, 3:16—21

I heard someone say once that most prayers are about steering wheels and stomachs! In other words, we pray for people who are sick or traveling. And I think this more or less rings true. And of course there’s nothing wrong with praying for these concerns.

But I think this is also why prayers in the Bible can sometimes sound strange to us. This is definitely true with respect to how people pray. Last week we saw Abraham enter into a bold yet humble conversation with God in a way that most of us probably do not. And prayers in the Bible can also sound strange to us because of what people pray for. And we see that with the apostle Paul in his letter to the Ephesians. It’s characteristic of Paul to include prayers in his letters, usually at the beginning, but often throughout too. By looking at his prayers, Scripture also teaches us how to pray. Specifically, we’re being taught how to pray for fellow believers.

Have you ever thought about what God wants for the people you’re praying for? Is his first concern their physical health? Maybe the Lord has allowed illness to enter their lives to get their attention. The first thing we see here is this: Praying for one another requires the fuel of biblical truth. Now, what do I mean by this?

In Ephesians, Paul bursts into prayer immediately after having spoken of the reality of salvation, the blessings we have through Christ, and God’s purpose for those whom he calls. Here are some of those words: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavens in Christ . . . In him we have received an inheritance . . . In him you also were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and when you believed.

If you read the beginning of Ephesians, it almost feels like Paul’s words are tumbling out. He’s like he can’t keep it in. He’s overjoyed and overwhelmed by God and his blessings. And so his prayer for the Ephesians literally spills out of these words. He says: This is why, since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I never stop giving thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. In other words, he’s saying: “I’m so incredibly glad that you have experienced the gift of salvation, that you have come to know Christ and have become a part of the family of God. I’m blown away and filled with gratitude with what God has done in your lives.”

Paul’s prayers are fueled by biblical truth, by the reality of what God has accomplished for us through Jesus and by the Spirit. And this is what motivates Paul to pray in the first place. It also shapes what he prays. For instance, he prays: I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, would give you the Spiritof wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him.

Do we pray like this? Do we ask God boldly and humbly to open the eyes of the hearts of our fellow Christians, so that they would be further and further filled with faith, hope, and love? Isn’t this what God wants for them? Indeed, for us?

Here’s the thing: if want more motivation for our prayers and a deeper understanding of how we should pray, we need Scripture. We need the Bible. It is the fuel for our prayers—including our prayers for others.

And this is true whether we’re praying for Christians or for people who are not Christians. Either way, we’re called to ask God to be at work in people’s lives. This can mean continuing to grow in faith or it can mean coming to faith in Christ for the first time. Praying for others requires the fuel of biblical truth.

When you pray for others, what do you pray for most? What specific biblical truth about God fuels your prayers? Do you fuel your prayers with Scripture? What difference does it make?

Do you remember the OT story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18)? Elijah challenges the prophets to see if their god is more powerful than Yahweh, to see which God will shower their altar with fire. The prophets of Baal spend all day crying out to Baal. They even cut themselves, hoping he will respond. He never does. Elijah mocks them. Then after they’ve had their turn, Elijah makes sure his altar is soaked with water. He utters a short, simple prayer; and fire falls on the altar, thoroughly drying out even the water that spilled over into the trench. The prophets of Baal seemed to be trusting in the fervency of their prayers. It was about what they could do to manipulate their god to act. On the other hand, Elijah spoke a simple, trusting prayer in the God of Israel: Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, today let it be known that you are God in Israel.  Elijah’s faith was in a powerful God. Then God showed up in a powerful way.

So the next thing we then see is this: Praying for one another means trusting in the power of God. This means trusting that God can do what he says he will do. It means trusting that he can answer our prayers. It means trusting that he can be at work in our lives. He can rain fire on the altar of our hearts.

I think we struggle with this as Christians. But I wonder if that’s because we focus too much on ourselves and not enough on the character of God? Fueling our prayers with biblical truth can really help us to trust in the power of God.

Paul mentions the power of God a couple of times. First, he talks about the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the mighty working of his strength. He goes on to say that God exercised this power in Christ by raising him from the dead.

So he wants the Ephesians to understand—to take deeply into their hearts and minds—that the power at work in them is the same divine power that raised Jesus from the dead. It’s this same power that gives us strength to live the Christian life: I pray that he may grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with power in your inner being through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And do you see what he’s praying for here? That the Ephesians would be strengthened spiritually in their walk with Christ, that their faith in him would grow and become more resilient.

Look at how Paul concludes his prayer with a benediction: Now to him who is able to do above and beyond all that we ask or think according to the power that works in us—to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Did you catch that? Now to him who is able to do above and beyond all that we ask or think according to the power that works in us. This is an expression of deep trust in the power of God. Paul’s saying we can trust God’s power to answer our prayers according to his purpose. I also believe this: the more we pray like Paul, the stronger our own faith can become.

Based on Paul’s prayer, what does God want for us and our lives? Is this what you usually pray about for others? How would you describe the power of God that’s at work in our lives?What does believing in the resurrection have to do with trusting in the power of God for our lives now? Do you pray for others with this kind of trust in God’s power?

I think as a father, the most important thing I want my kids to know and experience from me is my love for them. I say, “I love you,” all the time. Maybe it even annoys them after a while! Sometimes, rather than saying “I love you” back they say “I know, Dad.” But did you know that this is what God wants us to know and experience of him also? God wants us to comprehend the length and width, height and depth of [his] love for us.

This is what Paul prays for the Ephesians. And we should pray the very same thing for others too. Put simply: Praying for one another means wanting them to know and experience the love of God in Christ. Listen again to what Paul prays:  I pray that you, being rooted and firmly established in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the length and width, height and depth of God’s love, and to know Christ’s love that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Isn’t that just amazing? Whatever else Paul is saying here, it’s all rooted in the love of God for us, a love that he wants us to be profoundly aware of. And indeed if Paul makes this his prayer for the Ephesians, we can also make this a part of our prayers for others.

In his book, Prayer for Beginners, Peter Kreeft writes: “Trusting God’s grace means trusting God’s love for us rather than our love for God. Therefore our prayers should consist mainly of rousing our awareness of God’s love for us rather than trying to rouse God’s awareness of our love for him.” Because there is nothing that can and will transform us more than knowing and experiencing—comprehending deeply—God’s love for us in Christ.

To quote John White, from Daring to Draw Near, “In knowing the love that passes knowledge we are changed . . . All Christians are meant to grasp it, not to understand an abstract concept but to perceive that they themselves are loved by a love that has no measure.” We should be praying that all of us would become more aware of, and changed by, this very love, the love that we see ultimately in the person and work of Jesus.

Do you need to know and experience God’s love more deeply? Are you comfortable asking him to help you with this?How does knowing someone loves you enable you to trust them? Why might praying that others may know God’s love for them change how we see them?

George Whitfield, 18th century evangelist and founder of Methodism, wrote: “If we inquire, why there is so little love to be found amongst Christians, why the very characteristic, by which everyone should know that we are disciples of the holy Jesus, is almost banished out of the Christian world, we shall find it, in a great measure, owing to a neglect or superficial performance of that excellent part of prayer, Intercession, or imploring the divine grace and mercy in behalf of others.” Our love for one another goes hand in hand with praying for one another. With praying specifically that we would grow in our knowledge of God’s love for us, in our trust in God, in our walk with Jesus.

Maybe you’ve shared with someone a difficulty you’re having and they’ve said, “I’ll pray for you.” Or maybe you’ve said that to someone when they’ve shared with you. And if you’re like me, there are times when you completely forget and never actually follow through. So, if possible, what I try to say instead is this: “Can I pray for you right now?” And if the person says yes, which is what they usually say, I do it right there and then.

Praying for one another requires the fuel of biblical truth. Or to put it another way: prayer is a key way of applying my knowledge of Scripture in a very practical way. Praying for one another means trusting in the power of God. This means trusting that God wants to and is able to change the people we are praying for. Praying for one another means wanting them to know and experience the love of God in Christ. This is true for us believers, because all of us need to more fully receive the love of God for us. And it’s true for people who have yet to experience faith in Jesus, because they need to know, even if for the first time, just how much God loves them. The truth is: we all need the eyes of our hearts opened more and more to the reality of the love of God the Father and to the good news of Jesus the Son. We’re all in need of further and deeper transformation by the power of the Holy Spirit. This is what it means to become and to grow as a Christian. And this takes prayer. This is why we pray for one another.

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