Praying for family
Our family is one of God’s most precious gifts to us, and one about which we should be constantly praying to see God’s blessing released.
We will never see our prayers affect the nations if we cannot have faith to see them affect our family. David returned home to bless his family. (1 Chronicles 16:43)
If we are parents, our children are our greatest inheritance. We need to invest in them, not just materially, but also spiritually, praying for them regularly, teaching them God’s word, and training them how to pray themselves. And Abraham said to God, ‘If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!’ (Genesis 17:18) Then Manoah prayed to the Lord: ‘O Lord, I beg you, let the man of God you sent to us come again to teach us how to bring up the boy who is to be born.’ (Judges 13:8) See also Genesis 27:27–29; 48:12–49:28; 1 Samuel 1:27–28; Ezra 8:21; Job 1:1–5; Psalm 78:1–8; Proverbs 22:6; Matthew 19:13–14; Luke 1:67–79; 2:21–40; 2 Timothy 3:14–15
Praying for friends
Even if we don’t know specific things to pray about for our friends, we can at least ask God to bless them (though don’t let this become a lazy option!).
The priests and the Levites stood to bless the people, and God heard them, for their prayer reached heaven, his holy dwelling-place. (2 Chronicles 30:27)
May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (Hebrews 13:20–21)
See also Numbers 6:24–26; Deuteronomy 10:8; Joshua 14:13; Ruth 2:19–20; Psalm 3:8; 128:5–6; Matthew 16:17–19
For spiritual growth
Paul’s ministry took him to the Gentile world where philosophy and human wisdom were highly prized and where, consequently, the message of the gospel seemed ‘foolishness’ (1 Corinthians 1:18).
The temptation to be led astray by apparently ‘fine sounding arguments’ (Colossians 2:4) was therefore strong, just as it is today in a post-modern world. Against this background, Paul prayed for strong and true spiritual growth among his Christian friends.
For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. (Colossians 1:9–12)
Epaphras … is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. (Colossians 4:12)
See also 2 Corinthians 13:9; Galatians 4:19; Ephesians 1:15–19; 3:14–19; 2 Thessalonians 1:11–12
For health and healing
It is impossible to read the New Testament without concluding that praying for the sick formed a key part of the ministry of both Jesus and the early church. To remove such prayer from our ministry today, therefore, is to leave ourselves only half-clothed in the gospel. Go to the doctor by all means—but at least pray before you go!
Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. (James 5:14–16)
Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well. (3 John 2)
See also Numbers 12:13; 2 Kings 5:1–15; Psalm 103:1–5; 147:3; Matthew 8:5–13; 9:18–26; Mark 1:32–34; 16:15–18; Acts 3:1–16; 5:12–16; 9:32–42; 28:7–9
The power of blessing
The Bible sees ‘blessings’ as powerful. They are not merely the offering of ‘spiritual best wishes’, but are a powerful declaratory prayer based on the promises of God.
‘The LORD bless you
and keep you;
the LORD make his face shine upon you
and be gracious to you;
the LORD turn his face towards you
and give you peace.’ (Numbers 6:24–26)
May the LORD bless you from Zion
all the days of your life;
may you see the prosperity of Jerusalem,
and may you live to see your children’s children. (Psalm 128:5–6)
Then little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. (Matthew 19:13)
Bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you. (Luke 6:28, NKJV)
After spending some time there, they were sent off by the brothers with the blessing of peace to return to those who had sent them. (Acts 15:33)
See also Genesis 27:27–29; 28:1–5; 48:15–16; 49:1–28; Deuteronomy 33:1–29; Ruth 2:4; 2 Samuel 7:28–29; 19:39; Psalm 3:8; Proverbs 11:11; Matthew 5:1–11; Romans 15:29; 1 Peter 3:9
In both our prayers and our conversations, what a difference it would make if we were to learn the power of blessing others, based on the promises of God’s word and the inspiration of his Holy Spirit!
Praying for one another for protection is important—whether in difficult or dangerous circumstances, or just in routine travelling. It was because the wife of a colleague, nudged by the Holy Spirit, prayed a prayer of protection for Mike that he survived a potentially fatal accident with a Land Rover in Kenya. It certainly taught him not to take prayers for protection for granted!
But let all who take refuge in you be glad;
let them ever sing for joy.
Spread your protection over them,
that those who love your name may rejoice in you.
For surely, O LORD, you bless the righteous;
you surround them with your favour as with a shield.
So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him. (Acts 12:5)
See also Ezra 8:21–23; Psalm 20:1–2; 91:1–16; Luke 22:31; John 17:9–15; Romans 15:30–33; 2 Thessalonians 3:1–3
For filling with the Holy Spirit
We can pray for others to receive the Holy Spirit. In the New Testament, the Spirit was often given as a believer laid hands on someone and prayed. While this is not the only way the Spirit is given (see e.g. Acts 10:44–46), it is certainly the most common, perhaps as a sign of the need that we have of one another in the body of Christ.
When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. When they arrived, they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them; they had simply been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. (Acts 8:14–17)
Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ (Acts 9:17)
See also Matthew 3:11; Luke 3:21–22; John 20:21–22; Acts 1:1–8; 4:23–31; 19:1–7; Romans 15:13; Ephesians 5:18–20
For doors to open
Sometimes our friends need to see doors opening up so that they can move ahead into all that God has promised. We can help to see those doors opened through our prayers of intercession.
Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. (Colossians 4:2–4)
See also Isaiah 40:3–5; Matthew 7:7–8; Acts 12:5–19; 1 Corinthians 16:8–9; 2 Corinthians 2:12; 2 Thessalonians 3:1–2; Revelation 3:7–8
Praying for enemies
Praying for our friends is not a great burden; but what about praying for our enemies? Our enemies? Well, yes; for that’s exactly what the Bible tells us to do. Why? Because when we do, we are reflecting the character of our compassionate God, and are thereby giving God opportunity to deal with people in his own way.
Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary:
‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:19–21)
Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. (1 Peter 3:9)
See also Leviticus 19:18; Proverbs 20:22; 25:21–22; Luke 6:27–31; Romans 12:14, 17; 1 Corinthians 4:12–13
Praying in tongues
Only a couple of decades ago, a section on ‘praying in tongues’ (prayer language that you have neither learned nor understand) would probably not have been found in a mainstream Christian book like this one. But so widespread has been charismatic renewal, across the whole spectrum of churches, that not to include it now would be a serious omission.
The authors’ own experiences are different: Martin doesn’t exercise the gift, whereas Mike uses it often. But both are convinced it is a genuine gift of the Spirit, as explained by Paul in 1 Corinthians 12:4–11, 27–31; 14:1–33. In corporate gatherings, praying in tongues requires interpretation (1 Corinthians 14:13–17) so everybody may be ‘edified’ (v 17) or ‘strengthened’ (v 26). In private use, however, it needs no interpretation, for it is a means of personal edification (v 4) and of our spirit being able to pray beyond the level of our knowledge or understanding, which can be especially useful when we don’t know the details of a particular situation.
Paul believed in the value of praying both ‘with my mind’ (i.e. in our own language) and ‘with my spirit’ (i.e. in tongues) (v 5). He gave testimony to his own frequent use of tongues (v 18) and this may also have been what was in his mind when he referred to the Spirit’s ‘groans’ (Romans 8:26). If God has given you this gift, use it! Your intercession on behalf of others in this way may well be expressing things that your natural mind could never think of nor could ever know.
Praying for the church
The church is still the major vehicle through which God acts in this world. Praying for the church that we are part of, therefore, should very much be on our agenda so that together we might be more effective in seeing God’s will ‘done on earth as it is in heaven’ (Matthew 6:10). So, what sort of things can we pray for the church?
For its growth
Jesus wants his church to grow, not so that we can have the pleasure of seeing our buildings full on Sundays, but out of his heart of compassion to see people respond to the good news of the kingdom and so be saved.
Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.’ (Matthew 9:35–38)
Note that Jesus urges prayer here, not for some vague concept of ‘church growth’, but rather for workers to go out and do the job! The harvest is ready, he said; all it needs is people (i.e. you and me!) to go and bring it in. We need to pray for one another, therefore, that we will play our part as those workers.
Praying for growth is often the first step to participating in growth. In the church which Mike pastors in Oxford, for example, they have experienced significant growth among students, all arising from a small group of students who felt burdened to pray for the harvest in the University. As they prayed, something happened: they discovered that God was making them willing workers and that they were starting to participate in the harvest with growing ease and effectiveness.
Paul was convinced that it is as we are active in sharing our faith that our understanding of what it really means to be a Christian grows:
I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ. (Philemon 6)
See also Luke 10:1–21; John 4:35–38; Acts 9:31; 2 Corinthians 10:15–16; Colossians 1:3–12
For its leaders
The prophecy ‘strike the shepherd and the sheep will be scattered’ (Zechariah 13:7) was fulfilled in Jesus at the cross (Matthew 26:31; Mark 14:27). It is still a strategy that the devil uses against the church today. If he can cause its leaders to get weary or discouraged, or attack them and cause them to stumble, then he can significantly weaken the church. This is why church leaders (whether pastors, group leaders, or youth leaders) should be the object of our constant prayers rather than our constant criticism.
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. (Romans 15:30–31)
He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favour granted us in answer to the prayers of many. (2 Corinthians 1:10–11)
See also Acts 6:6; 14:23; Ephesians 6:19–20; Philippians 1:19; 1 Thessalonians 5:25; 2 Thessalonians 3:1; Hebrews 13:18–19
For its unity
Unity is tremendously important to God, for his very being is a perfect unity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (‘the Trinity’). His children, therefore, should be eager to express unity in their own lives, not necessarily in outward form (belonging to one mega-church or organization), but certainly in terms of heart and purpose. We should therefore pray for unity within our own church, and between the churches in our locality. Such unity undoubtedly attracts the blessing of God, and makes a powerful impact on the world.
How good and pleasant it is
when brothers live together in unity!
It is like precious oil poured on the head,
running down on the beard,
running down on Aaron’s beard,
down upon the collar of his robes.
It is as if the dew of Hermon
were falling on Mount Zion.
For there the LORD bestows his blessing,
even life for evermore.
‘My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one.’ (John 17:20–21)
See also Psalm 122:6–9; Micah 4:1–5; John 17:1–19, 22–23; Acts 1:12–14; 2:1; 1 Corinthians 1:10; 10:16–17; Ephesians 1:3–10
Prayer: a priority for church leaders
As a pastor Mike knows all too well how easy it is to get caught up in ‘doing things’. There is always one more person to visit, one more phone call to make, one more message to prepare, one more crisis to resolve; and meanwhile, God stands by, watching. But if our churches are going to have God’s blessing released, then leaders need to understand that the first call on their life is not to do, but to pray. This was a lesson the early church had to learn quickly. The Jerusalem church became overwhelmed with the consequences of rapid growth, and prayer and the study of God’s word were getting squeezed out. So the leaders took decisive action to get things in their proper order again.
But as the believers rapidly multiplied, there were rumblings of discontent. Those who spoke Greek complained against those who spoke Hebrew, saying that their widows were being discriminated against in the daily distribution of food. So the Twelve called a meeting of all the believers. ‘We apostles should spend our time preaching and teaching the word of God, not administering a food programme,’ they said. ‘Now look around among yourselves, brothers, and select seven men who are well respected and are full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom. We will put them in charge of this business. Then we can spend our time in prayer and preaching and teaching the word.’ (Acts 6:1–4, NLT)
Not only could everyone immediately see the wisdom of the proposal (v 5), it led to new significant growth (v 7). But then, that should hardly surprise us, for God had been given first place again!
A final prayer
Be gracious to all our friends and neighbors.
Bless our relations with the best of thy blessings,
With fear and love.
Preserve us from our enemies,
And reconcile them both to us and to thyself.
John Wesley (1703–1791)
Praying for others is a wonderful, Spirit-inspired privilege! Let’s make the most of it!
‘… I will intercede with the LORD for you.’ (1 Samuel 7:5)
Relevance for today
Privilege and responsibility
Praying for others within our spiritual family is both a privilege and a responsibility. How seriously are you taking this?
Don’t promise to pray—pray!
How easy it is to say, ‘I’ll remember to pray for you’—and then to forget! Having seen the power that there is in praying for others, let’s not just promise; let’s pray!
Use godly imagination
When praying for others, try to imagine yourself in their situation. It will help you to be creative in what you pray for and how you pray.
Ask for the Spirit’s help
The Holy Spirit wants to help us to pray (e.g. Romans 8:26) and we are told to ‘pray in the Spirit’ (Ephesians 6:18). Therefore, ask the Spirit for help in what to pray and how to pray it. Use both your mind and your spirit (1 Corinthians 14:15).
Stop and listen
Intercession is not just about bringing God our spiritual shopping list. We need to be still and listen for those quiet nudges of the Spirit, and then bring these as prayers to God. A sudden thought, a picture, a name, a nation: all can be the leading of the Holy Spirit to pray.
Martin Manser and Mike Beaumont, Handbook of Bible Prayers (Manser and Beaumont, 2020), 396.