Praying for Others
What does the local church mean to you? Get past the answer you know that Christians are supposed to give. What place does the local church play in your discipleship to Jesus? Maybe you aren’t sure how to tell. One mark of a Christian who loves the church is that they love their fellow members. There is a filial affection that pervades the hearts of those whose lives are bound up in the bonds of covenant membership. But perhaps you aren’t sure how to gauge something as immaterial as your affections for others. How can you know if you love your church?
One sure measure of what we love is what we pray for. Think over the past 24 hours. If someone could read a list of your prayers over that span of time, what would they come away thinking you cared about most? A lot of our prayers are concerned with giving praise to God and asking things of our Heavenly Father for ourselves and our families. That is good and right! But I’d contend that if we only pray about those things then we may not be conceiving of the Christian life as we ought. The maturing disciple of Jesus Christ prays for others and matures through praying for others. In fact, praying for others is both an evidence of God’s grace in our life and a means by which God grows us in grace
Making a regular habit of praying for others keeps our eyes from constantly staring directly at our own navels. Praying for others trains our hearts to desire the good of others just as we desire our own good. In other words, regularly praying for our brothers and sisters in the church both reflects the gospel we confess and drives us deeper into the Christ-likeness the gospel intends.
What follows are some ways we can discipline our hearts to pray for others:
1. Attend Church Regularly (Especially your prayer service!).
You probably won’t pray for people you never see. Church membership is certainly more than attendance but neither is it less than attendance (Heb 10:25). The Sunday gathering is meant to be the pinnacle of the Christian’s week. After all, Jesus promised His special presence to gathered assemblies of His followers (Matt 18:20). Make it a point to be around when the church meets together. Prayers for the saints emerge from the bowels of regular participation in the life of the church.
You should especially take advantage of your church’s prayer service if you have one. My church meets again each Sunday evening and the bulk of our time together is dedicated to corporate prayer. Our elders style the Sunday evening service as our church’s “family time.” Inevitably, there is a smaller crowd in the evening which can allow members to get to know each other better. These services are a great way to get to know the trials and tribulations, the joys and praises, of those with whom you’ve signed up to live the Christian life with. We have the privilege to lift up our prayers to God together. Our pastor insists that those leading in these short corporate prayers use the plural pronoun “we” instead of the singular “I.” An adjustment this small might seem like mere semantics but it can slowly train our heart to think of our lives as Christians in terms of “we.”
Maybe your church doesn’t have a prayer service. Pay attention then to how your leaders pray in your public meetings. What do they pray about? What things are they asking God to do? It may even be a good idea to ask your elders why you don’t have a prayer service. Avoid being demanding or brash, but humbly submitting the idea may go a long way.
2. Grab a Membership Directory.
Pastor Garrett Kell has said that there are two books that he tries to always have on hand. One is his Bible; the other is his church’s membership directory. A membership directory is a book that has the names and faces of every member in the church. Far from simply being a way to find someone’s address or phone number, a membership directory is a powerful tool for getting others on our prayer lists. You have the whole group that you’ve promised to love and oversee right there before your eyes.
Now, there are a ton of ways to pray through a directory. You might take a page a day and pray by name for everyone who comes up on that page. Maybe you want to start slow and work through it a line at the time. However you chop it up, establishing the discipline of regularly praying through the membership directory will eventually lead you to pray for every member of your church.
Praying through all of the members of your church is important for two reasons. First, you will be forced to pray for members of your church regularly. Instead of being an occasional experience, praying for others will become the regular diet of your prayer life. But, secondly, you will also be forced to pray for people you might not otherwise pray for. We want to see our prayer life begin to cover the church, not just our friends in the church. Remember that even though there will be members of your church you are closer with than others, you are equally covenanted together with each member of the body. We want to do more than pray prayers for other “fingers” like us. True congregationally-focused prayer covers “eyes,” “legs,” “toes,” and every kind of member that comprises the body. Remember that even though there will be members of your church you are closer with than others, you are equally covenanted together with each member of the body. Click To Tweet
Again, your church may not regularly print a membership directory. And, again, you may want to ask your elders or church administrator if it’s possible to print one in the future. Perhaps you can give of your time to help to develop one. Until then, find some way to get the names of your brother and sister members and try to make praying for them routine.
3. Read Your Bible Congregationally.
Once we’ve locked into the meaning of a passage we’re reading devotionally and have praised God for the facets of His manifold glory we’ve seen in it, we should naturally move into application. Applying texts to lives ensures that we catch the import of the beautiful truths we’ve beheld in the Word. It is one thing to know intellectually that Jesus calls us to tear out the eye that causes us to sin; it is another thing altogether to actually do it. We know that we have to bridge the gap between our heads and our hearts in order to be changed by our daily Bible reading.
But I think there could be more we could do as we read the Word in private. Read the Bible in private, congregationally. The Lord deals with us in the Scriptures, no doubt. But personal Bible reading is a great time to pray the promises, commands, and warnings of Scriptures for other people in the church as well. Could it be that we are so chastened by the warning not to apply a text to someone else before we apply it to ourselves that we neglect to ever apply it to the lives of others at all?
Praise God, you don’t have to know exactly what is going on in someone’s life in order to pray the Scriptures over them. Examine Paul’s prayers in Ephesians or 1 Thessalonians (which are congregational prayers!). You’ll see him thank God for the faith of others or pray that God would do something for others that will cause them to continue following after Jesus. So you too might find yourself praying very specifically for someone or more generally. The principle is this: think about and pray for others even when you read the Word alone.
Praying for Others – Evidence and Means of Grace
I said above that praying for others is both an evidence of God’s grace in our life and a means by which God grows us in grace. I hope that you can see why now. The discipline of praying for others requires the discipline of thinking of others – that’s no easy task! The gospel turns us outside of ourselves to God. Our obsession with ourselves and our sin gives way to an obsession with the glory of Christ. And the gospel also turns us outside of ourselves toward others, particularly those who comprise our local church.
Fighting to regularly pray for others will require us to prize the grace of God in others, forcing us to give thanks to God for others too. Doing this is an excellent way to ensure we love the glory of God for His own sake, not ours. Be encouraged as you see your heart warm towards your brothers and sisters. Only God can do that with sinners like you and me. By God’s grace, pray for others regularly.