Do You Pray for the Lord’s Servants?
John Heading, Aberystwyth
Do our prayers at home after the morning reading of Scripture, or during the assembly prayer meetings, tend to become formal without real exercise before the throne of grace? Having listened to other brethren praying, and making their prayers our own, do we then begin to wonder what we should pray for when exercised to stand up and lead the saints in their devotions ? Certainly we pray for missionaries, for "full-time" workers in the home country, and indeed for every brother and sister known to us who engage in the Lord's service. Even then, how do we pray for them? Do they have the certainty that others are praying for them in an intelligent way, giving them the assurance that these prayers will lead to a strengthening in service, and prosperity in their labour of love?
It will be well-known to every reader of Paul's Epistles that he often stressed that he prayed constantly with thanksgivings for the churches to which he was writing; see Rom. 1. 8-9; 1 Cor, 1. 4-9; Eph. 1. 15-17, and so on. But from the reverse point of view, did Paul have the assurance that the various churches were also praying for him? It is remarkable that on many occasions he had to request that prayer be made on his behalf, often spelling out the burden and details of their prayers to be presented before the throne of grace. Perhaps assurance was gained by the very fact of asking the churches to pray for him; perhaps he thought that they would not know what to pray for as they ought, Rom. 8. 26; perhaps he sensed that they were not praying with zeal, continuity and determination, thereby needing exhortation in that direction. In the first Epistle that he wrote, he confessed that he and others with him gave "thanks to God always for you all", 1 Thess. 1. 2; 3. 9-13. Yet at the end of this Epistle, he wrote, "Pray without ceasing", 5. 17; "In every thing give thanks", v. 18; "Brethren, pray for us", v. 25, a clear request indeed, without any indication in the immediate context as to what they were to pray about, though the Epistle as a whole showed the nature of the apostle's service and afflictions for Christ's sake.
In one of his last Epistles, Paul wrote the same thing with an important amplification, "Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving", Col. 4. 2. This follows his own prayer and thanksgiving for them at the beginning of the Epistle, 1. 9-12. By using the word "watch", Paul implied that the time of prayer is a time demanding particular spiritual alertness, lest temptations enter, in keeping with the Lord's words in Gethsemane's garden, "Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation", Matt. 26. 41. Cognate thoughts occur in the other Epistles which Paul wrote more or less at the same time when in prison in Rome: "Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ", Eph.
5. 20; "Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints",
6. 18; "in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God", Phil. 4. 6.
Yet this exhortation became more touching when, in differing conditions of need, the apostle requested that the prayers of the churches and of individual believers should take in his own state and service. Although God's will was being fulfilled in the life of the apostle, yet Paul sensed that he needed the prayers of the saints in many differing directions. Thus he added to the Colossians, "praying also for us", Col. 4. 3. We shall examine such requests so as to see exactly how Paul viewed his needs.
During his second missionary journey, the apostle wrote from Corinth, "Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified, even as it is with you : and that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men", 2 Thess. 3. 1 -2. Prior to writing this Epistle from Corinth, Paul had had the experience of unreasonable philosophers in Athens, while in Corinth there would be the attacks of the unreasonable Jews, so he certainly knew the need for these prayers. The Word of God did go forth in Corinth, and Paul was delivered from the Jews and their insurrection, with God's promise that "no man shall set on thee to hurt thee". Acts 18. 10, 12-18. Truly the prayers of the Thessalonians were answered to the very letter.
At the end of his third missionary journey, Paul wrote to the Romans (whom he had not seen before), "I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ's sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that ye strive together with me in your prayers to God for me that / may be delivered from them that do not believe in Judaea; and that my service which / have for Jerusalem may be accepted of the saints; that / may come unto you with joy by the will of God", Rom. 1 5. 30-32. Paul was about to return to Jerusalem carrying with him a large sum of money that the various churches had collected for the poor saints in Jerusalem. He wondered, how would the Jewish believers receive him, the apostle to the Gentiles; how would the unbelieving Jews accept him, knowing him to be a convert from Pharisaism to Christ; what would his future movements be in the service of God? All was subject to His will— yet Paul valued prayer in these vital matters.
This shows the necessity of recognizing that the answers to prayer are subject to the will of God, for in the event Paul was not delivered from the unbelieving Jews. He was taken prisoner in Jerusalem, and as such was brought to Rome, no longer in liberty as on his other journeys. His requests for prayer continued under these more painful and restrictive circumstances. It was then that he wrote, "supplication ... for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that / may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel, for which / am an ambassador in bonds: that therein / may speak boldly, as / ought to speak", Eph. 6. 19-20. Thus he had a certain liberty as a prisoner "in his own hired house" for two years, preaching to all who came in to him, Acts 28. 30-31. Certainly "utterance" was granted to this ambassador in Rome from the heavenly court, with the result that some Jews believed and some did not v. 24. Under these circumstances, Paul was "set for the defence of the gospel", Phil. 1. 17, and things worked out "unto the furtherance of the gospel", v. 12. The results of the prayers of the saints are thereby clearly seen.
During this period of imprisonment, anticipating release, Paul wrote to Philemon, "I trust that through your prayers / shall be given unto you", Philem. 20. This was not written to Philemon alone, but also to the church in his house, v. 2, as seen by the plural pronoun "you". In the event, Paul was released, and engaged in service for the Lord in many places prior to his final imprisonment in Rome and subsequent martyrdom.
Finally, he asked for specific prayer by the Colossians, "Withal praying also for us, that God would open unto us a door of utterance, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which / am also in bonds: that / may make it manifest, as / ought to speak", Col. 4. 3-4. (Compare this with his similar request in Ephesians 6. 19-20.) We have already discussed how this prayer was answered. It is therefore interesting to note that three of the four so-called prison Epistles contain the thought of requested prayer.
Thus we see the wide variety of prayer-matter that was requested by the apostle: deliverance from the plots of unbelieving Jews, his service in relation to the saints, the Word of God during his periods of liberty, his movements in the Lord's service, opportunities during imprisonment, his anticipated release from prison. No need here for any silent hearts during a prayer meeting! Today, letters from missionaries spell out specific needs for prayer: Paul's experiences with answered prayers should encourage us to labour fervently in prayers, Col. 4.12. But let us not rely solely on prayer-requests. We ourselves should be observant of the needs of the Lord's servants in our own assembly and locality, and thus we should be a praying people, watching lest temptation enter, and at the same time engaging in thanksgiving when we see the Lord blessing according to His gracious will.
This ministry of prayer is not only for those brethren who pray publicly in assembly prayer meetings. The silent mouths but exercised hearts also make a valuable contribution that is recognized in heaven by the One who reads all hearts. Sisters in the Lord may even be more deeply sincere than those brethren who take part audibly. Thus Mary and Rhoda were included among the "many" who were gathered together in prayer for Peter, Acts 12. 12. And if prayer is proper for the Lord's servants as they advance in experiences, opportunities and needs, then their lives may well have been affected right from the beginning as the prayers of faithful mothers rose to heaven on behalf of their babes and infants. Timothy had been brought up to know the Scriptures from childhood, being the subject of prayer by his mother, first as a Jew and then as a Christian, Acts 16. 1; 2 Tim. 1. 5; 3. 15. Hannah's prayer related to a son as yet unborn, but who became a mighty judge in Israel, 1 Sam. 1. 10-12. Many servants of the Lord today cannot even begin to assess how much their present positions derive from the prayers of mothers years before. What encouragement such scriptures give—prayer affects the unknown future and the work of God through His servants.