Think about the typical prayer requests that you exchange with your family and friends for a moment. Aside from praying for the salvation of loved ones, how many of those prayer requests reflect temporal concerns like health, finances, whom to marry or school. And I agree that matters like these do require prayer. Praise God for all the prayers that went up for John when he had cancer and a heart attack seven years ago!
But have you ever noticed how the apostle Paul prayed for people? I’ve been studying his epistle to the Colossians lately, and an early passage in Chapter 1 has made me examine the prayers I generally pray for myself and others. Let’s read the section together and then make a few observations.
9 And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; 11 being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. ~~Colossians 1:9-12 (ESV)
Notice, first of all, that Paul made no mention of physical health or financial security. In my opinion he seemed pretty unconcerned about the daily needs of the Colossians.
Although he may have also prayed for those temporal needs, his main concern was for them to gain spiritual wisdom and understanding to discern God’s will. Not so much His will for their individual lives, but His will for the church at large. Paul prayed for them to have spiritual wisdom so that they might walk in ways that honored the Lord and would bear fruit for Him.
I think we often forget that we should focus our prayers on how we might best glorify the Lord. We think we’re altruistic if we pray for our friend to recover from a cold — and to an extent that’s true. But how much more powerful it would be to pray that our friend would glorify the Lord in how she bears up under that cold? Or that staying home until she’s not contagious would give her more time in personal Bible study so that she’d know the Lord better and consequently honor Him more fully?
Our prayers for ourselves and others should include expressions of our dependence on the Lord to care for our immediate needs. But when we limit ourselves to such short-sighted requests, we betray our lack of concern for His glory.
Paul’s prayers wouldn’t fit in at most prayer meetings these days. Isn’t that a shame?