This summer our church spent every Sunday reflecting on the prayers of Jesus and Paul for the Church. I thought the series would draw us together as we learned to pray for one another and be an easy series to follow for those who were in and out with summer travels. What I didn’t anticipate was the conviction I would feel about the shallowness of my own prayer life, specifically in intercession for the Body I am called to shepherd. Let me be more specific. After a summer spent focused on these prayers, I am convinced that, up to this point in my ministry, I have not prayed for my church or taught them to pray in anything close to the way required for life together and effective kingdom work.
I imagine some of you may feel the same way, so here are four lessons I’m taking away from this summer:
1. JUST PRAY THE WORDS ON THE PAGE
After years of praying for people in my church I realized that my prayers often consisted of synthesizing different biblical themes or just praying through a list of needs. Of course, neither of these things is wrong, but I found fresh wind in prayer this summer just praying God’s Word back to Him for my church. By this I don’t mean a wrote repetition of biblical phrases but a setting of my mind on the exact words of the Bible, the meaning of those words, and how they called me to pray. These are the texts we prayed the last few months for each other: John 17, Acts 4:23-31, Matthew 6:9-13, Ephesians 1:15-23, Ephesians 3:14-21, Philippians 1:3-11, Colossians 1:9-14, and 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12.
The Word of God is alive and when we pray it our prayers have that life moving in and through them.
2. MY PRAYERS AREN’T BIG ENOUGH
One of the things that stands out in the prayers of Jesus and Paul is that, without neglecting daily needs, they ask the Father for big things. Before praying for the unity of the Church in John 17 Jesus asks the Father to give His followers a vision and desire for His glory. There is nothing greater we can pray for our church families. In Colossians 1:9 Paul prays that this church would understand how God’s will for their lives is bound up in God’s will for the universe which is revealed in the person and work of Jesus. In 2 Thessalonians 1:12 he prays that Jesus’ followers would persevere in faith to the day of His return and thereby be counted worthy of the call into His eternal Kingdom. My prayers for my church have not been nearly as big and grand as these.
3. ONENESS IS NECESSARY AND COMPLEX
Leaders can’t call for unity at the expense of truth, nor can we excuse divisiveness in its name. Reflecting on the prayer of Jesus in John 17 has caused me to double down in my prayers for the unity of my church. It has also reminded me that being one is not only necessary but complex. It requires more wisdom and spiritual power than I possess, hence the need not just to pursue unity but pray for it. I have found myself incredibly encouraged to remember that Jesus has, and is, interceding for us in the same way.
4. MY PEOPLE DON’T KNOW HOW LOVED THEY ARE
I have always loved Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3 for Christians to comprehend the vast dimensions of God’s love for them. But something I had never noticed before struck me this summer as I prepared to preach this text. Twice Paul asks God to give the Ephesian church strength (actually strength upon strength in verse 16), so that they can comprehend God’s love. What had never occurred to me before is that Paul has to pray this way because we do not naturally understand the character and power of God’s love. It requires a supernatural act to know how much God loves us. I cannot lead, shepherd, counsel, or preach my people into living out of their identity as loved children of God. It requires the work of the Spirit moving through prayer.
Perhaps you won’t find any of these observations particularly new. There’s nothing I have written here that someone else hasn’t already written more eloquently and effectively. Nonetheless, I am happy to share some of the work happening in my heart through these prayers. I hope it will send you back again to God’s Word to mine the treasures of God breathed prayers He has given to us.
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