In retirement the question I am most often asked by church members is, “how should I pray for my ____________________?” The blank is usually filled by the position titles of the spiritual leaders associated with their church life. You know, the pastoral cohort, elders, deacons, Bible teachers, small group leaders, and so many others within that person’s congregational experience. My responses have usually been the predictable ones—pray for family responsibilities, wisdom, health, use of time, study, preaching and teaching, administering Christ’s church, personal accountability, and moments of refreshment, to mention a few. Very often I advised church members to pray Luke 12:12 in the moments before their pastor or group leader stepped up to preach or teach. It is the prayer I prayed over my self for 35 years as I walked to the pulpit or assumed my teaching role—“for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say”. So, it’s out of context. But, it’s prayer that gave me confidence when sharing God’s Word with others.
Giving people advice about praying for their spiritual leaders is therefore usually broad. Unless we know some of the fine print in that particular ministry situation the prayers will usually be more generic. So, a couple of years ago I prayed for biblical wisdom in my counsel with church people about praying for those leading them. Interestingly, my first reference in Scripture took my prayer ministry in a direction I had not actually envisioned. In his first letter to the church at Corinth Paul wrote, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1, ESV). Knowing that the Apostle Paul requested prayers from the recipients of his letters swerved my thoughts about praying for leaders to the prayer requests he had made. Today, this biblical pattern of prayer forms my answer to people who ask about praying for their leaders. Let me identify them—
(1) Paul asked prayers for clarity in his preaching and teaching.
At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison— that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak. (Colossians 4:3-4, ESV)
(2) Paul asked prayers for deliverance from opposition.
Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you, and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men. (2 Thessalonians 3:1-2, ESV)
I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf, that I may be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints. (Romans 15: 30-31, ESV)
For I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance. (Philippians 1:19, ESV)
(3) Paul asked prayers for effectiveness in mission.
Pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word. (Colossians 4:3, ESV (mentioned in another context above).)
Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored. (2 Thessalonians 3:1, ESV (mentioned in another context above).)
(4) Paul asked prayers for his spiritual, emotional, and physical refreshment.
At the same time, prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping that through your prayers I will be graciously given to you. (Philemon 1:22, ESV)
(5) Prayers were requested for restored fellowship with his church friends.
You’ll notice my reluctance to attribute this prayer request to the Apostle Paul. The authorship of the Epistle to the Hebrews is one of the mysteries of our New Testament studies. Whether he actually penned this letter will remain a question for me. However, this request certainly seems Pauline in style and thought. So, I’m thinking Paul may have influenced this prayer request at the least. As a result, I’m including it here—
Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things. I urge you the more earnestly to do this in order that I may be restored to you the sooner. (Hebrews 13:18-19, ESV)
With the noted exception of number 5, these requests comprised the specifics of Paul’s ministry life in the first century. They are not the itemized prayer needs of the spiritual leaders who guide, teach, and influence Christians in every church situation today. Knowing those details adds a note of specificity to our prayers. We should be bold, faithful, trustworthy, and consistent when receiving and praying the individual needs of those who influence our spiritual formation.
In the same way, however, these five broad prayer areas will apply to most distinct spiritual leader needs 2000 years after they were first requested. This is because they are instruction from God’s Word, which is eternal. The principles expressed in these prayer concerns are fresh and vital today. Pray them with urgency.
Several years ago I had occasion to formulate these five broad topics into a three-element lesson plan titled Praying for Your Leaders. Of course there are many study modules along the same line that are more detailed and perhaps more effective. There are numerous blogs about praying for your pastors and leaders as well. My prayer is that church people will be united as never before in praying for those who lead them. The demographics of our times, and some sad experiences within our own ranks, illustrate the need for concerted prayer for those whose spiritual guidance is so critical in our churches and nation.
There is a Bible promise that underscores our agreement in prayer. In my mind it is God’s assurance when praying for our leaders. Jesus said, “Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven” (Matthew 18:19, ESV). The word Jesus chose to express the idea of agreement always astounds me. It is the Greek word “sumphone”, transliterated in the English dictionary as “symphony”. When we are in agreement, our prayers are lifted as a symphony to the Father. And, he promises to answer those offered in agreement to his will.
That’s what I’m talking about…prayers of agreement for our spiritual leaders.