It has been said that the only way to be prayed for in many evangelical churches is to become sick or be made redundant. Often we do seem to pray for other believers only at times of personal crisis, such as sickness, an operation, redundancy, divorce, severe temptation or the like. It is right and proper that we do pray for our fellow believers at such times. This is one way that we can "bear one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ." (Galatians 6:2) But when we examine the New Testament we find that such prayers are not the Scriptural norm. The Lord's Prayer is not focused on those facing such crises. Likewise in his many recorded prayers the apostle Paul prays for believers who are living in the flow of 'normal' human experiences. If we are to be effective in prayer we must not adopt a 'bottom of the cliff' mentality. We must be more often and urgent in prayer for those who are healthy, employed, happily married and growing in the faith as compared with those who are going through some kind of personal trauma. This might seem harsh, but the truth is that the kingdom of God is extended more by the spiritually healthy than by the sick. No army cares for its sick and wounded while neglecting its on-duty, frontline soldiers.
What then should we pray for Christians who are healthy, happy and growing? A brief but wonderful prayer for the Christian believers is recorded in Colossians 1:9-12. Here Paul gives us a checklist of four things to pray for other believers (and for ourselves). Paul prays that the Colossian Christians will be doctrinally sound, morally upright, spiritually resilient and habitually thankful. The first two matters are foundational, while the last two serve to reinforce and to facilitate their accomplishment.
DOCTRINALLY SOUND (verse 9)
Paul prays that the Colossian believers will be "filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding." Sound doctrine is foundational to Christian living. In spiritual matters ignorance is not bliss, it is suicide. We grow spiritually as we are "transformed by the renewal of our minds." (Romans 12:2) This does not mean that we learn a lot of abstract theology that has no earthly application. A.W. Pink observed, "The apostle here made request for something intensely practical; not speculations about the divine nature, prying into the divine decrees, nor inquisitive explorations of unfulfilled prophecy, but the knowledge of God's will as it respects the ordering of our daily walk in this world." God wants us to grow in knowledge and wisdom. This requires that we be reading and meditating upon God's Word regularly and that we be open to the Spirit's ministry of applying the Word to our daily living.
MORALLY UPRIGHT (verse 10)
We are to live lives of an ethical quality that is consistent with that of Jesus Christ. Such a life can be discerned by three characteristics,
1. It is "pleasing to him." God said of Job, "have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears and turns away from evil?" (Job 1:9) It was not that Job was sinless but that there was a godly consistency about his life.
2. It "bears fruit in every good work." Fruit is the overflow of a healthy life. A diseased plant does not bear good fruit. Paul would have us busy and effective in Christian ministry.
3. It "increases in the knowledge of God." Christian living both begins and ends with the knowledge of God. As we come to know Him we love and serve Him. We are fruitful and effective in His service and this increases our desire to know Him more.
SPIRITUALLY RESILIENT (verse 11)
The lifestyle that Paul is praying for is not natural and does come easily. It is an ongoing daily struggle. And so Paul prays that we will be "strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might." Such strengthening will produce,
1. endurance, or steadfastness,
2. patience, the ability to bear with the fluctuating circumstances of life,
3. and joy, the inner sense of delight in God and in doing His will.
HABITUALLY THANKFUL (verse 12)
The life of a spiritually healthy believer is marked by thankfulness. In Romans 1:21 Paul makes this devastating critique of the unbelieving mind, "though they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him." By contrast the believer who is experiencing the grace of God, "grace upon grace" (John 1:16) is person who delights to "give thanks in all circumstances." (1 Thessalonians 5:18) A thankful heart is a litmus test of spiritual vitality.
When we wonder what we can pray for a brother or sister in Christ, we need look no further than these four qualities. They are not ill defined generalities, as is the prayer "bless brother Bill," nor are they so specific as to be of limited ongoing relevance. No believer will ever outgrow the need for these qualities to be manifested in his or her life.
Pastor, Trinity Reformed Baptist Church, Hamilton, New Zealand