“Praying for you!”
It’s a text that you’ve likely sent to a friend… sometimes a little too quickly.
We’ve all likely been there. A friend lets you know of a hardship they are experiencing and almost in a reflex, you promise prayers that sometimes you fail to deliver. The intention is there—you want to be a prayerful friend. But in the hustle and bustle of life, you simply forget or maybe you’re not exactly sure of the words to pray. But we can do better.
We can labor in prayer for our friends in a way that is aligned with the heart of God.
But do we know how to do this? Thankfully, the apostle Paul sets a profound example for us in the prison epistles. The prison epistles are Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. Paul likely wrote these letters during his first imprisonment in Rome. Even while imprisoned under Roman authority, Paul did not stop encouraging and equipping his beloved churches and friends.
In each of the prison epistles, Paul takes time in the first chapter to let his recipients know that he is intentionally praying for them. But these prayers are not shallow or passive. Paul prays directly and intentionally for their spiritual growth—that God would equip them to know and love Him more and more. Let us take a look at four prayers that Paul prays for the churches in Ephesus, Philippi, Colossae, and for his friend Philemon.
Through these prayers, we will too gain practical wisdom on how we can pray intentionally for our friends and loved ones, no matter what season they are in. To follow along, read Ephesians 1:16–17, Philippians 1:9–11, Colossians 1:9–10, and Philemon 1:4–6.
PRAY THAT THEY MAY…
Grow in Wisdom (Ephesians 1:16–17)
In Ephesians 1:16–17, Paul prays that the church in Ephesus would grow in the knowledge of the hope of Christ. Out of this increasing knowledge of God, Paul prays that the Ephesians may be fortified with wisdom. See, this Ephesian church stood as a lighthouse amidst a city teeming with pagan worship. Paul knows the climate surrounding this church and prays intentionally that they may have the strength to stand firm.
We, too, today live amidst a culture that often flows against the truths of Scripture. Television shows, social media influencers, and advertisements tempt us with new objects of affection. Our worship is scattered between our body image, our closets, our roles, and our responsibilities. Therefore, Paul’s prayers for the church in Ephesus are relevant for us today. Each one of us needs the faithful prayers of our loved ones so that we too may be enlightened to better know God. Yes, let us pray for God’s healing and provision over our friends. But let us also pray diligently for their spiritual growth, that it may be rooted and established in the love of Christ. Let us pray that their eyes may be continually opened so that they may see afresh the glory and goodness of God.
Bear Fruit of the Spirit (Philippians 1:9–10)
Paul writes to the Philippians to encourage unity and fellowship within the church. To do so, he prays that the church would remain tethered to Christ so that the fruit of the Spirit may grow abundantly in their lives. Specifically, Paul prays that agapē, or the type of love God has for us, would begin to fill the Philippians. This type of love is not the casual bond between acquaintances but a love shared between believers that is benevolent and marked by goodwill.
How would our churches and small groups change if we prayed for them to be united in God’s love? May we commit to praying for the relationships that knit our churches together—our church staffs, our small groups, and our volunteer teams—that God’s house may be a beacon of kindness and generosity in our communities. In light of Paul’s prayer to the Philippians, let us too pray for the spiritual flourishing of our friends—that they may be filled with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22–23) and that the fruit of the Spirit transforms their families and friendships.
Be Strengthened (Colossians 1:9–10)
For the church in Colossae, Paul too prays that they may be filled with wisdom and understanding so they may live a life that is pleasing to the Lord. However, the Colossians faced dangerous false teachings that were infiltrating the good gospel of Jesus Christ. Therefore, Paul prays that God would strengthen the faith of the Colossians so that they may endure in truth.
We, too, can echo Paul’s prayer and recognize that faith under pressure is faith refined. Though trials may cause us to doubt our faith, it is often the working through these same questions that deepen our trust in God. We are reminded that God is our Comforter, our Sustainer, and our peace. As we pray for the trials to ease in the lives of our loved ones, let us also pray that their faith may be strengthened, refined as gold is refined in a fire.
Be Encouraged (Philemon 1:4–6)
And finally, while in Roman imprisonment, Paul writes to a friend named Philemon to request the freedom of his beloved coworker, Onesimus. Philemon was once Onensimus’s slave master but in some unknown series of events, Onesimus escaped Philemon’s family. As Paul writes to Philemon to ask that he receive Onesimus in peace, Paul prays for Philemon’s effectiveness in ministry and thanks him for his love of God’s people. Paul tells Philemon that his dedication is noticed and honored.
This type of encouragement and admonition is like honey to the soul. Paul’s encouragement to Philemon reminds us to rejoice alongside our brothers and sisters in Christ, cheering on their faith as a teammates. May our words be generous in thanksgiving for the fruitful ministries of our loved ones.
Though Paul’s imprisonment hindered him physically from visiting his beloved churches, God used his faithful prayers and encouragement found in these letters to encourage generations and generations of believers today. Scripture tells us that believers are being built together, with Jesus as the cornerstone, to create the holy temple of the Lord (Ephesians 2:20–22). Therefore, the spiritual flourishing of our neighbor is our flourishing. May we share victories, hardships, and all the in between moments. May our churches be built together in love. Let us pray like Paul.