I sometimes get stuck in knowing quite how to offer prayer for someone else. When I was young, I had all kinds of great ideas about what God should do for everyone in my life. I look back now and think that a lot of those requests were actually rather self-serving.
When I get stuck, one of the practices that gets me unstuck is drawing on a prayer in scripture as a way of praying for people I care about. For example, Paul prays like this for his friends in the small of Colossi:
Scripture as Prayer
For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, 10so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, 12and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. (Col. 1:9-12)
Can you hear just how strategic such a prayer is? When I read this prayer, I was impressed about Paul’s heart for his friends at Colossi which sounded so different from what my intentions have sometimes been when I’m praying for people in my life. Let me unpack this a little.
Living Worthy and Pleasing God
Paul keeps asking God to fill his friends with a knowledge of his will with abundant, Spirit-given wisdom and understanding. I’ve sometimes prayed such a prayer because I wanted to be seen by others as wise and understanding. It felt good to be recognized as a sage. But Paul makes this request for his friends for very different reasons. He wants them to (1) live a life worthy of the Lord and (2) to please the Lord in every way.
This is such a different motive underlying a prayer for wisdom and understanding. Paul wants them to recognize just what would be a worthy life for one who declares themselves a student of Jesus. This would be very pleasing to the Lord. My prayers have too often sought my own or another’s pleasure, comfort or ease.
Bearing Good Fruit
Paul also wants them to (3) bear fruit in every good work. Wisdom has too often been something for me to collect and enjoy without taking the step to let it bear fruit in my way of life and relating to others. Wisdom is like a seed that needs to grow and bear fruit. Gathering wisdom for personal satisfaction isn’t fruitful.
Grow to Know God Better
Paul want his friends to (4) grow in the knowledge of God. This is not the same as knowledge about God. Paul wants them to enter into an intimate friendship with God. He wants them to know God as he has come to know him through Jesus and empowered by the Spirit. Knowledge of God’s will bears fruit in relational knowledge of God Himself.
Empowered for Endurance
Paul envisions them (5) being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so they might have great endurance and patience. I like being strengthened, but usually for overcoming obstacles and leaving them behind me. Paul sees reasons they will have to endure patiently something that doesn’t change. Endurance and patience aren’t weakness. They are strength. Whining about troubles and simmering impatiently about them is weakness.
Becoming Joyfully Grateful
Finally, Paul knows that gaining spiritual wisdom and understanding will inspire (6) joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified them to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. My thanks are sometimes joyful to the degree that my circumstances are going the way I prefer. I like when they do. Of course I do. But Paul sees them being wise enough to be joyful for more eternal and real reasons. They now have a share in an eternal inheritance in a light-filled kingdom.
As I pray for myself and for others that we might grow in all wisdom and understanding, my aim can be towards that which is most Real. What could be better? (My new book, An Unhurried Leader, releases in just a couple of weeks now. Chapter 9, titled “Prayer as Primary Influence” unpacks the idea of this post even more. I hope you preorder and enjoy).
As you pray for yourself or for those you care about, which of these request recommends itself? Experiment with one of the lines of this prayer the next time you’re praying for the people in your life.
God’s grace be with you,
P.S. – By the way, we recently produced a collection of online prayer experiences on our online school titled, “Encountering God in Scripture: Guided Prayers in the Psalms.” We just produced a free version where you can experience one of these ten online experiences at no cost. We’d love for you to give it a try by visiting our school.