For 5 years I was the pastor of Trinity International Church in Strasbourg, France. I created this blog with those people in mind. In mid-November 2018 I will become the Senior Pastor of Word of Life Church in Coon Rapids, Minnesota. The focus of this blog will therefore shift, but I pray that people from the blogosphere will continue to find it helpful wherever they might be found.
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Friday, August 3, 2018

The Four Alls of Prayer

Praying at all times in the Spirit,
with all prayer and supplication.
To that end, keep alert with all perseverance,
making supplication for all the saints.
Ephesians 6:18 (ESV)

The Four "Alls"

Notice the four “alls” regarding prayer in this verse. 

We are to pray at all times in the SpiritThis means that our prayer is to be directed and energized by the Holy Spirit. Our prayer life is to have a Holy Spirit-drivenness.

We are to pray with all prayer and supplication These words overlap in meaning, but each has a slightly different focus. “Prayer” is often used for expressions of devotion, worship, and love toward God. “Supplication” is centered on asking for specific needs to be met in our lives or the lives of other people.

We are to pray with all perseveranceThis phrase should make us pause and think about the fact that discipline and endurance are required in prayer. It is not to be relegated to a “when I feel like it” activity. It requires perseverance because the enemy and our sinful nature will fight against praying the way God wants us to pray. We should expect resistance and not let it deter us from pressing on in prayer.

We are to make supplication for all the saintsWe are not to simply ask God to meet our own needs, but we are to persevere in making supplication for all  the believers that we know. We have already seen that the word supplication means to ask for something, but how are we to pray for others? Often the way this is modelled in our gatherings is by asking for prayer requests. In my experience, the overwhelming majority of requests at church prayer meetings are for physical healings of one sort or another. We ask God for those healings, say “amen” and then have dessert. This type of praying is a faint shadow of what the bible intends prayer to be.

If we limit our prayer times to those with physical needs, we will never pray for “all the saints” because most saints are healthy! This should be a clue that we need to learn to pray for more than healing. In fact, in the New Testament health issues play a relatively minor role in the prayer life of the church. They prayed for healings and saw God miraculously answer their prayers, but their prayer lives were much more than that. They were hungry to see deeply spiritual work done in the lives of people. They passionately prayed for the fruit and gifts of the Spirit to be displayed. They prayed for open doors for the gospel to be proclaimed. They asked for the courage to walk through those doors and declare the good news fearlessly and with power. And they changed the world through their praying.

Lessons in Prayer from Paul

Paul’s letter to the Colossians gives us great insight into the types of things that we can be asking God to do in the lives of other believers. Let’s take a look.

Give Thanks for Others

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ when we pray for you because we have heard of your faith in Jesus Christ and the love you have for all the saints, because of the hope stored up for you in heaven (Colossians 1:3-6).

Paul begins by saying that when he prays for the Colossians he always gives thanks for them. He is specific in his thanksgiving. His focus is on their relationship with the Lord as he prays. He praises God for their faith in Christ. He rejoices that he has heard that their hope has activated love for other believers. He sees fruit in their lives and recognizes it comes from understanding God’s grace. 
This is an excellent place to begin praying for others. We give thanks for who they are and the work of God in their lives. Often in prayer we focus on the lack that we see in people’s lives. We continually ask God to fix people or their situations. This can lead us to have a critical spirit. Giving thanks opens our hearts to truly love other people. So begin by giving thanks for other believers. Be specific about the ways you have seen God working in their lives. You may find this difficult, especially when you are having relationship problems with someone or see many faults in their lives. Remember that the church in Corinth was beset with severe problems, but Paul was able to give thanks for them (1 Corinthians 1:4-9). So give thanks for others and be specific! 

Pray for Spiritual Growth

(We ask God that): you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God (Colossians 1:9-10).

Paul prays that the Colossians would better understand the will of God. This will require spiritual wisdom and understanding. Paul often prayers for believers to grow in their experience of the Lord and their understanding of his ways (Ephesians 1:17). He asks the Lord to open their spiritual eyes and give them greater understanding of the will of God. He doesn’t doubt their salvation at this point. Their eyes have already been opened. Instead, he is praying that their spiritual vision would be more and more acute.  

Isn’t that what we should really be praying for one another? We would all like to have people praying for us like this!

But Paul is not simply praying that they would have greater intellectual understanding. He also prays that the knowledge of God’s will would transform their behavior. He wants them to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord. This phrase does not mean that they need to live in a way that makes them worthy of salvation, instead it is that they would live in a manner consistent with the fact that they are saved. He prays that they would act more and more with who they are: redeemed children of God.

He then specifies what that looks like. Their lives will be fully pleasing to the Lord. There would be less and less need for the Lord’s discipline in their lives because they are responding to his will in love-based obedience. Their lives would be bearing fruit for the kingdom of God. They would know the works that God had called them to do and they would be doing them (Ephesians 2:10). Their knowledge of God would be increasing. Their experience of God, his character, and his ways would not be stagnant, but would be constantly growing. 

Praying like this releases the power of God to transform people’s lives. It builds kingdom character and grows healthy churches. It causes the gospel to go forth and bear fruit both down the street and around the world. No wonder the early church changed the world!

Pray for Strength and Perseverance

Paul then prays for strength and endurance. Life is hard. We all have difficult days at work and at home. For some, these difficulties come as a direct result of their relationship with God. They suffer persecution for their faith. Paul prays that all those facing various trials would be built up in the faith. He prays that they would have perseverance and fortitude in the face of these struggles. 

He doesn't stop there. He asks for more than simply perseverance. He prays that they would be so filled with power that they would experience joy in the midst of their troubles. This joy is rooted in their salvation. He prays that would reflect on what the Lord has done for them in Christ and this would cause rejoicing in the midst of their affliction (James 1:3-4; 1 Peter 1:6-7). 

This is how we can pray for all the saints!

A Challenge to Pray Like Paul

Can you see how praying like this broadens our prayer lives? Not only that, God delights in answering these prayers and when he does the church deepens and grows in impact and power. Why not take the prayers of the epistles and use them in your own prayer life as you intercede for others?

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