How to Pray for Others

Many times I get this request: “Pastor, please pray for me.” Not only do I do my best to pray for them right then and there but I try to remember to pray for them throughout my week. I am often wondering, how do I pray for others? I know it is lifting up their request but more so, how should my heart and mind be when I pray for them? I am so thankful for Scripture, as we can see a model of what this looks like. Paul the Apostle would often pray for the different churches and mention that in his letters to them.

One of those particular prayers is found in the book of Philippians. In his pastoral prayer, we have a model of the heart behind praying for others.

Our prayers need to be thankful for others

Paul was thankful for the church in Philippi. He writes to them, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you” (Philippians 1:3). As a pastor, I am reminded how I am thankful for the believers at my church. I am thankful for the unity that comes in Christ. Though we may be different in our interests, we have different backgrounds and upbringings, we have different likes and dislikes, different hobbies, different professions—yet we have Christ who unites us. We go from unrelated to family. We go from strangers to a community. Christ, who unites us, is far greater than any obstacles of diversity.

Paul was able to be thankful for the believers because he understood that a heart that is thankful is responding to the understanding that everything that happens, everything that goes on, everything that we have is from the Creator, sovereign, all-knowing, all-powerful, good God. We are told in Scripture to give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18). This means even in hard circumstances we can give thanks because we have a proper understanding that our lives are in God’s hands, and that God does good and is for us and loves us. One of the best ways to be mindful of our Christian unity is to pray for the church.

As our prayers should be full of thanksgiving, even in difficult circumstances, we can give thanks even for difficult people. Yes, it may be easy to be thankful for those we love. We can easily be thankful for our family (most of them). We can be thankful to the Lord for the nice people in our lives. But we can also be thankful to God even for difficult people. One of the best ways to fight off bitterness toward another person is to pray for them. When we lift up others before the Lord we are showing and revealing that we are called to serve others. We are mindful of them and it shows our love for them, even when they are hard to love.

Our prayers can be filled with joy on the behalf of others

Paul not only is thankful for the church, but he writes, “always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy” (Philippians 1:4 ESV). Joy and thankfulness are related. As you find true joy, you know what it means to be thankful and as you are thankful you experience joy.

To have prayers of joy, we need to be filled with joy. It flows from a heart that understands what true joy is. He was able to have prayers of joy on the behalf of other people because he had joy in Christ. Joy is different than happiness. Happiness changes with circumstances but joy does not. Pastor and writer Steven Lawson writes,

“True joy, however, is not dependent upon our earthly circumstances. Instead, it rests upon our unchanging relationship with the Lord, who is our ever-present source of joy.”

Remember the context of this letter; Paul was in chains in prison awaiting his execution (Philippians1:12–14). He could have made his prayer or even the letter about himself, but instead as one of the key verses of the book of Philippians says, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice” (Philippians 4:4 ESV).

Like misery which enjoys company, joy is contagious. Paul’s joy is contagious. As we pray for others, let us have joy in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Let us have joy knowing that these momentary afflictions fail in comparison to what awaits us in Heaven (2 Corinthians 4:17).

Our prayer for others focuses on our goal to share the gospel

Paul is thankful and has joy because of why? He writes, “Because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now” (Philippians 1:5 ESV).

We need to be thankful and have joy because as believers, we are gospel partners. This should excite us as we pray because not only are we united because of Christ. You and I are family. You and I have the same goal, mission, purpose, and the same job. It is making disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19). This brings joy by knowing we are not alone in our pursuit of obeying the Lord. We are part of a bigger picture to proclaim hope to the lost, salvation to the dying, to speak words of eternal life. We need to pray that even in difficult situations the gospel can be shared and it speaks volumes to the world in how we handle those difficult situations. We can pray for fellow believers to have a strong witness through these storms because the world is watching.

Our prayers need to be for the sanctification of others

Paul prayed and remembered that the God who began a work in them will bring it to completion (Philippians 1:6). He was talking about the work of sanctification. He knew that God is at work saving, and God the Holy Spirit is sanctifying. When we pray for other believers we are not only thankful for them, have joy because of them, partner with them in sharing the gospel, but rejoice in the work that God is doing in them and through them. It is a good reminder that not only is there a work being done in you, but also in your brothers and sisters in the Lord.

Our prayers should be filled with love for others

As you read this portion of Philippians, and the whole book, you really see how great a love Paul had for the church. It has been said that as an unconditional love grows in us so does our love for other believers. Paul writes to the Philippian church not only about his love for them, but that they would grow in the unconditional love that God has for them in Christ Jesus (see Philippians 1:7–11). As Paul loved the church, he prayed for the church, and the best way to love others is by praying for them.

He greatly loved the church because he was greatly loved by God. Great news: this is not just because it was the apostle Paul; this is true for you and me. You can say, “Because I am greatly loved by God, I can love others greatly.” And as you love others, you will pray for them.

Paul greatly loved the church because he was greatly loved by God.

We can do a lot of good things but everything we do must be based upon the love that we received freely by God through His Son Christ Jesus.

Paul writes in another letter to a different church, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1–3 ESV).

If I were to summarize his prayer, it was one motivated by the love of Christ for the believer to grow in love.