Ok, so we are taught in the Bible to pray without ceasing (I Thess. 5:16), and to pray for our daily bread (Matt. 6:11). We can pray for anything. But Christians today shortchange themselves by thinking only in terms of this-world prayer requests. When someone asks how they can pray for me, whether it’s a friend, or my elder, or my small group, these are the kinds of things I typically come up with: that my family doesn’t get the flu, that my kids sleep through the night, that business picks up at work, that God would help us to stay on top of a busy schedule.
Now these are all valid prayer requests; we should pray for these types of things. But what if God answered every single one just as you hoped? Where would you be spiritually? In the same place you are now, I suppose, and maybe even less dependent on God. Are you content with that? How can we get beyond the cycle of worldly prayer requests? In the Bible God teaches us that we also ought to pray for each other’s increasing spiritual maturity.
Take a look at how Paul prays for the Colossians. His prayer is 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; being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light” (1:9-12).
In addition to praying for them, Paul also gives the Colossians practical, Gospel-centered steps to grow. They were struggling to rid themselves of “impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (3:5). In order to wean themselves of such sin, they tried treating their bodies harshly and came up with all sorts of legalistic regulations. But while these strategies may look good on the outside, Paul says, “they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh (2:23).”
The key, Paul tells them, it to get your minds off of earthly things and onto heavenly ones. “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is . . . set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (3:1-2). We are to continually put off the old self and put on the new self (3:9).
Many of us know the “how-to” part of growing, but have you ever asked someone to pray for you to be filled with the knowledge of God’s will? To bear more fruit in every good work? To increase in the knowledge of God, to be strengthened in his power, to grow in endurance and patience, joy and thankfulness? Our ability to handle any of life’s trials will grow in direct proportion to our possession of these heavenly attributes.
At the end of Colossians Paul tells the believers that their friend Epaphras is also constant in prayer for them, praying “that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God” (4:12). Don’t you need this kind of prayer? I know I do. I hope next time you ask me if I have any prayer requests, I won’t be too short sighted to ask for it.