Does Prayer For People and Situations We’ve Never Seen Actually Work? #289
Happy Lord’s Day, friends! I’d love to invite you to join us today at 11am Pacific at VBC Salinas as we launch a brand new series on Broken and Tarnished Crowns – Life Lessons for 2020 from Kings and Scoundrels. Our Sunday morning series at church have followed right along with our Bible readings for this year, so you should be able to jump right in!
Today’s Bible readings see us beginning a new book, Paul’s letter to the Colossians, which is our focus chapter, along with 1 Kings 14, Psalms 97-98 and Ezekiel 44. When I was a kid, I went to a Christian school called Briarwood, and one of the great things about Briarwood was that it was a missionary sending church and a missionary supporting church. We had a missions emphasis week every year, and I heard directly from missionaries frequently going to church and school at Briarwood. They would come with their foreign Bibles, and various items from the countries they served, and it absolutely fascinated me to be able to talk to missionaries from foreign lands, and hold items (cups, bowls, spoons, books, spears, etc) from foreign lands. It was incredibly eye-opening, and hopefully gave me more of a global perspective on the Body of Christ as opposed to a U.S. centric viewpoint. We would often pray for those missionaries, and pray for the countries they served in. I was a child of the 80s, and in the 80s, we were told repeatedly that Africa, Ethiopia in particular, was filled with starving children, and many of us often prayed for them – big general prayers like, “God, please help the starving kids of Africa.” Here’s a big question for you: Are such prayers effective? Asked another way – does God hear those kinds of prayers and actually help, in some way, the kids of Africa? Well, let’s read our focus passage first, and then grapple with praying for those we have never met.
First, I want to note how Paul describes the Christians here: (in all of Colossians, he never uses the term “Christian.) A Christian – A Saint/brother/sister in Christ, #1 Has faith in Christ Jesus and #2 has love for all of the saints. Those are descriptive marks of being a follower of Jesus. Second, I want to note that the church in Colossae wasn’t founded by Paul – the church in Colossae was planted by Epaphras – he shared the Good news/the Gospel there, and it bore fruit. Paul had apparently never seen or met the Colossians. 3rd, and most apropos for our discussion today, Paul the apostle, one of the most anointed evangelists and messengers in church history, has been in continuous prayer for this church since hearing that the gospel was bearing fruit there. Let me say that again – Paul had been continuously praying for this group of Christians that he had never met before and had never seen before. To our knowledge, at least according to the book of Acts, Paul might not have ever in his life made it to Colassea, but he prayed often and regularly for them. We can glean at least three important truths from Paul’s prayer and practice here:
1. Praying for other believers will make a difference. Prayer to the God of the Bible is powerful and effective. Yes – it is God who answers prayer, but the Bible does indeed portray prayer as powerful. 2 Cor 1:10-11, “10 He has delivered us from such a terrible death, and He will deliver us. We have put our hope in Him that He will deliver us again 11 while you join in helping us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gift that came to us through the prayers of many.” James 5:6, “The urgent request of a righteous person is very powerful in its effect.”
2. You have not because you ask not. When we as a church, or we as people, go through times of trouble and are not able to endure them with patience and joy, part of the reason might just be that we are NOT praying for each other, that others aren’t praying for us. A church people should ideally be fully covering each other in prayer AND other groups of Christians around the world also.
3. Considering we are told in Scripture to emulate the example of Paul, as he emulated the example of Christ – we should pray for those Christians that we HEAR about. What made Paul pray for this group of Colossian Christians? He heard about them from his co-worker Epaphras, “and he has told us about your love in the Spirit. 9 For this reason also, since the day we heard this, we haven’t stopped praying for you.” The fact is that we do not have the time or the bandwidth (or the calling) to pray for every church in every city around the globe. BUT, when God puts a group of believers in front of us – somehow, someway – either through seeing a prayer request on social media, or somebody telling us of a situation, or we see it on tv, or hear about it at church – we can be fairly confident that God is calling us to pray for that group. Go back a couple of days to Philippians 2:13, “3 For it is God who is working in you both to will and to work according to his good purpose.” God is working in each of us in the area of our will/desires and in the area of our work and actions, and when God puts a need in front of us, then we can be confident that God is calling us to engage that need. Sometimes we help by praying, and sometimes we help by giving, or some other practical way, but we should pray attention when God puts a need or a group of believers in our path. (pray attention was an unintentional typo, but I think I will just leave it as is.)
Further, we can be confident that God will HEAR that prayer, because it was He who sovereignly brought it to our attention in the first place, and ‘He who began a good work in you will complete it.”
So – yes, according to the example we see here from Paul, I think it is most effective and impacting to pray for Christians that God allows us to hear about, and I suspect that when we enter into eternity, we will be astonished to see all of the many answers to those sorts of prayers that we will never learn of while on earth. So, dear friends – pray unceasingly, as the Word calls us to. Those prayers are the very opposite of meaningless.