"Father, please bless them, I pray." Ever prayed like this for someone? I have. And it always seems dissatisfying and insufficient. "Is that the best I can pray for them?" I sometimes wonder. "Shouldn't I be more specific?"
When I pray such a generic prayer, I often wince at the similarity it has to the champion of all nonspecific prayers: "And please bless all the missionaries everywhere."
Honestly, without some teaching on the matter, I doubt that any follower of Jesus prays well for other Christians. But I do think intercession for others is something any Christian would want to improve.
A Christian Responsibility
Believers are commanded in James 5:17 to "pray for one another." In the immediate context of that passage, the mutual intercessions include "that you may be healed." It's a paragraph about praying in faith for those who are sick.
But the rest of the New Testament makes it clear that the responsibility for Christians to pray for one another isn't limited to prayers for the sick. Repeatedly, the Apostle Paul pleads, "Brothers, pray for us" (see, for example, 1 Thess. 5:25; 2 Thess. 3:1). His letters to churches testify of his prayers for them (see Eph. 1:15–23; Col. 1:9–14). Even Jesus Himself asked for the prayers of Peter, James, and John in the garden of Gethsemane (Matt. 26:38, 40–41).
One of the four chief characteristics of the church in Jerusalem after Pentecost was that "they devoted themselves to . . . the prayers" (Acts 2:42). Can anyone doubt that these corporate prayers included much prayer for each other?
While intercession for others may have become more common among believers after Pentecost, it wasn't unusual in the Old Testament period. For instance, the prophet Samuel assured his fellow Israelites: "Far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you" (1 Sam. 12:23).
Given that bearing the burdens of others in prayer is characteristically Christian, how then should we pray for one another? While each situation has its own specifics, here are three ways to pray well for other believers.
Pray Paul's Prayers
Anytime you want to intercede for a brother or sister in Christ, you can never go wrong praying the words the Apostle Paul was inspired to use when he prayed for other Christians.
It is always good to pray, for example, that others would have
the eyes of [their] hearts enlightened, that [they] may know what is the hope to which he has called [them], what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might, that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places. (Eph. 1:18–20)
A wide variety of such God-glorifying, Christ-centered prayers for others can be found in Ephesians 1:15–23; 3:14–21; Philippians 1:9–11; Colossians 1:9–14; 1 Thessalonians 3:9–13; and 2 Thessalonians 1:13–14.
Pray Other Biblical Passages
You can pray not only the prayers in Ephesians—you can pray the entire letter. Thus, you can ask the Lord to help your fellow believers to "walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which [they] have been called" (4:1). After you have expanded on that thought for a moment, you can proceed to pray for their "humility and gentleness with patience," then that they would "bear with [others] in love" (4:2).
Continue praying in this fashion through the rest of Ephesians 4 until you reach the end of the chapter or run out of time. The entire Bible can be prayed this way, but the New Testament letters are particularly suited for this. Beyond them, I especially recommend turning the Psalms into prayer.
Pray for God to Be Glorified
Ever had an awkward moment where a fellow Christian asks you to pray for him and you're not sure that what he wants you to pray is a good idea? Here's something that's never out of place to pray in those situations—that God would be glorified in the matter.
In John 14:13 Jesus promised, "Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son." In every circumstance, it's appropriate to pray "that the Father may be glorified" in it.
Let's "pray for one another," and pray biblically.