Paul’s Prayer RequestsPosted: October 22, 2011
I remember sitting in a church listening to a preacher tell about someone that had made a profound impact on his life and ministry. This unnamed friend had prayed for the preacher every day, at the same time each day, for several years. Friends like those are the kind you thank God for – especially when facing the rigors of ministry.
I’ve observed over time that there are several who have this kind of heart toward the minister of God’s word. And then there are others, who may not consider the beneficial effect their prayers may have on a man’s ministry.
As I’ve read through the epistles recently, the frequency and nature of Paul’s prayer requests jumps out at me (see Romans 15:30-32; 2 Corinthians 1:8-11; Ephesians 6:18-20; Philippians 1:19-26; Colossians 4:2-4; 1 Thessalonians 5:25; 2 Thessalonians 3:1-2; Philemon 1:22). Here are some brief thoughts to guide you as you consider how you can pray for the man of God and his ministry.
Paul was a man who faced opposition of every kind imaginable as he took the good news of Jesus to the pagan world of the 1st century. As he catalogs some of his difficulties (2 Corinthians 11:23-29), he mentions – among other things – being shipwrecked, often going hungry and thirsty, being exposed to the elements, and being actively opposed by many people. Is it any wonder that Paul often asks for prayers on behalf of his circumstances, particularly regarding people who might thwart his ministry efforts (Romans 15:30-31; 2 Thessalonians 3:1-2)? And is it any surprise that he gratefully acknowledges those who have petitioned God on his behalf (2 Corinthians 1:8-11)?
If you’re reading this, you probably haven’t gone through nearly what Paul did. Still, if you’re breathing, you can probably relate. We all have hard times and difficulties that try our commitment and resolve. We all have days where we want nothing more than to hide under the blankets and let the world pass us by. Let me suggest that the preacher has those days, too. Probably not as much as Paul, but not necessarily any less than you. On days like that, I imagine the prayers of the saints are effective in helping him.
Whether it be active resistance from people who do not want the gospel to be preached, or passive hindrances from unfavorable circumstances of life, the man of God goes through struggles like anyone else. In fact, probably more. His need of prayer, both personal and by others on his behalf, is urgent.
As you consider the ones who minister the word to you, pray that God would strengthen them against the circumstantial interferences and deliberate opposition that threaten to wear away at their commitment to faithfully proclaim the message of Jesus.
Paul certainly seemed to have a knack for creating, or at least recognizing, ministry opportunities. Whether in a Roman court or in a Jewish synagogue, the apostle to the Gentiles giftedly seized the moment to present the gospel. Looking back at various times in his life, Paul could say of his ministry things like “I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ” and that the gospel he preached had been “proclaimed in all creation under heaven”.
Such thorough and methodical evangelistic effort is not the result of chance. The providence of God was certainly at work in the unparalleled growth of the church in the 1st century. At least part of that is the fruit of fervent prayer, and such prayer in turn came about because Paul, at least, requested it. His appeal – “that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ” – is a fitting prayer for any Christian, and certainly on behalf of the preacher.
Opportunities to share the gospel, around the kitchen table or around the world, don’t just happen. Yet, often the preacher is expected to somehow make them happen, and is judged by his effectiveness at doing so. Certainly it is not unreasonable to expect that a preacher (or evangelist) will evangelize. But the spirit of gospel fervor should characterize all those who have named the name of Christ. Everybody can’t have the same level of activity in this regard, but everybody can and should pray that opportunities would increase.
Pray specifically for your preacher in this regard. Pray for the chance to speak outside of his normal church activities. Pray that he’ll be afforded the opportunity to speak in strongholds of atheistic sentiment and worldly behavior. Pray that he will be effective in recognizing the chance to segue a conversation into a spiritual discussion. Pray that such opportunities would increase and overflow. (And pray that you’ll have opportunity to help with the overflow when it comes.)
I think Paul understood that opportunities to speak are meaningless without the proper response. By response, I don’t mean the response to the gospel of the ones who hear. I’m thinking more of the response of the preacher to the chance to speak. If Paul’s prayer requests are any indication, he had a firm grasp of his own potential failings in seizing the moment for proclamation. Thus he desires prayers for both boldness (Ephesians 6:18-20) and clarity (Colossians 4:2-4) in preaching the word.
For some, the notion that preachers might be nervous, preoccupied, intimidated, tired, unsettled, or otherwise hampered from a clear, confident and courageous presentation of the gospel is unthinkable. But it happens. Maybe less with preachers than others, but it does happen. Paul himself was no stranger to fear in the context of preaching (Acts 18:9-10).
Scripture makes it clear (Ephesians 4:11) that God has gifted the church with evangelists. However, these gifted evangelists don’t all have the same level of ability or zeal – I doubt that any preacher today could rival Paul in either category. Yet they all have the same susceptibility to fear, intimidation, distraction, etc. How much more urgent, then, is the preacher’s need of prayer today?
While the ultimate success of the cause of Christ is as sure as the throne of God himself, the particular success of any individual effort of ministry is often balanced on the edge of a knife. Any number of things can “go wrong” at any time – and while all things certainly work together for good, the emotional, relational, and financial expenditure involved in ministry makes a “failed” effort a gut-wrenching experience. This is a reality that preachers face as much as any other.
Paul anticipated this possibility in his prayer life. As he headed toward Jerusalem with money for Jewish saints collected from Gentile churches, he recognized the very real prospect that the Jews would reject the offering – rendering all of his effort meaningless, and doing tremendous harm to Jew-Gentile relations in the body of Christ (Romans 15:30-31).
The preacher faces ministry setbacks of many kinds. There is the obvious possibility of rejection by those who reject Christ – his work. But arguably a much more painful rejection is that which potentially comes from his own brothers. Just as Paul had to wrestle with this possibility, today’s preacher must sometimes contend with those who do not see the value in the preacher’s vision, or even his preaching ministry.
The need of prayer in such cases is not so very different from the opposition noted above, but is less the result of direct antagonism as an unwillingness to lend support to the work of ministry through either participation or a favorable response. (Anybody who has tried to do anything in any church, anywhere, ever, should know what I’m talking about.) The preacher needs prayers to sustain him through the opposition of the tradition-bound and small-minded, however well-intentioned these people may be. Indeed, he needs prayers that the hearts of such people would be melted by the power of God, and that they would lend their willing support to the work of which they should be a part.
Of course, this isn’t exhaustive. But hopefully it will give us some things to think about as we consider the preacher’s work. Ultimately, as with all prayer, petitions for the preacher should be deeply rooted in a desire for the glory of God. Inasmuch as preachers are a major part of the work that brings such glory to God, Christians ought to make fervent prayers on their behalf.
If I can speak for preachers everywhere by quoting Paul – brethren, pray for us!