This semester in our Friday night meetings at Salt & Light Christian Fellowship, Kossuth’s ministry to college students, we’ve been focusing on Paul’s prayers in the New Testament. We hope to grow as a group dedicated to prayer in our discipleship and outreach.
The thing that has stood out to me the most while preparing for our teaching times is how a large portion of Paul’s prayers are focused on others. First Thessalonians 3:9-13 is a great example of this. Paul prays, unable to thank God enough for the Thessalonians (v9). He prays that he’d be able to build them up where they are lacking (v10-11). He prays that they would have a large amount of love for each other (v12). He also prays that God would make their hearts blameless and holy when Christ returns (v13).
This focus on others makes sense. The church isn’t about an individual. It is a body of believers, of which we are a part! It isn’t about me, it is about the greater body, even if I don’t want it to be. I shouldn’t walk into the service on a Sunday only thinking about what I am going to get out of the service. I should also walk in thinking about the opportunities to build up others. Prayer is the same way.
While praying for yourself is good and important, if 95% or more of your prayer life is focused on yourself, you aren’t displaying a level of love for others that Paul shows in Scripture. We should be praying for opportunities to build up and encourage others, we should be praying for the faith of others, and we should be thanking God for others. If we are loving others well, we are praying for them. If we aren’t praying for others at all, we probably aren’t loving them well.
And 1 John 4:19-21 (ESV) says, “We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.” Following Paul’s example in prayer and following the clear passages that command us to love one another, we must understand the great importance of praying for others.
Saying this and reading these passages is easy, but living this daily is not at all easy. It is extremely difficult to love others and pray for others in the radical ways that we are commanded to in Scripture. But what makes it so difficult?
One difficulty is that relationships are very messy. People grumble, sin, and complain. We hurt each other by putting little thought in the comments or jokes we make to one another. When others hurt us, our default setting is to let that grow into bitterness and resentment. When we hold onto bitterness and resentment towards someone, we can’t love them. We certainly will struggle to pray for them.
We mustn’t harbor bitterness when others hurt us or sin against us. We must forgive each other, pursuing love instead of hate. And we are only able to do this because of the gospel. “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32, ESV). We have only ever sinned against God, but God forgave us, in Christ! Following this model, we must forgive others who wrong us. Remember: if we don’t do this, but still say, “I love God,” 1 John 4:20 says we are lying.
When someone wrongs us or sins against us, it is vital to pursue relational reconciliation quickly. Waiting leads to bitterness, which is a highly addictive state of being. Although it is uncomfortable and awkward, we must seek reconciliation as soon as possible.
Who do you struggle to love? Is there someone you need to forgive or reconcile with? Or do you just struggle to show love to others in the body? Start by making a list of ways you can pray for that person or those people and then do it. Don't pray for them to get what you think they deserve, pray with love, the way Paul models. If you need help thinking of ways to pray for others, read some of the prayers from Paul linked above. Watch and see if God doesn’t grow a renewed love toward them in your heart as well.