Requests for prayer; we hear them over and over again, as we read the New Testament Scriptures (and especially the letters of Paul), and as we come week by week to the church prayer meeting. Christians asking fellow Christians to pray for them. Why do we make such requests? And why do we respond to them with the very prayer that is sought?
Let us assume what is ordinarily the case, that the believers who are seeking our prayers are praying themselves. Is that not enough? Why is it felt to be important – even necessary – to multiply voices, to have many people praying? Shouldn’t the individual prayers of believers be sufficient? Especially given what James says about the prayers of a righteous man being ‘powerful and effective‘ (Ch.5.16)
The answer lies in how God in his wisdom has arranged things. He has made us, as believers, to be dependent on one another. He intends that we should function, not in isolation from one another, but together.
We see this in the area of understanding the Scriptures. It is perfectly true that someone alone with his Bible and with only the Holy Spirit to teach him may grasp much of the mind of God. But it is also the case that ordinarily we are dependent upon others for understanding. That is how God has constituted things. Hence the need for parents to teach their children. Hence the church’s need for teachers. We are not meant to go it alone in this matter.
Nor in regard to prayer. God has ordained that in large measure we should be dependent on one another’s prayers. We are part of a body and God would have us function as a body. We are members of a church and God would have us function as a church. And so as one man preaches the others are upholding him in prayer, asking God for courage and clarity and for the word to be made effective. As one believer faces danger, his fellow Christians are interceding for his safety. There is a divinely constituted togetherness when it comes to prayer.
Two things follow. One is that in imitation of the Apostle Paul believers should not hesitate to ask their fellow Christians for prayer. The other is that, in response to such a request, those fellow Christians should pray. Sometimes this will involve only a small number of Christians – maybe as few as two (the one who is in need and the one who is in the know). At other times it will involve the entire church.
Our missionaries are a case in point. It is their situation that most closely parallels that of Paul. A missionary should feel, ‘I am dependent on the prayers of God’s people’. And sensing that, he should seek their intercession. His supporting churches, for their part, should understand, ‘This brother needs our prayers’. And accordingly they should pray.
And if they don’t pray? There is every reason to suppose that in some measure there will be a withholding of divine blessing. For God has made us dependent on one another. Therefore we fail our missionaries if we do not pray for them, and for our ministers too. They will be less effective than they otherwise would be. As they come to us, then, with their requests that we pray for them, understand that they really do need our prayers. So pray.
– David Campbell