“With every prayer and petition, pray at all times in the Spirit, and to this end be alert, with perseverance and requests for all the saints.”
“With every prayer and petition, pray at all times in the Spirit, and to this end be alert, with perseverance and requests for all the saints.”
My co-worker Christi has a sister who recently participated in a three-day event to benefit breast cancer. She exercises regularly, eats really well, and trained for the 60-mile course according to all the experts’ advice; basically, she did everything right and was very well prepared and ready to go. However, she failed to hydrate adequately as she went along; the body needs a lot of water to keep up that kind of pace. By the end of the second day, she was forced to get medical help to continue.
Water to the body is what prayer is to the believer; without it we cannot keep going. Rather than depend upon the power of God through prayer to live our lives, we often begin to rely upon our training, our intellect, our experience, and our giftedness to carry us. Often a trial hits us and reveals that we are running on our own power rather than by the power of the Holy Spirit. Prayer doesn’t always change the situation, but it does always change the runner so that she can make it to the finish line!
Paul sought prayer from others for his own race, and he prayed for those in his circle of influence. This week we will learn about prayer from Paul.
Acts ends with Paul under house arrest in Rome, as we saw last week. The letters to the Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians are often called prison epistles because scholars have traditionally believed that Paul wrote them during this imprisonment.11 Most of the verses you will read this week are from these books, just to be somewhat chronological as we study.
First, let’s look at Paul’s prayer requests for himself while incarcerated.
Read Ephesians 6:10-20, which contains your memory verse for this week. Don’t forget to take the memory card and practice the verse, not only this week but in the future so that you remember it!
1. Copy Paul’s prayer request (Eph. 6:19-20).
2. How does Paul’s prayer request fit into the context that you just read (vv. 10-18)? In other words, how do they relate?
Read Colossians 4:2-4.
3. Write Paul’s prayer request in your own words.
Extra Training: Read Rom. 15:30-32, which was written earlier, probably on Paul’s second journey before he went to Jerusalem and was incarcerated. Consider in what ways God answered his prayer from what we know happened in Jerusalem and after.
4. Think about Paul’s house arrest in Rome as he wrote these prayer requests. What insights do you have into his focus and his heart while facing very trying circumstances?
5. Sharing question: What do you learn about prayer for yourself and for others from Paul’s requests that you have studied today?
6. Responding to God: Write out a prayer request for yourself to share with your group this week. Focus it on God’s purposes for you and your completion of those purposes, i.e. finishing your own race. Pray it for yourself. Write down your thoughts below as you listen to God’s response.
Read Ephesians 1:15-23, Paul’s prayer for the believers in Ephesus.
7. For what was Paul specifically thankful for them (vv. 15-16)?
8. Sharing question: Think of someone for whom you can be thankful in the same way. Spend a minute thanking God for her/him, just inserting that name in the verses. Write down your thoughts to share with your group concerning what you see in this person’s life that causes you to be thankful.
Apparently the word for “spirit” in verse 17 is not totally clear in the Greek. As the NET Bible says, “Some take it to mean ‘the Spirit,’ others ‘a spirit,’ and still others ‘spiritual.’”12 So there are a variety of translations of this verse.
Extra Training: Look up the NET Bible notes on Eph. 1:17 and read the various translations of it on that website. Read any commentary on this issue that you find as well.
9. What did Paul pray to be the results of their receiving wisdom and revelation, regardless of how the word “spirit” is translated (vv. 18b-19)?
10. Sharing question: Meditate on this prayer. In what circumstances would you pray this for someone you know? What kinds of situations or circumstances or thinking patterns would she be experiencing? You may want to write this prayer out and label it specifically so that you find it easily when you encounter someone who needs it.
11. Responding to God: Ask God for whom you should pray this prayer and then do so, inserting the person’s name in the verses. If appropriate, write a note to the person relating the prayer that you prayed.
Read Ephesians 3:14-21.
12. Paul begins this prayer with “for this reason”, which tells us that he has just written the reason in the preceding verses. Go back and determine what that reason is. How does it all relate?
13. What was his specific request for these believers in Eph. 3:16?
14. What results of God’s fulfilling that request does Paul mention in Eph. 3:17-19?
Extra Training: Read this prayer in several translations as well as any commentary you can find. Write down your insights.
15. Sharing question: In your life right now, what difference would it make if God answered this prayer for you? For example, what practical difference would it make today if you truly comprehended and knew the love of Christ? Or if you experienced any of the other results that Paul mentioned?
16. Paul ended his prayer with a statement of praise in Eph. 3:20-21. What does he say about God that describes his greatness?
17. Sharing question: How would you be encouraged in a specific area of your life if you truly believed Eph. 3:20-21?
18. Responding to God: Take this prayer and pray it for someone whom God lays on your heart. Consider praying it for that person daily. Write down your response to what God shows you.
Read Philippians 1:3-11.
19. For what was Paul thankful about the Philippians (Phil. 1:3-8)?
20. Responding to God: Think of someone who has co-labored with you in ministry or who has poured grace upon you as you have run your race. Write a prayer of thanks below for her based upon Paul’s prayer. Consider writing her a note, which includes your prayer.
Extra Training: Read these verses in several translations and meditate on them before God, asking him to give you insight into this prayer.
We should base our prayers on the promises of God. In the midst of this prayer (Phil. 1:6), Paul mentions his confidence that God is at work in the lives of these believers.
23. Sharing question: Is there someone in your life whose Christian walk seems at a standstill? You may not be able to share who the person is without being inappropriate with your group, but do share the situation. Consider asking God to work in her life according to his promise of Phil. 1:6.
Read Colossians 1:3-13.
24. Once again Paul began his prayer with thanksgiving for these folks because of what God was doing through them. What was he seeing in their lives that brought thanksgiving to his heart (Col. 1:4-6)?
25. Sharing question: How would it encourage you if someone thanked God for you and listed specific things that she has seen in your life?
Extra Training: Thanksgiving reminds us of the grace and power of God; it increases our faith as we see God at work in our lives and in the lives of other believers. It teaches us to believe him for bigger things. What insights do you gain from Phil. 4:6-7 about prayer and thanksgiving? Feel free to read from resources.
26. Responding to God: Take out the list of women in your group. What character quality or area of growth have you observed as they have shared over the course of this study? Write down one thing below for each woman. Be prepared to share these during your discussion, or write a note to each one mentioning what you have seen that makes you thankful for her.
27. What were Paul’s specific requests and what did he expect to happen as a result (Col. 1:9-12)?
28. Sharing question: How would you benefit personally if this prayer became real in your own life?
As we have looked at a few of Paul’s prayers this week and at his own prayer requests, think about their focus. So often we pray for our own will, telling God the actions he should take in the situation. We do not always pray for the will of God.
Read through the kingdom prayers on the last page of this lesson, after the stories.
29. Sharing question: Think of someone on your prayer list right now, someone going through a struggle of some kind. How can you change the focus of your prayers for her/him to a higher level, a kingdom purpose level? It will mean that you pray for God to produce something eternal in that person—character, growth, and kingdom impact—rather than for God to necessarily take away the problem. Write down how you have been praying and a new kingdom-focused prayer.
This week our first storyteller shares how much the prayers of the saints meant to her in a tough time. Although God has kingdom purposes in illness, often God also graciously heals when we beseech him on behalf of others, as was true in this case. At the same time we need to pray for kingdom purposes in the midst of the illness. The second writer describes how God saw her through a difficult time. As you read her story, consider how God worked in a kingdom-focused way through her trial.
In March, 2007, I found out I had breast cancer. Our pastor Neil had just started a series called "Let's Pray", so when I called my husband to tell him our news, he said, "Let's pray first." Then, I found out that I'd need chemo, and the sermon series continued—Let's pray hard. I found that I had friends (and mere acquaintances) that prayed more boldly than I did. They asked and believed God for bigger, greater things. As my treatment continued, our series did, too—Let's pray together. I had a prayer pager that my mom sent me. It had a number people could call when they prayed for me. On my end, all it did was buzz. There was no number displayed for me to know who it was who was praying. I thought it was hokey at first. It would buzz, and I'd be amused. It buzzed fairly frequently. I joked with John that maybe someone just kept hitting "redial" to make it work.
But then, as my treatment intensified, or as big decisions had to be made about the course of treatment, it buzzed more often. At times (when we were really having a tough time), it was irritating. We kept it in the car so we could sleep. It was so relentless. But relentless is like God—radical in grace, furious in love, abounding in mercy. And in the wee hours of the morning, when I thought no one was awake but me and God, that pager would be buzzing. No fanfare. No publicity. Nobody getting credit for their prayers. Just faithful, anonymous saints taking my requests before the King of heaven and earth. What a treasure! What a comfort! What a sweet gift from the Lord. I was not alone. My eyes were opened.
It's like when "Elisha prayed, 'O LORD, open his eyes so he may see.' Then the LORD opened the servant's eyes, and he looked and saw the hill full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha" (2 Kings 6:17 NIV).
After graduating from college, I was struck with an unexplained illness. This was a very rare illness that was self-diagnosed and couldn’t be explained by doctors or healed with medicine. It’s comparable to depression—you don’t want to get out of bed and it’s on your mind all day. It left me feeling alone and frustrated. It wasn’t something that anyone could understand.
During this time, God showed me that he is a big God. I had been praying for awhile for a “challenge”—something in life that would make me appreciate each day. Well, I asked and I received! It was way more than I asked for, but God gave me the strength each day. I didn’t miss a day of work, and although it did limit me from activities and spending time with friends and family, it was a challenge I needed. Without God, I couldn’t make it through the day. He provided me strength to get out of bed and make the most of my situation. I tried to maintain joy because I knew God had a reason for what I was going through and he was working for my good. There is no medicine or words or anyone that could have fulfilled what I needed. I was dependent on God and knew that he was my source of daily strength.
Over two-and-a-half years later, he has taken me a long way. I have almost been healed completely from an incurable disease. Would medicine have done that? Probably not. God didn’t promise me an easy journey, but he did promise that he would provide strength to get me through the difficult times. I can’t take credit for anything that has happened over the past few years; instead, I know that God was working in me and with me. Most importantly, I have grown closer to him and have seen his healing powers and loving heart.
One of the greatest privileges and responsibilities of being a mom lies in the area of prayer. As a mom, I am privileged to pray for my children and with my children. Many moms pray for their children. It is tempting to always be praying, “Please let my child make the team at school” or “Please help my child to pass this test.” While these are important requests, we can go beyond merely praying for a good day or a successful tryout to praying the kingdom prayers that we looked at in this lesson.
As I am reading in Scripture, I can pray God’s word back to him for my children. I can do this wherever I am reading in the Bible. For example, if I am reading in the book of Proverbs, I might pray the following verses for my children.
“Lord, I pray that my children would not let kindness and truth leave them but that they would bind them around their neck and write them on the tablet of their hearts. Lord, help them find favor and good repute in the sight of God and man.” (adapted from Prov 3:3-4)
“Lord, I pray that my children would trust in You with all their heart and would not lean on their own understanding. I pray that in all their ways they would acknowledge You and that You will make their paths straight.” (adapted from Prov 3:5-6).
Action Step: Select a chapter in the book of Philippians. Find a verse or several verses from that chapter that you would like to pray for your children. Write out the verse as a prayer for your child or children below.
11 The Bible Knowledge Commentary, New Testament, eds. John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1983), 614, 647, 667.