When my wife and I moved out to California to go to Seminary we left friends and family behind. It was a bittersweet time, leaving behind those we loved in North Carolina, yet knowing we were in the middle of God’s will. One of our prayers as we moved to this new area to begin a new stage of life was that God would bring us new Christian friends (Life is more fun when sharing it with others). I mean real friends, not acquaintances or Facebook friends, but those who actually care about the welfare of another, hold each other accountable, and pray for one another. What we were able to see over and over was God’s faithfulness in bringing us good friends. As my trek through seminary continued, our new friends would graduate and leave and the process would begin again. The end result is that my wife and I have made lasting friendships that transverse the globe.
I do my best to pray for our friends, but I often do not know what or how I should pray for them. I started thinking about my efforts recently as another couple of our friends moved to take a ministry position outside of the United States. As I thought about how I should pray for them, I reflected on my recent reading of Ephesians 1. I realized that Paul gives us his prayer for these Ephesian believers with whom he had spent over two years (Acts 20). His prayer gave me some clarity about how I should best pray for my friends, especially in light of not always knowing everything that is going on in their lives.
1. Give Thanks for Them
After hearing of these believers’ faith in Christ and love for one another in Ephesians 1:15, Paul, in Ephesians 1:16, says that he “does not cease” giving thanks to God for these believers with whom and to whom he had the opportunity to know and love and minister. He could have just said “I give thanks for you all…,” but he does not write it this way. His emphasis in the Greek is “I absolutely do not cease” in giving thanks for you. Paul gives thanks for their faith in Christ that he has heard about and the fact that this faith is demonstrated in a love for their fellow believers. Paul understood an important facet in the sovereignty of God: all appointments are divine appointments. The fruit he had in Ephesus, the lives he was able to touch with the Gospel, and the friends he made were all according to the divine plan of God. Paul was thankful to God for the people he was able to impact and the faith they demonstrated in their daily lives.
Give thanks to God for those people God has given you the opportunity to know. Give thanks for the fact that God is at work in their lives, for their faith in Christ, and their love for fellow believers. The relationships you made did not occur by simple chance or luck–they were according to the providence of God. Give thanks that they love you and show a willingness to be open with you. Give thanks that they care about you and pray for you! Give thanks that they are being used for the advancement of God’s Kingdom. Give thanks that they helped hold you accountable. And give thanks to God that if you do not see them again on this earth, you will see them again in the presence of the Lord.
2. Pray They Would Grow in Their Knowledge of God
Paul continues in Ephesians 1:16 by telling these believers that he prays that God would give them a “spirit of wisdom and knowledge in the revelation of Him.” This part of Paul’s prayer involves “revelation” and “wisdom” which only the Holy Spirit can provide. The Holy Spirit who enlightens men’s minds to the word of God (John 14:26, Romans 8:14, 1 Corinthians 2:14-16). This sounds complicated, but what Paul is praying is for these believers to grow in their understanding of who God is. With what more can a child of God be gifted, than to have a greater understanding of his or her Heavenly Father (John 17:3)?
We cannot know God intimately apart from how He has revealed Himself to us through His Word, the Scriptures. The Holy Spirit illumines men’s minds to understand the Scriptures and applies them to their lives. To know God’s character, we must know His Word. To know how to live to please Christ, we must know His Word. When we pray for our friends, pray they would grow in their knowledge of God through knowledge of His Word. As we grow in our knowledge of Him, we cannot help but be humbled and changed by how little we resemble our Lord in His perfection. The Holy Spirit is the one who thoroughly convinces us of God’s power and glory in the deep recesses of our souls. He is the one who reveals to us through the Scriptures the full implications of the gospel for our belief and practice (2 Peter 1:3). Pray for your loved ones that they may grow in their knowledge of God: His attributes, His works, and His promises.
3. Pray They Would Understand Fully the Hope of Their Calling
Paul continues in Ephesians 1:18, asking God to enlighten the hearts of these believers so that they will fully understand the hope of their calling. The hope believers have is a living hope (1 Peter 1:3). Hope is the confident trust in Christ and the assurance that what He has promised will come to pass (Romans 8:24-25). Growing in understanding of our hope in Christ and the future resurrection all Christians have steels oneself to live according to God’s will and to His glory no matter the circumstances. Pray for your friends, pray they would hope in Christ when life is good, and when times are tough. The famous hymn by Edward Mote expresses this rightly: My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
4. Pray They Would Understand Fully Their Inheritance as Saints
Paul continues in Ephesians 1:18, praying that these believers would fully understand the inheritance that they have now because of their union with Christ. Paul is referencing Ephesians 1:11 and 1:14–the inheritance these believers have in Christ. The Apostle Peter describes the believer’s inheritance in this way: undefiled, imperishable, unfading, and reserved in heaven (1 Peter 1:3-4). This inheritance cannot be polluted by this world, sin, or Satan. It will not grow old and stale. It will not lose its luster over time. And it is waiting for the believer, ready to be revealed at the last days. Pray that those you care about would fully come to grips with the inheritance which awaits them. Pray that in the prosperous times the glitter and gold of this world would not distract them from the kingdom of God, and that during the times of hardship they would focus on the eternal inheritance.
5. Pray They Would Understand Fully the Great Power Working in Their Lives
Paul prays that these believers would come to fully understand the great power of God that is at work in their lives. Paul shows them in the rest of this chapter of Ephesians (verses 19-23) that the same power that raised Christ from the dead, and seated Him in the heavenly places, is the same power to which believers have access. This is the great power of God which gives the believer the strength and resources to be able to resist the power of Satan, the desires of the flesh, and the allure of this world. In the book of Revelation (2-3), believers are said to be the “overcomers.” True believers will stand before Christ having lived a life of faithfulness, “overcoming” sin, Satan, and the world. This does not mean that Christians are able to live perfect lives; there will be stumbling and setbacks. What it does mean is that believers, through the Holy Spirit, have the power to resist sin and live according to the will of God as revealed in His Scriptures. Pray that those you know would take advantage of the great resources they have in Christ.
The most important thing that you can do for those you care about is pray for them. You may not know everything they are going through, but you know the God they serve. Pray for their maturity and spiritual condition. And remember, God cares for them and has their best interests at heart.