These past few weeks in our study through the book of Ephesians we have focused quite a bit on prayer. Paul’s prayers in the first and third chapter of this epistle are great examples of genuine, heartfelt prayers that offer thanksgiving and praise to God as well as intercession for the spiritual good and well-being of others.
Last Sunday morning Sarah Nelson Smith and her family responded to the invitation seeking our prayers, encouragement and strength, and Sunday evening our brother Carlos Thomas came with a similar petition. I hope that you have honored their requests by remembering them in prayer every day this week.
I believe that when we pray for others, genuinely and sincerely asking God to help them and bless them, we are close to having the spirit and attitude of Christ. Many of you pray regularly for others—for those on our prayer list, which always seems to be quite lengthy, as well as for others that you are aware of who need God’s blessing in special ways. Certainly the Bible tells us to call on the Lord in the day of trouble (Psalm 50:14-15). The Psalms and all of Scripture are filled with examples of godly people praying to God for deliverance and help. But I think it’s when we seek God’s blessings for others in very real, concrete ways that we are most like our Lord.
The apostle Paul tells us that we are to “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15). When we offer up prayers to God for those who are in difficult times we have a greater connection with their struggles and are more likely to share their burdens and mourn with them. And when we offer up prayers to God, asking Him to really bless someone other than ourselves, we are more likely to share their joy when they are blessed and are better able to rejoice with them in their good fortune and blessing.
When was the last time you prayed for someone who has hurt you? When was the last time you prayed for someone who might be considered your enemy? No, not a prayer that they would lose their job, or be struck with some horrible disease, or be humiliated in front of their friends. Can you pray that God would bless them? Are you praying that God would send people, experiences and situations in their life that would bring them closer to Him, that would bring them blessing and not pain?
Is this not how we are able to avoid being overcome by evil, and instead are able to overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21)? Is this not what separates the follower of Christ from the selfishness and unforgiveness of the world? Is this not what our Lord challenged us to do in Matthew 5:43-48?
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighborand hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”