The main way that we pray for the church is to pray for the group of people that make it up, which includes the leaders and volunteers, the teachers and students, the members and attenders, the visitors, and the not-yet-reached.
For Christians throughout the world and throughout time, the most common practice and spiritual discipline has got to be prayer. And if prayer is essentially just talking to God, then many Christians are praying constantly throughout the day, even when they do not realize it (which is good because it is what we are instructed to do in 1 Thessalonians 5:17).
While prayer involves the important elements of thanksgiving, praise, and confession of sin, the elements of intercession (typically praying for others) and supplication (typically praying for yourself) are what most people think about when they talk about prayer.
For example, when someone asks you if you have a “prayer request,” they do not want you to give them any praises or confessions, but rather a few things that they could ask God for on your behalf.
In fact, some theologians, such as John R. Rice, consider the act of asking God for things to be the most profound, powerful, and useful aspect of prayer. And while the other aspects are just as important, the prayers throughout Scripture clearly show us that prayer is a powerful too.
I love how the newsletter and podcast called “The Pour Over” refers to prayer: “The Bible promises that prayer is powerful and effective — that it causes things to happen that would not have happened otherwise.”
What kind of “things?” Well, the Book of James explains that just like Elijah’s fervent praying caused the rain to stop, “the prayer of faith” can still result in miraculous events happening, such as healings (James 5:15).
How Do We Pray for the Church?
When we pray for “the church,” I do not mean that we pray for a building unless, of course, your church needs a building to gather in (like many church plants do).
I also do not mean we are necessarily praying for the church organization, although the activity and inner workings of a church do require healthy, thorough organization and structure (and there will certainly be times when we need to pray for that to improve).
1. Confidence for the Body of Christ
Instead, the main way that we pray for the church is to pray for the group of people that make it up, which includes the leaders and volunteers, the teachers and students, the members and attenders, the visitors, and the not-yet-reached.
Thankfully the Bible gives us some prompts and helpful direction when praying for the church (and specifically for our own church).
In addition to Jesus’ prayers (such as his high-priestly prayer or the “Lord’s Prayer”), the Apostle Paul prayed regularly for the Christ-followers in the various churches that he pastored.
One such prayer can be found in Ephesians 1:15-23, and it is often called “Paul’s first prayer for the Ephesians.” In response to the faith and love of the believers in Ephesus, Paul wrote this prayer:
I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe (vv. 17-19).
Paul seems to pause this prayer after verse 23 and (in a way) pick it back up in the third chapter after taking some time to teach. Here is the continuation of his prayer in Ephesians 3:16-21:
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen (vv. 20-21).
Instead of breaking this prayer down verse by verse or phrase by phrase (which would be a wonderful study), I want to see it as a template to help us get started in praying for our own church.
While it is not a passage that we have to recite or even a standard that we have to follow, it is full of elements that we can emulate when we go to God on behalf of our own church.
Just like Paul recognized his own sonship and sainthood in his prayer, we can go to God as sons and daughters of the Heavenly Father.
We can pray with boldness and authority instead of fear and insecurity because our “great high priest” sympathizes with our weaknesses and already understands who we are (Hebrews 4:14-16).
And just as we can pray with confidence in who we are, we can pray for the people in our church as our brothers and sisters in Christ in need of grace and help instead of simply acquaintances or even enemies (although it is true that we will not always get along).
While there certainly may be lost men and women within our church congregation (as Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians 14), the “true church” is made up of saved people just like us that are on a journey of discipleship and sanctification.
2. Wisdom for the Body of Christ
In the same way that Paul prayed for the Ephesians to have wisdom and understanding, we can pray for God to give us wisdom, knowledge, and understanding.
We can pray for our church (which includes us) to know how blessed we are in Christ with “every spiritual blessing in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 1:3), to know the great power that is available to all of God’s children because the God who is in us is greater than “he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).
To know (or at least catch a little glimpse) of how much the Father loves us, to know the hope that we have in heaven, and to know how to operate our church in accordance with God’s revealed Word and the Holy Spirit’s leading.
At the same time, we can pray against the lies, arguments, doubts, unhelpful thoughts, and wrong opinions that go against truth and God’s wisdom (2 Corinthians 10:3-6).
James wrote that God will give us wisdom when we pray for it (James 1:5) — and your church and my churches needs more of it to deal with the difficult tasks and decisions that we have to make all the time, just like the First Churches did.
3. Spiritual Strength for the Body of Christ
Just as Paul prayed for his friends to be filled with the “fullness of God,” we too can pray for our church to be further emptied of its personal vendettas, preference arguments, secret sins, and wrong beliefs so that the Holy Spirit may become more prevalent in our lives.
The Holy Spirit filling does not just affect worship services; it affects every aspect of our lives, which results in more moving and more expressive worship services.
Lastly, as Paul prayed for God to be glorified in the church, we too ought to pray that God would be glorified in every aspect of our church.
Sometimes we might think that the mundane or routine activities in our churches (fellowship time in the lobby, nursery, running slides and sound, strumming a guitar, passing out bulletins, parking cars, etc.) are necessary but not significant.
But as Paul said in 1 Corinthians 10:31, whether we “eat or drink or whatever [we] do,” we can “do all for the glory of God.” And if you have been in church leadership, you know how critical even the smallest details can be for a church to function at its best.
In fact, Paul even recognizes the eternal significance of God being glorified in everything by closing his prayer with “throughout all generations, forever and ever.”
As we pray for our church, we can be certain that not only does God hear us and his “ears are open to [a righteous person’s] prayer” (1 Peter 3:12), but he is also “able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think.”
For further reading:
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Robert Hampshire is a pastor, teacher, writer, and leader. He has been married to Rebecca since 2008 and has three children, Brooklyn, Bryson, and Abram. Robert attended North Greenville University in South Carolina for his undergraduate and Liberty University in Virginia for his Masters. He has served in a variety of roles as a worship pastor, youth pastor, family pastor, church planter, and now Pastor of Worship and Discipleship at Cheraw First Baptist Church in South Carolina. He furthers his ministry through his blog site, Faithful Thinking, and his YouTube channel. His life goal is to serve God and His Church by reaching the lost with the gospel, making devoted disciples, equipping and empowering others to go further in their faith and calling, and leading a culture of multiplication for the glory of God. Find out more about him here.
The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Salem Web Network and Salem Media Group.
Video credits for audio, video, photos: Soundstripe, Storyblocks, LightStock, ThinkStock, GettyImages; Voiceover by Stephen Sanders
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This article is part of our prayer resource meant to inspire and encourage your prayer life when you face uncertain times. Remember, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us and God knows your heart even if you can't find the words to pray.