Praying Below the Surface
By Pamela S. Binkley
As I prayed I knew something was missing. Requests from the women in my Bible study group had grown predictable. Concerns about health, careers, cantankerous cars, financial needs, and trying relationships packed my prayer journal. I'd even prayed about two leaky roofs.
Shouldn't there be requests for spiritual needs? I wondered. Not that the prayers in my journal were insignificant. Along with the other women, I'd learned by His answers that God's love for us and the ingenuity of His solutions to our problems defy the imagination. He tends to our daily needs even as He tends to our souls. Besides one of those leaky roofs was mine!
But were there other prayers God wanted me to offer up for these women? The answer surfaced the year our leader challenged us: “As you study the letters of Paul, look for the prayers he prayed for the churches and pray each one for your group."
My first discovery occurred in 1Thessalonians 5:23, a petition for purity. I knelt and asked, "May the spirit, soul, and body of each woman be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." Surely, this prayer was holy to God. I began to understand that God wants us to pray for daily needs, but He also wants us to pray for our spiritual needs.
Here are some of the prayers I found as I continued scouting Paul's epistles. Pray them for your small group, your Sunday school class, your friends, or your family. Put them in your own words. Identify what keeps us from enjoying these spiritual qualities and ask God to remove those hindrances.
A Prayer for Filling and Spilling
"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit" (Rom.15:13).
I pray that the women in my group will know this kind of trust in God, and will act on His promises. One woman did just that when she felt vulnerable to a temptation. A man she knew kept calling her when her husband was out of town. She asked God to remove the temptation those phone calls represented, based on His promise not to tempt us beyond what we are able to withstand. The next time her husband went out of town, she discovered she could make outgoing calls, but couldn't receive incoming ones. God kept her tempter from calling at a time when she felt weak.
What are the enemies of trust? Pessimism, fearfulness, and timidity all threaten our ability to trust God. So I pray for confidence and courage. What keeps your group or family from trusting God?
A Prayer for Unity
"May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom. 15:5-6).
The first night our study group meets in September, I listen to the women introduce themselves and wonder how such a diverse group will bond. They are CPAs, crossing guards, mothers, teachers, physicians, and office workers. Some work 50-hour weeks; some are retired. They represent different races, marital statuses, incomes, and denominations. One or two may be unchurched. Several talk at the same time. Another sits without saying a word. As I pray Paul's prayer for unity, I ask God to keep our differences from pulling us apart. I pray He'll turn our diversity into zest for getting to know one another. I ask that our focus would be on Him, not ourselves.
It never fails; at some point during the year I look around and see how God has taken all our differences and arranged them in a perfect bouquet. Our dissimilarities blend because we are following Christ. He makes us one with Him and with each other.
A Prayer to Know God Better
"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 also 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 the saints, and His incomparably great power for us who believe" (Eph. 1:17-19).
With this prayer as my model, I ask God to free the women in my group from the cobwebs in their thinking. Sometimes the cobwebs are beliefs that God can hardly wait for us to fail so He can punish us. When that's the case, I pray for His love to become a reality. Sometimes the cobwebs are a lack of strength to do the things we want to do. Then I pray for God's power to become real. Years ago, this empowerment enabled me to quit smoking.
In our discussions I listen for words like, "I used to think..." That's my clue that someone is about to clear out a cobweb and share a newly learned truth.
Key to knowing God is a commitment to read and study Scripture. I pray that each woman will seek out that private place and block of time God has given her. I ask that her time with God would be so rich she will refuse to let the pressures of the day grab it away from her.
I also pray that as each woman becomes familiar with Scripture she will not stop learning about God ¾ that none of us will ever settle back with an I-have-arrived attitude. As we continue to see how great God is, we must surely see how minuscule our godliness and our knowledge is in comparison.
A Prayer for Salt-and-Light Love
“And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ ¾ to the glory and praise of God" (Phil. 1:9-11).
I ask God to instill in our group of women a love for others like Christ's love for us. This love is more than a pat on the back and a smile for one who is deeply distressed. Rather it is a love that sits down and listens. It is a love that empathizes and encourages, it's a salt-and-light love that speaks what is true. When it offers advice, that counsel comes from a storage bin of Christ's wisdom.
Such love points others toward Christ instead of trying to garner glory for itself. It is a love that sometimes surprises, because it loves even those who are not so easy to love. Pray that your group will see others with the eyes of Christ. Pray that their love will be fruitful because it points others toward God. Pray they will love even when the object of their love doesn't deserve it, acknowledging that Christ's love, too, is undeserved.
A Prayer for Sharing Faith
“I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ" (Phil. 6).
We share our faith by telling and doing. I pray that the women in my group will share their faith in both these ways, and that as they do, their faith will become more real to them.
I also pray that we will tell others about our faith. Timidity often hinders us from sharing, so I pray for the courage to speak out. Caring about what others think is another hindrance to witnessing, so I pray we will not be influenced by what people think of us.
More Than Meets the Eye
The answers to prayers like these are not as tangible as the answers to prayers about cantankerous cars and leaky roofs. Sometimes the answers are long in coming. Spiritual qualities, like oak trees, take time to mature. Sometimes the answers are hidden from us because they represent private victories. If you become discouraged because you don't see the results of your spiritual petitions, ask God to let you see just enough so that you will persevere.
When I'm inclined to lose heart in prayer, I picture the Old Testament high priests. They entered the Holy of Holies, bearing the names of the 12 tribes of Israel carved on stones and worked into the breastplate. Because of Jesus, each of us is now a priest. We, too, can enter the Holy of Holies, carrying the names of those we pray for, and equipped with model prayers from Paul.