Typically when we pray for each other, it’s because we have a prayer request. For instance, someone in our church is facing surgery, so they go on the prayer list and everyone prays for them throughout that surgery. We often pray about specific things over a specific period of time. When that specific thing is over with, we stop praying about it and stop praying for that person (unless something else comes up). Or, if it’s a long term thing and we don’t see any progress, such as praying for a loved one’s salvation, we slowly, over time, pray for that person less and less until we stop praying for them altogether. There will be brief periods where we’ll remember and we’ll pray again, but we’ll start that slide again sooner or later.
But in Paul’s letter to the Colossians, that’s not why he prays. Here are the relevant verses:
We give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love which you have for all the saints; because of the hope laid up for you in heaven, of which you previously heard in the word of truth, the gospel which has come to you, just as in all the world also it is constantly bearing fruit and increasing, even as it has been doing in you also since the day you heard of it and understood the grace of God in truth; – Colossians 1:3-6, NASB
Paul indicates he was praying for them always. Okay, that makes sense. The question that is raised is, “Why?” He gives us an answer and it’s a bit surprising considering the current practice in most churches of today: “because of the hope laid up for you in heaven.” Paul and Timothy had been praying “since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus” and had continued praying. There wasn’t that short, “Thank you, Lord,” type of prayer between the two for the believers in Colossae and that’s it. You know, the praise prayer we give God when something has been done that is good. That’s a one time prayer. No, they had continued praying simply because those believers in Colossae were just that, believers. Paul wasn’t praying because the believers there were facing some trial that was unusual. He wasn’t praying because there was some sin in their midst that they were unwilling to confront. He prayed for the believers in Colossae because they were brothers and sisters in the Lord. Like I said, a very different practice from what typically takes place in our churches today.
Which example is better? Is it better for us to pray for one specific event and then move on or is it better for us to pray for each other all the time? That’s an easy one to answer: all the time. If we believe that our prayers are effective, that God is listening to them and wants what is best for His children, then it makes sense to pray for each other all the time. I’m not sure when we slipped out of that practice or if we even had that as a general practice within the Church as a whole. But it makes a whole lot more sense than taking prayer requests and praying for each other only when there is a pressing need. Maybe if we prayed for each other regularly, just because, there would be fewer pressing needs. That’s something to think about.
So how do we get started in praying for one another in this manner? One way is to begin praying for bodies of believers, just as Paul did. For instance, praying for all who attend the church you worship at. Praying in general over the church and then as the Holy Spirit brings specific individuals up, pray for them as well. Pray for the leadership of that church, too. And pray for other congregations you are familiar with, such as places you formerly worshipped at. That’s a good start. Of course, I’m not saying we should stop the individual prayer request thing. When things come up, we are to take them to our fellow believers and have them lift us up in prayer. For instance, when one of us is sick, there is a specific command in James 5:14-15 to take it to the elders of the church and be prayed over. So there is a time and place for specific prayer requests. However, we shouldn’t let the specific ones get in the way of praying in general for other believers. If we believe through prayer we can petition God the Father on someone else’s behalf then we should be in prayer always for other believers that they may see God visibly at work in their lives and that He would protect them and guide them in wisdom and in truth. We should certainly pray for other believers always, just because we believe prayer has such power. We don’t need a reason. We pray, just because.