I must confess surprise in a recent concordance search; the phrase “pray for one another” is found only one time in the Bible!
James 5:16 states, “Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (NKJV).
This singular biblical instance, however, is supplemented throughout Scripture with numerous expressions of prayer for others and requests for prayer from others.
In terms of praying for others, Jesus set the standard in His High Priestly prayer, recorded in John 17. He prayed for His disciples (John 17:9) and for those who would come to faith in Jesus as a result of their witness (John 17:20). He continues praying for us even now as the ever-living, heavenly intercessor (Hebrews 7:25).
Further, Paul’s letters are replete with specific prayer requests for Christ-followers in Rome (Romans: 1:9), for the Ephesian believers upon learning of their faith (Ephesians 1:15-21), for the saints in Philippi (Philippians 1:9-11), as well as for the churches in Colossae (Colossians 1:3-12) and Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 1:2-5).
In terms of requesting prayers from others, consider Jeroboam, who asked the unnamed prophet to pray for him that his hand would be healed (1 Kings 13:6). Esther appealed to Mordecai to gather the Jews in Shushan to fast for her for three days before she requested an audience with the king (Esther 4:15).
Paul earnestly besought the Romans to join him in prayers for himself that he would be delivered from Judean unbelievers and that his service for the Jerusalem saints would be well received (Romans 15:30-31). He also enjoined the church at Ephesus to pray for all people, especially for kings and those in authority, since God desires all to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:1-4).
During the June 2014 Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) annual meeting in Baltimore, Md., the Convention adopted a resolution on church revitalization. Its closing line urged “churches experiencing cycles of health to pray for and partner with both established and newly planted churches that are struggling so that together, experiencing His strength through our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:10), we can more effectively reach our neighbors and our nation with the gospel.”
I wonder what would happen if each Southern Baptist church wholeheartedly and intentionally prayed for other Baptist churches in their own communities? It seems that churches too often fear the success of neighboring churches rather than praying for the mutual effectiveness and growth of their respective congregations. But, it doesn’t have to be that way.
A few years ago I attended an associational annual meeting in south central Kentucky. Ten of the association’s churches had not baptized a single new believer the previous year. The director of missions asked 10 churches that had experienced evangelistic effectiveness to covenant to pray specifically that those other 10 churches would experience the joy of seeing new believers born into the family of God and baptized as followers of Christ in the coming year.
The next year, at its 2009 annual meeting, the association reported that eight of those 10 churches with no baptisms the previous year had baptized 29 new believers in 2009! Using video images of baptisms in those churches as part of the associational report, the entire association celebrated what God had done in direct response to such focused prayer.
This renewed sense of associational community didn’t stop after that initial prayer partnership. The following year, 23 churches in the association reported an increase in baptisms. Building on that report, the association began to pray at every associational gathering for one thousand souls to be reached and baptized in 2011, a prayer goal that was exceeded.
Praying for one another is biblical. And it is powerful. James 5:16 closes with this stirring reminder, “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.”
If one person’s prayer avails much, how much more can be accomplished when an entire church of Spirit-filled men and women intercede to the Father for their own church’s ministry … and for the church down the block, around the corner, across town, or around the world!
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Roger S. Oldham is vice president for communications and convention relations with the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee.)