How to pray in prison – P.S.

praying hands

We reach out to touch each other so that God can reach out and touch us.

While we have had a lengthy conversation over the last few posts about prayer, specifically the “prison” situations that challenge our prayer lives, there is a parting note I would like to give on the matter.

The apostle Paul, to no one’s surprise, was a man of prayer. In his letters, he often made mention of his constant prayers for the saints; this we have catalogued in our discussion.

As a remedy to his very literal prison, he received “power to stand,” “power to be content” and “power to struggle.” All of these graces, certainly, contributed to his ability to maintain his prayers for the saints during trying circumstances.

What should not go unnoticed, however, is the thing that may be most simple, yet impactful, regarding the apostle’s resolve to pray: the prayers of the saints. In each of the letters he pens from prison, Paul either requests prayer or mentions the prayers of the corresponding churches.

He writes in Colossians 4:2-3, “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us” (ESV). Philippians 1:19 reads, “. . . for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance” (ESV).

Ephesians 6:18-20 echoes, “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should” (NIV).

We need people to pray for us. Moreover, we should not be ashamed to solicit prayer. It is not a sign of weakness, but of confidence in the efficacious nature of prayer and the power of agreement. James, very fitting, says, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (5:16 ESV).

I think this is actually one of the most important ingredients to intercessory prayer. It can be become difficult to labor on someone else’s behalf if one feels his own needs are being neglected. Our needs should not necessarily be our preoccupation, but they are a reality.

Paul did not spend a ton of time talking about his difficulties; he had greater concerns in writing to these churches. He did, though, request that the churches pray for him and, in the case of the Philippians, thanked them for renewing their financial support. His suffering for the gospel is also not omitted from his report.

It is fair to say that praying for someone else should mean that someone, in turn, prays for you. After all, Jesus did say, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’?”(Mark 11:17 ESV). If we understand the people of God to be the “living stones” that compose that house (1 Peter 2:5), then doesn’t it make sense for us to pray for each other?

No matter how you slice it, true prayer has an element of selflessness. A commentary of prayer offers, “Prayer must be more than simply a devotional habit in the Christian’s life. It must be a ministry, both in the lives of individual Christians and within the life of the local church.” Prayer, devotionally, ministers unto the Lord. Intercession, though, ministers to people as we bring their needs before God.

I am fortunate enough to attend a church that really values prayer. At every meeting, you can expect someone to pray for you. Hearing someone labor on your behalf is encouraging; I am saying that from experience. To reiterate, though, we are talking about prayer that has great power at its working, not just encouragement.

Another one of the apostles, Peter, also found himself in a prison cell. James, brother of John, had been put to death and Peter was next on the list. While waiting in that cell for his looming demise, the witness of Acts records, “So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him” (12:5 NIV).

Peter didn’t know that the church was praying for him at the time. He was not sitting in a church meeting where he could hear the person next to him; he was in a cell, under lock-and-key, with not a friendly face in sight. The church’s prayer activity became known to Peter, however, after an angel busts him out of prison – the record of Acts seems to imply that this event was in direct result to the church’s prayers.

Some people cannot hear you pray for them, and the same with you. This was certainly the case for Paul and Peter. As a sports enthusiast, the analogy I would like to use is that you may not get the play-by-play, but when you find that your team wins after checking the score, you are not as concerned about the details (that’s what highlights are for anyway, right?).

There should certainly be a reciprocal nature to prayer in the life of the church. In order for us all to serve and give preference to one another, though, we have to trust that it will come back to us; we cannot clinch our fists until we have an assurance of return. We can be assured, however, based on the truth of God’s word: “One person gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed” (Proverbs 11:24-25 NIV).

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~ by christianballenger on March 31, 2016.

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