My hubby and I get together twice a month with another couple to pray for our adult children and our grandchildren. We have done this for many years and agree that the changes in our family are slow. The great change is in us and how we pray. Our requests once concerned temporal needs. Now it is for spiritual needs and eternal well-being.
The Apostle Paul seems to have learned this much quicker than we did. He prayed continually about the spiritual needs of the churches and people under his care, and gave instruction for prayer, even personal prayer requests.
. . . take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak. (Ephesians 6:17–20)
Paul was in jail. The natural inclination would be prayers for his release, but in his letter to the church at Philippi, after lengthy prayers for their well-being, he said:
I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. (Philippians 1:12–14)
Paul saw God’s hand in his situation. Even though he was in a horrible place that was nothing like the prisons of today, he realized that God was using this for good. Had his Christian coworkers prayed for his release, they would have been asking out of God’s will.
Chambers makes an easy connection to my prayers; praying in the will of God could means hardship for others. If I intercede in sympathy with their trials, I could be messing with God’s plan to lift them to a higher level. For instance, if my prayers have been for someone’s salvation, God could be answering that prayer with trials, sickness, or other hardships. I need to seek His will before quickly praying the usual request for comfort.
This makes prayer a deeper challenge. I need to be sure of God. I can sidetrack my relationship with Him by sin, but also with personal sympathy and prejudice. Sympathy has this ‘I will not allow that thing to happen’ way of thinking. It is like Peter’s statement to Jesus when He said He would be crucified:
From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” (Matthew 16:21–23)
This strong rebuke shows the importance of God’s will in our prayers. Jesus called Pater ‘Satan’ and exposed a fleshy focus that was sinful. I don’t want to pray that way for myself or others.
Chambers also says that if I am an intercessor, then I will not have time or inclination to pray for my own ‘sad sweet self’ because I will not be thinking about myself at all. If that were not challenge enough, Chambers also says that the discernment that God gives is always a call to intercession, never to fault finding. In other words, having a critical spirit also messes with the will of God because it usually prevents me from praying at all. Without prayer, I have stepped away from my most vital connection to Him.