Paul wrote, “first of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men” (I Timothy 2:1). We see from this verse that there is a sense in which our prayers must include the whole world. They must go beyond our own families, our churches, our friends, and our country. What a great and awesome responsibility we have. And at the same time what a great privilege and honor God has given to us to be able to touch a soul on the other side of the world.
I have laid out for you what I have found from my study to be the main groups of people we should pray and intercede for. Here are those groups, eight in all.
1. Secular leaders (1 Timothy 2:2). Under the heading of “all men,” the first group that Paul instructs us to pray for is, “for kings and all who are in authority.” This would include all chief executives, representatives, lawmakers, diplomats, etc. For a city it would be the mayor, the chief of police, the fire marshal, the president of the school board, the editor of the local newspaper, etc.
We should pray for them basically for two reasons: (1) In order that all believers who are under their leadership may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity; and also, (2) so that those who are not saved would have a greater opportunity to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (vs. 4).
When we pray for them, we can pray according to Romans 13:1, that they would realize that their position of authority has been established by God. We can also pray that God would give them His grace and wisdom to make the right decisions. There are many other things that we could pray for them. Perhaps you may want to call them and ask them what their needs are; and tell them that you will pray for them. What a great testimony that would be, and it would bring them well on their way to becoming a Christian, if they are not already.
2. Spiritual leaders. When I speak here of spiritual leaders, I am not just talking about those pastors and leaders in your own church. I think we need to look beyond just our own ministry and church. We need to pray for all spiritual leaders. Think of those pastors, evangelists, missionaries and Sunday school teachers who may not have prayer warriors behind them, such as your own church has. They all desperately need our prayers.
Cameron Thompson writes, “Seldom do we hear a Bible teacher on the radio pray for another Bible teacher. Each sheep bleats within its own fold. Like safety matches, we strike only on our own boxes.”
I believe that Satan works extra hard to discourage those who are called by God to lead. It is our grave responsibility to pray for them all, that God will send them showers of refreshment. As Thompson writes, “Dry and withered flowers lift their heads when rain comes; so do the tired and discouraged saints when someone prays.”
Here are four things that we can pray for our spiritual leaders, all of which were the requests of Paul:
(1) For boldness to speak the gospel (Eph. 6:19).
(2) For clarity of speech when they preach and teach (Col. 4:4).
(3) For deliverance from evil men and those who are disobedient (Ro. 15:31).
(4) That they would feel accepted (Ro. 15:31). This is so important, especially for new pastors. For unless the pastor feels welcome and accepted there will be an incredible burden upon him as he wonders what he has done wrong or what he has not done right.
Also, along with praying for the pastor, the congregation should pray for each other that they would accept him; for how can a pastor feel accepted if he is not?
3. All believers (Ephesians 6:18). Whenever we pray there should be a sense in which we are praying for all believers. The Lord’s Prayer begins with “Our Father,” not My Father; and so, we pray as part of a great family that is also talking to God.
Now, when we are open to the Holy Spirit, He will always move us to pray for those believers who are on His heart. Most of the time, in my experience anyway, He will cause us to read a missionary letter, or a news report in a Christian magazine, or even a book that contains missionary prayer requests. From those readings He will put on your heart a desire to pray for certain missionaries or certain Christians in other countries.
4. Those believers whom God has especially given to you to disciple (John 17:9). These are the ones who are always on our heart, because we are with them most of the time. We minister to them and work along side of them; and when we leave them to go to our homes they are still on our mind. And, as with Paul, we thank God for our remembrances of them. And we are always offering up prayers for them with joy, because they are the ones who are our comrades in the gospel (Phil. 1:3-5).
This special group of believers may consist of members of your Sunday school class, or your Bible Study. They may consist of those Christian friends who you socialize with, or perhaps those whom you council, either professionally or as a friend. This group may consist of family members, or perhaps Christian work associates, or those Christians whom you spend most of the day with, working side by side with.
Now when we pray for them we will naturally thank God for them (Phil. 1:3, 1 Tim 2:1, Phil. 4:6). And we should pray for both their physical needs as well as their spiritual needs. Their physical needs are usually the requests that come first: an aching back, sickness, need more money to pay the bills, need a car, need a home, need a wife, etc., etc….
But the spiritual needs are not always as obvious, and so we scratch our heads and wonder what to pray. Maybe that is why the apostle Paul gave us a few examples. In his letters to the Ephesian church and to the Philippian church we have three different examples of prayers: in Ephesians 1:17-21, in Ephesians 3:16-19, and in Philippians 1:9-11.
5. For all non-Christians. God desires the entire world to be saved, so we must pray for the world to be saved (1 Tim. 2:4). God desires whole nations to be saved, so we need to pray for nations to be saved (Rom. 10:1). God desires that entire cities repent and turn to God, so we must pray for cities (Jonah 4:11).
The best way to reach a city, and a country, and the world is to first begin to pray for all “who are in authority” (1 Tim. 2:1).
I would first suggest that you start with your own city, and then go to another city, and then another. You may also, at the same time, pray for state, national, and world; however, it may be wise to spend most of your prayer efforts on your own city leaders because they are the ones that you are the closest to and will have the most contact with.
When you pray, pray of course for their salvation, but pray also for their felt needs if you can discover them. Ed Silvosa, author of the book, That None Should Perish, suggested that we go to our city leaders and ask them what their prayer requests are. He said, “They already know that many of the problems they face require a miracle”… and so “they will tend to hope for a miracle if they need it badly enough.” Silvaso also stated that “people in authority are open to prayer.” He said, “The best way to pray intelligently for the unsaved, and especially for those in authority is to get to know them and to maintain contact with them in order to pray for their felt needs.” Then he said, “When we pray for their felt needs and God answers, their eyes are opened to the reality and the power of God, and this in turn leads them to recognize their need for salvation.”
6. For those non-Christians whom God has placed within your sphere of personal influence. In addition to praying for those in authority, it is also very importance that we pray for those whom God has placed within your sphere of influence, whether they are leaders or not. And if God has helped you to win a few non-Christians as friends, they are your first candidates for salvation. Continue to win them over to the Lord and pray for them daily. Pray for some of their felt needs, so that they will see God working in their life; hence, that the soil of their heart would be softened and prepared for the planting of the seed of the gospel. Pray also for their repentance, that they would be convicted of their sin and liberated from the power of Satan.
7. For your enemies (Matthew 5:44). One of the hardest things to do is to pray for our enemies. But if you want to remain at peace with all people and be free from anger and bitterness, practice praying regularly for them.
What is an enemy? I think we may classify an enemy as any person who doesn’t give you the proper respect; and by whom you feel hurt, rejected and mistreated. Even friends sometimes mistreat you, and so in those times they are your enemies. Such was the case with Job. His friends were not much comfort to him when he was suffering. Instead of comforting him they accused him of hypocrisy, argued with him, and looked down upon him as one who had sinned. But Job prayed for those so-called friends, and the Lord richly blessed him (Job 42:10).
Now when you have decided that you ought to pray for a certain person who has mistreated you, the first thing that I suggest you do is to pray for yourself that God would give you a love for that person. For we are to love our enemies; and we must treat them as we want them to treat us (Lu. 6:31). Then as you feel that God has warmed your heart a bit toward that person, begin to pray for him. Pray whatever God lays on your heart. No doubt, as you begin to feel pity for that person you will pray that God would forgive him for mistreating you. Such was the case with both Jesus and Stephen before they died (Lu. 23:34; Acts 7:60).
8. For the sick (James 5:14, 15). If there is one thing that people most often pray about it would have to be for the healing of the sick. And that is understandable, for since we have all suffered at one time or another with some kind of sickness, we can sympathize with those who are sick; thus, prayers for the sick will come rather easy, especially for those whom we know and love.
But we would be negligent and even disobedient if we did not also call on the elders of the church to pray for the sick. For the elders are considered to be the ones who are strong in faith. They are the ones whom the entire church has elected as being just and devout (Titus 1:8). We may even say that they are the more righteous men of the church; hence, their prayers will be more effective (Ja. 5:16).