• Post author:
  • Reading time:10 mins read

If you’re a purist when it comes to the English language, you may not appreciate the title of this article. But I think I’m in good company when I stray this once outside of the bounds of linguistic orthodoxy. Paul often strained the Greek language or invented his own words when an important truth needed to be communicated. This title is my humble attempt to do the same.

The New Testament authors used the phrase “one another”[1] more than fifty times with reference to our relationships with people in the local church. Fifteen times we are told to “love one another” and as an outworking of that love we are to (among other things) “live in harmony with one another” (Rom. 12:16), “bear one another’s burdens” (Gal. 6:2), and “stir up one another to love and good works” (Heb. 10:24). This ought to make us see the importance of this horizontal aspect of our faith. It should also tip us off to the reality that our modern idea of some kind of mystical relationship with Jesus, isolated from a local church family is far removed from the way the apostles and early church viewed Christianity. Our personal relationship with Jesus is vital, but if it does not lead to a real and robust commitment to other Christians in a local church, that relationship is either very shallow, or it is completely imaginary (John 13:35, Rom. 12:4ff).

But the idea of being one-another oriented can easily remain just that – an idea. Even in a church that regularly urges the need for Meaningful Membership – one-anothering can remain forever stuck in the realm of good intentions – something we all aspire to do, but never really get to. That is why I’ve chosen to entitle this new series of articles: On One-Anothering. This is something we as Christians ought to do. It’s a practice as central to our faith as private prayer and Bible reading. If we aren’t loving one another in the various ways we are commanded to in the “one another” passages, we may sooner identify ourselves as Three-toed sloths than as Christians. A Christian who does no one-anothering is a walking contradiction.

To start this series off then, we will briefly look at the command to pray for one another, while looking primarily at the apostle Paul as a model for our prayers.

The command to pray for one another is found in James 5:16. In the context, James is specifically speaking about praying for healing, but it’s obvious from other passages of Scripture that we are to pray for far more than one another’s physical well-being. When we pray for one another, we can pray for individuals and families in the church, or for the church collectively. Because Paul addressed most of his letters to local churches, rather than individuals, his prayers generally focus on local churches as a whole. But these prayers can also be prayed for individuals in the church. Notice these two examples from the prayers of Paul:

His prayer for the Romans:

May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 15:5-6).

His prayer for the Colossians:

“And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light” (Col. 1:9-12).

And then notice finally, His prayer for an individual (Philemon):

“I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints, and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ. For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you” (Phil. 1:4-7).

Even just looking at these three prayers gives us an idea as to what Paul’s burdens were when he prayed. They can really be summarized in two words; when he’s praying for churches or individuals, he’s concerned for their growing maturity (both in knowledge and practice) and their fruitfulness. Notice also that his prayers are marked by thankfulness to God for what he sees God doing in them already. I think we would do well to follow Paul’s example by praying for more than just material needs or whatever seems urgent or pressing. Praying for one another meaningfully, means praying that the fruit of the gospel would increasingly be evident in our lives and in our churches. And it also involves giving thanks to God for that which he is already doing in our midst.

But I want to end with a brief word on strategy and intentionality.

There’s always the danger of thinking that we are alright because we know what we ought to do, but not realizing that we are far from alright because we aren’t actually doing anything. What’s that saying about a certain road being paved with good intentions? But I want to suggest two ways in which you can be intentional and strategic about living out this important Biblical command.

1. Planning to Pray:

I’ve recently started the practice of taking my diary and the church directory and writing down the names of three families in the church to pray for on each day. I’ve filled in my diary all the way to the 31st of December and plan on doing the same with my diary for next year. If you’re not a very organized person or you’ve never really used a diary, let me encourage you by telling you that you’re not alone. Writing out the names of those families in my 2023 diary is the only thing I’ve written in it all year! I’m not a diary person at all. But I’ve recently discovered the value of a dairy when it comes to a more strategic and intentional approach to praying for the church family. I know that many people today use their smartphones for calendar entries and reminders, but I would suggest using a physical diary for this, since they aren’t as likely to distract us as our phones often are.

One of the benefits of this practice is that we get to serve people in our church (by praying for them) that we might not otherwise get to serve. And we know that when we serve one another in this way, where only God can see us do it, we also remove the possibility of our simply being nice in the hopes that others would notice or reciprocate. We are also less likely to slander or gossip about those for whose spiritual good we’ve recently prayed. And if you need one more reason, this does give you an opportunity once every few months to obey the commandment to love your enemies and to “pray for those who persecute you” (Mat. 5:44).

2. Gathering to pray:

I believe the best way to learn to pray more meaningfully for one another, is by regularly praying with one another. When we gather for the church prayer meeting, we instinctively know that we should be praying for one another. On the rare occasion at the prayer meeting when someone starts praying in the first-person singular, it is immediately noticeable and there is an obvious sense of awkwardness in the room like when the wrong note is played on a piano. This is because we instinctively know that when we gather to pray, we gather to pray for one another. Notice the following summary of the practice of the church immediately following the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost: “So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:41-42). That phrase “the prayers” refers to prayer times at the temple where the early church often gathered together to pray.

And later, when Peter is imprisoned, we are told that “earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church” (Acts 12:5). Clearly the members of the church were not praying on their own at home, because when Peter is released as an answer to their prayers, he goes to the house of Mary and finds that: “many were gathered together and were praying” (Acts 12:12).  Can you imagine the look on the faces of those early Christians if someone deliberately absented themselves from this prayer meeting, because they preferred to “be alone with Jesus” rather than with a crowd! We would do well to follow the example of those early believers in devoting ourselves to corporate prayer (Acts 1:14). 

May the Lord help us see the importance of this often-neglected practice of praying for one another, so that his church might be strengthened, and he be glorified.

[1] It’s actually just one word in Greek – allelon