Summary: 65th in a series from Ephesians. Paul’s prayer request helps us learn how to pray for others more effectively.
In his book, Everyone’s Normal Until You Get to Know Them, John Ortberg tells the story about a man who wanders into a small and cluttered antique shop. As he walked up and down the aisles browsing, he saw the usual furniture, lamps, vases and oil paintings common to every antique store.
Then he turned the corner and his eye was caught by a cat that was drinking milk out of a saucer. Looking closely, he was astounded to discover that it was no ordinary dish that the cat was lapping milk from - it was a beautiful Ming dynasty dish, a very rare one, worth a huge sum of money. "The owner must not know how much that dish is worth," the man thought to himself. "Why else would he be using it to feed his cat?"
Excited at the prospect of being able to purchase the dish for a bargain price, he approached the antique store owner and said, "That cat you have is the most beautiful cat I’ve ever seen! Would you consider selling him to me?" "Oh, no," the owner said. "That cat is special to me in more ways than one. Not only is he a great companion, but he keeps the mouse population under control around here." "I understand that, but I really, really like that cat!" countered the man. "Tell you what. I’ll give you $200 for the cat.”
The owner rubbed his chin as he considered the offer. "Well, okay. If you like him that much, I guess I’ll sell him to you for $200." "Thanks!" said the man, and they shook hands on the deal. "You know, I’ll also need something to hold his food. How about throwing in his dish there for an extra ten dollars?" "No, no, I couldn’t do that," replied the store owner. "That’s a very rare Ming dynasty dish, worth thousands of dollars. Not only that, it’s been very lucky for me. Since I’ve been using it as a food dish, I’ve sold fifteen cats!"
Unfortunately, that story is a pretty good picture of how many Christians view prayer. They view prayer as a way to negotiate with God in order to get something that they want at a great bargain. But like that rare and valuable dish, prayer is far too valuable to God for Him to allow us to use it as a means to our own ends.
We certainly saw that in last week’s message where Paul instructed his readers about the four “all’s” of prayer:
• Pray on all occasions
• With all kinds of prayers
• Being watchful with all perseverance
• Praying for all the saints
In that passage we discovered that prayer is primarily something that is to be focused on the deep spiritual needs of others. But after giving his readers that focus, Paul does ask them to pray for him, too. Let’s read his request out loud together:
Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, 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.
Ephesians 6:19-20 (NIV)
In just a moment, I’d like to ask all of you to pray that very same prayer for me this morning. When I first considered asking you to do that, my first thought was that it would be very self-centered for me to request that you pray for me. But as I read through Paul’s letters, I discovered that he wasn’t at all shy about asking his readers to pray for him. Here are just a few of the places where he does that.