Principles of Prayer
by Francis Foulkes ©


Special people for whom to pray

Still within the consideration of objects of prayer that we are encouraged by the Bible to make a part of our intercession, we should note certain categories of people for whom Scripture urges us to pray.

Contrary to their natural feelings Jesus taught his disciples to pray for those who persecuted them (Matt.5:44 and Lk.6:28). He lived true to his own teaching as he prayed from the cross for those who engineered his death (Lk.23:34), as did his faithful follower Stephen after him (Acts 7:60). Although the Old Testament has many prayers for the judgment of the enemies of God's people, there is, in the book of Jonah something very different, as Jonah was rebuked for his lack of compassion and of any desire for the salvation of his nation's enemies.

There is specific instruction to pray for those in "high positions" of political leadership in 1 Timothy 2:2, and indeed we have such prayer for rulers in the Old Testament, for Saul (in 1 Sam.10:24), for Solomon (in 1 Kgs.1:37, 47-48 and 2:4), and frequently in the Psalms for "the Lord's anointed" (see especially Ps.72).

There are biblical examples of the prayer for guidance in the appointment of spiritual leaders and for their equipment for their ministry. Numbers 27:15-17 gives us Moses' prayer that God would "appoint someone over the congregation who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, so that the congregation of the Lord may not be like sheep without a shepherd," a prayer that was answered in the raising up of Joshua for the work. We might set alongside that prayer of Moses the Lord's instructions that prayer should be made that labourers will be thrust into the spiritual harvest field, especially bearing in mind the concern the Lord expressed in that context that the people around were as "sheep without a shepherd". We have noted the prayer of Jesus himself in relation to the choice of his twelve disciples (in Lk.6:12), and so the early Christians prayed for the one of God's choice as Judas's successor (Acts 1:20-25). Prayer is made for those commissioned as agents of the gospel in Acts (6:6, 13:3, 14:23, 15:40), and Paul frequently requests prayer for his work and ministry (Rom. 15:30, Eph.6:19-20, Col.4:3-4 and cf. Heb.13:18). We read in Acts also of the practice of commending to God those who were travelling in the work of ministry (e.g.Acts 20:36-38 and 21:6).

Prayer for those in special need is sometimes explicit and often implicit in Scripture. Hebrews 13:3 mentions in particular prayer for those in prison, and we read in Acts 12:5 and 12 of prayer for those persecuted.

Understandably also the New Testament bears witness to Christian prayer for those who are still without the knowledge of the way of salvation in Christ. As priests in Old Testament days had to represent God to their people and their people to God so supremely the role of High Priest was fulfilled by Christ. His life and death alike were intercession as is his continuing heavenly ministry. The words relating to the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53:12 - "he made intercession for the transgressors" - were fulfilled in him. But so in and through Christ his people are to live as a priestly people (Ex.19:5-6, 1 Pet.2:9), and this implies praying for others as indeed Paul yearned and prayed for the conversion of his own kinsfolk (Rom.10:1-2 and Acts 26:29). We have noted earlier this is the ministry to which 1 John 5:16 refers when it urges prayer for those who have not committed "mortal sin", those, that is, for whom the way of repentance and faith was still open.