Meditations in Hebrews 13: 63. The Experience of Prayer
Heb 13:18,19 Pray for us. We are sure that we have a clear conscience and desire to live honorably in every way. I particularly urge you to pray so that I may be restored to you soon.
A personal touch: Verse 19 is unusual in this letter in that twice the writer refers to himself with ‘I’. Although, as we said in an earlier study, there is an element of mystery as to who the writer actually is, it is clear that his readers know him. This is one of the rare pointers in the letter that this might be the apostle Paul, for suddenly this is his style and the sort of thing he would say. He has been with the recipients of this letter but is now away from them but hopes to return with the help of the Lord (implied).
The Purpose of Prayer: What is fascinating is that after his initial, “Pray for us,” we find a sort of self-justification: “ We are sure that we have a clear conscience and desire to live honorably in every way.” i.e. we are sure that we haven’t got ourselves into any trouble but we just need the Lord’s help to get back to you soon.
I think, in this, we see one of the basic motivations for prayer: we find ourselves in circumstances that we feel ought to be changed but we feel they are beyond us and only God can do it, and so we petition Him to step in on our behalf. Yes, we worship and we praise and we give thanks, but ultimately I suspect that so much of our praying is that we see wrong circumstances and want them changed by God and our prayers are petitions for Him to do that. Let’s look at similar examples in the New Testament, particularly noting what is being asked for.
First, to the church at Rome: “I urge you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me. Pray that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea and that my service in Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints there, so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and together with you be refreshed.” (Rom 15:30-32) The struggle the apostle Paul speaks about is the ongoing conflict or battle against the enemy who seeks to thwart our plans. Thus is request in these verses is twofold: first, to be delivered from the hands of the unbelieving Jews he so often encountered and then, second, that what he does in Jerusalem will bless the believers there. Again, it is for an enabling by the Lord, that he asks.
Then to the church in Corinth: “Now we pray to God that you will not do anything wrong. Not that people will see that we have stood the test but that you will do what is right even though we may seem to have failed.” (2 Cor 13:7) There was conflict and even disagreement with him there and so he prays that God will enable them to resist bad responses to him and act well.
Then to the church at Ephesus: “For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.” (Eph 1:15-19) i.e. he asks the Lord to help them mature, giving them wisdom and revelation of the truth, to be able to know Him better, realizing more fully the wonder of what they have been called to and the power that is available to them.
Again I that same letter, “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge–that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Eph 3:16-19) Twice here he asks the Lord for them to have power through the Spirit. The first time was for them to be strengthened spiritually to be full of faith and love, and the second time was that they may comprehend the depth of God’s love for them. Again only things God could really do.
Finally, in that same letter, “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.” (Eph 6:19,20) i.e. that God would make him bold in declaring the Gospel.
Then to the church at Colosse: “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.” (Col 4:2-4) Again, similarly, that God would open the way for them to share the Gospel and that He would give Paul the ability to do it well.
To the church at Thessalonica: “With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith.” (2 Thess 1:11) i.e. that their lives would live up to their calling with God’s help, so that they would fulfil God’s will for them. Again, later, “Finally, brothers, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you. And pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men, for not everyone has faith.” (2 Thess 3:1,2) i.e. that their sharing the Gospel will be fruitful and that they would be protected from opposition.
Finally to his friend Philemon, “I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.” (Philem 1:6) i.e. for Philemon to be able to share his faith and in so doing make it even more real.
Keys to Petition-Prayer: In every case we have considered there is first of all an awareness of a goal to be achieved, something that needs changing. Second, implied within that but not expressed in what we have said, that goal is to be something we believe Jesus would want for the kingdom. Third, there is also implied in all this, the recognition that the goal can only be achieved by God’s help, i.e. there is the recognition of our inadequacy.
Practicalities: Because I believe our prayer meetings are so often full of random praying, I teach groups, “Unfocus on answers, focus on God.” i.e. first and foremost focus on the Lord and then out of that pray as He leads, with His wisdom and revelation; don’t assume anything in prayer. Second, ask, is there a part you want me (us) to play in fulfilling this prayer? We are in partnership with the Lord and there maybe something we should be doing. May it be so.