A Call to Prayer (for One Another)
Words by Mallory Manning
“Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.” (Phil. 1:27)
I sat around a table with several women from my church—some of whom I knew only their name—who had all committed to meeting for a handful of early Saturday mornings to study the book of Philippians. In the few years prior, I had spent little time in the Word alongside others for the purpose of in-depth study, and I was hungry to learn from their insights and questions. In the book’s first chapter, the Holy Spirit gently confronted me with what I already knew but struggled to practice: discipleship is a side-by-side-with-other-believers kind of endeavor.
In our highly individualized culture, it’s easy to privatize my relationship with the Lord and sit next to brothers and sisters in the faith while believing the falsehood that I don’t really need them—and they don’t really need me. Paul has much to say about that in 1 Corinthians 12:12–31. But a central theme of the letter to the Philippians is the believers’ unity, their integration, their oneness of heart and mind. He affectionately calls them partners in the Gospel and says he holds them in his heart, as they are all partakers of God’s grace (Phil. 1:5, 7).
Considering the numerous divisions that exist in the Church today—from denominational lines and worship preferences to the boundaries of neighborhoods and overfilled schedules—how do we begin to cultivate intimacy with one another?
Paul models one unifying tool that is always available to us: the work of the Spirit through prayer.
He opens his letter with, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy” (Phil 1:3–4). As he acknowledges both the fruit and the limitations of his time in prison, he credits two factors as the source of his hope: “Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance.” (Phil. 1:18b–19)
Paul prays with thanksgiving for fellow believers because they are co-laborers in the most important mission of their lives. He believes in the efficacy of prayer, both contending for those believers and receiving their intercession on his behalf.
Comparing Paul’s experience of intercession to my own, I recognized that praying intentionally for others was a weaker faith muscle that needed exercised. As we scribbled prayer requests on scrap paper and shuffled them in the center of the table at the end of those Saturday morning study sessions, I anticipated feeling the responsibility carrying one person’s needs for the coming week. But I did not expect to grow so deeply in my affection for these women or experience the blessings of their wisdom and grace through their prayers for me.
We prayed for our husbands, unbelieving coworkers, and the discipleship of our kids. We prayed for increased joy in the Lord, the ability to resist temptation, and opportunities to share the Gospel. We prayed in silence and through texts and knowing looks in the church lobby. With each passing week, our conversations grew in ease, honesty, and unity.
“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.” (Phil. 2:1–2)
Praying with and for our family in Christ reminds us that we are one body—his. When we acknowledge our limits and aches before others, we submit that we need God’s grace; we are not sufficient in ourselves to bring redemption. When we help carry the vulnerabilities of our spiritual family to the feet of Jesus, we serve as mediators who, in our weakness, believe that God is mighty to save (Zeph. 3:17). And as we suffer and hope alongside each other, we embody Jesus’ own prayer just hours before his death: that we would all be one (John 17:21).
Although Paul’s exhortation to pursue unity has loads of theological and practical implications, I wonder if intercession was a helpful starting point for those believers in the early Church. Perhaps contending for one another in prayer prompted them to remember their shared identity as partakers of grace and partners in the Gospel.
Still today, maybe our unity begins with a prayer request.