Very few pastors would claim that they pray enough for their people. Perhaps it’s an impossible task—no one will ever think they’ve prayed enough. Still, we can see from the example of our Lord and His apostles that praying for our people is of monumental importance.

Though the Bible says a great deal about preaching, only a few passages speak directly about sermon preparation (cf. Ezra 7:10 and 2 Timothy 2:15). Yet there are many passages that highlight the need for consistent prayer. This is not to say that sermon preparation is unimportant (for it certainly is). Rather, it is to emphasize the vital necessity of prayer. Even pastors need to be reminded that prayer is an essential part of their ministry, and that praying for their people is a biblical priority.

So, how consistently do you pray for your people? The apostles devoted themselves both to the Word and to prayer (Acts 6:4). We should also be devoted to both. To do one without the other is to leave our pastoral responsibility only half finished. It is not enough to study the text in preparation for Sunday's sermon if we have not also sought the Lord in prayer and supplication.

Rather than focusing on health and wealth, we should spend our time asking for spiritual fruit that will honor our sovereign God.

How to Pray

The New Testament provides numerous examples of spiritual leaders who interceded on behalf of those to whom they ministered. In this article, I have selected a few key passages to illustrate this point. As you consider these verses, examine how you pray for those under your shepherding care.

Romans 1:8 -- “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world.” (See also: 1 Cor. 1:4; Eph. 1:16; Phil. 1:3; Col. 1:3; 1 Thess. 1:2; 2 Thess. 1:3; 2 Tim. 1:3)

Paul clearly and repeatedly expressed his thankfulness for those to whom he ministered. What about us? How often do we pour out thankfulness to the Lord for the people under our shepherding care?

Many of Paul's epistles were written to people in need of correction and rebuke. Yet he still expressed his thankfulness to God for them. Is that how you think of the difficult people in your ministry? Before bringing a lament to the Father and begging Him to change them—since ministry would be so much easier if they were more mature and less troublesome—do you thank the Lord for them and for their faith? Paul did, and so should we.

Philippians 1:9 -- “And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment.” 

At times, our prayers can focus more on the physical and the temporal, than on the spiritual and the eternal. A typical prayer might go something like this: “Lord, please heal Jim from the flu. Susie lost her job, please help her find a new one. Elder Bob’s got cancer. Please deliver him and comfort him. God, we could really use a new roof; please bless the building fund.”

While it is true that Scripture calls us to pray for all things (Phil. 4:6), it is also true that our people need us to pray for more than just their physical needs. Our prayer list ought to reflect the theology of John Calvin . . . not Joel Osteen. Rather than focusing on health and wealth, we should spend our time asking for spiritual fruit that will honor our sovereign God.

Paul clearly knew the greatest commandment, and his prayers reflected it. Do ours? Do we pray that our people would grow in their love both for God and for their neighbor? Do we intercede for their heart issues as much as for their physical or financial concerns?

Ephesians 1:16-18a -- “. . . while making mention of you in my prayers; that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened . . .” 

Similar to Paul’s prayer in Philippians 1:9, this passage again shows the importance of praying for spiritual blessings, specifically that God would grant our people greater wisdom and spiritual insight. One of our constant prayer requests ought to be that those in our flock would grow in their knowledge and understanding of the Lord and His Word.

How often do you pray that for your people? Are you intentional about it?

Consider the results of the two prayers listed above:

Philippians 1:10-11 -- “so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ, having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” 

Ephesians 1:18b-19 --“so that you will know the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe.” 

That is what every faithful shepherd wants for his sheep.

We desire our people to have a deeper knowledge of God, to be sure of their identity in Him, and to live righteously before Him. But if that is our desire, these ought to be our prayers.

We must be careful not to put the cart before the horse. Rather than praying only for the visible results, we also ought to ask the Lord to give our people the love and spiritual wisdom that produces the desired outcome. When we do, we can rest confidently in the Spirit's sanctifying power, as He continues to conform them (and us) into the image of our Savior.