Joanne Shetler spent twenty years doing Bible translation among the Balangao tribesmen in the Philippine mountains. It was difficult work, and when Shetler returned to the United States for her first sabbatical, she was deeply discouraged: “I was frustrated. When I came home on my first furlough, after five solid years, only two people had believed—not a very good showing, is it? I didn’t know what to do. I dumped the whole load on my home church. And I found something out. You can’t do the job by yourself. You have got to have people praying for you.”1 Joanne Shetler was learning a valuable lesson about Christian ministry: spiritual work is not accomplished by might, ability, or technique, but by prayer.


Praying is the most important thing God’s people do. That is why, having charged Timothy to defend the faith, the apostle Paul gives intercession top priority in public worship: “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people” (1 Tim. 2:1; cf. Phil. 4:6).

Scholars have long tried to distinguish among these different kinds of prayer. Writing sometime in the third century, Origen made them the basis for the classic analysis of prayer he wrote for Ambrose. More recently, George Knight has defined the Greek terms as follows: “deēseis, making requests for specific needs; proseuchas, bringing those in view before God; enteuxeis, appealing boldly on their behalf; and eucharistias, thankfulness for them.”2 This explanation is as good as any, but the real point is that all kinds of prayer should be offered for all kinds of people. Christians should offer every prayer for everyone.

The kind of prayer the apostle Paul especially has in mind is evangelistic prayer. It is intercession for the salvation of souls. This is clear from the rest of the passage, which is about God’s plan for the salvation of the world. Christians pray for everyone (1 Tim. 2:1–2): first, because God wants everyone to be saved (1 Tim. 2:3–4); second, because Christ is a Savior for everyone (1 Tim. 2:5–6); and third, because the gospel is preached to everyone (1 Tim. 2:7).

The public prayers of the church should have a global perspective. Many evangelical churches have abbreviated the pastoral prayer or eliminated it altogether. The apostle Paul would have been shocked by this trend because he considered prayer of first importance in the public worship of God.

Even when it is offered today, however, congregational prayer is sometimes self-centered and fails to venture very far beyond today’s offering or Aunt Edna’s kidney. Pastoral prayers ought rather to be large, expansive, and wide-ranging. They should include the great issues of the day and the vast nations of the world. Intercession should be made for renewal, revival, and reformation in the church. Prayer should be offered for missionaries, evangelists, and church planters. The sufferings of the persecuted church and the desperation of unsaved humanity should be brought weekly before the throne of grace.

Philip Graham Ryken, 1 Timothy, ed. Richard D. Phillips, Daniel M. Doriani, and Philip Graham Ryken, Reformed Expository Commentary (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2007), 58–60.

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