"[Pray] at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel" (Ephesians 6:18-19).
This exhortation to constant, fervent prayer comes as the conclusion to Paul's instruction to "put on the whole armor of God." Clearly, prayer is a necessary part of the activity of spiritual warfare, according to Paul. And specifically, Paul has in mind intercessory prayer: "praying at all times…for all the saints."
It is counter-intuitive, perhaps, but according to Paul, part of protecting ourselves spiritually is praying for others! When we are praying for others, we are taking up "the whole armor of God;" we are actively participating in the spiritual warfare of the kingdom of Christ. Praying for others helps you.
What does such intercessory, spiritual warfare look like? Here in Ephesians 6, Paul touches on several facets of intercessory prayer.
Pray For All Saints
First, Paul tells the Christians to be praying with perseverance and passion for "all the saints." This, of course, includes every Christian believer, around the globe, in their service to Christ. How could Paul possibly have put this exhortation to prayer any stronger? “At all times, with all prayer, with all perseverance, pray for all the saints.”
Our attention is drawn beyond ourselves, and our little circles, to engage in spiritual warfare on the other side of the planet. We are forced outside of our own concerns, to the concerns of Christ and his kingdom everywhere. No wonder this simultaneously serves to encourage our own soul!
Pray For Christians Close By
Second, Paul asks the Ephesians to pray “for me.” Intercessory prayer, of course, does include—not only saints in distant countries—but also those we know well and love for Christ's sake. Here Paul the apostle himself is admitting his need for prayers on his behalf, and implicitly declaring his faith in their effectiveness. As F.F. Bruce helpfully comments, “The need for [intercessory prayer] is plain, if adverse pressure might close even the mouth of an apostle.”
Pray for the other Christians in your home, in your church, and among your acquaintances. In doing so, you will be reminded that God is God, that you are not alone in your spiritual struggles, and that others are in need of your support and encouragement. Again, this cannot help but bolster your own soul's welfare.
Pray For the Gospel’s Progress
Finally, even as Paul asks for prayer for himself, there is a plainly implied prayer for another people group: unbelievers. These are people that the Ephesian church did not even know. “Pray for me… to proclaim the mystery of the gospel.” Even your prayers for Paul, Paul says, should be for others through Paul. “Pray for me (Paul) in order that others hear the gospel boldly proclaimed through me.” Here is a prayer that echoes Jesus' request, "Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." It also compliments Paul's exhortation to Timothy, that prayer must "be made for all people" (1 Timothy 2:1).
This reminds us that we are here on earth for one primary reason. We exist, as Christians, to know Jesus Christ and to make him known. Prayers for people we don't even know around the world to be brought to Christ engages us in the great purpose of the Christian life. Thus, it feeds our own soul as we pray for unbelievers to embrace the gospel through faith.
How does praying for others help you? It helps you 1) be engaged in kingdom work with other Christians, 2) be involved in the lives of your loved ones powerfully, and 3) be participating in the great work of making Christ known among the nations.