What Does It Mean To “Pray For All People?”

by Jim Davis March 18, 2020

Outside of parenting, I can’t think of an area where more Christians feel guilt than prayer. We all know we can pray more often, more specifically and more Biblically. So the guilt level is already high and then Paul tells us in 1 Timothy 2 to pray for all people.

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayer, intercession, and thanksgivings be made for all people. 

What does that even mean? Are we to get out the phone book (for those of you who even know what that is) and pray for every name? I think we can safely conclude from the sheer impossibility that is not Paul’s intention. But, it has to be something more specific than a sweeping, “God, I pray that you would bless all people. Amen.” If that is all that we are supposed to do, what in the world was Jesus doing all those hours at a time?

A Command For All Types of People

The command is to pray for all types of people. Every category you can think of. Some of them will be by name: family members, friends, and co-workers. But some will be people you have never met and don’t know much about. Paul shows us this by giving us one type of people: Kings or those in high positions.

A Command For All Types of Hearts

Why does Paul single out Kings and those in high positions? For three reasons. First, because they would have been the hardest group for his audience to pray for. The church in Ephesus was persecuted. That persecution came from Nero and was implemented by men in high positions. Second, they were far off. It’s easy to forget to pray for someone out of sight and mind. Third, humanly speaking, the wealthy and powerful are the least likely to see their need for saving which makes them less likely to be prayed for.

Paul is asking us to push the boundaries of our hearts when we pray. It’s easy to pray for those we love, but who are the people you dislike? Who are your enemies? Who are the out of sight and mind in your community? Which political party are you least likely to pray for? When we pray for our enemies, we engage our own hearts.

Certainly, Paul is not bringing a new idea to the table. Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you..”

A Command For All Types of Prayers

Paul doesn’t just tell us that we should pray, he tells us how. We pray in intercession, that is, going before God asking Him to provide for the needs of another person. We pray in supplication. If intercession is a petition, supplication is a plea. We aren’t just asking, we are begging on their behalf. Then, we pray in thanksgiving.

Again, he’s asking us to engage our hearts. He doesn’t want us to grit our teeth and say some rote prayer like, “Dear God, I pray for Donald Trump. Amen.” I see enough of this at our dinner table as one child manages to sling insults at another through pursed lip prayers.

Any good marriage counselor will tell you that the antidote to bitterness is thanksgiving. When we are able to communicate things we are genuinely thankful for about our spouse to our spouse, the door opens a bit wider to true reconciliation.

A Command For All Christians

Paul is writing this not simply to expand the boundaries of our hearts, but to expand the boundaries of the Kingdom. In this simple act, we are conformed more into the image of Christ and others are brought closer to Him.

My challenge to myself and to you is to list five different groups of people and pray for them. Make one group close to you, one group far off, one group out of sight, one group under persecution and one group that has done you wrong in some way. Pray for those five groups for one month and see how the Lord might use it in your heart and theirs.