Maybe when you think of prayer, you think of times when your prayer has vitality and life like the hymn: “Sweet hour of prayer, that calls me from a world of care, and bids me at my Father’s throne make all my wants and wishes known.” It is good to bring all our cares to Him, knowing that He cares for us. It is marvelous to enjoy personal communion with Him. Yet there are times in life when even as we experience something good, we could live more fully in that goodness—and we don’t really see this until someone helps us see it.
Think of Timothy and the congregation at Ephesus. Paul urged Timothy to pursue faithfulness, looking to Jesus, through the troubles of a divided church (1 fTim. 1:3–20). Timothy needed encouragement, as did the congregation, at this time when their vision could so easily shrink to their own troubles. Their tendency, like ours in hard situations, was for their vision to shrink inward, contracting to their own small circle. It is like when you hit your thumb with a hammer: suddenly the world isn’t much bigger than your thumb. That is fine for a time, but not if your focus stays there.
Flowing from the renewed vision of Christ and his mission he has shared (vv. 12–17), Paul calls Timothy, with the congregation, to pray with spiritual vision that extends beyond their own wants and cares: “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people” (2:1).
We might have expected Paul to say, “Timothy, be in prayer for yourself,” or maybe, “Timothy, pray for yourself and for the faithful members of the church,” or maybe even, “Timothy, pray for yourself and for all the congregation, including those who are going astray.” But the Word from Christ for Timothy and us is to pray “for all people.”
The scope is staggering. Does this mean that we need to pray for every single person on the globe? There are billions of people in the world. While we can and should pray for the entire world generically, our Lord doesn’t expect us to pray for every person individually; He knows our limitations. What He wants is for us to have a large view in prayer, a wide view, a big heart to pray for all kinds of people that we have awareness of, because in this way we reflect Him (2:3–4). For us this might look like praying for the crowds at the shopping mall, the cashier at the grocery store, or the people in our neighborhoods. Praying for politicians, nations experiencing calamity, or people in the news are all ways that we can do this.
Timothy and the Ephesians needed to see the goodness and mercy of God in Christ and grow in an awareness of those around them; the Lord gave them both by His Word and Spirit. We need the same—and have received the same Word from Him. God delights to see us praying with open eyes and hearts. It brings Him glory, it is a means to bless many, and it helps us grow to be more like Him.