I am guilty. In fact, I may be one of the worst. I fall into this all the time: prayerlessness. Seasons of my life when I fail to pray for people and for God to move among the nations are all too common. It’s easy to get busy doing things for God without recognizing the reality that He is the only one who can truly work in people’s hearts.

Prayer is the real work of the ministry. Service is just gathering in the results of prayer. — S.D. Gordon

Why do I struggle to pray so often? One of the reasons is that, at a heart level, I don’t believe that prayer makes any difference. Why stop and pray when I could be out working hard to make things happen? Maybe you have felt that way at times.

Another reason is that I don’t know what to pray for people and the content of my prayers seem too weak. I pray for people when they are in dire circumstances, but what about praying for people through the mundane things of life? How do I pray for my children, my wife, my pastor, and my church when things are going well? How do I pray for my neighbors and friends who are far from God when they aren’t in the middle of a meltdown?

Studying the content of Paul’s recorded prayers is fascinating and convicting. Let’s look at one example:

Ephesians 3:14–19 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of His glory He may grant you to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith — that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

When I gather for prayer with other believers, more often than not, the things being prayed for are matters of finances, physical health, and job circumstances. When I think about prayers that I tend to pray for people, often I focus on the same things. However, this isn’t the content of Paul’s prayers. Paul is focused on the spiritual issues.

You can imagine, the church in Ephesus had sick people, poor people, and people in job transitions. Paul, however, focused on praying that they might find their foundation in Christ dwelling in their hearts by faith. Paul wants them to turn their eyes from their circumstances and unto the lasting joy found in Christ. While we dwell on people’s felt needs, Paul dwells on their spiritual needs.

Perhaps one of the biggest reasons that I find myself failing to pray for people, especially when things are going well, is because the content of my prayers isn’t being driven by God’s Word. I want my prayer life to be shaped by the things that are most important to God, as indicated by what is central in Scripture. Instead of being primarily concerned about the same things that the culture around us is concerned with, I want to focus on the things that are most important to God.

How will you pray for your family, your friends, your co-workers, and your neighbors today? Will you focus on felt physical needs, financial needs, or job concerns? Or, will you pray “that according to the riches of His glory He may grant [them] to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in [their] inner being, so that Christ may dwell in [their] hearts through faith…?”

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Dustin Speaks is the Mission Mobilization Pastor. He and his wife, Lauren, arrived in Columbus in the fall of 2012, after several initial ministry experiences. Dustin previously served as an associate pastor in South Dakota and as a missionary to university students in Berlin, Germany. Dustin studied history at Ohio University, where he met Lauren, and was involved in campus ministry with Cru. After graduation, the Speaks went to Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Chicago) to complete a degree in Intercultural Studies. He enjoys playing nearly all ball sports—basketball, golf, and soccer are his favorites. Dustin and Lauren have three young children.