"For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you and your love for all the saints, do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers." (Ephesians 1:15-16)The reason Paul is referring to here is the predestined purpose of God that we should stand holy and without defect before Him. While Paul understands that God's purpose is predestined, our individual participation in that purpose is not always certain. It is one thing to be called, it is another to actually arrive at our calling. Paul understood the importance and need for the grace of God in the process and also his purpose in asking the Father for such grace upon all who believed. He understood both the grace of God and his co-laboring with God through prayer in releasing the grace of God upon others. It is an odd thing, and yet a great honor, that, while God could do all things by Himself, He has invited us to labor with Him through our prayers for others.
There were two things that Paul saw among the Ephesians that convinced him of their participation in the salvation of God. First was their faith in Jesus and the seconds was their love for one another. In all of Paul's writings there is an inseparable link between our love for God and our love for the people of God. There is no separating our belonging to God and our belonging to the church of God; at least in Paul's mind. It can be very easy, at times, when disappointment, offenses, and even personal fears take hold of us to allow ourselves to drift away from others; to become content with being alone and to shield ourselves from others with a "God and me" mentality. Similarly, it is easy in the church to circumvent relationships by dividing them along ministerial lines. We have those who give and those who receive and what is exchanged is done so with limited relational investments, Even the practice of praying for one another can be stripped of its relational nature by relegating such prayer to "professional" or "trained" teams who pray for people without the relational investment in them that often aids us in our prayers, Such isolation, both personally and corporately, are at odds with how Paul understood faith, Christianity, and the church.
Paul not only prayed for the Ephesians, but He also thanked God for them as well. Prayer can be a burden. Paul spoke about this when he said, "Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches. Who is weak without my being weak? Who is led into sin without my intense concern?" (2 Corinthians 11:28-29) When our focus is always on the needs of others, we can begin to see them as burdens as well. We can quickly be overcome by the needs of others and begin to regret the burden and pressure their needs place upon us. We all know people who are very needy; who always need prayer, always need counseling, always need encouragement of one sort or another. If all we do is focus on their need for prayer, than we can easily grow tired, weak, and disgruntled even in our prayers for them.
One of the easiest ways of warding off such feelings is to mix our prayers for them with prayers of thanksgiving for them. When we learn to give thanks to God for other people, then our appreciation for them will increase and our burden of prayer for them will become a little bit lighter too. We cannot consistently give thanks for someone in prayer without simultaneously fining a growing appreciation for them in our hearts. Thanksgiving can be our life-vest when we find ourselves floating in a sea of burdens. It will keep us afloat and help us to keep others at float as well.
Paul also reveals something very important about praying for others. He says that he "makes mention" of them in his prayers. The Greek word means to have a mental remembrance of someone or something. It's when, in your mind's eye, you see the person; remembering them, their value to you and to God, and their pressing needs in this life. With this mental image, we cry out to God, "Remember them". There are many people whom I am not in daily contact with. I do not always know what they are going through or what their present needs are, but I do remember their importance, relationally, to both me and to God. It is in this remembrance, without knowing the particulars, that I can ask God to bless, help, and strengthen them. Prayer for others does not always have to be long and full of words when it issues our of a kind and warn remembrance of them.