Dear church,

How do you pray for your friends? Sometimes, it can feel very repetitive, and even a little shallow: “Lord, please help old Joe with his problem … I know I’ve asked you about this every day for a year, but I really mean it.” And on and on we pray, day after day, adhering to Jesus’ encouragement to continue praying and not give up (Luke 18). There’s nothing wrong with this, but you can enrich your prayers if you use your Bible as you pray.

Here is an idea for you. Pray the Psalms for your friends. Actually, pray the Psalms on behalf of your friends and with hope for your friends. Here’s an example.

I have a friend who is going through a difficult time right now. I believe he is in a “pit.” You know what that is like, surely – when things are difficult, when you have failed, when you wonder whether there is any hope.

And so I pray Psalm 40 for him: “I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. …”

This is a prayer I pray for my friend knowing he is still awaiting this outcome – to be drawn up out of the pit of destruction. My prayer is God would make this psalm a reality in the life of my friend. I pray this with a hope that I can hear my friend say these things for himself someday soon – “I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness from the great congregation” (Psalm 40:10).

You can do this for your friends and loved ones, too. Consider their circumstances in life and then pull out the prayer book of God’s people and see where the Lord leads you. Let these prayers, the prayers of God’s people, guide your prayers for those whom you love. 

There’s nothing magical about this, but it does help us learn the biblical language of prayer, and it does often yield new insights about the theology of life, death, and suffering. And it breaks the monotony of our voices in prayer. Let the long history of God’s people speak for you from time to time.

What does this have to do with Joseph and his brothers in Genesis 37? 

Well, the story of Joseph prefigures the life of Christ. That is, it points us directly to Jesus. The father sending his son to find his brothers is a beautiful picture of Jesus coming into the world. Of course, the world only had betrayal for the favored son. But the son eventually emerged from the pit (and the prison) to save the whole family. 

We ought to think of Jesus as we read this story.

So we can think of the pit as not just a hole in the ground but a place of death and captivity. The Bible affirms this picture of the “pit” as just such a place. The Psalms are a good place to go to see this. And so is Revelation.

Joseph faced the pit. Jesus faced the pit. We, too, face the pit. In big and small ways, we face what amounts to the destruction of our lives. We face this every day when we are confronted with our old temptations. We face this every day when we forget to rely on God. We face this every day when we build idols for ourselves and follow them. We face this every day when we begin to lose hope.

And so we pray to the one who emerged out of the pit – to Jesus Christ himself – that he would lift our lives up out of the pit. When we accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we enter into a new life up out of the pit. But the pit remains. 

Satan doesn’t give up on us just because we have become Christians. We are still capable of sin and even despair. 

This is why we must continue to encourage one another (Hebrews 10:24-25). And this is why we must continue praying for one another. We trust that God hears our prayers.

Chris

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