The Greek words Paul uses here reveal no mysterious meaning. No, “making mention” means just what it seems; that is, briefly naming in his prayers the believers in the various churches who have lifted his spirits because of their faithfulness to God. Now, the apostle may well find time to intercede for them regarding other issues. And he may well, in other instances, spend more time in his prayers for them. But what we see in these passages are that Paul’s Thanksgiving-oriented prayers simply make mention of them. We see too that he did so as a frequent activity. That is what is made clear with the word “always,” a word that is used in extra-biblical Greek literature to refer to an ongoing cough. Therefore, this doesn’t point to a mystical preoccupation — an ideal that is, in practice, unattainable. It merely means that Paul remembered, thought of, and made mention of these Christians in his regular, ongoing prayers.
I find these little verses of tremendous interest and full of stimulating applications. Among them? 1) Paul, though responsible for the immense responsibilities of apostleship, preaching the gospel, defending the Faith, overseeing the churches, traveling, sometimes making tents, sometimes dealing with persecution and the trials of imprisonment, was nevertheless a Christian leader who frequently prayed for individual believers. His prayers were not solely concerned with “cosmic forces” but also for individual saints. 2) Paul’s prayers were not prompted only because of trouble, trial, or sin in peoples lives. No, he obviously spent a great deal of his prayer time interceding for Christians who were doing well. Are we remembering to do the same? Again, Paul’s example and the number of Bible verses involved here testify that we should be.
3) Another important thing to note in reading all of these verses is that Paul was not merely praying that God bless these believers, but he was thanking God for their love and loyalty to Christ. Indeed, gratitude towards God is clearly the emphasis. We are so used to supplication in our prayers (asking God for blessings) that we often overlook the need to simply give Him thanks for blessings already received. And Paul recognized that those blessings were not just daily bread, deliverances, spiritual strength, conversions, the fruits of the Spirit, and on and on…but they included God’s splendid work in other saints. We should make sure this is a part of our prayer experience too.
4) Were Paul and Silas and Timothy praying “off the top of their heads” or did they perhaps have a prayer list? Did they have set times of prayer or did they merely find whatever time in the day was available? Did they pray together as a group? Or did they pray alone? Did they talk to God out loud or silently? We will not, on this side of the Jordan, be able to conclusively answer such questions. Yet I feel fairly safe to suggest the answers are: all of the above! And so the task before you and I is to emulate their behavior, using whatever methods serve best to help us pray more frequently, more intelligently, and more confidently.
5) These verses also prove that prayers for others do not need to be long, detailed, impassioned prayers. Some times they will be. That will depend upon the need, the depth of the relationship, and so on. But don’t be fooled by false guilt. Short, “making mention” prayers also please God and draw down His blessing. Furthermore, those brief prayers also lift our spirits and stimulate us to the same love and good deeds we see in our faithful brothers and sisters.
And here’s one more item I have found inspirational in these verses, 6) Just as the faith, love, and hope of the believers in Thessalonica, Ephesus, Rome, and the rest provided great joy to the apostle Paul and his team, you and I can greatly contribute to the joy, thanksgiving, and spiritual health of other believers as we stay the course for the Master. Should our primary motivation for faithfulness be our desire to please the Lord Jesus Himself? Of course. But, in the glorious plan and provision of God, it does not end there. Our faithfulness pleases the Lord, yes; but it also enriches and guides other Christians, rebukes and convicts unbelievers, moves the Kingdom of God forward, impresses angels and disheartens demons, and lays up treasure for ourselves in heaven.
In summary — Make prayers for others a priority. It will take creativity, work, and endless restarts and fine-tuning. But keep after it. Also make sure you’re not neglecting to pray for Christians who are doing well. And pray in joyful thanksgiving to God for their doing so. Finally, let your efforts to create an effective prayer life be as purposeful and committed as all of your other spiritual responsibilities.