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We all know deep down inside that we should pray to our Father more than we do. Maybe we don’t know how to pray–or we forget–or we don’t know how to pray for somebody in particular–or we get side-tracked in the midst of our prayers and realize that we are far from where we ought to be before the throne of grace–or we can’t ever seem to find the time to pray–or we simply don’t know what to say. Whatever the reason, most of the time we fall far short of the exhortation to “pray without ceasing” (I Thessalonians 5:17).
Talking to God is just one area where turning to the Scriptures for example is of inestimable practical value for us…
Here, then, are the prayers of Paul that are included in his epistles, following the order of our New Testament. I leave out, in the interest of time, both the doxologies and the benedictory greetings and closings, the latter of which are all variations along the lines of “grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Finally, please note that my purpose today is not to talk about “Paul on prayer,” but rather about “the prayers of Paul.” There are accordingly many directions regarding prayer in Paul’s epistles that I have not included here–simply because I wanted to specifically look at examples of the apostle’s own prayers.
Beginning in Romans, then, Paul’s divinely-inspired prayers include thanksgiving for the faith of the saints, a request that God might be pleased to bring his paths to Rome, and that the saints might exhibit true love for one another–and all for the glory of Christ.
“First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world…I mention you always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you…” ~Romans 1:8-10
“May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” ~Romans 15:5-6
Paul’s prayers for the Corinthians are primarily thanksgivings and praises to God for his graciousness to them in granting them to come to a knowledge of the truth.
“I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge…” ~I Corinthians 1:4-5
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort…” II Corinthians 1:3
“But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere…” II Corinthians 2:14
“But thanks be to God, who put into the heart of Titus the same earnest care I have for you.” ~II Corinthians 8:16
“But we pray to God that you may not do wrong…” ~II Corinthians 13:7
The next book is an exception, for there is no explicit thanksgiving or prayer in the letter of rebuke to the Galatians, other than the opening and closing benedictions.
But the letter to the Ephesians simply breathes of Paul’s shepherd-like spirit of prayer, including many praises to the Father for working faith powerfully in the saints at Ephesus.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places…for this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your faith enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe…” ~Ephesians 1:3, 15-19
“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 breath 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.” ~Ephesians 3:14-19
Philippians contains great thanksgiving and a plea for the increase of the love of this particular congregation, in order that they might be to the praise of God, their Savior.
“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now…and it is my prayer that your love my abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with all fruits of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” ~Philippians 1:3-5, 9-11
Colossians contains what I consider to be an outstanding summary of the way Paul prayed and also a very valuable guide in our own personal prayers for others, in particular….
“We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven…and so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.” ~Colossians 1:3-5, 9-12
Paul praises God that he opened the hearts of the Thessalonians to receive his truth–and asks that God increase their faith and bring Paul once more into their midst. Once again, the apostle pleads his requests for the glory of God our Father and Jesus Christ, our Lord.
“We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ…and we thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.” ~I Thessalonians 1:2-3, 2:13
“…as we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith…” ~I Thessalonians 3:10
“We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing.” ~II Thessalonians 1:3
“To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” ~II Thessalonians 1:11-12
“But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.” ~II Thessalonians 2:13
“Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way.” ~II Thessalonians 3:16
In the following selections, Paul’s prayers tend to be a bit more individualized, as the remaining letters are personal in nature…
When writing Timothy, Paul is very frank, expressing his gratefulness to God for his own salvation and calling, as well as reminding the younger man that he also prayed for his growth and effectiveness in the presentation of the truth.
“I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent…but I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost [sinner], Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.” ~I Timothy 1:12-13, 16
“I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear conscience, as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day.” ~II Timothy 1:3
Finally, Paul prays very similarly for Philemon–praising God for him and asking that he might become an effective tool of God for the increase of the knowledge of him–once again, for the sake of Christ Jesus.
“I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have towards the Lord Jesus and all the saints, and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ.” ~Philemon 4-6
Now, though there is so much that could be drawn from each one of these examples, I just want to summarize a few points from them…
1. Purpose: glory of Christ–how often we leave this out when presenting our requests before the throne of grace! Paul always kept it in mind that all things are for the glory of God–and, thus, our thanksgivings and requests also should be brought with this high purpose in our hearts: that God may be glorified. This is the petition of a humble heart.
2. Knowledge–how often do we think about asking God to bless us or others by increasing our knowledge of Christ? Not often enough, I am afraid, if the apostle’s own divinely-inspired prayers are any example….
3. Love–how frequently do we pray for this and fail to see what this truly entails? When we ask our Father to teach us (or others) to love, we are asking him to give us the heart of a slave, of a submissive bondservant of the Lord Jesus. Do we really stop to think that we petition God for love, we are asking God to cause us to abandon our own desires?
4. Specific, concrete things–how many times our prayers tend to be filled with such requests! But yet, how few the apostle’s recorded prayers like this! Nevertheless, from elsewhere in Scripture, we know that we are commanded to pray without ceasing and to cast all our cares upon him. As many of our cares and worries have to do with specific, concrete things, surely we are also to bring such requests and desires unto our kind Father in heaven!
5. Thanksgiving for the brethren as examples of the grace of God at work among mankind–How often Paul does this! But he does not just thank God for the brethren–he specifically praises God for glorifying his name by bringing these congregations of saints into the knowledge of the truth, that they might bear witness of him before the nations.
6. Always–How we fail at this? Need I say more? If we were constantly filled with an awareness of our God and Father, would we not always be in the humility required for our prayers to truly ascend to him? Yet we forget him–thus, we do not pray constantly, as we ought….
In closing, I add only one final reminder–that is, that prayer is spiritual warfare–warfare against the spirit of evil at work in the world and against our own iniquities…. I have elsewhere described prayer as submission. Furthermore, we are commanded to pray. Thus, submission to the law of the Creator of the universe is spiritual warfare–because if we do not obey his law, we will be obeying someone else’s–and that is walking in lawlessness, for only God’s own law is true….