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What are the first thoughts which come to your mind when you think about the Apostle Paul? I am not sure about you, but the picture I have of Paul is of a person whose mind was always engaged, trying to understand doctrines which we hold onto so dearly. I imagine him immersed in deep thought as he wrote the letter to the Romans, carefully articulating the intricacies of our salvation and God’s sovereign plans for humanity. I imagine him writing the letters to the Corinthians and the Galatians with a bit of a frown because of how correct doctrine was not being understood and applied in the churches. I imagine him spending hours immersed in the Scriptures, trying to gain a deeper understanding of what they say about Christ and the last days. I imagine him always on the lookout for false teachers, so that he can show them how they are mistaken in their understanding of the truth. What I don’t usually imagine is Paul on his knees, praying.
However, when we read Acts and Paul’s letters, contrary to the Paul of my imagination, we meet a man devoted to prayer. Here are four ways in which we can see the importance that Paul placed on prayer:
1. Paul Taught About Prayer
As we go through his epistles, we see that Paul taught about prayer. For example, in Romans 8:26 he talks about the help that we receive from the Holy Spirit in prayer, and in 1 Corinthians 11 and 1 Timothy 2, he teaches about prayer in church gatherings. Along with teaching, he also instructed the churches, in several of his letters, to pray (see Rom. 12:12; Eph. 6:18; Phil. 4:6; Col. 4:2-3; 1 Thess. 5:17; 2 Thess. 3:1; Phlm. 1:22). He knew that the only way Christians truly apply the call to obedience in response to the gospel, is if they do so while seeking help from God. Paul not only instructed the believers to pray, but he also modelled prayer for them by writing down his prayers in his letters. This showed them what they should pray for and how they should approach God.
2. Paul’s Prayer Was Fuelled By Doctrine
Prayer was just one of the several topics that Paul taught about, but that doesn’t mean his teaching was divorced from prayer. In fact, his doctrine was interwoven with his prayer. Consider Ephesians 1:3-14. In this passage, Paul lists several blessings that Christians enjoy by virtue of them being in Christ. But he doesn’t list these as some propositions to be understood and accepted. Instead, he voices this as praise to God. Also, in Ephesians, think about 3:14-21. This passage, in which Paul prays for the church and praises God for his wisdom, comes after Paul has explained that salvation is by grace (2:1-10), and that the gospel displays God’s manifold wisdom by building a church of Jews and Gentiles (2:11-3:13). Perhaps more famously in Romans, after explaining the gospel of justification by faith alone in the first 8 chapters, then wrestling with the difficult doctrine of election in chapters 9-11, Paul can’t help bursting into praise in 11:33-36. Doctrine not only led him to praise God, but it also led to earnest prayer. As in Romans 10:1, in which Paul expresses his desire for the salvation of the Jewish people. Clearly, there was no divide between Paul’s intellectual understanding of God’s truths and his life of prayer.
3. Paul Regularly Prayed For The Churches
Paul’s prayer was not just restricted to praising God and praying in response to divine revelation. He also had a pastoral concern for all the churches he had planted. In the prayers recorded in his epistles, we see that Paul was committed to regular and intentional prayer for them. This is clear when we notice the way Paul begins most of his letters. As you read through these verses, notice how he describes his habit of prayer:
- “… God is my witness … that without ceasing I mention you always in my prayers …” (Rom. 1:9-10),
- “I give thanks to my God always for you…” (1 Cor. 1:4),
- “I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers” (Eph. 1:16),
- “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you …” (Phil. 1:3-4),
- “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you” (Col. 1:3),
- “We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers” (1 Thess. 1:2),
- “We ought always to give thanks to God for you …” (2 Thess. 1:3),
- “I thank God whom I serve, … as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day” (2 Tim. 1:3),
- “I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers” (Philem. 1:4).
These verses leave no doubt that as seriously as Paul took his responsibility to teach correct doctrine, he knew that God was the one who was working to transform the believers in all the churches.
4. Paul Asked For Prayer
Perhaps the most surprising element of Paul’s prayer life was the fact that he asked believers to pray for him. Paul was very aware of how hard he worked for the cause of the gospel (for example, Acts. 20:34; 1 Cor. 15:10; 1 Thess. 2:9), but that didn’t mean he was above the need for God’s help. He was not too proud to ask others to pray for him (see Rom. 15:30; 2 Cor. 1:11; Col. 4:3; 1 Thess. 5:25; 2 Thess. 3:1). Instead, he humbly asked for prayer because he knew that God works by answering the prayers of his children (see Phil. 1:19; Philem. 1:22).
What About You and Me?
Having seen that Paul, a theological giant, was very devoted to prayer and was dependent on God for his life and ministry, let us examine ourselves, who are living through the second wave of COVID-19. If we were to evaluate our lives and compare ourselves with Paul, how would we fare?
How central is prayer in our lives? Do the truths about prayer—its amazing privilege, the assurance that God hears us, the example of Jesus’ prayer life, the help of the Holy Spirit in our prayer—drive us to pray? Or do we use our time scanning social media for the latest news? How intertwined is prayer with our doctrine?
Does our doctrine have any bearing on the content of our prayer? Or have we separated doctrine and prayer to the extent that we enjoy discussions about doctrine, but struggle to find words in prayer? How does our understanding of God’s character shape our prayers in the midst of this pandemic?
Do we pray for other Christians? We certainly do not have an apostolic ministry like Paul’s, but do we pray for our Christian brothers and sisters? Do we pray regularly for our fellow church members? Do we pray for Christians we know have lost loved ones to the coronavirus? Do we pray for churches whose pastors have passed away, and families whose loved ones have passed away? When we do pray, are our prayers for them shaped by Scripture?
Do we ask for prayer? Not because we want attention or are trying to raise funds. Instead, do we ask for prayer because we know we are weak and helpless without the Lord? We need prayer, not only to stay COVID negative, but to grow in godliness, to fight sin, and to proclaim the gospel with courage.
May God have mercy on us and teach us to pray. May he forgive our pride in our intellectual understanding of doctrine, and may we be people who pray—for ourselves, for our families, for our churches, and for our nation.