Praying Lesson 10: Learning from Paul’s Prayers

Lesson 10: Learning from Paul’s Prayers

We often learn best by following the example of an expert. Other than Jesus, the NT example of expert prayer would have to be Paul. He urges us to follow his example as he follows Christ (1 Cor 11:1; cf. Phil 3:17, 4:9). Paul’s prayers function as models for Christians in every age and culture.[1] So what can we learn about prayer for how Paul prayed?


Perhaps the most obvious thing about Paul’s prayers is their volume and frequency; Paul prayed a lot! We find evidence of prayer in almost all of the NT books bearing his name. Paul was surely a man given to prayer (cf. Acts 6:4).

What kind of prayers do we find in Paul’s prayer life?

  1. Prayers for God’s blessing
    1. Prayers for grace and peace (Rom 1:7, 16:20; 1 Cor 16:24). Most of these prayerful expressions come from salutations or benedictions of the epistles.
    2. Prayers for spiritual virtues like patience, unity, joy, peace, hope, love, stability, holiness, knowledge, discernment, sincerity, and fruitfulness (Rom 15:5-6, 13; Eph 3:14-19; Phil 1:9-11; Col 1:9-12; 1 Thes 3:11-13; 2 Thes 1:11-12)
    3. Prayers for success in various tasks or journeys (Rom 1:10; 1 Thes 3:11)
    4. Prayers for the Lord to return (1 Cor 16:22)
  2. Intercession on behalf of others
    1. Continuous prayers for others (Rom 1:9, 12:12; 1 Cor 1:4; Phil 1:3; Col 1:3; 1 Thes 3:10; Phm 4)
    2. Asking that others would pray for him (Eph 6:18-19; 2 Thes 3:1-2)
  3. Petition for Personal Needs

2 Cor 12:7-10 appears to be the only place where Paul gives direct insight into the way he prayed concerning his personal needs. Even this special prayer experience was intimately connected with his mission. Whatever the nature of the “thorn in the flesh,” it appeared to be such a handicap to his life and ministry that he pleaded with God three times for its removal. The answer to his prayer was not what he sought: the affliction remained but the promise was given: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul’s contentment with that answer indicates a clear conviction that it was the Lord’s gracious and wise provision for him in that. Paul’s experience of bringing his need confidently before the Lord thus became a means of discerning God’s will for his life and growing in Christ-likeness (cf. 13:4).

This incident suggests that there is a time to cease asking God for something and to rest in the same grace and power of Christ promised especially to the apostle in his distress but available to all who seek such divine enabling (cf. Eph. 3:14–21).

  1. Praise and Thanksgiving

Paul spontaneously breaks into praise or thanksgiving at various points in his letters (cf. Rom 1:25, 6:17, 11:33; 1 Tim 1:17).

  1. Prayers thanking God for various blessings—salvation, the Gospel, faith, hope, love, etc. (Rom 1:8-10; 1 Cor 1:4-8). Thanksgiving is recognizing God as the source of all the good things we enjoy and being grateful for all the benefits he bestows. A thankful attitude and the explicit giving of thanks to God is a basic duty of mankind.
  2. Prayers glorifying God or expressing worship (doxology) (Rom 11:33-36, 16:27; 2 Cor 1:3; Eph 3:20-21). A doxology (the Greek word for “glory” is doxa) is a formal expression of praise, glorifying God for who he is or what he has done.
  3. It is interesting to note that almost all of Paul’s expressions of thanks are directed to God, not to other humans. God is the ultimate source of blessings, even though people may play a necessary role (e.g., Phil 4:14-18). Paul never stoops to cheap flattery when expressing his thanks for how others have ministered to him.
  4. Conclusions
    1. Each of these categories ought to find a place in our personal prayer lives. We ought to be praying continually for God’s blessings upon others, and especially for the growth and development of spiritual virtues among fellow Christians.
    2. Praise and thanksgiving should make up a larger part of our prayers. We should spend more time expressing worship and praise to God for his person and work (cf. Ps 150:2).
    3. Prayer for our own personal needs should perhaps receive less time and attention than it usually does. Spiritual well-being is more important than physical condition and should be a main focus of our prayers.
    4. The life of prayer and thanksgiving should not be confined to set times and places; the acknowledgement of God’s character and providence should be a natural part of everyday conversation for the Christians.
    5. We should continue steadfast in prayer as we remember various people and their needs.

 

Paul’s praise introductions, and the benedictions, doxologies and outbursts of praise throughout his letters are an invitation to others to join in with him in glorifying God for who he is and what he has done for them.

 



[1]David G. Peterson, “Prayer in Paul’s Writings,” in Teach Us to Pray: Prayer in the Bible and the World, ed. D. A. Carson, electronic ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 2000), 85. Much of this section is based on Peterson.

 

Lessons in this Course
Table of Contents
Prayer Lesson 1: The Importance of Prayer
Prayer Lesson 2: Overcoming the Difficulties of Prayer
Prayer Lesson 3: What is Prayer?
Prayer Lesson 4: Our Perspective on Prayer
Praying Lesson 5: Praying in Jesus’ Name
Praying Lesson 6: How Not to Pray
Praying Lesson 7: The Model Prayer Matt 6:9-15
Praying Lesson 8: Pray-ers that Pleases God
Praying Lesson 9: Persistence in Prayer
Praying Lesson 10: Learning from Paul’s Prayers
Praying Lesson 11: Learning from OT Prayers
Praying Lesson 12: Prayer as an Expression of Spirituality
Praying Lesson 13: The Five Different Kinds of Prayer in the Psalms
Praying Lesson 14: Prerequisites to Effective Prayer
Praying Lesson 15: Prayer and Fasting

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