What We Can Learn From Paul’s Prayers

At the first of his letters, Paul took a generous amount of time and space to write out a prayer for the congregation at Ephesus or Corinth or Thessanolica or Rome. I generally just skim through this section, treating it like more or less the small talk at the front end of a conversation.

“Hi there.”

“Hope you’re doing well.”

“Maybe we can connect soon.”

Blah, blah, blah.

Except it’s not “blah, blah, blah” material. So here are three things I think we can glean from Paul’s pastoral prayers found at the beginning of his letters.

1. Paul’s prayers are the key to understanding his whole letter.

A good rule of thumb in biblical interpretation is this: The smaller the passage the greater potential error. Think about it – you can find a verse in the Bible to justify almost anything. You want to bash in the heads of your enemies? There’s a verse for that. You want to marry a thousand women? There’s a verse for that. But we must read those verses in context.

What does the paragraph around it say? And what does the whole chapter say? And what does the whole book say? And what does the whole Bible say? It all fits together if we zoom out. Accordingly, Paul used his prayer as a simple outline of his main points in his letters. So if you want to have a good idea of his overall purpose in writing Philippians, read the prayer, and you’ll find a clue to the issues he was addressing in the congregation.

2. It’s okay to pray articulately.

I once rebelled against this idea, that articulate prayers are an example of disingenuineness. The one praying is more concerned about how he or she sounds than she is about the prayer itself. I want to back track on that suggestion, but not all the way. There is a certain desperation to prayer that I generally lack, and a certain honesty that comes with spontaneous prayers. But that’s not to say we shouldn’t pray to the best of our ability. In these lines, you find wonderful, grace and Christ-centered language that rolls off the tongue and pen like poetry. I can’t help but think the Lord takes delight in beantiful language like this.

Too often I have used spontaneity as an excuse for laziness in praying.

3. Don’t pray generally.

It’s amazing to me that Paul, a man constantly on the go to new frontiers, actually knew the specific situations going on in these congregations. Maybe the reason our prayers sound like, “God just bless them today,” or “God I pray that you would be with them today,” is because we don’t actually know the people we claim to be praying for. If we knew them, we would pray as the apostle did. We would know that they struggle with disunity. Or with self-worth. Or with a particular misunderstanding of the gospel. And the words would roll off our tongue, not in generalities, but with specific promises of God associated with them.

What do you think? What else might we learn from these “throw away” portions of Scripture?

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1 Comment

  • Dele says:

    Micheal, this is undoubtedly the most tyirng time of your lives. Having such hope and faith ..after all faith is the substance of things hoped for .and then seeing those hopes dashed is extremely difficult. Believe me, I know! However, I have a Scripture for you that was a great source of comfort for some dear friends when things didn’t turn out for them in the way they had prayed, hoped and believed. .He (God) made from one man (Adam) every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, (Acts 17: 26 NASB). In this verse, Paul clearly states that it is God who has determined two things for each of us: 1) The time, or period in history, when we are born, and 2) The place on the earth where we will live out our days here.So, take courage, guys! God has it all in control, and for your little snowflakes , it just wasn’t their time. When it’s time, God will send a package for you and your wife to deliver. That will be your child or children, and it will be the right time for them, and in the right place. May God bless and keep you, and give you His peace.

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