"Paul's course was more distinctly shaped and his career rendered more powerfully successful by prayer than by any other force." E.M. Bounds
To read Paul's letters is to discover the important place of prayer in his life. The quality of a person's spiritual life is exposed in his prayer life -- Paul is at his best in his prayers.
It is obvious that Paul did not regard prayer as supplemental, but the very center and source of his work -- he was a man of action because he was a man of prayer. He considered nothing to be beyond the reach of prayer, and to Paul it was the natural and normal expression of his deep personal relationship with his Lord. His prayers do not seem to be formal or highly structured, yet were the outcome of careful thought. A study of Paul's prayers reveals a depth of adoration, a height of thanksgiving and a breadth of intercession that leave us in awe. At times, he breaks into a doxology of praise to God for His many manifest attributes and gifts. At other times, his prayer is quiet and contemplative.
Most of his prayers were concerned with the needs of others, but he did not neglect to bring his own daily needs, both temporal and spiritual, before the Lord in confident expectation of His provision.
The Characteristics of True Prayer
Paul's prayer serve as a model for those who carry spiritual responsibility because he used the power of prayer as his primary channel to implement the work of God.
- Perseverance: His prayers were unceasing. "Night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers" (II Tim 1:3). Whenever Paul's mind was free of other concerns his heart turned to prayer just like the needle in a compass turns to the magnetic pole. Our minds are so secularized that we are usually engrossed with things on a level separate from God. However, to a prayer warrior like Paul, everything was a cause for prayer or praise to God and he was always on God's wave-length.
- A strenuous conflict or struggle: "I want you to know how much I am struggling for you and for those at Laodicea" (Col. 2:1). Paul knew that true prayer arouses mighty opposition in the unseen world of Satan's principalities and powers. The Greek word used in "the good fight of the faith" (I Tim 6:12) is a strong word which denotes "agonize": like an athlete competing (I Cor 9:25), a soldier battling for his life (I Tim 6:12), and a laborer toiling until he is weary (Col 1:29). Paul was indeed a tenacious prayer warrior. This is an aspect of praying that most of us never experience as we comfortably engage in a restful time of prayer. Bishop Moule from Keswick said, "Prayer is never meant to be indolently easy, however simple and reliant it may be."
- Submission: Paul infused a very submissive dimension to his prayers, for once he had discovered the will of God, he was content with it. He believed in a wisdom and a will far beyond his own: i.e. God's. When he didn't feel able, he counted on the sufficiency of divine grace to enable him to triumph as he submitted to God.
- Confidence: Paul's prayers were confident. The seeming impossibility of a situation did not daunt him or discourage him from the importance of prayer. To one who constantly lived in the presence of God, and held constant conversation with the Omnipotent Creator, nothing was impossible. When Paul prayed he confidently expected the supernatural intervention of God. He knew no circumstances in which prayer was not appropriate.
- Cooperation within the Body of Christ: Paul was not self-sufficient, he was aware of his own inadequacy and felt a strong need for the Holy Spirit's help. He also coveted the prayers of his fellow believers and felt they were an important determining factor in his ministry. His letters contain many pleas for prayer fellowship. "I know that through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, what has happened to me will turnout for my deliverance" (Phil 1:19). Paul regarded prayer as a cooperative effort within the church. "On (God) we have set our hope that He will continue to deliver us as you help us by your prayers" (II Cor 1:10,11).
- Strategic: Paul's prayers always seemed to be strategic. He prayed for things that were central to God's eternal purpose, and for the growth and maturity of his converts. In the prayer of Col. 2:1-3, Paul listed some of the greatest needs of young converts.
- He prayed for their encouragement in the face of strong temptation toward discouragement. "That they may be encouraged in heart."
- He prayed for their unity in the midst of Satanic attempts to promote division. "That they may be . . . united in love."
- He prayed for their assurance. "So that they may have the full riches of complete understanding."
- Finally, Paul prayed for their knowledge of "the mystery of God, namely Christ."
This powerful prayer forms a practical model for all Christian workers.
- Spirit-Inspired: Paul counted on the Holy Spirit to complement his weakness and inadequacy, and it is the Spirit's role and His delight to come to the aid of spiritual leaders and workers (Rom. 8:26-27). In the area of prayer it is important for us to be on the alert so that we do not slip into unconscious and unintentional independence from the Holy Spirit.
We should imitate Paul to overcome prayerlessness.
Paul's life of prayer and his exhortations stressed the urgency which he laid upon the church of the absolute necessity of prayer. In Paul's view, prayer was an indispensable factor in the progress and spread of the gospel: there was not success without prayer, no piety without prayer, no personal sanctification without prayer.
If it only took personal force, a strong will, profound convictions, a Divine call and God's empowerment to lead the church then Paul could logically have directed the church without prayer. But it was Paul (plus the apostles and Christ before him) who felt the necessity of unceasing prayer. To pray everywhere, to pray in everything, to continue instant in prayer and to pray without ceasing were Paul's teachings on the uses and nature of prayer. He said that praying is the most important of all things on earth. Defeat and victory are tied up in prayer: if prayer is put first, then God is put first, and victory is assured. To make prayer secondary is to court defeat.
Prayer Life: "Inner Nature"
Paul's life and teaching shows that prayer is essentially of the "inner nature" - the intense supplications which brings death to self, the flesh and the world.
- He began his great career for Christ in prayer - 3 days and nights without food or drink.
- He went out on his first missionary journey under the power of prayer and fasting.
- Paul and Barnabus established every church by the very same means, by fasting and prayer.
- And when Paul and Silas were in prison at midnight they prayed and sang praises to God.
Paul took it for granted that if you knew God you would pray. He formed the habit of praying because he loved God, and such love always finds its expressions in regular habits of prayer. "Prayer sweetens all things and sanctifies all things. A praying saint will be a praising saint -- praise is just prayer set to music and song." E.M. Bounds
Prayer always brings direction as to what God would have us do. If we prayed more we would make fewer mistakes in life and ministry. It was as Paul was praying that the Lord gave him special revelations and comfort, promising to protect him, sending him to Rome, warning him of danger, telling him of a great harvest in Corinth, etc. If only we had a Paul praying for our church as he did for those to whom he ministered in his day!
Prayer: A Means of Grace
Then we see Paul's frequent request of the believers that they would pray for him. We must conclude that the urgency of his request was defined by his reiteration over and over again, "Pray for me" -- he put great value on prayer as a means of grace in his work; he covets and seeks the prayers of God's people.
Prayer: Gives Boldness
Finally, Paul prayed for boldness to speak the truth in love. Holy and loving boldness gave the apostle utterance in the most intimidating circumstances, even in prison. He prayed for open doors to speak forth the Gospel "in order that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak" (Col. 4:3-4).
Prayer: Provides Protection
Prayer protects and "spreads rapidly" the Gospel (II Thess 3:1-5). Hindrances are removed and protection against "evil men" and Satan occur when ministry is covered in prayer. The word is "glorified" when it has unobstructed access to the minds and hearts of those to whom it is being taught, and they often come to repentance. Here paul wants the church of Thessalonica to pray so that they may not stand in the way of the Word as it is being preached, but rather demonstrate the "love of God" and "steadfastness of Christ".
Summing up these verses we find that Paul feels the success of the Word, its liberty and "spread" are bound up in their prayers, and that their failure to pray would restrict its influence and its "glory". His deliverance from wicked men and his safety are in some way dependent upon their prayers.
In The Prayer Life, Andrew Murray says, "Prayerlessness is a deep-rooted problem resulting in a lack of spiritual power. Prayer is the pulse of spiritual life. Persevering and believing prayer means a strong and abundant life. In spiritual work, everything depends on prayer. God Himself is the helper of those who wait on Him."
Assignment for February 1998 - The Life of Paul: Prayer Warrior
Mark Bair's book on prayer, Mobilized Weakness
Mark has written the very best book on prayer I have read. He has compiled applicable quotes from many classics on prayer and then drawn very spiritual conclusions. There are lessons Mark has learned as he pursued being "personally devoted to Jesus Christ" as his first priority "even more than to doctrine and practice . . . loving him more, becoming more like him in character, and following him more closely" (preface pg. 4).
"The term 'helpless' is often equated with 'worthless'. It sounds pathetic. I have tended to view helplessness as my enemy rather than my best friend. I hate the feeling of being overwhelmed. If I can't escape it, I'll try to ignore it. The cost has been many barren periods of self-sufficiency where, because I'm not 'abiding in the vine', I do nothing of lasting spiritual import. Paul, the aggressive spiritual giant of the early church, welcomed weakness, declaring 'when I am weak, I am strong' (II Cor 12:10). He saw that it was ally." ( pg.5-7)
"Prayer, then, is mobilized weakness. In contrast to the resigned helplessness of despair, it is a passionate and active helplessness that doesn't give up. It looks to God for the impossible and anticipates results. This mobilized weakness is how we express and live out our dependence on God."
This month's assignment is to study Mark's book. It would be a most helpful daily devotional with applications.