10 Aug 2020
As I ponder over the importance of prayers in our christian walk, I find it very enriching to ponder over the prayers of Apostle Paul. It is not as if the other apostles did not pray, but a great majority of recorded prayers of the apostles issued from the heart of Paul himself. It is not surprising because Paul wrote twice as many epistles as all the other apostles added together; it is estimated that there are eight times as many prayers in his epistles as in all of the other apostles.
Before we look at the specific prayers of Paul, it is in order for us to pause and consider briefly some important aspects about prayers before God. We must first solemnly remind ourselves of who it is that we are approaching, even the Most high and Almighty, before whom the angels themselves veil their faces (Isaiah 6). We need to remember who we are, only sinful creatures (although divine grace has made us children of God) and that there is still an infinite and inconceivable distance between us and the Creator. Our only ground of approach is to plead the mediation and merits of Christ Jesus our Lord. Nonetheless, believers should pray much, not only for themselves but also for the brethren; if not for anything else but as a continual expression of our dependence on our Lord God and our need to communicate with Him before we can go forth and speak and share in His name.
By studying the prayers in the epistles of Paul and pondering them, we may learn more clearly what blessings we should desire for ourselves and others, what spiritual gifts and graces we most need to ask for. The very fact that these prayers have been placed in the Scriptures, inspired by the Holy Spirit, point to the favours that can be sought and received from God as we look to Him prayerfully to study the apostolic models written for us.
The first thing we note is that Paul’s recorded prayers are rather brief (the longest is only seven verses); however, although brief, his prayers are rather definite, explicit and profound, coming from the depths of his heart, often revealing the burdens for God’s glory and for the welfare of God’s children. Notice that the things asked for in his prayers are wholly of a spiritual and gracious nature (we see these as we look at Ephesians 1:17-19; Philippians 1:9-11; Colossians 1:10; 1 Thessalonians 5:23). He prayed, for instance, for the spirit of understanding and revelation in the knowledge of God; he asked for the believers to be strengthened with might by the Spirit in the inner being and so on, all basically spiritual and gracious in nature. In only one instance do we find Paul praying for himself, and rarely for particular individuals – his general custom was to pray for the whole household of faith – all the pronouns are in the plural: “give us”, “forgive us” and so on. Paul is exhorting us, by example, to pray for all saints (Ephesians 6), teaching us to turn away from self-centredness, for in praying for all believers, we include ourselves invariably.
The first aspect of Paul’s prayer we look at today is his praise and thanksgiving to God for the believers in the various churches, expressing his deep affections for the saints and his deep gratitude to the Lord God:-
“First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world”(Romans 1:8).
“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” (Philippians 1:3-5).
Nothing helps to dispel the spirit of gloom from the soul than the cultivation of gratitude and praise towards God.
The Apostle Paul blended thanksgivings with petitions for the churches ( 1 Corinthians 1:4; Ephesians 1:16; Colossians 1:3; 1 Thessalonians 1:2; Philemon 4). Here Paul is teaching us an important principle – if we are not thankful to God for His previous mercies, goodness and grace, can we rightfully expect God to continue bestowing more such blessings upon those who are ungrateful. What is clear is that Paul’s heart was continually drawn out in gratitude to God for the wondrous things He had done for His people, and this emboldened him to seek further blessings for them. It speaks to us of the importance of gratefulness and gratitude towards God for all He had bestowed upon us; we tend to be forgetful people and we tend to easily forget God’s goodness and quickly turn to murmurings and grumblings against God instead of thanksgivings and praise towards Him.
Another aspect of Paul’s prayer, which is not so obvious, is how he invoked the term ” my God”. God was a living and personal reality to Paul; there was a deep personal relationship, for God was Paul’s God by eternal election, having loved him with an everlasting love. Notice how he prayed…”I thank,,,my God”. If I know Him personally as my God, will not, must not, thanksgiving issue spontaneously from my heart and lips?
But notice also that for Paul, God is “my God” through Jesus Christ. Paul knew that there is no approach to God except ” through Jesus Christ” the only Mediator between God and men. Our worship is only acceptable to God only through His mercies (Colossian 3:17).
Consider who are the subjects of Paul’s thanksgiving – “for you all”. Paul was thankful to God for HIs blessings upon HIs people and churches, including those churches and believers whom he had never met (eg. The Roman Christians).
For the natural man and fleshly believer, the mind is incapable of appreciating this, that Paul was thanking God not for the fruit of his own labours – he was actually rejoicing over those who have grown through the ministry of others! Paul praised God for these dear ones, for his heart rejoiced whenever God was glorified and individuals were edified in Christ. How narrow minded many of us are – we are only looking out for those we are ministering to or have ministered to in the past; Paul is thankful for all who have been blessed by God in the gospel! It is not “my church”, “my ministry” but God’s work of grace and mercy in the lives of all!
In particular, Paul thanked God and praised God for the growing faith of the churches of God. It is indeed blessed to see Paul praising God for what HIs grace had wrought and achieved in others. Here is an insight into the character of the man Paul. What a spirit of love for the brethren was here revealed; what gratitude and devotion for his Master; what an example for the servant of God today when tidings are received of the fruits of the Spirit in distant places.
Are we only thanking and praising God for what He has done and what He is doing in our lives and in our own congregations? Are our hearts and love large enough to embrace all the brethren in other contexts, even those whom we have not seen and known personally? Just looking at this one aspect in Paul’s prayers has so much to enrich us spiritually – may we learn to praise and thank God in our prayers for HIs work of grace in the lives of others and for the furtherance of the gospel and the kingdom of God. May our prayers for these dear ones be accompanied by genuine affections because they are our brethren in Christ and members of our spiritual family.