The Prayer Life of Paul

By H. A. Wilson

Taken from Grace and Truth Magazine 1923


The prayer life of the Apostle Paul is of especial interest to believers in this age. He was the apostle to whom God gave a special message to the Church, the Body of Christ, which is composed of all believers since the day of Pentecost. It is his writings (Romans to Philemon) which, of all the Bible, are particularly addressed to believers of the Church age, consequently the teaching on prayer to be found therein is very important for our guidance in our own prayer lives. This teaching appears in two forms. It is in the form of direct instruction and in the form of the example of Paul himself, which embodies the instructions given in his writings. The study of the inspired record of Paul’s prayer life is full of blessing for us, because it helps us to understand in a concrete way the prayer teachings which are so vital to us in our fellowship with God and in our service for Him.

Such study furnishes a conclusive answer to a very insidious error which has crept in among some earnest believers in the last few years. It seems that some hyper-dispensationalists are saying that the Scripture teaching on prayer is entirely Jewish and that it is not for believers of the Body. ‘This is a most unfortunate and deplorable teaching. If carried to its logical conclusion, it means that the believer should not pray nor expect to have prayer answered. When such a condition comes into the life of a child of God his usefulness in the Lord’s service and his keen enjoyment of His fellowship is gone. Surely if there is anything which is needed above everything else in the lives of Christians it is scriptural, prevailing prayer. Thoughtful consideration of the prayer life of Paul, and of the teaching which it presents, furnishes a convincing proof that believers in the Church dispensation should pray, and that they should expect to have prayer answered, for Paul was the special messenger of God to this age. In that study, too, one gains a clear idea of the kind of prayer life which he should have, for’ he sees it exemplified in a rich and beautiful fashion.

One of the first things which impresses us is that the prayer life of Paul was worshipful. He had a keen perception of the character of the God with Whom we have to do, and though he came freely and boldly into His presence, he did not come lightly. He came in reverence and adoration. His prayers abound in ascriptions of praise and glory to God, and many expressions occur which show us the worship which was in his heart as he approached the throne of grace.

A remarkable indication of this is found in the fifteenth chapter of Romans. Three very brief prayers occur in this chapter, and in each of them we find some new phase of the character of God set forth. In the fifth and sixth verses we read:

“Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be like minded one toward another according to Christ Jesus:

“That ye may ‘with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

This passage is pregnant with rich truth concerning God. Here we find that He is a God of patience; He is a God of consolation; He is a God Who gives to men; He is a God to Whom glory is due; and He is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. How ‘could more of blessed truth concerning our God be packed into so few words? It is to be feared that such a description would exhaust the knowledge which most of us possess concerning Him, but the writer goes on in the thirteenth verse in like words:

“Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost.”

Here we learn that God is a God of hope, that He is concerned in the happiness of men and is able to give them joy and peace and hope, and that He works in the lives of men through the Holy Spirit. It will be seen that the doctrine of the triunity of God is clearly shown in these two references, for here are God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Then in the thirty-third verse of this same chapter we read:

“The God of peace be with you all.”

Here is set forth the fact that God is a God of peace and that He is with His children. Careful consideration of the « facts which are set forth in these three brief prayers reveals a well rounded conception of the personality and grace of God.

This is the language of a man who knows God and who, as he approaches His throne in prayer is overcome with the grace and majesty which is His. How our hearts burn within us as we read the reverential breathing of the heart of this man of God, and as we accompany him into the presence of his God, and our God, and catch the glimpse which he has caught of His glory. A careful consideration of his life reveals that these expressions are not mere catch expressions, but the heart-felt expression of the intimate fellowship which he had with God. We need more of the attitude of worship which characterized the apostle Paul's prayer life. We need to approach the throne of God with uncovered heads, and awed hearts. We are dealing with One Who is greater than all earthly potentates, and yet One Who cares for us and delights in our coming to Him, Let us come boldly to the throne of grace, but let us come in reverence, and let us abide there until our souls, like that of Paul, are transported with the apprehension which has come to us of the praiseworthiness and majesty of God.

Another thing which impresses us forcibly is that the prayer life of Paul was spiritual. As we read his prayers we find that they are concerned almost exclusively with spiritual things and not with crass material things. Again and again we read supplications for the Lord to cause His children to increase in the knowledge of Himself, in faith, in joy and peace, or that they may be of one mind, victorious over sin, abounding in the work of the Lord, and, in short, in all spiritual knowledge and blessings. His prayers abound in thanksgiving, but the occasion is almost always some spiritual blessing which has come to God's children, and of which he has heard. Only occasionally does he mention material matters, and then usually as they are related to the ministry of one of the Lord’s servants, such as the recovering to health of Epaphroditus, or the supplying of his own needs through the gifts of the Philippians. And even in the supply of his needs we find that his chief concern is not the supply itself, but the growth in grace of the Philippian believers which was manifest in the gifts.

A fair example of the extent to which the prayers of the Apostle Paul are concerned with spiritual things is furnished in Eph. 1:15-20:

“Wherefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints,

“Cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers;

“That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him:

“The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of His calling, and what the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints,

“And what is the exceeding greatness of His power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of His mighty power,

“Which He wrought in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead, and set Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places.”

Do we not feel rebuked when we review our own prayer lives and compare them with this earnest petition for the spiritual welfare of others? It is sad but true that most of us confine our prayers almost entirely to asking for some selfish material blessing. We need new clothes, or we need money to pay the rent, or we need money to pay the grocery bill, or we are sick and need to be strengthened in body. Perhaps a friend is sick or in some material need and we ask for his need to be met, and so our prayers go from one material thing to another. Surely God will be better pleased and our prayers will be more fruitful of blessing if we will consider more the spiritual needs, and not only for ourselves but especially for others also. Let us ask, and let us ask largely, but let us give the most important place to the things which lie nearest to the heart of God. Surely He cares for every detail of our lives and is interested in the material needs, but they are so unimportant beside the great spiritual needs, Without a question God is more concerned that a soul be saved or brought into close fellowship with Himself, and into the greatest usefulness for Him than that a body be made well and strong. Should we not therefore emulate the Apostle Paul in laying the greatest stress on spiritual things when we pray?

But that does not mean that we should not pray for the more material details of our lives. God does care about them and He ted the Apostle Paul to pray about them as well as about the spiritual things. He records a prayer which he prayed concerning his own health, and though the Lord did not see fit to grant his request, yet through his prayer he was brought to realize that the Lord knew best in the matter, and to rejoice in His will even though the request was not granted. Still other instances aré recorded in which the material was the subject of Paul’s prayers. It is not wrong for us to pray for such things. In fact it would be wrong if we did not, only we should not let such things crowd the more important things out of our prayers.

A Third thing which is outstanding in the prayer life of Paul is his persistence. This is indicated in many passages which we find in his writings, among which the following are representative:

“God is my witness, Whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of His Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers” (Rom. 1:9).

“We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers;

“Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father” (1 Thes. 1:2-3)

“What thanks can we render to God again for you, for all the joy wherewith we joy for your sakes before our God;

Night and day praying exceedingly that we might see your face, and might perfect that which is lacking in your faith” (I Thes. 3:9-10)?

Paul prayed with a faith that gripped the throne of grace and held on till the answer came. We need more of that kind of prayer, too. Someone has well said that we too often “ring the doorbell of heaven with our prayers, and then run away before the answer comes.” It is said that George Muller, the man of God whose faith in God, and whose wonderful prayer experiences have been a blessing to countless souls, prayed for the salvation of two men for thirty-two years and then died without seeing either of them saved. But both of those men accepted the Saviour within six months of Mr. Muller's death. God's Word encourages us to persevere in prayer, and the example of the Apostle Paul gives us additional encouragement. We should seek to know the will of God in our prayer life, and when we are assured that the thing for which we are praying is according to His will we should hold on until the answer comes.

In connection with this characteristic of Paul's prayer life we note that not only was he persistent in the matter of repeatedly praying about the same thing, but he also was persistent in the time of his praying. He embodied the admonition which God gave through him:

“Pray without ceasing” (I Thes. 5:17).

We need a quiet time alone with God in the prayer closet every day, but sometimes the temptation is strong to con fine ourselves to that time of secret devotion, ‘The normal and "most fruitful prayer life is that in which a believer lives throughout the day in the attitude of prayer. Every task becomes the subject of prayer. Every testing is a call to prayer. Every blessing is an occasion for thanksgiving, And so on throughout the day the heart is continually lifted up in prayer. This was evidently true in Paul's life, for his writings are full of brief, ejaculatory prayers. Only a sentence or two sometimes, and sometimes several sentences, The fifteenth chapter of Romans which we have already considered is an example of this. In this chapter three short prayers are included and they are representative of many such in the writings of the Apostle Paul. Someone has said that he “likes ejaculatory prayer because it gets to heaven before the Devil gets a shot at it.” When God’s children live in the attitude of prayer, persisting in it throughout every day, their lives are filled with blessing both for themselves and for others.

The confidence of Paul's prayer life also impresses us strongly. It takes faith to ask for great things, and that was the faith of the Apostle Paul. He knew that God was

“Able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to His power that worketh in us” (Eph. 3:20).

consequently he was not afraid to ask Him for things which would stagger the faith of one whose conception of God was less, and whose faith was weaker than his. This is especially evident in Colossians 1:9-11:

“For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding;

“That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God;

“Strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness

Notice the exceedingly strong expressions which are used. What a staggering request this was! It is the request of a soul which has confidence in the power and willing ness of God to answer prayer. There can be no doubt that here is one of the secrets of the wonderful way in which God used the Apostle Paul.

God delights to honor such faith in prayer. He challenges us in words about whose meaning there can be no misunderstanding:

“Call unto me and I will answer thee and show thee great and mighty things which thou knowest not” (Jer. 3343).

To this challenge Paul's faith responded with a mighty bound. It should encourage us to ask more largely and to expect greater things than we have ever had faith to expect hitherto. The student of God's. teaching in the matter of prayer is soon convinced that men have never, in their asking, reached the limit of God’s willingness to give; nor have they ever, in their eager seeking for His fellowship in the hour of prayer, even approximated His willingness to meet us there. Let us learn from the example of the apostle, and pray. Let us pray boldly, asking greater things of God, and expecting greater things from Him,

But  let us not forget that while Paul was confident in his prayer life he was also submissive. He could pray largely and expect largely, but he sought to know the will of God in all his prayer life, and when he was convinced that a thing for which he prayed was not | according to His will, he was content and did not press it further. ‘This is very manifest in an incident of which | he tells us in Il Corinthians 13:7-10. Here we read:

“Lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.

“For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.

“And He said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee, for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities that the power of Christ may rest upon, me.

“Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in digresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.”

Apparently there was some sickness or weakness in Paul's body. He was eager that if it were possible this might depart from him, so he prayed and asked that it might be so. Thrice he prayed, but finally was convinced that God saw that it was best not to grant his petition. Having been persuaded of this he did not press his requests nor did he become sulky about it. He submitted himself to the will of God cheerfully and gladly. He was content with the grace of God, and felt that it was sufficient. He even rose on the wings of faith above the trial and testing of the thing for which he had been praying that he might be rid of it, and in the power of the Spirit actually gloried in his weaknesses because they were the occasion of a more full manifestation of God's power.

O fellow believers, how like little children we are. We pray and ask the Lord for something, and then when He does not see fit to grant our petitions we get angry with Him and pout because we did not get what we wanted. We act as though we could not trast Him to do the thing which is for our best interests. We need to learn with the Apostle Paul that He knows best and that He cares for us far more than we can possibly care for ourselves. We need to learn that He knows infinitely better than we what really is for our best interests and that He is eager to do the best thing. Someone has written a very beautiful little verse which expresses in other words the strong faith which the Apostle Paul manifested in the loving providence of God, and the lesson which we need to learn, O so badly!

Disappointment, His-appointment,

     Change one letter, then I see

That God's thwarting of my purpose

     Was His better choice for me.

Should believers pray in this dispensation? How can we question it when such clear teaching and such a blessed example is before us! Indeed we should pray. We should pray worshipfully. We should pray with proper regard to the relative value of spiritual and material things. We should pray persistently. We should pray confidently. And (O how we need to learn it!) we should pray submissively. Let us come before the throne of grace on bended knee, with the prayer of the disciples,

“Lord, teach us to pray!”