Day 15 – Prayer life of Paul
Effective Prayer Podcast, by Colin Dye
Now we’re looking at Paul’s prayers today. The Apostle Paul. We first meet him as a man of prayer, in one sense. I know we meet him as a person who is hostile to the gospel, but in Acts 9:11 it says, “So the Lord said to him [Ananias], ‘Arise and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for one called Saul of Tarsus, for behold, he is praying.’” You better believe he was praying. God dealt with him in no uncertain terms, and he had persecuted the people of God, even killing some of the people of God, but God met with him, and during those three days God dealt with him, Jesus dealt with him, and he was praying.
It seems to me that Paul, at that time, developed a prayer habit. He knew he had to seek God and pray. Now over and over again in Paul’s teachings he refers to himself as being an example. In fact, there are seven times in the New Testament where he says such things as, “Follow me as I am a follower of Christ. Follow my example,” and you can look at those scriptures for yourself. It’s a very powerful thing that the Apostle Paul can point to his life and say, “Be like me.”
But let me ask you a question: Can you say that about somebody else? “Be like me.” For example, “Be like me in my prayer life. I wish you had a prayer life like mine.” Not in an arrogant way, but as a leader. Now if you’re going to be a leader in any way at all, you have to lead by example. Ask yourself: What if every person in the church prayed like you prayed? How far would we get? If everybody gave like you gave, if everybody loved Jesus like you love Jesus, how far would it be? We don’t ask this in an arrogant way, but we do need to know that as leaders we must set an example.
So we need, therefore, to look at Paul’s prayer life and see what we can learn from him. Now in 1 Timothy 2, the Apostle Paul says, “I want first of all,” or “I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks will be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.”
So the Apostle Paul, from the very beginning, sets high on his priority of prayer and intercession that we should pray for the authorities, that these authorities, the political ones and the rulers in the natural realm would be blessed so that we could lead a peaceful life, which is a place where the gospel can flourish and prosper.
When he says to pray for authorities, he says, “Pray on behalf of,” and there are some Greek words there that emphasize that. You can check it out in the manual for yourself. He didn’t pray huper, which means “on behalf of” rather than peri, which means “about.” So what he did use is the word which means huper, which means “on behalf of.” Let’s make that clear. So he didn’t just say “pray about them” or “pray concerning them,” but “pray on their behalf.”
Very interesting. This is almost a kind of priestly ministry that he has given us so that we would not just make requests about them, but make requests for them and plead for them in much the same way that our Lord Jesus Christ pleads for us, and he puts that high level of intercession, really, as a matter of priority in his teaching.
I start with that because it shows us how we need to change our thinking in our prayer life. we may often pray mostly for us and for ourselves and for those we know and so forth, but God wants us to lift our parameters and extend the boundaries of our prayer life and pray for the rulers and authorities and pray very powerfully for them.
There is no strict record in Paul’s teaching or anywhere in the New Testament that we are called to pray for specific people to be saved. Now, as you read the manual and hear me today, don’t say that I think that it’s wrong for us to pray for a specific person to be saved, “Lord, please save John.” No, no, it’s not wrong, but if that’s all we do, we’ve certainly missed the emphasis. The emphasis does not lie on praying that individual people may be saved; the emphasis is on praying for the power to witness to them, for the circumstances in which we can do it, and praying against the forces that would be holding those people down.
Now I know that the Apostle Paul in Romans 10:1 had a prayer for the Jews, that they might be saved. Now this was not the content of Paul’s prayer, saying, “Dear God, please save the Jews,” but it was Paul’s prayer that the Jews may be saved. In other words, he is saying, “Lord, I want to see the circumstances arise in which these people will recognize who You are.”
And so when we pray for our relatives to be saved and want them to be converted, we need to wrestle in prayer so that the circumstances arise and the situation arises in which those people can have a credible presentation of the gospel and they will be able and willing to receive it.
Now in that same passage, 1 Timothy 2:1-4, the Apostle Paul prays that we should lead a peaceful and…a quiet and peaceful life in all godliness and reverence. So this actually is showing how the gospel will prosper, so Paul is saying, “Pray for the rulers and authorities, that society will uphold the values which would promote the preaching of the gospel, and so that we in a time of peacefulness and reverence can freely declare who Jesus is.” So he didn’t just say, “Lord, save the world,” but he was teaching us to pray for the rulers and the authorities, so that by that route we would be able to minister Christ effectively in our day and generation.
And the Apostle Paul comes back again and tells us that we should pray with perseverance. It is a very important prayer principle that we have seen in the past, time and time again, but Paul makes it very clear himself. Persevering in prayer. Romans 12:12 says, “rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, [rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation,] and continuing steadfastly in prayer.”
Ephesians 6:18, “praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance.”
Colossians 4:2, “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving.”
1 Thessalonians 5:17, “pray without ceasing.”
All of these verses show that if we’re going to follow Paul’s example in prayer, we need to persevere.
And if ever we find an example of perseverance, we find it in Paul’s life. He persevered in all his circumstances, never stopped praying, never ceased—he just went on and on and on until God blessed him, and he did.
Then the Apostle Paul gives some suggestions for our prayer priorities. He doesn’t say that we should pray for our luxuries; he says prayer for your priorities, not your luxuries. Pray for priorities, not for your luxuries. Now why am I emphasizing this? Because if we’re not careful, we can believe that prayer is just like a kind of automatic open sesame or some kind of rubbing of the magic lamp where the genie appears, the Holy Spirit, saying, “Oh yes, my master. Your wish is my command.”
No! That is the exact opposite of it. We are not here on this earth to try to persuade God to meet our every wish in the sense of our own selfishness. No. We line up with God’s will, and in the Scriptures in Paul’s teaching, we are called to pray for our necessities and for the biblical priorities of life.
So we first of all come to Him and say, “Lord, filter my thinking and filter out of my thinking those requests which are born out of selfishness, self-centeredness, small-mindedness, faithlessness, personal convenience and comfort.” That’s not the kingdom of God. And when those things are frozen out, what we are left with are God’s priorities—evangelism, power in demonstration, God’s glory, provision for His work, missionary enterprise, workers for the harvest, and I’m drawing on all the New Testament teaching when I say that.
But Paul says in Philippians 4:6-7, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God,” and that word “requests” there is “requests arising out of a sense of need.” So whatever the need is—material or physical—according to God’s priorities we have Paul’s encouragement to pray.
Now we have the, of course, in the Apostle Paul’s teaching, many, many different requests and many different prayers, but there are, I think, about four themes which run throughout all of Paul’s prayers. Let’s look at them.
Now Paul prays for rescue. I guess this tells us a great deal about his circumstances, and that he lived life on the edge. He was prepared to risk his life; he was prepared to push himself out where the normal safety zones and security measures were not possible. Traveling on the ancient roads was a very dangerous affair. Staying in the taverns and inns was a terribly dangerous affair. Mind you, he didn’t have to worry too much about accommodation; he usually ended up in the local jail.
But time and time again we find the Apostle Paul praying for rescue. Now how does he ask to be rescued? He doesn’t say, “Rescue me from these situations,” he says “Rescue me out of these situations. I want to go through them. I want successfully to pass through these things.” Just as we discovered in an earlier session, when we looked at Jesus’ prayer in John 17, He did not pray that we should be kept and preserved out of all difficulty; He prayed that we should be right there in the world, but be preserved while we are going through the trials and difficulties that the world will bring us. Jesus promised, “In the world you shall have trouble, but be of good cheer. I have overcome the world.”
So it is absolutely clear that the Apostle Paul is not praying for an easy life, but he does pray to be rescued from evil men—2 Thessalonians 3:1 and 2, “Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may run swiftly and be glorified, just as it is with you, and that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men; for all do not have faith.” You see, so even in saying, “Rescue me,” he is not thinking about himself. He is thinking about the progress of the gospel. “Lord, these people are hindering me in the gospel. Pray for me that I may be set free and that they may themselves be removed so that I can preach the gospel freely and without hindrance.”
He also prayed for the same reason to be rescued from unbelievers, Romans 15:31, “that I may be delivered from those in Judea who do not believe, that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints.” So the Apostle Paul acknowledges that there are enemies.
He also acknowledges that there are deadly perils, and in 2 Corinthians 1:9-11 (we won’t read it), there the Apostle Paul prays that he would be rescued from deadly perils because he wants his life to continue, that he can continue to fulfill the mandate God has given him. So he’s not, even in those circumstances, praying for an easy life, “Oh God, I pray that I have it easy, yeah.” No, “Lord, I pray that I will have the faith and passion to move out with the gospel, to go where no one has gone before—boldly even—and proclaim the word of the Lord, despite the opposition.”
He asked to be kept safe in prison. I suppose it was too late to ask to be delivered from prison, because he was in prison, and he knew that if it was the Roman imprisonment that he was talking about in Philippians chapter 1, then he knew that he was in prison according to the will of God. He didn’t know, strictly speaking, what was going to happen. He was waiting for his trial, so he says in Philippians 1:19-20,
For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death.
So he is saying, “You pray that I am rescued and delivered. It might be the deliverance of death. Hallelujah, I’ll glorify God. I’m not praying for my personal safety, but I do believe that through your prayers I will be set free from this prison that I may continue to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
He asked that they should pray that a door, a closed door, should be opened—Colossians chapter 4:3, “meanwhile praying also for us, that God would open to us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in chains.” And so we have Paul even in prison saying, “I want a door to be opened—it’s this prison door, perhaps, but I don’t know. I want this prison door to be opened. Open the door that I may preach the gospel,” although in his Roman imprisonment Paul was freely permitted to preach the gospel and people could come and go freely because he found favor in that situation. And maybe Paul is saying, “It’s because of your prayers that I have found such a thing.”
Now the Apostle Paul also prays, not just for rescue, but for acceptance. He prays, asks them to pray, that wherever he goes the message will be accepted and he will be received by unbelievers. And then he also asked them to pray for boldness. I want you to turn to this passage, Ephesians 6:19-20, and here we can learn how to pray for all preachers and how you can encourage people to pray for yourself when you are sharing the word of the Lord. He says, “and pray for me, that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.”
He is saying, “Please pray for me, that I would be bold in this ministry,” because he could have been intimidated, he might have been tempted to be afraid. It was a fearful thing to be in the hands of the Roman soldiers, and if his trial went against him, he would have been decapitated. We know ultimately, church history tells us that’s what happened. Personally, I don’t believe it was in this imprisonment. I believe he was released and he went on to preach the gospel for years to come, but then later on was arrested and he was executed. So under those circumstances, he needed boldness.
He also prayed for utterance. Boldness and utterance go side by side. He was asking for spiritual utterance, that words would be given to him, spiritual words that he could express spiritual truths, that as he preached the gospel he would not be hindered by his circumstances or intimidated by his situation.
And then in a touching way Paul requests prayer for travel. He needs, security, and safety on the road, and in those days it was very dangerous, travel; today, the same way. We need to pray for preachers who take these jet airlines and traveling cars. Many, many preachers, we see statistically, have been killed in airplane accidents, car accidents, and it could be one of the devil’s ways of taking people out before their time.
We need to pray consistently for security in our traveling. When we travel on our missions into different parts of the world, we go to certain places where the travel arrangements are not satisfactory. I remember being driven in the middle of a storm—some of you may know where I’m talking about—right across the Malo mountain range right across from Central Rift Valley, Kenya, right down into the sugar cane country, right down there in Western Kenya, and we have to cross over that mountain range, and the tire, the car that we were driving had no tread. It had no tread. I discovered later that the man who was driving couldn’t drive. He was not licensed to drive. It was a terrible situation, and you may say, “How foolish of you to get into it,” but I did say, “Lord, never again.”
And I was exhausted. We traveled through the night, having flown from England, and it was a very, very exhausting time, but I did what only you can do in situations like that. I went to sleep. I said, “Lord, this is over to you. I know you’re with me,” and God kept me safe and protected me. But that was because people were praying. We can’t become presumptuous in this area, but we do need people to pray.
And so if we follow Paul’s example, we will pray that we will and others will be rescued from imprisoning circumstances which prevent the gospel, that we will be filled with boldness to speak the word of the Lord, and that we would be enabled and empowered and kept safe in all of our work and all of our travels, so that we can find God’s glory fulfilled in our lives.
And then the Apostle Paul does do some teaching on how to pray for the lost. Now this prayer for the lost is not, as I said, majoring on specific requests, “Please save this person. Please save that person.” No. It wasn’t like that so much as to pray that that person will have a credible presentation of the gospel, that they would hear the message and the obstacles would be removed from their hearts and from their lives.
And so as we move forward in this teaching series, I want to encourage you: God will honor you as you pray in the needs of the lost, but he will honor you as you pray that God will raise up an effective witness and that you yourself will be willing to be that witness.
Now we’re going to look in a little more detail at the prayers of Paul in the New Testament. Now there are a number of prayers which demonstrate that Paul had a very extensive prayer list. There were many people on his prayer list. There is no other way that he managed this other than having a systematic approach to prayer. Everywhere he traveled they would say, “Paul, pray for us.” He didn’t need to be invited—he was praying anyway.
You read these prayers. They are powerful prayers. You wonder how Paul could ever have the time to pray for all these people. But he was a man of integrity, and I don’t know if you’ve ever had it when people have said to you, “Oh please pray, please pray,” and you’ve said “yes,” and you’ve forgotten all about it. Be careful. Don’t say “yes” unless you mean yes. And if you mean yes, then really pray. And the only way of doing this is having some kind of reminder, whether it is a prayer list—not a shopping list, but a prayer list of people that you bring to the Lord on a regular basis.