Pray Like Paul Prayed

It’s interesting that we don’t often think of Paul as an outstanding man of prayer. When you
think of anyone excelling in any field of service in the early church, Paul the apostle must be up
toward the top. We would put him at the top of the list as a great missionary of the cross, and
we can’t think of any greater example of apostleship than Paul. If we were to make a list of ten
of the greatest preachers of the church, we would certainly put Paul as number one. He was also
one of the greatest teachers. The Lord Jesus was, of course, the greatest of all — “Never man
spoke like this man” (John 7:46) — and Paul certainly followed in that tradition. He is also an
example of a good pastor. According to Dr. Luke, Paul wept with the believers at Ephesus when
he took leave of them. He loved them, and they loved him.
But how about being representative of a great man of prayer — would you put Paul on that
list? We think of Moses yonder on Mount Sinai interceding for the children of Israel. We think
of David with his psalms and the confession of his awful sin. We think of Elijah who stood
alone before an altar drenched with water at Mount Carmel. Then there was Daniel who opened
his window toward Jerusalem and prayed every day even though he lived in a hostile land under
a hostile power. The Lord Jesus was the Man of prayer, so much so that one of His disciples
asked Him, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1). But did you know that Paul was also a great
man of prayer? With all of his other qualities, we seldom think of Paul as a man of prayer, yet
this is the field in which he excelled, I believe, above all others.
I was told this story that when he was teaching at the Bible Institute of Los Angeles, he would ask the students during
their studies of Paul’s epistles to make a list of all his prayers. They were to put down every
time Paul said he was praying for someone. Lo and behold, student after student would come to
him and say, “I had no idea Paul had such a prayer list. I didn’t know he prayed for so many
people!” Paul was a great man of prayer.
Years ago there was a preacher in Dallas, Texas, who was not a great preacher, but he had a
great church and a great ministry — because his was largely a ministry of prayer. He wrote his
prayer list on a roll of paper from an adding machine! When he unrolled it, it went through the
living room, into the dining room, and on into the kitchen. When this man started praying down
that list, the officers in his church could always tell it, because he would call this one and that
one on the phone and say, “Look, I’m praying for So-and-So, and he hasn’t accepted Christ yet.
Would you go over and talk to him while I pray for him?” The officers would always say,
“Well, we know that Dr. Anderson is praying because he has us all working.” May I say to you,
he had a great ministry because he had a great prayer life. By the way, what kind of prayer list
do you have? How many people do you remember in prayer, even once a week? Maybe you are
living a busy life these days, but once a week do you take time out to go down a list and
remember specific people in prayer?
Paul the apostle is, in my opinion, the man God has given to the believer as the great example
to follow when praying. The Epistle to the Ephesians records two of Paul’s prayers. In chapter
one, having set before us the church as the body of Christ, Paul fell to his knees in prayer. The
second prayer is recorded at the end of chapter three. I would like to look at the characteristics
of these two prayers, observing the things that are outward. Then I would like to look at their
content, noting the inward parts of prayer.
 
Characteristics of Paul’s Prayers
 
Motivated by Good News
First of all, we find the motive for Paul’s prayer. What was it that would cause this apostle to
go to prayer? He told us:
Wherefore, I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints. (Ephesians 1:15)
Do you notice what it was that sent him to prayer? It was good news, not bad news.
Unfortunately, it seems that the most common circumstances that motivate us to pray are trouble,
sickness, distress, or crisis. The story is told that years ago a ship at sea was going down in
a storm, and the captain announced over the loudspeaker, “To prayers! To prayers! To prayers!”
An elegant, refined woman came up to him and said, “Captain, has it come to this?” In other
words, “Is it so desperate now that we are going to have to use prayer as a life preserver?” They
hadn’t been praying on the days when there was no storm, but when the storm struck and the
ship was going down, it was time to start praying. Isn’t that the sort of thing that causes many of
us to pray today? It is the crisis rather than the time of rejoicing. It is bad news rather than good
news that prompts us to prayer.
Now, don’t misunderstand me. Should we pray at those times? By all means! But is that the
only time we should pray? Shouldn’t we have another motive? Shouldn’t good news move us to
prayer? Paul is saying, in essence, “When I heard about your faith — faith in God, faith in
Christ — and then I heard of your love to the brethren, that moved me to prayer.” It was good
news that prompted him to pray.
Intercessory
Now the second thing to note is that Paul’s prayers were intercessory:
[I] cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers. (Ephesians 1:16)
You’ll find that same thing when you turn to the prayer in the third chapter:
That he would grant you, according to the riches of His glory…. (Ephesians 3:16)
We do not find Paul praying here for himself. Don’t misunderstand me — I know he prayed for
himself. He told us in 2 Corinthians 12 that he had a thorn in the flesh and that he went to the
Lord about it. In fact, he made it a matter of very definite prayer three times because it was of
great concern to him. Now, that was a personal matter. But you will notice that the recorded
prayers of the apostle Paul are all intercessory, praying for others.
Have you ever stopped to think that this is an area in which you can engage? There are many
folk today who say, “I’m not able to teach, I’m not able to preach, I’m not called as a missionary,
I can’t sing in the choir, and I can’t do even personal work.” My friend, you can pray.
Actually, prayer is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. One of the greatest ministries that you and
I can have today is to follow Paul’s example and engage in a ministry of praying for others.
Brief
The third thing to note is the brevity of his prayers. Both prayers here in Ephesians are brief.
In fact, all the prayers of Scripture are quite brief. The Lord Jesus said in Matthew 6:7, “But
when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the pagans do; for they think that they shall be heard
for their much speaking.”
One of Moses’ greatest prayers for Israel is recorded in only four verses (Deuteronomy 9:26-
29). Elijah, on top of Mount Carmel as he stood alone for God against the prophets of Baal,
prayed a great prayer that is only two verses long (1 Kings 18:36, 37). Nehemiah’s great prayer
is recorded in only seven verses (Nehemiah 1:5-11). The prayer of our Lord in John 17 takes
only three minutes to read in the Greek. Martin Luther argued that the fewer the words, the better
the prayer. A great many people think that a long prayer means we are being heard or that we
are extra pious or that somehow or other we are being very religious. A long prayer is no indication
that we are being heard. We may be just repeating ourselves.
We need to recognize the fact that we are taking God’s time when we pray. Don’t misunderstand
— He is willing to listen. But we are very careful about composing a letter that we send to
some prominent individual. And if we are going to have an interview with someone important,
we turn over in our minds what we are going to say when we get there because we want to go
right to the point. Why don’t we do that in our prayer life? Why don’t we make prayer a real
business? Why not study our own prayers? And why not make our prayers effective by getting
right down to the point?
I like what a little Scottish lady said when a visiting preacher was quite lengthy at the prayer
meeting. The people were all kneeling around while he stood up to pray. He was really wandering,
as sometimes preachers do, until finally this little Scottish lady reached over, pulled his
coattail, and said, “Call Him ‘Father,’ and ask Him for something!” My friend, we need to call
Him “Father” and ask Him for something. Our prayers should be right to the point, if you
please.
Submissive
Then there is a fourth characteristic of prayer that we notice here, and that is the submissive
posture of prayer. Will you notice that Paul said,
For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 3:14)
“I bow my knees.” That is something that is needed today. I wish we could return to the oldfashioned
way of kneeling at the time of prayer.
When this person was a very young preacher — in fact, during his first year in the ministry — he was
invited to hold a series of meetings in Tennessee. The first service began on a Sunday night. The
little country church was packed out, as they always were for those “protracted meetings,” as
they used to call them. he said, “Let’s pray,” and he shut his eyes. Then he heard a tremendous shuffling,
but he didn’t dare open his eyes because he was a young preacher then, and he didn’t want to
be irreverent. he kept my eyes closed until he said, “Amen.” When he opened them, he didn’t see a
soul! he thought, What happened? They all walked out on him while he prayed! But then they began to come up between the pews just like the corn comes up — a few here, a few there — and in a
minute they were all back in their pews again. They had been kneeling on the hard wooden
floor!
I think kneeling is a good position. I hope you take that position when you pray privately. Get
down on your knees — in fact, get down on your face before God. You see, man today is in
rebellion against God. Did you ever notice the language that God used even for His chosen people?
He said, “Ye stiff-necked…” (Acts 7:51). And all too often the same term could be used for
you and me. Stiff-necked!
There are two words for “worship” in the New Testament. One means to bow the head, the
other is to bend the knee. You can either genuflect — that is, bow the knee — or you can bend
the head. But we are stiff-necked. We want to look up in the face of the Deity. God says, “Get
down before Me.” The very fact that we bow is a recognition that He is sovereign and that we
are to be obedient to Him. My, how this generation needs to learn that we don’t treat God as an
equal! We are to treat Him as the Lord of heaven, and we do well to go down on our faces
before Him. Paul didn’t seem to mind bowing before Him. He said, “I bow my knees before
God.”
We need to learn to get our bodies into a subordinate position!

 

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