The prayer of Jesus in John 17 reveals the purpose and the passion of Jesus Christ for his Church. This prayer declares the pure essence of “the will of God,” and we do well to keep these words front and centre in seeking the will of God for ourselves and our fellow Christians. Prayer inspired and informed by the Word of God is prayer that God delights to hear, prayer that he will work in wonderful ways to answer: If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you (John 15:7).
The prayers of the apostle Paul, likewise, manifest the heart and desire of Jesus Christ for his people. In nearly every one of his epistles to the churches, Paul tells God’s people how he is praying for them. These prayers reveal much about God’s wonderful love and plan for his people. They also help us understand how we ourselves should pray. When we seek to apply the promise, If we ask anything according to his will, then he hears us . . . (I John 5:14), we find clear instruction about that will in the prayers of Paul.
The Holy Spirit inspired every word of Paul’s epistles. We can be certain that Paul’s prayers flow directly from and to the heart of God. We also, therefore, can pray with full confidence according to the example set by Paul.
As we study and meditate on Paul’s prayers, they give us vital, spiritual understanding and help answer very important questions like these:
What does God want to do in, through and for his people? (Evidently, what Paul asks for must be attainable and what God desires; otherwise, the apostle would not have asked for it.)
What is God’s attitude toward his people, revealed through the heart of Paul? What should our attitude toward God’s people be?
What are God’s and Paul’s priorities as far as God’s people are concerned? What should our priorities be?
How can we pray according to God’s will?
What can we do about weakness and failure in the Church and in our brothers and sisters?
How can we help the Church and our brothers and sisters fulfill the high calling of God?
How can we assess the validity of various teachings on prayer that we may encounter?
The prayers of Paul are especially helpful when we are feeling uncharitable or critical toward other believers for one reason or another. Praying fervently that others may be encouraged, blessed and filled with the knowledge of God is a great antidote to resentment. And as we pray for others, God will also do a mighty work of grace in us.
Paul asked big and wonderful things of God. Read his prayers and see. We can and should do the same. We can have absolute confidence that when we pray as Paul did for God’s people, the Lord hears and will be working, in some way, to answer. Dare to believe it—God invites us to ask for all of his fullness to fill his people! (Eph. 3:19)
The abundance of guidance and encouragement in these marvelous prayer passages can inspire and sustain any believer in fruitful prayer for a lifetime. The promises and potential for blessing implicit in Paul’s prayers are mind-boggling. God is mighty, and His intentions for us are exceedingly great and gracious. He wants his people to know the length and breadth and depth and height of his love, the excellence of his plans for us, and the sufficiency of his power to fulfill in us what he has purposed.
God’s priority in the earth is the building of his Church—the calling and cultivating of countless believers in every generation toward mature fruitfulness in Christ. If Paul’s prayers are any guide—and they most certainly are—the edification and blessing of the Body for the glory of Jesus Christ is the very centre of “the will of God.” (Also near to the heart of God is the salvation of Israel, and we should pray to this end as Paul does in Romans 10:1.)
Amazingly, God calls and empowers each of us to be co-labourers with him in this mighty work. He knows far better than we do that the Church—the people he has called to himself—is in great need. He would not have us stagger or despair at the enormity of the task, but rather take up his yoke and do our part to help. As we by the Spirit set ourselves to plead, according to his manifest will, that Jesus be glorified in the Church, we will find his yoke is in fact easy and his burden is light. We will be overtaken by joy unspeakable and full of glory when, having prayed earnestly for the good of God’s people, we begin to see answers come and blessings pour down from the throne of grace.
Subsequent posts under this heading will examine Christians’ universal calling to be builders together with Christ, our mandate to follow Paul’s example and the blessings of doing so, and the wonderful prayers of Paul.