Paul’s epistles reveal him to be a man of prayer. Paul was commissioned by God to preach the gospel to the Gentiles, with mighty signs following. He was used by God to heal the sick and cast out demons. He had the courage and determination to defy and endure the violent opposition of both the unbelieving Jews and the pagans among whom he preached. He had the strength of conviction and character to stand alone for truth when the whole Church was in danger of becoming corrupted by legalism. He had the heavenly wisdom and foreknowledge to save the life of every person aboard a doomed ship. He bore the authority to correct believers who sinned, and to withstand any who disputed his gospel. He was an indomitable bulldozer of a man who, by the mighty power of God, leveled the ground and put in place a foundation that has stood the tests of 2,000 years. Since the time of Paul, there has surely been no man his equal in spiritual grace and authority.
Yet, for all his giftedness, character and authority, Paul lived in constant dependence on the Lord. Indeed, the wellspring of his spiritual might, insight and fruitfulness was his intimate connection with Jesus the Vine, without whom he could do nothing. Before Paul could be of much use to the Lord, he had first to become a man of frequent, fervent, effectual prayer.
Why God has ordained prayer as a fundamental essential of Christian life and service is a worthy subject for another discussion. Suffice it here to say that prayer is absolutely necessary for growth and fruitfulness in God’s kingdom. And furthermore that, on the subject of prayer, Paul has many wonderful things to teach us.
Here, to start with, is a powerful prayer passage from Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians:
15For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, 16I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. 17I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength 20he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.
Lest there be any confusion or doubt about these things, let us take note of some obvious but very important facts:
Paul prayed. He prayed, in this instance, for the Christians in Ephesus. As we will discover in his other epistles, it seems he prayed for every church of which he had knowledge or with which he had contact. What does this mean for us? It means that prayer is essential. Even the great apostle Paul could not dispense with it. If prayer were unnecessary and fruitless, Paul would not have prayed. God is gracious and generous beyond comprehension but, according to his excellent wisdom, he would have us in a constant state of confident dependency upon him. We must ask, and when we ask, we receive. When we ask not, we risk having not.
Paul prayed for others. Paul’s heart was filled with love and affection for the people of God, and he sought their blessing and edification in prayer. In doing so, he obeyed the command of Jesus, that we love one another.
There is no greater love, Jesus said, than to lay down one’s life for another. Our lives are measured in time. Surrendering precious time at the throne of grace so that our brothers and sisters may live more fully is to love them in a way that honours and pleases the Lord.
Paul prayed expecting answers from God. Paul prayed in faith and expectation. Let nobody try to claim that Paul was merely doing as we sometimes do, mouthing insincere happy talk and platitudes when we say “I’m praying for you” or “I’ll pray for you.” No, when Paul said he was praying, he meant he was praying. His prayer was no beating of the air in some empty display of false piety. He earnestly pressed in, pleading with the living God for real things because he knew that believers had need of these things, things only God could give them, and because he believed God answers such prayers. For Paul to do anything less and call it “prayer” would be a lie and a waste of time. Paul was guilty of neither.
It may seem too obvious for comment, but this is precisely where our “prayers” can fall down—when in “praying” we either fail to ask for what God has invited us to ask for, or we don’t have the faith or expectation that he’s really going to answer us.
Paul prayed persistently. For Paul, prayer was not a series of one-off events. “I keep asking,” he said. He knew that while the present world stands, the Church has continuing, unending need for that which only the Spirit of God can supply. He knew also that, whatever believers may have received already, God had much more to bestow on them out of his vast store of riches in glory. Paul, in his prayers for the people of God, as in his personal walk, never tapered off, never considered the race to have ended until he knew it was fully run, but pressed onward toward the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
Paul prayed for great and wonderful spiritual blessings. In many places in the epistles, Paul tells us what he is asking for. These requests, summed up, are a plea for the people of God to be so strengthened and transformed, so filled with the knowledge of God, that they would bring glory to him by doing his will, and in the end be able to stand before him ready, sanctified, glorious, unashamed, unafraid. Paul was a builder. His life was consumed with building up the people of God and preparing them for their eternal destiny.
So he asks, in this passage, for the Spirit of wisdom and revelation. Paul is asking God to give the Holy Spirit to his people so that we can know God more fully, and understand things that we need to understand but don’t yet understand. Glorious things, things that can be understood only by revelation.
Read the passage again. Meditate on it. Believe that Paul was praying according to God’s will. Follow Paul’s example of prayer and ask for the same things that he asked for. Believe that God wills the same things for the Church of today that he willed for the early Church. Yes, believe that these wonderful things are still God’s will, and that the Lord is still “able to do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine.”
Pray for the believers that you know. Pray for the members and attenders of your church. Pray for the churches in your community. Pray for Christians around the world. Ask God to give us the Spirit of wisdom and revelation. We need the Holy Spirit. We can’t do without the Holy Spirit. We need to know—to have our eyes opened to see—what a glorious future God is calling us to, and the glorious things he has in store for us, and the mighty power he is willing and able to exercise in us who believe. He wants us to know that the power at work in us is the very power that raised Christ from the dead. That mighty, life-giving, resurrection power is able to bring restoration and refreshing to a fatigued believer, fruitfulness to a barren believer, hope to a despairing believer, joy to a depressed believer, and to fill us all with the fullness of God. The mighty power of God is just as able to strengthen and transform believers today as it was to raise Christ from the tomb 2,000 years ago.
God is able to change us and to make us grow. He is able to do in the Church what Jesus asked of the Father in John 17. It is his holy will to do these things. We must ask for his will to be done, and as we ask, we will help, in ways perhaps unseen but certainly significant, to bring greater health, unity and victory to the Body of Christ.
Let us arise and ask, and keep on asking as long as we have breath!