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Connections between the Bible and prayer: Instructions from the Apostle Paul

Saturday September 22 2018

Connections between the Bible and prayer: Instructions from the Apostle Paul

Some of the most often quoted biblical passages on prayer come from the Apostle Paul’s letters.  When I did a search for “pray” and “prayer” in the books of the New Testament between Romans and Titus – the letters attributed to Paul – I found 51 mentions of those two words. Here are three passages that are often quoted:

“Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (Philippians 4:6)

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing,give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

“I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings should be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity.” (1 Tim 2:1, 2)

These three passages are very, very challenging. Turning worry into prayer is much easier said than done, and whenever I do it, I find I have to do it again, five seconds later. And again. And again.

Praying without ceasing is something I have never achieved, even for brief periods of time. I have grown in giving thanks in most circumstances, but all circumstances? I’m not there yet. Praying for everyone, even people I find despicable, is totally beyond my ability. My love is so limited.

I take great comfort in one of Paul’s other statements on prayer:

“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” (Romans 8:26)

Thank heavens I don’t have to do it exactly right every time, or even very often. The Holy Spirit is praying for me and for all of us.

Also encouraging to me is Paul’s model of prayer. At the beginning of several letters, eloquent prayers are written out. I have been praying those prayers for many years, and I will write about those prayers next week.

In addition to the passages I’ve already mentioned, Paul discusses prayer in all sorts of situations: for married couples related to sex (I Corinthians 7:5), praying in tongues (1 Corinthians 14: 13, 14), prayer for Paul’s ministry (2 Corinthians 1:11, Ephesians 6:9, 1 Thessalonians  5:25), and descriptions of others who pray for the various churches, such as Epaphras (Colossians 4:12).

Possibly the strongest message about prayer in Paul’s letters is simply that prayer really matters in so many ways. I can’t possibly achieve all that Paul writes about prayer, but I can strive to grow as a person of prayer. I can rest in the beautiful truth that others are praying for me. Epaphras is no longer alive, but others today – friends, family members, people in my prayer group, and best of all, the Holy Spirit – are praying for me.

And I can model my prayers on Paul’s. More on that next week.

(Illustration by Dave Baab. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column.)

Some previous posts on prayer:

           The simplest form of prayer: Breath prayer    
           A posture for prayer: Open hands, open heart      
           Two options for how to pray when the news overwhelms you   

Previous posts in this series:

          Connections between the Bible and prayer    
          The character of God and prayer      
          The context of the Lord’s Prayer                



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