How a person is introduced upon the page of Holy Writ often indicates the character and nature of his subsequent ministry. Gideon is threshing wheat (Judges 6), Saul is searching for lost asses which he never found (1 Samuel 9), David is keeping sheep (1 Samuel 16), Elisha is ploughing (1 Kings 19), Peter and Andrew are casting nets while John and James are mending nets when called by the Lord (Matthew 4). One of the first observations of one named Saul, a man of Tarsus, is, “Behold, he prayeth” (Acts 9:11). It will become truly characteristic of the man as Paul, the apostle, whose prayer exercise was as constant as it was consistent, and as steadfast as it was specific. Nor is this the first time the newly converted Saul prayed. Visualize him as a pious Jew in the Temple for the time of prayer, or in a synagogue when he must have prayed to the God of Whom he says, “I serve from my forefathers with a pure conscience “(2 Timothy 1:3). But the occasion observed in Acts 9 is surely the first time he directed his prayer to the Lord Jesus of Stephen’s prayer (Acts 7:59-60).
The impressions made upon the mind of Saul as he viewed Stephen being stoned and listened carefully to his prayer exercise must surely have left an indelible impact. Saul is witnessing and, I believe, pondering things that Gamaliel never taught him. Four issues of spiritual significance contribute to Paul’s prayer life as seen in Stephen’s final moments on earth. Namely: A Holy Spirit fulness, an open heaven, a glorified Lord, and a kneeling, praying, pleading servant in touch with heaven.
Apart from David, few writers of Holy Scripture have recorded so much of their personal devotions in prayer as has the Apostle. Many certainly have recorded their prayers. Such expressions of exercise in the presence of God deserve our attention and consideration. Nor would we ever wish to overlook the recorded prayers of the Lord Jesus during His time on earth (e.g. Matt 11, 27; Mark 14; Luke 23; John 11, 17). This remarkable feature of Paul’s writing is not intended to reveal his way of approach into the presence of his God or to show how holy a man he was. That would defeat the purpose of his prayer exercise. His spiritual way of weaving of prayer and precept, of exercise and exposition, of desire and definition is graciously simple and essentially spiritual and if it does reveal so much of that private intimacy, it is unintentional.
Pondering the prayers of Paul as recorded in his epistles, it may be possible to conceive how he would address the Lord when opening a gathering of the saints. The following order is a suggestion: He would begin by invoking the benediction of the God of grace through Jesus Christ the Lord. He would then present his thanksgivings and praises for the common ground shared in Christ and for the spiritual history of the assembly thus gathered. He would offer prayer for the sanctification and spiritual prosperity of the saints in a general way. He would then enlarge in specific petitions and intercessions for the company that would reflect upon the peculiar need of the saints as well as reveal his particular exercise on their behalf. He would crown his devotion in prayer by offering, on the part of the worshiping company, a full doxology in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father.
By suggesting five headings for the ordered paragraphs that follow, we can highlight the rich matter that lies within the scope of Paul’s prayers.
As we read Paul’s writings the principle of invocatory prayer is discernable. It is seen as the blessing of God is called down upon the saints at the commencement of the letter where it takes the form of introductory greetings and at the close of the letter where it takes the form of valedictory blessings. These are usually referred to respectively as salutations and benedictions. In the one it is all that the goodness of God can bestow. In the other it is all that the weakness of man requires. The seal of Paul’s authority is in the word “grace.” It is the hallmark of genuineness (Rom 1:7; 1Co 1:3; 2Co 1:2 ; Gal 1:3; Eph 1:2; Phi 1:2; Col 1:2; 1Th 1:1; 2Th 1:2; 1Ti 1:2; 2Ti 1:2; Tit 1:4 and Phe 3). If it is his hallmark at the beginning, so it is at the end. In all his benedictions the keynote is grace, grace as the source of a full salvation, the spring of full growth and the strength of spontaneous thanksgiving. Hence the practical inference is that nothing should begin our prayers without drawing upon grace and nothing should end our prayers without desiring grace.
Paul always offered thanks to God as the Author of all the blessings of His people. Paul’s thanksgivings usually have a direct bearing upon the specific experience of the saints to whom he writes. Note the following examples with due consideration: Rom 1:8; 1Co 1:4; Eph 1:15; Phi 1:3; Col 1:3; 1Th 1:2, 3:9; 2Th 1:3. One striking exception is that of the Galatian Epistle. There is, however, a high note reached in a strange deviation from his usual thanksgiving, for what he fails to find in the Galatians for praise, he finds in God (Gal 1:3-5).
This feature of Paul’s prayers cannot be overlooked even though it may not find a place in a formal outline of his recorded devotions. Any consideration of the Epistle of Paul to the Romans that would miss out on observing the term “God forbid” (Rom 3:4, 6, 31; 6:2, 15; 7:7, 13: 9:14; 11:1, 11) must deprive the saint of tremendous value. Other examples of this form of prayer in Romans are found in 6:17 and 7:25.
The line between supplicatory prayer and intercession is at times not easily drawn. Supplication often calls forth the worth and greatness of the One to Whom our prayers ascend, while intercession lays stress upon the character of the one who offers the plea. Under the category of what may specifically be termed supplicatory prayer, the following examples can be considered: Rom 9:3; Gal 4:19; 2Ti 1:18; 2:7; 4:16 and Phe 6.
We come now to doxologies, an aspect of prayer seldom reached in either private or public exercise. Each doxology has a setting which commands our interest. The context usually supplies the cause for the outburst of praise. Paul’s doxologies afford the worshiping heart reasons to continually adore and praise our God. The following classification is intended to promote this exercise continually:
• To the God of Revelation (Rom 11:33-36) when the marvels of His revelation overwhelm and even cause us to wonder.
• To the God of Redemption (Gal 1:3-5) when the saints do not rise to their expected stature in Christ.
• To the God of Declaration (Rom 16: 25-27) when the fulness of His purpose is grasped and truly appreciated by faith.
• To the God of Provision (Phil 4:19) when all created streams run dry.
• To the God of Dispensations (1 Tim 1:17) when life’s little day appears to be insignificant.
• To the God of Vindication (1 Tim 6:15-16) when suffering’s flame burns the soul and vengeance would rise.
• To the God of Preservation ( 2 Tim 4:18) when the gate of heaven is within reach.
• To the God of Consummation (Eph 3:20-21) when we feel that there is the slightest possibility His purpose may not be realized.
All these ended with Amen. Where there is no Amen, the spirit of prayer is lost. It is one sad absence in multitudes of assemblies today. Neither private nor public prayer should end without voicing the Amen!
From this baptism in prayer Paul must have learned how Stephen had (i) an ability to possess himself amid suffering; (ii) an ability to perceive the ministry of a glorified Man in heaven; and (iii) an ability to plead on the behalf of others, with a Christ-like compassion. Stephen’s preaching was prolific, but it is not this the new convert imitates. It is his praying he emulates. For the first time the newborn soul breathes the holy name of Jesus his Lord, and the Lord in heaven is as conscious of this remarkable touch of devotion as He was when the woman touched the hem of His garment for healing. The Lord Jesus says to Ananias “Behold, he prayeth,” which indicates that the conscious exercise of the newly born again soul was felt by Him Who saved him by His grace on the Damascus Road. Thus begins Paul’s spirit of prayer. It never left him and what a blessing that has proved to be for the household of faith!