Paul’s life and ministry were permeated with prayer. This marked him outright from the beginning of his acquaintance with Christ. Following his conversion, he was temporarily blinded, but the Lord instructed Ananias to go to Straight Street in Damascus. There, in the house of Judas, he would find Saul of Tarsus praying (Act 9:11). Many years later, and just before his execution, Paul, as he came to be known, was still found praying. From his prison cell on death row, he wrote to Timothy: “Without ceasing I have remembrance of thee in my prayers night and day” (2Ti 1:3). Even confined to a Roman prison, his heart and mind soared upwards to the very throne room of God.
Paul not only engaged in the public activity of praying but he lived in the constant atmosphere of private prayer. These two attitudes do not always coexist. The danger is that a man may learn to pray in public, using what he considers to be appropriate eloquence, but his personal prayer life when alone with God may be woefully deficient. The words of Robert Murray M’Cheyne are pertinent: “What a man is on his knees before God, that he is, and nothing more.”
The apostle’s 13 New Testament letters are replete with his recorded prayers, some of which would merit a whole book of commentary to do them justice. It is remarkable that we have them at all. It was probably as unusual then as it might be now to write letters detailing personal prayers. The Spirit of God guided the apostle to record them for the blessing of all who would later read and ponder them. This brief article can only highlight the salient points. Before summarizing the specific aims and content of his prayers, the general features of his prayer life will be considered.
1. Duality: Praise and prayer are twins that should not be separated. Paul’s thanksgiving and worship directed to heaven often preceded his intercession for those upon the earth. The matters for which he gave thanks were often the same matters that he continued to pray for. There were also shorter, spontaneous outbursts of praise, called “doxologies,” such as his final words written to the Philippians: “Now unto God and our Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen” (Php 4:20).
2. Frequency: The apostle never exaggerated; what he said he meant. The following phrases describe his pattern of prayer: “Without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers;” “I … cease not to give thanks for you;” “Night and day praying exceedingly that we might see your face” (Rom 1:9; Eph 1:16; 1Th 3:10). He was a constant intercessor, not an occasional one.
3. Intensity: His prayers were more than intellectual vocalizing. He was never less than wholehearted in all that he did for his Master, and so with a burdened spirit, he agonized when interceding for others. This prayer exercise extended even to those he had never met. We sense the pain and anguish expressed over his fellow countrymen who had resisted the gospel (Rom 9:2-3; 10:1). Unsurprisingly, his ministry was marked by tears.
4. Mutuality: Paul knew that he needed prayer as much as anyone else. He sought prayer support that he might be delivered from his enemies and be able to renew fellowship with his friends (Rom 15:30-32; 2Th 3:1-2; Phm 22). Concerning the advance of the gospel, he desired that doors would be opened to preach and that he might preach worthily (Eph 6:19-20; Php 1:19-20; Col 4:3-4). His overriding goal was that his life and ministry would honour God and be a blessing to others. On one notable occasion, when his prayers for a personal need were denied, instead of his “thorn in the flesh” being removed, he was given divine grace to bear it (2Co 12:7-9). Many believers have experienced that same grace to cope bravely with chronic illness.
5. Spirituality: Paul was intensely practical when it came to everyday needs. He prayed for health matters, safe travel and reunions with his friends (Rom 1:10). He also encouraged prayer for rulers and those in authority (1Ti 2:1-3). However, his prayer life rose above the physical, earthly and temporal to grasp the spiritual, the heavenly and the eternal. The spiritual focus of his prayer life is both a rebuke and a challenge to us. Our prayers are often earthbound and restricted by limited horizons.
1. God should be Glorified: Paul’s express desire for the Christians at Rome was that they might “with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 15:6). The praise of God’s glory is also a prominent theme in the letter to the Ephesians. Paul’s prayer for the spiritual growth of the Philippian believers included the ultimate purpose, “unto the glory and praise of God” (Php 1:11). When writing to the Corinthians, encouraging them to fulfil their promise to send a gift for the needy, he desired that the result might be thanksgiving to God and glory to His name (2Co 9:11-15).
When writing to the Thessalonians, the glory of the Son of God was on Paul’s mind. He prayed, “That the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and ye in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ” (2Th 1:12). The glory and grace of the Godhead are shared liberally with those who have come to trust in the Lord. Furthermore, ascribing praise and glory to the Father and the Son will be the saints’ eternal occupation in heaven.
2. Believers should be Sanctified: From the moment of salvation, we believers are set apart for God as “saints.” Following conversion, the challenge for us is to live out conditionally what God has made us positionally. Practical sanctification is a process of growth that produces increasing likeness to Christ. It does not rest on the status quo but advances in every dimension. It takes us higher so that our affections are set on things above, it causes us to grow deeper in our knowledge of the Word and confidence in it, it gives us a wider perspective in reaching out to all with the gospel, and it lengthens our vision so that we live with eternity’s values in view. Paul’s prayers touched all of these vital aspects.
He prayed with spiritual ambition that the saints would grow and mature, be filled with joy and peace, and increase and abound in love and hope (Rom 15:13; 1Th 3:12). On an even grander scale, he desired that they would be filled with all the fulness of God (Eph 3:19). No half measures! The delightful triad of faith, hope, and love were also prominent themes (2Th 1:3; 2:16; Php 1:9).
Paul knew that spiritual growth would proceed from a deepening knowledge, wisdom and understanding of God’s purposes for the Christian, the Church and all Creation (Eph 1:17-23; Col 1:9). A sound grasp of doctrine motivates practice; belief and behavior are always interdependent. And so Paul also prayed that their outward testimony would be marked by features such as holiness, oneness, faithfulness, joyfulness, fulness and fruitfulness. These are just a selection of characteristics that reflect in a measure the beauty and moral glory seen in the life of Christ.
In his prayer life, the apostle also maintained an eternal perspective that looked beyond the present world (Eph 1:18; Col 1:5,12). The believer’s hope of heaven was sure: all their trials would be over, their rewards would be received, and their inheritance would be enjoyed.
3. Sinners should be Evangelized: Despite the cruel hounding and persecution Paul suffered at the hands of his fellow Jews, he never lost the burning desire to see them saved: “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they might be saved” (Rom 10:1). Even though his ministry expanded to focus on the Gentiles to whom he preached “the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph 3:8), his heart was enlarged to keep sounding out the gospel to all (1Co 9:22-23).
If we begin to pray as Paul prayed, things will change. Be prepared for this and expect it. First, we will be changed to become more like Christ, who was devoted to His Father and was moved with compassion for sinners. Second, circumstances will change around us, because God will answer our sincere petitions for others; fellow believers will be blessed, and sinners will be saved. Third, the assembly prayer meeting will change, and that for the better. Yes, some may scratch their heads and wonder what has happened. Perhaps we have grown accustomed to lengthy prayers that are sometimes perfunctory, vague, lukewarm, or even unbelieving. We all bear responsibility for this malaise. A fresh wind of brevity with sincerity might well revive our hearts. We certainly need it.
My customary bedtime prayer as a young child – “God bless mummy and daddy and make Clark a good boy” – has matured somewhat since then, but I hope you feel as I do, that there is still much further to go. Clearly, prayer is a vital requirement for an energized and fruitful spiritual life. Much prayer yields power and blessing; little prayer results in spiritual weakness and barrenness. May we learn from Paul, who was careful to say, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ” (1Co 11:1).
 All Scripture quotations in this article are from the KJV.