Monday, May 12, 2008

Tutoring From Paul On Prayer

I'm impressed by the prayers of the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 1:15-21 and 3:14-21.

We can learn from him how to pray more effectively when we intercede for others.

For instance, this man of God lets people know that he's praying for them. That's bound to bring encouragement in itself. But he takes it a step further and informs them as to just what he's asking the Lord to do on their behalf. That means that he's thought seriously about his petitions and is probably much more likely to follow through on his pledge to pray. It reveals his diligent care and gives those who are the recipients of his prayer support not only some insight into what their intercessor senses that they need but a way to measure the results of the praying.

In both prayers Paul is specific in his requests. No bland, generic, half-hearted petitions here. Sometimes I wonder if God gets weary of our lazy "Lord, bless all the missionaries" or "Father, heal all the sick" or "God, save the lost" prayers. We can get so comfortable just beseeching the Lord to "bless" somebody without visualizing what it would look like for that individual to be blessed. It's almost an easy, apathetic, lack of genuine concern. The Apostle is quite focused. He concentrates on nuanced needs, areas, and possibilities as he intercedes. He's gone to the trouble of trying to ascertain exactly where divine aid and intervention would be most beneficial in the lives of his readers. It takes more effort to pray like that but it is much more successful. Prayer is often work, anyway(Colossians 4:12). Approaching God's throne with trite, generalized phrases probably accomplishes very little.

It's interesting, too, that Paul prays about their souls and not their bodies. He prays for their spiritual condition. He petitions the Father for their inner growth and well-being. Usually we do just the opposite. Most of our prayer meetings are consumed by supplications for the physical needs of others, typically that the sick among us will be healed. There's absolutely nothing wrong with requesting that God restore those who are ill to health. In fact, we are commanded to do so(James 5:14). We should do more of that kind of intercession. However, if that is the bulk of our praying we are missing tremendous opportunities. Our brothers and sisters have great needs in their spirits as well as their physiques. Many are lonely and grieving and discouraged. Many are doubting and drifting. All of us are tempted daily, some heavily. We desperately need the prayer support of fellow believers that we will be "strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man"(Ephesians 3:16). Intense intercession should go up regularly for Christian friends, by name, that they will have God's guidance or comfort or nurturing or conviction or challenge. It wouldn't be a bad idea to pray more often for revival, too.

We could probably have no better tutor in our praying than the Apostle. He surely sets a good example.