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Volume 99, Number 1

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Prayer — Does it Make any Difference? (continued)

The Prayers of Paul

Of Paul’s letters, all but Titus contain at least one prayer. He prays for an increase of love among the Thessalonians, for more mature behavior by the Corinthians, for strength and obedience and unity in his readers even as they learn to resist evil. His prayer for the Philippians sums up his desire, that “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

woman praying

I have found it a useful exercise to work through these prayers too, because they help me move beyond my egocentric requests. Paul raises my sights to a cosmic level. The experience on Damascus Road convinced him in a flash that Jesus Christ is the center of the universe and that we should ally with his forces on earth. Our struggle is “against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms,” Paul told the Ephesians, and he prayed as though he believed it.

Often Paul opens with a prayer of thanksgiving for the growth he has observed in his intended readers. He prays as if it matters, truly matters whether they are maturing in the faith. I get the sense, reading Paul’s prayers, that he cares more for others’ well-being than for his own. Do I have that same passion for the spiritual welfare of my friends and family? The prayers of Paul expose by contrast the immature prayers I often hear at church meetings—and my own prayers—which tend to revolve around physical and financial well-being. . . .

Paul’s prayers, like the psalms, give me a template for my own. I may insert the name of a college student struggling with doubts into the sequence of Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians. Or, when I read his exalted prayers for favorite churches and his stern prayers of warning for wayward believers, I turn those prayers like a searchlight on myself. Is my love abounding more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, as Paul prayed for the Philippians? Am I comforting those in trouble, as he prayed for the Corinthians?

From Paul’s prayers I learn to dethrone myself by first considering a cosmic point of view and then looking at my friends and family, my life, the church, and indeed all history from that vantage.


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