Prayer is simply talking with God. Seems like a simple concept, doesn’t it? But oh, how we complicate it!
All the usual questions come to mind – Where should I pray? Is there a specific position of prayer that really expresses my sincerity? How long do I pray? And most importantly, what should I pray?
The Bible provides some great examples of prayer from both Old and New Testament characters, like:
Personally, I don’t believe that God is so much concerned about the place, position, or length of prayer we pray. In those areas, do what comes naturally to you, because most likely, He is concerned about the matters within in our hearts. Would you agree?
Therefore, if we take the first three elements of prayer discussed above off the table, that leaves the content of our prayers. Today, I propose that we look at the prayers of Paul as an example of what to pray. (And, of course, I would suggest that we do it in light of the teachings of Jesus).
Though Paul would not have the opportunity to learn about prayer directly from Jesus like the other apostles, his prayers were completely God honoring. They show a level of spiritual maturity that was also reflected in the overall behavior of Paul. And the subject of his prayers provides real guidance for Christians attempting to further their walk with Jesus.
Ready? Let’s jump in!
I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places. Eph. 1:16-20
In this prayer, Paul is praying for those new to the faith to be given wisdom. You can bet that before Paul ever started praying for God’s wisdom to be given to the Church that he was in constant prayer that God would give him wisdom. And he would be right, because as the saying goes, you can’t give what you don’t have. To help mold and shape the Church, Paul would need wisdom.
When God provided that wisdom, Paul was eager to share it with others. In our walk with Christ, we should first seek the foundational building block of wisdom. From there, our understanding of everything else will grow.
2. Praying for Spiritual Strength and Growth
I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. Ephesians 3:16-18 NLT
Right after praying for spiritual wisdom, Paul prays for spiritual strength and growth. Knowledge of God’s ways is life changing in and of itself, but it takes inner strength to carry out God’s instructions daily. Paul knew firsthand what it meant to come face to face with the truths of God’s Word.
He also knew how the daily grind of life as well as the challenges of being of a believer could wear away at the soul. So, he prayed for strength, knowing this in turn would give room for spiritual growth on more than a superficial level. And in tandem, the believers’ spiritual growth would fortify their spiritual strength, allowing the cycle to repeat.
3. Praying for Knowledge Regarding God’s Will
So we have not stopped praying for you since we first heard about you. We ask God to give you complete knowledge of his will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding. Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better. Colossians 1:9-10 NLT
In this prayer, Paul repeats some of the same themes he has used in other prayers (e.g., wisdom), but he also adds a new line. Paul asks that the Church be given complete knowledge of God’s will. So, what’s the difference between knowledge and wisdom? Knowledge is simply the information you have been given. Wisdom is the ability to take in information, make sense of it, and then apply that knowledge correctly when making decisions.
Initially, Paul would seek from God the ability to understand His will and then once fully prepared, ask God to reveal His will. I like to think of it this way. Had we not been prepared in 2nd grade to take on the information coming in 3rd grade, once we reached 3rd grade, we would not have been able to fully use what we were being taught. To know God’s will on a level that makes it useful to us, we must be ready to receive it.
4. Praying for Partners in Ministry
In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. Phil. 1:4-6 NIV
What I love about Paul was his insatiable appetite for all followers of Christ to be active proclaimers of the gospel. As one person who took as much territory for Christ as possible, Paul was keenly aware that if his efforts were doubled by others also taking ground for Christ, the gates of Hell would be completely crushed sooner than later. Likewise, we should be constantly in prayer for our fellow Christians and rejoice when they succeed.
What would happen if we prayed these types of prayers? What if we could stay others-focused? I am the first to admit, I struggle with those questions. However, I have also been a witness to what can be accomplished if we pray with conviction for wisdom, strength, growth, knowledge, and ministry partners. To that end, I will repeat Galatians 6:9 –
And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. (ESV)
I’ll be praying for you!
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
Our church recently began a prayer and fasting event. For 21 days prior to Easter, our participating church members are committed to praying as well as fasting from something in our lives (e.g., social media, spending, food). Whatever we give up is not so much the point as that we give that thing up in order to seek God and hear more clearly from Him.
I have given up TV after 8. Why after 8? Because this is the time of night when mindless, pointless shows distract me the most and consume the time I could be spending with God. As good as some of the story lines are, I am not really missing anything important. However, if I spend time away from God, I will most likely miss something HUGE! That is simply not worth the trade-off.
More importantly, I want to rekindle my prayer life. How easy it is to start skipping a night here and there and then realize you have skipped a whole week, then a couple. Conversation with God is easy to achieve. I talk at Him all the time, but the problem is I rarely slow down to hear Him.
This week we will wrap up the story of Nehemiah and the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem. You will want to refer to chapters 6-13. During the past few weeks, as we have walked through the book of Nehemiah, we have watched one person who deeply loves the Lord make a huge difference. He has reached out to the Israelites in love and rekindled their hope and belief in God. Now, he is moments away from finishing an incredible feat –the rebuilding of the Jerusalem wall. Through it all, he has met tremendous opposition time and time again, all the while managing to rise to the occasion.
As we start chapter 6, Nehemiah, having settled an internal issue among the Jewish people, now faces a reemerging issue from his enemies:
Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the Arab, and the rest of our enemies found out that I had finished rebuilding the wall and that no gaps remained—though we had not yet set up the doors in the gates. So Sanballat and Geshem sent a message asking me to meet them at one of the villages in the plain of Ono. But I realized they were plotting to harm me, so I replied by sending this message to them: “I am engaged in a great work, so I can’t come. Why should I stop working to come and meet with you?” Nehemiah 6:1-3
For the last three weeks, we have been following the story of Nehemiah and his desire to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem in order to bring comfort and safety back to the Jewish people. This week Nehemiah’s story takes a slight turn away from the actual building of the wall to a side issue among the Israelites. Greed, rearing its ugly head, threatens to tear the nation apart from the inside out. Turn with me to chapter 5, and let’s see how Nehemiah deals with turning greed into generosity.
As chapter 5 opens, we have the oppressed voicing their complaints:
About this time some of the men and their wives raised a cry of protest against their fellow Jews. They were saying, “We have such large families. We need more food to survive.” Others said, “We have mortgaged our fields, vineyards, and homes to get food during the famine.” And others said, “We have had to borrow money on our fields and vineyards to pay our taxes. We belong to the same family as those who are wealthy, and our children are just like theirs. Yet we must sell our children into slavery just to get enough money to live. We have already sold some of our daughters, and we are helpless to do anything about it, for our fields and vineyards are already mortgaged to others.” (verses 1-5)
This is part 3 of a multi-message series on the story of Nehemiah and his love for God and country. Last week we saw Nehemiah’s prayer answered, we traveled with him to Jerusalem to check the state of the wall, and we watched the people of Israel come together. We also found out that the Samaritan army was close by, watching and commenting on the Israelites’ plans. This week, let’s explore chapters 3 and 4. These two chapters are crucial in the story –will the Israelites succeed or will they give up on their hopes and dreams of seeing the city restored?
As we start, I love the picture Nehemiah gives of the wall being rebuilt. Chapter 3 identifies each section of the wall that is repaired and the Israelite family who stepped up to do the repairs. What unfolds is how the entire Jewish community comes together in a consolidated and continuous effort, and the wall begins to go up – brick by brick. In our modern age, with our construction equipment, we can’t imagine the physical exertion that occurred to repair the wall. Days would be long, breaks short, and the activity ongoing in order to accomplish what they accomplished.
Last week, we began to look at the life of Nehemiah and gain some insight into his character and love for God. We took apart his prayer and saw how we could improve the way we pray. This week, let’s see where that prayer ended up taking him! Read Nehemiah 2: 1-20.
So where does Nehemiah’s prayer led him – right where he needs to be! However, if you go back, you will see Nehemiah’s prayer was not answered immediately. In fact, it was months later. Nehemiah’s story starts “in late autumn” and we now find him “early the following spring.” And his prayer is about to be answered!
Early the following spring, in the month of Nisan, during the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes’ reign, I was serving the king his wine. I had never before appeared sad in his presence. So the king asked me, “Why are you looking so sad? You don’t look sick to me. You must be deeply troubled.” … (verses 1-2)
The fact that the king notices Nehemiah’s countenance says something about their relationship. Servants were not necessarily ‘noticed,’ they were tolerated. Cupbearers, however, held special significance. Not only did they serve the king his cup, but they became confidants to the king. And yet, as close as Nehemiah was to the king, he had a healthy respect for his position and the king’s authority because the Scriptures state at that moment he was “terrified” (verse 2).
The story of Nehemiah has been on my heart lately. When I’m weary and tired, stressed and overwhelmed, his story keeps coming to mind. It can be an encouragement to anyone trying to ‘build up’ something in their life – faith, a marriage, a child’s self-confidence. Discouragement will come, and the Enemy will rise up when you try to establish a solid foundation in any area of your life. This post will be the first in a series of posts related to faith building, so that you are prepared for anything life throws at you. We will look at the story of Nehemiah as an illustration. Turn with me this week to Nehemiah 1:1-11.
Unlike most of the called prophets of the Old Testament, Nehemiah was just a regular person like me and you. In fact, he was a Jewish servant to King Artaxerxes of Persia. He lived in the Persian Empire after the nation of Israel spent seventy years in captivity under Babylonian rule. Only a remnant of the Jewish people lived in Jerusalem after this time, as the city laid in ruins.
Nehemiah, however, is not your average servant. He was the king’s cup-bearer (verse 11), a position of importance and one that had direct influence on the king because he would have been in the king’s presence on a daily basis.
Interestingly, even as a Jewish servant, Nehemiah appeared to be someone of status within the Persian Empire:
1. He served the king directly.
2. He is seen later as one that was entrusted with great responsibility and a natural-born leader, governing Israel for 12 years.
3. He appeared to be well-supported and/or had means, because as governor he did not accept payment for his duties.