“We place emphasis on Paul’s prayers not merely because of how constantly he prayed, but because his prayers constantly expressed his genuine love for others.”

When you think of the apostle Paul, you probably think of him as a great leader, or church planter, or evangelist. Perhaps you think of him as a missionary, or maybe you think of his experience with Christ on the Damascus Road leading to his conversion. If those are any of the things you think, then you are absolutely correct! Paul was “called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God” (Rom 1:1). He was chosen by God “to carry [His] name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel” (Acts 9:15). The apostle was the key instrument responsible for the spread of the Gospel in Asia Minor and Europe, which in turn was spread around the world. 

However, what gets lost in the shuffle of such grand accomplishments is the rich prayer life of Paul. One could even say that prayer was the fuel that Paul ran on. The late J. Vernon McGee wrote that “we seldom think of Paul as a man of prayer, yet this is the field in which he excelled, I believe, above all others.” Consider this: There are 27 books recorded in the New Testament, with 13 of those written by Paul. Within those 13 letters, there are (by my count) 42 prayers, meaning there are on average over 3 prayers in each letter. Another way to put it? There is a prayer mentioned in just about every other chapter of the Pauline epistles! Of course, some letters contain more than others, but you get the point: Paul was a man enveloped in prayer, especially for those around him. 

The sheer quantity of prayers squeezed into Paul’s letters should be convicting to the church today. However, prayer is not merely a heaping of empty words and phrases to meet a quota; it is rather, as John Calvin puts it, “the chief exercise of faith.” We don’t see Paul wax eloquent for chapters at a time to impress non-believers, but we do see him pray earnestly for their salvation (Rom 10:1). We don’t see him simply checking friends off a prayer list, but we do see him pray with joy every time he remembered them (Phil 1:3–4). See, we place emphasis on Paul’s prayers not merely because of how constantly he prayed, but because his prayers constantly expressed his genuine love for others.

This then begs the question: Do we as a church pray like Paul? How can we constantly pray for spiritual growth in our members as Paul did for the early church? How do we as a church constantly urge for “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings…for kings and all who are in high positions” (1 Tim 2:1–2)? Or perhaps ask yourself first: Do I pray like Paul, or am I only using prayer as a means to a material end? How can I constantly be praying for those around me, that they may be “worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power” (2 Thess 1:11)? How do I always consider and remember others when I pray? These are questions that we should be asking ourselves as we grow in both our personal and corporate prayer lives.

It is impossible to answer these questions without the Spirit’s help. The second we become Christians, we receive the Holy Spirit within us, daily guiding us towards Christ-likeness. In turn, our desires become more and more inclined with His desires, including our compassion towards people. Just as we have an all-loving, all-compassionate God who acts as our intercessor in Jesus Christ, we then start echoing His love for others by interceding for people in our lives with the same love He has for us. Moreover, He commands us to pray for others (Lk 6:28; Matt 9:38) in order to “join in with Him,” states Michael Reeves, “to be co-workers and participants in the divine, compassionate, outgoing, missional life he shares with His Father in the Spirit.” God chose Paul to reveal to us, through Scripture, an example of the tenacity and unceasing nature of his design for prayer. May this be a reminder to us all to reflect upon our own prayer lives and be constantly offering prayers up to God for others.

To learn more about this topic, we invite you to listen to audio from our seminar, A Pauline Perspective on Prayer.

Joon Kang

Joon Kang is a second-year seminary student who works on staff at Cornerstone Church.

Additional articles that might be of interest.