Books of Bible
Paul As A Great Example
By H. A. (Buster) Dobbs
Of Prayer And Trust
References to prayer in the letters of Paul give
us a measure of his trust in God. There are at least 22 references
to prayer in the epistles of Paul. He rarely records the words
of his prayers. He tells us to pray and says that he prayed. He
sometimes mentions what he prayed for, but specific prayers are
not often found in the letters of Paul. He tells others what to
pray for and what he prayed for, but he does not give us the details
of his prayers.
We will look at some of the Pauline comments on prayer.
A pivotal passage in the teaching of the apostle concerning prayer
is: "Rejoice in the Lord always: again I will say, Rejoice.
Let your forbearance be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand.
In nothing be anxious; but in everything by prayer and supplication
with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And
the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall guard
your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:4-6).
The progression is: First: Rejoice in the Lord. The
happiness commanded is not the world's silly amusements, nor the
meaningless giggling of the immature, nor the vulgar boisterousness
of the godless and hedonistic. Solomon says the laughter of the
fool is like crackling thorns under a pot. It makes a noise and
sounds like fun, but generates no heat and cooks no food. The
indescribable and boundless joy of knowing you are right with
God and that your eternal prize is secure is what Paul requires
of us. It is a rejoicing "in the Lord." We emphasize
the word "in." We get into Christ through faith and
baptism (Gal. 3:26-27). All spiritual blessings in heavenly places
are in Christ (Eph. 1:3). To be in Christ is to know that your
inward man is robust, sleek, fat and assured. Physical health
may be good or bad, earthly treasures may be many or few or none,
fleeting fame may not come, but if the heart is right with God,
we have euphoria. This great pleasure is rooted in the knowledge
that we have obeyed the Lord and are heirs of God. It is not feeling
good because we feel good, but rejoicing because of our relationship
to Jesus. Regardless of physical condition, if we are in him,
all is right with our life.
Second: Let your forbearance be flaunted. This is
one characteristic of right doing that should be waved grandly
-- pennants flying in the wind. Forbearance is mildness, gentleness
and fairness. It includes enduring wordlessly whatever unpleasantness
may come our way. It involves gritting your teeth and doing what
ought to be done, however difficult the task may be. Paul once
declared, "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth
me" (Phil. 4:13). Paul, obviously, does not mean that he
could do inconsistent, contradictory and impossible things. The
"all things" must be limited. Sinful things would not
be included, for instance. Paul is not saying that he could jump
over tall buildings in a single bound, or outrun a speeding bullet.
He is saying: I can do what must be done and endure what must
be endured. He says, "I know both how to be abased, and I
know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed
both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer
need" (Phil. 4:12), and then he says, "I can do all
things through Christ which strengtheneth me." His point
is that he could graciously accept whipping, stoning, shipwreck,
starving, peril and isolation as long as he remained "in"
Christ. If one is in the body of Jesus (the church) and heaven
is his home, then disaster, earthquakes, tornadoes and hurricanes
are trivial and insignificant. Jesus, through his word, gives
us the power to endure what we must endure, to face what we must
face, and to suffer what we must suffer, because the bright prospect
of heaven unfolds before us. Yes, I can -- I can do all -- underscore
"all" -- things through Jesus. The world can heap its
fierce force against me, but if Jesus is by my side, it cannot
dismay nor discourage me. That is what "I can do all things
through Christ which strengtheneth me" means -- that, and
nothing else. Let your forbearance be known to all -- show it
off. Are you sick? Let your forbearance be known to all. Are you
depressed? Let the world see your mildness. Are you persecuted?
Show the unbeliever your gentleness.
Third: The Lord is at hand. It seems strange that
in the midst of a discussion on prayer and trust Paul should mention
the coming appearance of Jesus. The second coming of the Son of
God will mean flames of fire, dissolving earth, loud noise, sounding
trumpets, blood splattered garments, and screams for the rocks
and the mountains to fall upon the damned and snuff out their
misery. What place does this have in a lesson on prayer and trust?
Well, it means "the Lord is at hand." He is at the door.
He stands there unnoticed, but at any moment he may step through
the door and into the room. For the unprepared it will be a moment
of stark terror, but their choking fear does not fully describe
the "outer darkness where is weeping and gnashing of teeth."
For the prepared -- those who are in Christ -- the idea of judgment
is not paralyzing. To the profound reverse, it is joy, bliss,
and fulfillment. To say "the Lord is at hand" means
either joy or utter hopelessness. If you can imagine the matchless
happiness of knowing that the nearby Lord may soon give you the
treasure you have long worked to achieve, then you can understand
what "the Lord is at hand" means.
Fourth: Be careful for nothing. It is sad that a
great many people think that Paul forbids what everybody does
and cannot help doing. There are many things concerning which
we must be careful. It is because we are concerned about the future
that we obey the gospel to receive initial remission of sins.
We do not want to be cast into the lake that burns with fire and
brimstone, but we desire to be in a place of eternal joy. Therefore
we submit to the Lord's command to believe and be baptized to
be saved. The husband is careful for the things of the wife and
the wife is careful for the things of the husband because such
consideration ministers to our happiness and inattention to such
basic things brings misery. We buy insurance policies, visit the
doctor, obey the laws of the land, lay in a store of groceries,
and pay the bills because we are careful. There are many things
about which we ought to be concerned. Still, the Bible tells us
to "take no thought for the morrow, for the marrow shall
be anxious for itself; sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof."
We are not forbidden to do what common sense demands. Of course
not! When Paul tells us to "be careful for nothing,"
he is saying that we must not be overcome by irrational worry.
The gnawing anxiety that rips us apart and makes us unable to
take care of present day duties is the kind of carefulness we
must not indulge. We must not delight in worry for the sake of
worry. If a problem persists and there is nothing we can do about
it, it is our Christian duty to put it out of mind and not allow
it to disturb our relationship with God, spouse, business associates,
and our siblings in Christ. If there is a problem we can solve,
then we must tend to it and continue happily on our march to Zion.
To be always fretting and making ourselves wretched and our associates
uncomfortable is unchristian. We can control what we think about
and if we concentrate on heaven and its beauty, we will be relieved
of unnecessary dread. We must not, by anticipating the fashion
of uncertain evils, destroy our own peace of mind and the tranquillity
of those around us. We must trust in the Lord -- he is at hand
-- and put things beyond our control in his care.
Fifth: Prayer, supplication and thanksgiving are
the ways to have surcease from needless stewing and fussing. It
is useless to tell people who must live in a world like ours and
face the things that we all must affront not to worry. How can
we help being filled with alarm and distress? The whole world
is crumbling around us and shall we be oblivious? Violence and
moral shame fills our communities and shall we be unconcerned?
The creation is crying out for its own destruction and shall we
be silent? Even those of us who have the firstfruits of the Spirit
groan within ourselves when we see rampant evil on every hand.
Many things that press upon us are an enigma to us and we are
helpless in their grasp. To tell a person in the midst of calamity
not to worry is like telling one whose house is on fire not to
be alarmed. Of course we worry. We cannot do otherwise. To say
to our fellow citizens, be careful for nothing is unavailing,
unless we have a great deal more to say. Paul does not simply
say, Don't worry, but he gives the prescription for relief. His
counsel is: Do not worry, but by prayer, supplication and thanksgiving
let your requests be known to God. When you lay your burden of
fretful concern about things over which you have no control at
the foot of the great, white, blazing throne of the Almighty,
then, and only then, you can walk away and be careful for nothing.
"Cast your cares upon him, for he careth for you." Paul
gives a threefold description of communication with God -- prayer,
supplication and thanksgiving.
The apostle mentions three items: prayer, supplication
and thanksgiving. They are not the same. Prayer is not supplication
and supplication is not thanksgiving in this verse. Sometimes,
in the New Testament, prayer does mean making requests, but not
here. Bringing burdens to God and finding relief is effectively
done through the prayer that is neither a petition nor an expression
of gratitude. The Spirit is telling us through the pen of Paul
to give ourselves to deep meditation, which may be the highest
form of prayer. We are told several times in the gospels that
Jesus prayed through the night. You seriously misunderstand the
prayer life of Jesus if you think this means that he spent the
entire night verbalizing his needs and expressing his thankfulness.
He did both of these, of course, but not all night long. He who
told us that God will not hear us for our much speaking did not
himself violate this principle of prayer. "Be not rash with
thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter any thing
before God: for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore
let thy words be few" (Eccl. 5:2). When we develop the skill
of finding quiet time to think about heaven, God and transcendent
things, we will have spiritual growth and maturity. It does us
good to sit wordlessly and "listen to the ticking of eternity."
To meditate upon the things that remain and that are therefore
more excellent is to draw near to the heart of God. To contemplate
things beyond earth, moon, sun and stars is to ennoble the soul.
To think on things that surpass time and matter is to aggrandize
and beautify the inward man. May we learn the joy and power of
silent reflection. This is the prayer that builds us up and profoundly
enriches our inward man.
In addition to the prayer of contemplation we are
to make supplication. We must let our requests be made known to
God. Anything that concerns you is a proper subject to discuss
with the heavenly Father. Still, we must not make petition a mere
ordering from the menu. We need to consider our deepest needs
and make matters of the spirit the burden of our requests. Still,
God has his ears open to our pleas and delights to hear the requests
of his children. However, when we show in our lives the likeness
of the manhood of Christ, he is most pleased. Spiritual discernment
and understanding will lead us to request things that really matter
and that should, therefore, be foremost in our thoughts. Prayer
and supplication must be accompanied by thanksgiving. It is a
sin not to be properly grateful. One complaint against ancient
Israel was "the ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's
crib: but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider."
The brute beast recognizes the hand that feeds him, but children
of God sometimes neither know nor consider. "Ah sinful nation,
a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that
are corrupters: they have forsaken the LORD, they have provoked
the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward."
An ungrateful heart is an offense to man and a stench to God.
He who gives our daily bread deserves a look of appreciation.
He who so loved us that he gave his only begotten son for us should
inspire in us such profound gratitude that we feel compelled to
"in everything give thanks." For the child of God, every
day is thanksgiving day.
In addition to the lessons we gain from this pivotal
passage on prayer, we can learn some valuable lessons from a prayer
request not granted. The apostle wrote: "And lest I should
be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations,
there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan
to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this
thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.
And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength
is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather
glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon
me" (2 Cor. 12:7-9).
We do not know what Paul's "thorn in the flesh"
was and it is useless to speculate about it. It was real and caused
pain and distress. Notice the apostle's attitude toward it. He
regarded this thorn as the messenger of Satan. Adam's loss of
paradise was the work of the serpent and brought the bane of physical
death upon all men (1 Cor. 15:21). Job's problems came not from
God but from the devil. Human misery comes from the old Red Dragon.
Paul was hurting -- a thorn in the flesh inflicts pain. He had
to live with it day and night. He could do nothing about it, so
he learned to accept it and adjust to it. He was able to see good
in it. He regarded this unrelieved suffering as a blessing because
it kept him from being "exalted above measure." It is
easy -- and as useless as it is easy -- to say to someone who
is in anguish, "Don't fret about it. Accept it. See good
in it, if you can." However, when a fellow-sufferer tells
us that he knows what it means to be in anguish because he has
learned to cope with wounds and that we can overcome the "messenger
of Satan" and still be productive for good and right, we
listen, learn and benefit. Trust includes facing what we have
to face, and doing what we have to do, all the while believing
it is for our good. Paul was able to see a benefit in what appeared
to be a problem.
Paul's deep anguish over his persistent pain drove
him to ask for relief. Three times he besought the Lord to take
away the cause of his suffering. Three times his request was denied.
God answered "my grace is enough for you." When an unremovable
difficulty confronts us, the best way to cope with it is to concentrate
our attention upon our gifts from God, especially the unspeakable
gift of his son and the living hope we have in him. The thought
of heaven makes the misery of earth bearable. "The toils
of the road will seem nothing when we get to the end of the way."
Paul understood this and after the third request laid the matter
aside in his own mind and turned his face to the challenges and
opportunities that were before him. He implies that he never mentioned
his thorn-in-the-flesh to God again. Some have the idea that we
can badger God into submitting to our requests (demands). The
parable of the importunate widow is often misread (Luke 18:1-7).
Jesus speaks of a hard-hearted, unjust judge who cared for neither
man nor God. A widow kept after this judge to avenge her of her
advisories. She wore him out by her continual appeals. To get
rid of her, he grudgingly granted her request.
Jesus is not saying we can treat God that way. He
is saying that if a cruel, merciless, selfish judge can be prevailed
upon to do a right thing because of persistent pleas, surely a
kind, benevolent, righteous, heavenly father, who wants the best
for us, will be quick to give us what we need -- and to withhold
what we may think we need but would only harm us if granted. After
a threefold request, Paul stopped asking. He was driven to repeat
the request because of the intense discomfort it caused him, but
when the answer was clear, he never mentioned it to God again.
He looked for good in it, endured what he had to endure, and was
active in taking care of every day's duties. He did not whine
and complain. He mentioned it to the Corinthian disciples because
it would help them to learn how to deal with life's inescapable
problems. That is a life of trust!
Let's look now at some of the things Paul said he
- The salvation of Israel was his heart's desire
and prayer to God (Rom. 10:1)
- Grace and peace for the saints at Galatia (Gal.
- That saints might have a full understanding of
the gospel (Eph. 1:15-23)
- That the saved might understand revelation (Eph.
- Asked others to pray for him that he might speak
the truth with boldness (Eph. 6:18-19)
- Expressed gratitude to God for the faith and
love of others and prayed that they might be filled with knowledge,
wisdom, and understanding, enabling them to walk worthily of the
Lord unto all pleasing (Col. 1:3-11)
- Advised others to continue in prayer (Col. 4:2-4)
- Thankful for participation in his work, and help
in defending the gospel; asked for their growth in knowledge and
discrimination (Phil. 1:3-4)
- That others would abound in love and asked God
to establish their hearts blameless; he prayed for the coming
of the Lord (1 Thess. 3:11-13)
- Prayed for the salvation of others (1 Thess.
- Prayed God would count others worthy of heaven
and that their desire for good be recognized; he begged God to
bless their work of faith and requested mutual glorification (2
- Thanksgiving for salvation (2 Thess. 2:13-15)
- God would comfort and establish others in every
good work (2 Thess. 2:16-17)
- That the Prince of Peace would give peace to
others (2 Thess. 3:16)
- Told disciples to pray for all men, but especially
rulers, and for a quite life (1 Tim. 2:1-4)
- Instructed the saints everywhere to pray (1 Tim.
- Prayed for Timothy constantly (2 Tim. 1:3)
- Prayed for those who forsook him (2 Tim. 4:16)
- Was thankful for Philemon and prayed for him
- Asked that the favor of Jesus be with Philemon's
spirit (Phil. 1:25)
Notice how seldom he mentions prayers for himself
and how often he tells of his prayers for others. Notice, too,
how frequently he prayed that the gospel would succeed and that
the saved would understand more fully the revelation of God. The
items on his tongue when he bowed in prayer were: thanks, grace,
peace, understanding, boldness in preaching the truth, hope, knowledge
of the grace of God, wisdom, persistence in every good work, patience,
abounding in love of God, the second coming of Jesus.
It will do us good to look this list over closely
and compare it with the things we are inclined to ask for in prayer.
As an example of what our prayers should be, let us look at one
of Paul's prayers: "For this cause I bow my knees unto the
Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven
and earth is named, that he would grant you, according to the
riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit
in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith;
that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend
with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and
height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge,
that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God. Now unto
him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we
ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, Unto
him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages,
world without end. Amen" (Eph. 3:14-21). Notice the brevity
of the prayer -- the economy of words. Notice the focus of the
prayer is not on earth and the things of earth, but is upon eternal
verities and realities. Notice, too, how he leaves all things
in the hands of God.
Paul may have prayed many prayers that are not recorded
and about which we know nothing, but the ones that are recorded
and the things for which he tells us he prayed, reveal a heart
set on "things that are above, where Christ is, seated on
the right hand of God." It is a valuable lesson and one we
all can use. Pray without ceasing.