Scripture teaches us about prayer in many different ways: statements of fact, commands, parables, and by providing the prayers of many great prayer warriors to learn from. One of those warriors is the Apostle Paul.
While Paul included many prayers for others in his epistles (see a complete list of Paul’s prayers), only a few times does Paul ask for prayer for himself. His personal prayer requests open Paul’s heart and help us see how to best pray for those in ministry. (Paul asks for prayer several times in the following passages: Romans 15:30-33; 2 Corinthians 1:10-11; Ephesians 6:19-20; Philippians 1:19-20; Colossians 4:2-4; 1 Thessalonians 5:25; 2 Thessalonians 3:1-2; Philemon 22.)
Why did Paul ask for prayer and what can we learn from his requests?
6 Observations from the Prayer Requests of Paul
1. Paul believed prayer to be powerful, effective, and necessary.
Even though Paul was an apostle and one of the greatest missionaries the world has ever seen, he knew his own weakness and utterly depended upon God. Paul knew that he could not on his own make his ministry effective or escape from those seeking to destroy him–so he asked the church for prayer so God could intervene and do what he could not. This is why he often asked for prayer.
“…I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance…” Philippians 1:19
2. Paul knew that when we pray for someone in ministry, we join them in ministry.
“…strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf…” Romans 15:30
Paul sets up this prayer request with the strongest possible appeal, “I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf…” Paul appeals to our common Lord (Jesus Christ) and our common love (which is the Spirit’s fruit) because he knows that those in the body of Christ should care for one another.1
When we pray for other believers in ministry, we strive with them in God’s work. God uses our prayers to propel others to greater heights and effectiveness in ministry–heights and effectiveness that would not be there without the prayers of faithful friends.
3. Paul desired to serve the church and fellowship with her.
A love for his brothers and sisters in Christ emanated from the Apostle Paul who was the spiritual father of many. Several times Paul showed his deep desire for fellowship and time with those he ministered to.
Paul wrote in Romans 15:31-32, “Pray that…my service in Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints there, so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and together with you be refreshed.” He also asked in Philemon 22 for Philemon to prepare a guest room for him just in case their prayers were answered and he was able to visit. Paul held serving and fellowshipping with the church as a top priority.
4. Paul asked for prayer to have a bold and clear proclamation of the Gospel.
The gospel was of first importance for the Apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 15:3). His gospel focus comes out in his personal prayer requests.
He requests prayer for the right words in sharing the gospel (Ephesians 6:19), to proclaim the gospel without fear (Ephesians 6:20), clarity in communication (Colossians 4:4), doors to be opened for the gospel (Colossians 4:2), and that God’s word would speed ahead and be honored (2 Thessalonians 3:1). He doesn’t want to leave any room for miscommunication but rather prays and requests prayer for the gospel to “run” through his ministry.
This focus shows the deep compassion and eternal focus of Paul–something we would all be better to emulate.
5. Paul requested prayer to be rescued from evil men.
Paul endured beatings, imprisonments, shipwrecks, and faced constant danger (2 Corinthians 11:25-28). He often had a target on his back due to opposition from the Jews, Gentiles, and false teachers, and constantly coveted the prayers of the saints. This is why Paul asked several times to be “rescued from unbelievers” (Romans 15:31) and “delivered from wicked and evil men” (2 Thessalonians 3:2). He later tells the Corinthians that their prayers for him will help deliver him from deadly peril (2 Corinthians 1:10-11).
He does not pray condemnatory prayers or imprecatory psalms against his enemies, but rather seeks deliverance from them. God answered many of these prayers, but ultimately did not prevent Paul’s death. Our sixth observation helps us see why:
6. Paul submitted his requests to God’s will.
Paul’s request in Romans 15 asks for prayer to be with the Romans “by God’s will…” (15:32). Even as an apostle with apostolic authority, Paul knows that his prayers need to follow the pattern taught by Christ, who taught his disciples to pray “Your will be done” (Matthew 6:10) and himself prayed, “but not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39).
Not all of our plans are answered as we would like. But like Paul, we can trust God and his perfect will to work things for the good of those who love him and the good of the Kingdom.
May God conform our hearts and prayers according to His will!
Recommended Resource: Lessons from the Apostle Paul’s Prayers by Charles Spurgeon