Point of Reference
by Fred Price
Paul’s approach to prayer followed a fairly well-established pattern, one we would do well to emulate. But how do we keep it from becoming routine and obligatory? A brief examination of Paul’s practice of prayer demonstrates how that can be achieved.
To begin with, Paul’s prayers were regular. The length of his prayers varied, the issues and circumstances of the people he prayed for changed, the temper of his prayers ranged from highly emotional to sublimely calm; going from heart-wrenching intercession to exclamations of joy, from lofty expressions of praise to down-to-earth proclamations of thanksgiving. These were all part of his routine. (Routine habits having a bad connotation for some, but those who experience their benefits characterize them as steadying, grounding – fostering dependability and purposefulness.) Note what Paul’s prayers were not; a routinely boring repetition of “babble” such as Christ warned against in Matthew 6:7.
Paul’s prayers were also thankful, offered out of a gracious and grateful heart; something we too often fail to recognize and engage in. We are usually insistent when we need something, desperately repetitive when our circumstances seem dire. We are usually much less joyfully thankful and full to bursting with praise, characteristics of a well-rounded, authentic Christian.
Paul’s prayers were indeed full of the joy Jesus wants us to experience in Him. (John 15:11) An emotion some have a hard time ascribing to Jesus, but an emotion I can’t imagine a being so in tune with God could possibly be without. (John 10:30) And even though I don’t believe he went about his business on earth giggling, his demeanor expressed enough pleasure in at least some of his surroundings that the masses hung on his every word and deed, admittedly seeking much of the time to be fed or healed; but there was an approachable aura about him that put them at ease in doing so, even little children being comforted and feeling comfortable in his company. (Mark 9:37 & 10:13-16) Yes, he was seriously instructive much of the time; at other times he was deeply disappointed, saddened and irritated by the comments and actions of those around him; a number of times he got down-right angry. But surely that was at least somewhat balanced by the rejuvenating assurance that he was doing his Father’s will, a will that was expressed and accepted as, “…good news of great joy…” Luke 2:10 Paul, the extremely disciplined, sometimes brusque, always focused witness to the truth of Christ; likewise found time to express joy and encouraged us to do the same, “Be(ing) joyful always; pray(ing) continually; giv(ing) thanks in all circumstances,…” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (See also Philippians 4:4)
And finally, Paul’s prayers were reflective. He had experienced much in life and he cared deeply for many; having met and developed relationships with countless saints and sinners alike. The majority of us falling somewhere between the two, not what we once were but not yet all we can and should be either. Our salvation secure but not fully realized as we struggle to be the people He calls us to be, the people He’s already made provision for us to become.
Paul shared our struggles, the weakness of our resolve; our desire to do well stained with a failure to fully and consistently carry it out. (Romans 7:15-24) Yet he prayed over and tried to address his shortcomings. (Romans 1:8; 1 Corinthians 1:4-12; 1 Corinthians 3:1-4; 1 Corinthians 5 & 6; 2 Corinthians 1:23,24 & 2:1-4) The Corinthians in particular likewise struggled while the Philippians apparently accepted Christ’s salvation and Paul’s mission more readily, inspiring Paul to write, “I thank my God every time I remember you. 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.” Philippians 1:3-6
Reflecting on the good and bad of our choices and the success and failure of our lives prompts us to see the world as it really is. At times we are all firm in our resolve, at other times frail and undependable; sometimes true to our purpose, often deserting it for something or someone else; usually loving and kind, occasionally hard-hearted and insensitive; realizing once more the steadfastness of God’s love and his provision for us, we are then able to respond to his unrelenting desire to enfold us in that love and lead us by grace and mercy into “success” as He defines it. Paul specifically speaking to Timothy of the dependability of God, with a warning. “If we died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him. (But) If we disown him, he will also disown us,...” 2 Timothy 2:11-13 (See also Matthew 10:33 & Luke 9:26)
In this, as in so many other ways, we would do well then to, “Follow (Paul’s) example as (he) follow(ed) the example of Christ.” 1 Corinthians 11:1
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Fred Price - married (48 years), father of two grown children, grandfather of six.
Fred retired earlier this year after 42 years as a factory worker. He has always had a heart for young people and the challenges they face today. Over the years Fred has taught Discipleship Groups for High School and college students.
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