Spiritual Prayers?

April 27, 2011 at 8:37 am | Posted in Prayer, Questions for Pastor Glenn | Leave a comment

Dear Pastor Glenn,

I heard a radio preacher recently say that all Paul’s prayers were spiritual prayers and that ours should be also.  Is this true?  And if so, how can we make our prayers spiritual prayers?

Thanks for you help,

Dear ________

Are Paul’s prayers always for spiritual things?  I appreciate the question, because it relates to how we pray for others.  I make no claim to be a prayer expert in my understanding and certainly not in practice.  I wish I could more often pray the kind of prayers Paul prayed for his churches.  But I will attempt to give my biblical understanding of this issue.  I see two areas to address.  First, what is “spiritual” as compared to “unspiritual” or “secular?”  And second, what was the content of  Paul’s prayers in the New Testament?

What is “spiritual?”  I don’t know what the radio speaker meant by this, since I didn’t hear him.  However, there are some issues that we tend to think of as more spiritual than others, but this is a flaw in our thinking,  It was Paul who said, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart as working for the Lord and not for men.”  And “Whether you eat of drink, or whatever you do, do all for the glory of God.” (Col 3:23; 1 Cor. 13:31)  It seems from comments like these that Paul sees no difference between the secular and the spiritual.  To him everything was “spiritual.”  Tentmaking was as “spiritual” to Paul as preaching.  Each could be done wholeheartedly with excellence to God’s glory, and each could be done selfishly and sloppily.  To make a separation  would also separate between professions and make people who are professionals at “spiritual” matters (like preachers and missionaries) somehow better than those who have any other kind of job.  But the truth is that each of us must do with excellence whatever God calls us to do, and that is “spiritual” activity.  I would add that even preaching or mission work is not “spiritual” activity when done haphazardly, or with false motives or hidden agendas.  I know from experience that all three of those are common problems – sometimes I don’t even know my own motives and agendas in ministry!

A famous Christian classic was written hundreds of years ago by one we know only as Brother Lawrence (with the help of a friend) called The Practice of the Presence of God.  It illustrates this point better than anything I could say or do.  Brother Lawrence was a monk assigned to the kitchen cleaning crew, but he saw it as a way to glorify God and wrote about it in his book.  His friend says of him, “The most effective way Brother Lawrence had for communicating with God was simply to do his ordinary work.  He did this obediently out of a pure love of God.  He believed it was a serious mistake to think of our prayer time as being different from any other.”  And “He was content doing even the smallest chore if he could do it for the love of God.”  In other words, Brother Lawrence would say whatever God would have you do, that is spiritual activity.  That seems to exemplify Paul’s attitude about life.

In light of your question, I would only add this comment:  Whatever God would  have you pray, that is a “spiritual” prayer.  Paul’s prayers would testify to this, which brings up the second issue.

Paul prayed for things like “that God may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation,” “that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened,” and “that you may know the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints.” (all from Ephesians 1:17-19)  These certainly sound like very spiritual things, and they appear to be the majority of his recorded prayers.  But he also prayed “that a way may be opened for me to come to you” (Rom 1:10), “that you may be able to discern what is best,” (Phil 1:10) “that you may have great endurance, “ (Col 1:11) and “that we may see you again.” (1 Thess 3:10)  This second list sounds more like practical than spiritual matters.

The seeming spiritual  nature of Paul’s prayers comes, I believe, from the fact that so many of them are recorded in his letters to churches rather than individuals.  The only prayers Paul can express for everybody in a church are those “spiritual” issues he desires for everybody because space and knowledge do not allow for personal, everyday kind of requests.

In addition to that, we have some commands from Paul that indicate the broad nature of his prayer requests, including these:  “Pray for kings and those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives.” (1 Tim 2:2)  “The widow who is left all alone continues to pray and ask God for help.” (1 Tim 5:5)  “Pray that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea, so that I may come to you with joy.” (Rom 15:31 – this one sounds about as practical and “unspiritual” as it gets!)  And finally, “in everything by prayer and supplication, let your requests by made known to God.” (Phil 4:6)  By everything, I take him to mean even those things some would consider “unspiritual.”

The things Paul prayed for his churches are things we can pray for anyone, but there are many more issues we can take to God as well.  When you are led to pray for someone on a more specific matter, even if it seems less spiritual, go ahead and pray those things.  I think God is delighted in our prayers, even when we ask him for the mundane.  Maybe he’s especially delighted when we ask for the mundane, because it is a recognition of his providence over everyday matters.

In Jesus, Pastor Glenn

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