The FISHERS Magazine (Issue 227)

Praying the Epistles – Practical Applications

Christian Living


In the previous issue of Fishers, we examined the importance of praying through God’s Word. We discovered that Scripture is powerful and profitable for our prayer as it is inspired by God Himself. We also explored how God’s Word enriches our prayers by stimulating, sanctifying and strengthening what we utter to the Lord. In this article we will consider specifically how we pray through the Epistles of the New Testament and use them as the basis and substance for our prayers.

Why Pray Through the Epistles?
The New Testament Epistles start with Romans and end with Jude. Why were these epistles written? The Church was born in Jerusalem at Pentecost and in the next few decades, the Gospel spread rapidly from Jerusalem, to Judea and Samaria, and further outwards to far-flung places. Local churches were being established in many cities all over and the new believers needed instruction on how to live as a special covenant people of God. They needed teaching on how to be a disciple of Christ as an individual, and how to live as disciples of Christ in community. That is what the NT epistles were written for, to reveal God’s will for His New Covenant people. As His New Covenant people today, the epistles therefore apply to us most particularly and directly.

Learning to pray through Scripture must include learning to pray through the portion of the Word of God most relevant to us in our day. The NT epistles lend themselves readily to Scripture prayer for several reasons. Many passages explain the glories of the Gospel such as the goodness and genius of God that enabled Him to be just and justifier of sinners. We read this, and we can immediately thank God very specifically for different aspects of His salvation. Other passages speak of the Church, both universal and local, and what church life should be like. We read this, and can specifically pray for our own church, that we grow into these ideals.

Much of epistolary literature instructs and directs us how to live as Christians. We read those, and pray for ourselves and fellow believers that we can mature in those specific areas. Many epistles point out sin and admonish repentance. We read these, and examine ourselves, repent and confess our specific sins, and ask God to cleanse us of all unrighteousness. Very often, as the apostles wrote their epistles, they would suddenly break out in prayer, and do it most naturally. We read this, and we should just join them in prayer, adjusting a few words here and there to apply those prayers to our own specific situations.

In fact, it is most unnatural for us to read the epistles and not pray because the NT epistles lend themselves so readily to stimulate our prayers.

Praying Systematically Through All the Epistles
The epistles often contain the prayers of the authors who were inspired by the Holy Spirit to pray. We can use them as model prayers as we read them through, meditate on them, think about what the apostle is saying to God, then pray through them ourselves. We can sometimes pray them verbatim, that is, using the exact words as printed in our Bible, perhaps just changing some names and pronouns. We can always adapt them and pray a similar prayer for ourselves, our spouse, our family, our church, our non-believing friends and relatives, including those we don’t know. We can even meditate on each point articulated by the author, expand and apply that point to those for whom we are praying.

Read a passage from the Epistles and select a portion of the passage you want to pray through. Sometimes you can pray through the whole chapter but some chapters are so rich that you may want to select just a few verses. Meditate on that text, think deeply on what our Lord is saying to us. Pray as a slave of Christ responding to his Master’s words.

If the passage speaks of Who God is, our prayer is worship and adoration. If the text speaks of what God has done, our prayer is praise and thanksgiving. If the verses speak of how we should live as NT believers, we entreat God for strength and help to submit and obey. If the Epistle speaks of how we should be as a Church, we pray for ourselves and intercede for others that we may all grow into the specific maturity required of us. If the Holy Spirit points out our sin, our attitude is repentance, our prayer is confession.

Using 2 Tim 2:14-26, here is as an illustration of how we can pray:

2 Tm 2:14
- Lord, have I been picking theological fights with others, unlovingly, concerned only with winning arguments, but not concerned about your truths? Forgive me!
2 Tm 2:15
- Lord, I earnestly desire to be that workman who does not need to be ashamed! Teach me to interpret your word accurately, and apply it diligently in my life.
2 Tm 2:19
- Thank You Lord that you know who belongs to you, that my salvation is secure!
2 Tm 2:21
- Lord, cleanse me, so that I can be a vessel fit for however you want to use me.
2 Tm 2:24
- Lord, you have been patient with me, help me be patient with others.
2 Tm 2:26
- Lord, there are many who do not know you, held captive by Satan to do his will; please deliver them and make them come to their senses.

Another way is to take our prayer list, and discipline ourselves to tie every prayer to a specific Bible verse. It is important for us to pray specific prayers, and not just prayers for general blessing. Often, our prayers do not honour God, because we pray so generically and infrequently, and all we really want is for God to endorse our will, and bless our control of things in our lives.

Specificity in prayer is actually an act of worship. It is a declaration that we are willing to submit every single detail of our lives to God, from our smallest desires to our grand aspirations. We have our own longings and preferences, but we want every bit of our lives to go God’s way. Bringing a specific petition before God is not demanding a specific response from God. When we pray specifically, we are saying to the Lord, “This is what we want, this is what we think your Word teaches us to pray specifically about this situation, and if this is not what we want, may Your will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.”

So, when we pray the details, we are consciously relinquishing control over them to God’s sovereignty. But as we seek to be specific in our prayers, as we seek to submit every detail of our lives to God, we find that the Epistles often give us much wisdom about praying specifically. The steps of this method are:

1. Identify a situation that we want to pray about, such as, a brother in Christ who has a terminal illness.

2. Find out as much as we can about the situation. Is this brother in pain? Does he have financial difficulties paying his medical bills? Is he prepared to meet God? What is he concerned about?

3. Obtain wisdom from the Bible to inform our prayers. From the epistles, we can apply the following passages:

Jas 1:2
- “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials.” We pray that this brother may experience profound joy in the midst of his terrible suffering.
2 Cor 12:9
- “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” We pray that he may know, and become convinced of, the sufficiency of God’s grace; and that the power of Christ may accomplish wonders through our brother in his time of weakness.
Heb 4:15
- “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathise with our weaknesses.” Here, we pray that our brother may find strong comfort in the fact that His Lord and Saviour, the Second Person of the Triune Godhead Himself, sympathises with him in his suffering.
2 Cor 4:16
- “Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.” From this, we pray that our brother may experience a surge of spiritual renewal in his soul that outstrips the breakdown of his physical body outwardly.

4. Pray!
Do not just collect all these Bible verses and neglect to pray. Over time, we will have more Scriptures for each situation that we are praying about, and we can devise a rotational system of praying through different verses for each prayer item. We will discover many Bible verses that apply to each prayer request that we have never thought of before! We can build up our treasury of Scripture prayers for each situation.

There will still be some situations when we simply do not know what to pray for. When that happens, we rest in the incredible promise of Rom 8:26-27, “In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” We come humbly before God, tell Him we are needy, and in silence press our helplessness upon Him. In such times, we know the Spirit Himself goes into overdrive, interceding for us. What a tremendous comfort, and thanks be to God!

Most of the time, praying the Epistles is not difficult. We do not have to look for obscure verses.

- If we have been convicted of our lack of love for the brethren – pray through 1 Cor 13.

- If we are undergoing the discipline of the Lord in our life – pray through Heb 12.

- If we have been ungrateful to Christ, where we have failed utterly to thank God specifically for something as basic as His salvation of our souls – pray through Rom 3.

- If we see disunity in our church – pray Eph 4.

- If you think of your pastor– pray 1 Pet 5 for him.

- If you want your husband to become a better person – pray Eph 5 for him; and while you do that, pray the verses about submission of wives for yourself.

Conclusion
Be a doer of God’s Word, not merely a hearer who deceives himself! For a start, we can think of one verse that we can pray for ourselves. Next, turn to that verse, meditate on it, and pray using that verse. Once this way of using a Bible verse to pray becomes familiar to us, reading the Bible will no longer be academic but it will make a real difference to our prayer lives.

It really is not all that hard! Let’s challenge ourselves to always file a petition before God with Scripture to back it up! Amen!


Tan Soon Yong
- Tan Soon Yong is a pastor of The 'Fisherman of Christ' Fellowship and an editor of Fishers.

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