When I read Paul’s prayers, I am always struck by the fact that many of the matters that are the focus of my prayers are absent in his.
Read his prayers in his letter to the Ephesians (or anywhere else in his epistles), and what is striking is the absence of material issues. The believers in Ephesus were in one sense just like us. They had concerns for food and for clothes and for shelter. They would have thought about and talked about and worried about being married or getting married… being parents or wishing they were parents, or wishing some days they weren’t parents… employment, paying taxes, wealth, health… but there’s no mention of these matters at all in what Paul prays for them.
In fact, praying about health (which, if we had the chance to listen in on the prayers of Western Christians, would likely come in at number one) is rare—almost non-existent—in the Bible. So why are we praying about it so much?
It’s because we don’t want to die.
Why Are My Prayers Unspiritual?
We want to live. We’ve got a sneaking suspicion that what we’ve got now, this side of death, is actually better than what God has for us then, on the other side of death. So we want to hang on to what we’ve got. But instead, we need to believe—really believe—that these things are true:
God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2 v 4-7).
You have now been raised with Christ into the heavenly places. You have been made part of a family that will never come to an end. One day, you will live in a new heaven and a new earth. You will see your God face to face and, with a heart no longer burdened and distracted by sin and a body no longer broken and decaying in frailty, you will praise him.
And you and I just want to pray that we’d stay healthy and live long?! Time-bound and fallen creature that I naturally am, I often forget the spiritual and eternal element of reality. That’s why the things that fill my prayers are so regularly absent from Paul’s—and why the things that fill his prayers are so regularly absent from mine. He has his eyes fixed on eternity. His prayers are spiritual. We need to make ours so, too.
We tend to live as if, and pray as if, what we most need is help with this practical issue or that specific life problem. And we all have particular situations that we need divine help with and divine transformation in. But it’s as we grow in our appreciation of the gospel that our lives will change to reflect that gospel.
What You Most Need to Know?
So, when you start to pray, what’s the concern that fills your vision?
You are facing a huge issue in your job? You need God’s help with that, and so what you most need to know is the gospel. You need to know how to fix your marriage? You need God’s help with that, and so what you most need to know is the gospel. You are so worried about something one of your kids is into? You need God’s help with that, and so what you most need to know is the gospel. You are facing serious health problems? You need God’s help with that, and so what you most need to know is the gospel.
We need to start to pray spiritually. We need to start there—and then, as we move on to our practical concerns in our prayers, we need to let the way we pray about them flow from the spiritual truths we’ve prayed about. Let’s not allow the focus of Paul’s prayers to be absent from ours.
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher at Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world. He graduated from theological college in London and served two churches in Scotland before moving to Ohio. He is married to Susan and together they have three grown children.