Paul’s Shorter Prayers
When we call to mind Paul’s prayers on behalf of the various assemblies of God’s people to which he addressed his letters, we incline to think first of those full and remarkable prayers which are recorded in the first and third chapters of his letter to the Ephesians. But, have we realised how rich are his shorter prayers such as those recorded in chapter 15 of his letter to the Romans? There are three ‑ in verses 5 and 6; verse 13; and verse 33. Each begins with a different description of God, to whom his words are addressed: "The God of patience and consolation"; "the God of hope"; and "the God of peace". We will consider these petitions in the same order in which they occur in the chapter.
"The God of patience and of comfort". (R.V.) The NEB translates "God, the source of all fortitude and all encouragement". "Patience" as in the translations of the A.V. and R.V. can be a somewhat negative word. We may say of another: "In spite of great provocation he exercised remarkable patience", and we mean that he did not lose his temper; he kept calm. But the N.T. original word goes much further and deeper than this. It means steady, positive endurance, the power to see a difficult experience through, however great the discouragements met with on the way. Jesus was the outstanding example of steady endurance throughout His ministry, even to the end. James writes (5:11) of Job, who was perhaps not the most patient, in the generally accepted sense, of men in the Old Testament, but his endurance, his power to hold on, however desperate things became for him, is that which James stresses.
God is the source of this endurance, He is also the source of comfort and consolation, but these two renderings in the R.V. and A.V., we are told are also inadequate. The NEB has "encouragement" and links it with the previous verse, where the O.T. scriptures have been spoken of as a source of encouragement. Our exalted Saviour is our Advocate, our Parakletos, the one who will strengthen our case when we have sinned. This original word is also used of the Comforter, the holy Spirit, which Jesus said He would send as another (similar) Comforter as Himself. The word in the prayer which is translated consolation and encouragement is ‘paraklesis’ and is the adjective corresponding to the noun Comforter, and which some see as also meaning "stimulation".
The objective of Paul’s prayer was that the brethren "be like‑minded one toward another according to Christ Jesus", by themselves being consolers, comforters, encouragers, as well as stimulators of each other, thus bearing the infirmities of the weak and not pleasing themselves (v.1).
In the second prayer God is called "the God of hope". This is the only occurrence in the N.T. of this description of God. He is the source of hope—from Him we derive our hope. This can mean God is characterised by hope. He never despairs. Moreover He never gives us up as hopeless. However, in both cases where "hope" occurs in this verse, it is literally the hope. This is the hope of eternal life through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance reserved in heaven for His faithful people, to be received when He comes again to take them unto Himself. And that is not all, for the earnest expectation of the whole creation waiteth for the manifestation of these sons of God (1 Pet.1:3‑4; Rom.8:19). Through Christ, Head and body, the opportunity of salvation shall be extended to all peoples during the Millennial reign.
It is remarkable what an array of Christian virtues are included in this second prayer – "hope" - "joy" - "peace" - "faith" - and "hope" again. These are all said to be products of the Holy Spirit’s energy. The verse is well expressed by the following translations: "May the hope‑inspiring God so fill you with perfect joy and peace through your continuing faith, that you may bubble over with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit" (Williams New Testament), and "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in your faith, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may overflow with hope" (Barclay).
We cannot leave this prayer without reference to "joy", leaving "peace" when we consider the third prayer. Joy is not mere happiness, for it is a fruitage of the Holy Spirit (Gal.5:22). The soil in which it develops is faith. It is the centre of the message of the gospel–"tidings of great joy", and He whose birth was thus announced, throughout His ministry had ever before Him a personal joy (Heb.12:2). It was this joy set before Him that enabled Him to endure suffering and shame. Among His last words to His followers was expressed His desire that His joy might be theirs that their joy might be full (John 15:11). He also told them that requests made of the Father in His Name would be granted, and in consequence their joy would be full (John 16:24). He also desired that they might have His joy fulfilled in themselves (John 17:13). This same note of joy is sustained throughout the epistles of the N.T., and perhaps most wonderfully described by Peter in his first epistle (1:8), "yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory".
The third prayer is: "Now the God of peace be with you all". Again it means that God is the source of peace. Those who have been justified by faith have peace with God (Rom.5:1). This refers to our reconciliation with God, resulting in a right relationship with Him by faith. But "peace" means more. Jesus speaks of His own peace which He has given to His followers, but He, never being unreconciled with His Father, needed not to be made right with His Father, as we do. Peace, of which God is the source, is that quality of calmness, quietness and serenity of heart and mind which is maintained whilst storms of trouble may be raging without, and which in our case, apart from this provision, would tend to produce worry and anxiety. When Jesus spoke of the legacy of peace that He was bequeathing He added "Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid" (John 14:27). In Phil.4:7 Paul refers to God’s peace that surpasseth all conception. He shows that if we by prayer and supplication let our requests be made known unto God (v.6), the certain result will be that calmness and serenity, which are inherent in God, will be ours, and will act as a garrison force within our hearts and minds, freeing us from anxious care.
In 2 Thess.3:16 Paul frames another prayer which is relevant. He asks for the assembly that the Lord Jesus Himself, who is the Lord of peace, might impart His peace to them, "always by all means".
May we all experience the power of God implicit in each of these prayers, seeing Him always as the source of supply to increase our patient endurance; comforting us and through us others, intensifying hope, joy, peace and faith through the Holy Spirit.
Forest Gate Bible Monthly