Session 8: What Do the Letters of Paul Say About Prayer and Fasting?

Secret Church 19: Prayer, Fasting, and the Pursuit of God

Session 8: What Do the Letters of Paul Say About Prayer and Fasting?

In this session of Secret Church 19, Pastor David Platt examines how Paul’s letters teach us to pray and fast with faith. This session focuses on the letters of Paul, the apostle God called to proclaim the gospel among the Gentiles. Paul’s Spirit-inspired letters include not only his teaching about prayer but also his own prayers for the churches to whom he wrote. He urged these churches to pursue God’s glory in light of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ—both in terms of their own spiritual growth and for the sake of the spread of the gospel message.

  1. Prayer and the Holy Spirit
  2. Prayers for…
  3. The Initial Exhortation
  4. The Theological Motivation

Session 8

All right, two sections left: letters from Paul and letters from others. There is so much to learn about prayer from Paul. He’s constantly praying in his letters, asking for prayer in his letters, and talking about prayers in his letters. “Brothers, pray for us.” 

105.What Do the Letters of Paul Say About Prayer and Fasting in Romans 8: Prayer and the Holdy Spirit

In Romans 8:26–27, Paul talks about how the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. When we don’t know what we ought to pray for, “the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” How awesome is that! The Holy Spirit is our Helper in prayer. When you pray, you are not alone. The Spirit of God guides us in prayer. He helps us to pray with hope (8:18–20). He helps us to pray with patience (8:21–25). 

The Holy Spirit is our Helper and the Holy Spirit is our Intercessor. He leads us to pray according to God’s will (8:28–30). Think about this. We have a built-in, supernatural Guide for praying according to God’s will. This makes sense in light of all we’ve seen and all we know about the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit illuminates our minds to understand God’s Word and it’s God’s Word that drives the way we pray. So the Spirit brings God’s Word to our minds and then drives us to pray according to God’s will. He does this for our good and for His glory (8:28–30) and He leads us to be conformed to the image of God’s Son. 

God, lead us, guide us and direct our praying by Your Spirit, we pray.

106. Miscellaneous: Unceasing Prayer

Here I have listed all the different references to Paul praying without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:16–18). Oswald Chambers said, “If we think of prayer as the breath of our lungs and the blood from our hearts, we think rightly. The blood flows and the breathing continues—we are not conscious of it, but it is always going on.” 

God, teach us to pray unceasing prayers. 

John MacArthur has said:

To pray at all times is to live in continual God-consciousness, where everything we see and experience becomes a kind of prayer, lived in deep awareness of and surrender to our heavenly Father. To obey this exhortation means that, when we are tempted, we hold the temptation before God and ask for His help. When we experience something good and beautiful, we immediately thank the Lord for it. When we see evil around us, we pray that God will make it right and we are willing to be used of Him to that end. When we meet someone who does not know Christ, we pray for God to draw that person to Himself and use us to be faithful witnesses. When we encounter trouble, we turn to God as our Deliverer. In other words, our life becomes a continually ascending prayer, a perpetual communing with our heavenly Father. 

May we pray in such a way that we constantly thank God for others, as we see Paul doing all the time (Ephesians 1:16; Philippians 1:3–5; Colossians 1:3–5; 1 Thessalonians 1:2–3). And may we pray in such as way that we constantly intercede for others, like we see Paul doing all the time (Colossians 1:9; 1 Thessalonians 3:9–10; 2 Thessalonians 1:11–12). 

God, teach us to thank You and to intercede without ceasing. 

Then we dive into some of the specific prayers Paul prayed for the church. Sometimes people ask me, “How can I pray for you?” I sometimes ask the same question. We’re often looking for or thinking about specific needs in somebody’s life. But this is where I want to encourage us that when in doubt, pray for what the Bible says to pray for Christians. You will never go wrong with praying these prayers for me and I will never go wrong in praying these prayers for you. 

Here are a couple more quotes on this: 

Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tire? – Corrie Ten Boom 

We should pray when we are in a praying mood, for it would be sinful to neglect so fair an opportunity. We should pray when we are not in a proper mood, for it would be 

dangerous to remain in so unhealthy a condition” – Charles Spurgeon 

107. Ephesians 1: Prayer for Open Eyes

Think about Ephesians 1:15–19, prayer for open eyes. Listen to these prayers. This is Spirit-inspired praying: 

For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might.

As you pray for others and for yourself, pray for a spirit of wisdom, pray for the knowledge of God, pray for eyes to open to the hope we have, pray for eyes to open to the inheritance we have, and pray for eyes to be open to the power we have. We have the power… 

…he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all (Ephesians 1:20–23). 

That is a powerful picture. Follow the logic there. Paul says Christ has all authority, the church has been given the fullness of Christ, which means Christ commissions the church with all His authority to go and make disciples in all of the world. All authority has been given to Christ and He’s given it to us (Matthew 28:18–20). 

Do you realize what this means? Contrary to popular ideas in the culture, and sadly even in the church, brothers and sisters, the church is not weak. The church is not frail, fragile, stagnant or struggling. The church has the fullness of Jesus Christ. It’s high time we as the church start realizing who we are and what we have in Christ. We do not have any reason to fear. We have the fullness of Christ. We are not victims and not powerless before sin. We are victors with power over sin. 

We do not shrink back from challenges in mission here and around the world. We face them boldly because we know how the story is going to end. Our Leader, our Head, is Head over all. He has said, “My resources are at your disposal for the accomplishment of My mission in the world.” So pray that we would realize that. 

God, open our eyes to realize that. Let’s pray this for each other. 

108. Ephesians 3: Prayer Beyond Our Imagination

Then Ephesians 3:14–19: 

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. 

Pray for strength through God’s Spirit and faith in God’s Son. Pray for grounding in God’s great love. Pray that you and that other would know how much God loves them. Pray for filling with all God’s fullness and that we would experience the fullness of God’s grace and power in work in our lives. 

Pray for the experience of God’s abundant power beyond our imagination: “far more abundantly than all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20), to His glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations forever and ever. Amen. 

109. What Do the Letters of Paul Say About Prayer and Fasting in Philippians 1: Pray for Ever-Increasing Love

Let me pray this for you right now. I pray “that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (Philippians 1:9–11). 

Pray for growth in love, for growth in knowledge, for growth in discernment. Pray for pure and blameless living until Christ comes to us and pray for the fruit of righteousness that comes from Christ in us. Are these not great things to pray? This is why I split up the things I pray for people in my life in different ways, because there’s so much I want to pray for them. 

110. Colossians 1: Prayer for a Godward Life

Colossians 1:9–14: 

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. 

Pray for a wise understanding of the will of God.

Pray for a walk that is completely worthy of God (fully pleasing to God).

Pray for fruit in good work for God.

Pray for growth in the knowledge of God and strength from the power of God. Pray for patient endurance in the middle of life’s trials, temptations, suffering, and pain. Pray for joyful thanksgiving for His inheritance, His rescue, His redemption, and His forgiveness. Just pray one of those prayers each day for the people in your family, for the friends who are close to you, for the brothers and sisters in your church. 

111. What Do the Letters of Paul Say About Prayer and Fasting in 1 Timothy 2: Prayer for Leaders

In 1 Timothy 2:1–7, we’re to pray for leaders:

I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth. 

The Initial Exhortation

The initial exhortation here is that we are to pray to God for all people. So who do we pray for? Every kind of person. There’s no category of person that you should not pray for. There should be diversity in our praying. We are to pray for leaders in high positions. Paul was writing this under the rule and reign of Nero, who was violently persecuting Christians. And not just Nero. As best we know, there were hardly any Christian rulers existing anywhere in the world at that time. Paul says pray for them. Pray for the king, the ruler, the leader, or the emperor who is plotting your persecution. Pray for the king you suffer under, the leader you don’t agree with. Pray for the ruler you don’t approve of. 

What do we pray for? Paul didn’t tell the Christians to pray that God would blast Nero into oblivion. He said pray for peace amidst persecution, “for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” We’re to pray for salvation for persecutors. We are to pray that rulers, leaders, and even persecutors would come to the knowledge of the truth about Christ. Don’t miss the picture Paul is painting here. The progress of the gospel in the world is dependent on the prayers of God’s people in the church. 

A.B. Simpson, who founded the Christian and Missionary Alliance, was said to wake up in the morning, bow on his knees, clutch a globe, and just weep in prayer. 

The Theological Motivation

Then think about the theological motivation behind this kind of praying. According to Paul, we pray like this because God desires the salvation of all peoples. We pray for Jews and Gentiles to be saved. We pray for friends and enemies to be saved. We pray for Democrats and Republicans, Americans and Palestinians, Hindus and Muslims, rich and poor, white and black, for the Hua, the Baluch, the Saudis and Somalis, and thousands of other people groups to come to a knowledge of the truth of Christ. 

This doesn’t mean all people will be saved and it does not mean that God’s will has been thwarted when they are not. But it does mean that God loves all peoples. It says in 2 Peter 3:9 that He desires their salvation. And because He desires their salvation, we pray for the salvation of all peoples. When you pray for your lost family members and friends and neighbors, or people groups who are hostile to the gospel—all kinds of people around the world—pray knowing that God loves them and desires their salvation (Ezekiel 33:11). 

Pray like this, not just because God desires their salvation, but pray like this because God deserves their honor. He deserves the honor of all peoples (Isaiah 45:21–22). “There is one God,” 1 Timothy 2:5, who deserves their worship. Worship is the fuel of praying in this world and worship is the goal of praying in this world. Think about it. We pray night and day, week after week, for all kinds of people in the world to come to a saving knowledge of God and we look forward to the day when all kinds of people will indeed know Him and worship Him. Worldwide worship is what we’re after in prayer. That’s our motivation, our anticipation. We pray for all kinds of people groups to be saved and we look forward to the day when every single people group will worship His name. 

That’s one theological motivation, but it’s not over yet. Then we pray for all kinds of people because Jesus dies for the rescue of all peoples. There’s one God, one Mediator, Who gave Himself as a ransom for all kinds of people. Revelation 5:9, “Worthy are you to take the scroll…and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” This is where all of history is headed. 

So we pray, Lord Jesus, claim the people You have purchased, all the people from among all the peoples. Toward this end, we pray for leaders, presidents, prime ministers, rulers, and leaders of all kinds in all kinds of positions. We pray for their salvation. We pray for Your grace in them, so they might lead justly and wisely so that we might lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. You are the one true God, Jesus is the one true Mediator, Who has made a way for all peoples to be saved. Bring this about, we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. 

112. 1 Thessalonians 3: Prayer for Love and Holiness

First Thessalonians 3:11–13 is a prayer for love and holiness: 

Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints. 

Pray for increasing love for the church and for the lost. Pray for blameless hearts before God at the coming of Christ. 

113. What Do the Letters of Paul Say About Prayer and Fasting in 2 Thessalonians 1: Prayer for Grace to Glorify God

Second Thessalonians 1:11–12:

To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. 

Pray for alignment with the calling of God, that God may make you worthy of His calling. Pray for strength for the work of faith. Pray for much grace from Jesus and pray for much glory to Jesus. 

O God, even as people are writing right now, I just pray that You would make them worthy of Your calling. May they fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by your power, so the name of Jesus might be glorified in them according to Your grace at work in them. In Jesus’ name. Amen. 

114. Miscellaneous: Prayer for the Growth of the Church

Then here I pulled out miscellaneous texts from Paul’s letters that represent prayers for the growth of the church. As we pray according to the Word for the church, we pray for hope, joy, and peace in the church (Romans 15:13). We pray for faithful and righteous living (2 Corinthians 13:7– 9). We pray for victory in spiritual warfare (Ephesians 6:12–18). We pray for strength of faith (1 Thessalonians 3:8–10). 

115. Miscellaneous: Prayers for the Spread of the Gospel

Pray for successful mission in difficult places (Romans 15:30–32). This is where Paul was facing potential threats to his life. 

Pray for personal boldness to proclaim the gospel. Ephesians 6:19–20, pray that “words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel.” Pray for open doors for the gospel and clear speech with the gospel. Colossians 4:2–4, pray “that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison—that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.” 

Pray for the rapid and reverent spread of God’s Word.“Brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored” (2 Thessalonians 3:1). 

If you put all these verses together, it’s clear what we saw earlier. God has given us prayer because Jesus has given us a mission. Prayer is for the accomplishment of mission. If we’re not using it that way, we’re missing part of God’s design for prayer. 

John Piper put it this way: 

Could it be that many of our problems with prayer and much of our weakness in prayer comes from the fact that we are not all on active duty, yet we still try to use the transmitter? We have taken a wartime walkie-talkie and tried to turn it into a civilian intercom to call the servants for another cushion in the den. We see repeatedly in 

Scripture that prayer is a walkie-talkie for warfare, not a domestic intercom for increasing our conveniences. 

God has given us prayer because Jesus has given us a mission. There’s so much to prayer from Paul’s letters. I encourage you, commit some of these prayers to memory. Write them down somewhere. Just pray these prayers for different people in your life, your family, your church, for the lost, for the nations. Use these prayers from Paul. 

Session 9 Discussion Questions

Study Guide pp. 225-244

1. What makes Christ the perfect high priest, and how does this reality give us confidence in prayer? (See #116, Hebrews 4)

2. How is our prayer life an indicator of whether or not we truly trust God? (See #117, Hebrews 10–11)

3. What role does prayer play in the midst of our trials? (See #118, James 1)

4. God sometimes uses prayer to heal the sick. Does this mean that we’ve done something wrong if an illness persists or ends in the death of a friend or loved one? If not, why not? (See #119, James 5)

5. According to 1 Peter 3:7, how does a husband’s relationship to his wife affect his prayer life? Does this mean that we “earn” answers to our prayers through our obedience? Explain your answer. (See #120, 1 Peter 3)

6. First Peter 5:6–7 says that we are to humble ourselves by casting our anxieties on God. How is it a sign of humility to bring our requests to God in prayer? (See #121, 1 Peter 5)

7. How does walking according to God’s will affect the things we pray for? (See #122, 1 John 5)

8. What role does prayer play in the unfolding of God’s purposes in the world? (See #124, Revelation 8)

9. What, according to Revelation 21–22, is the culmination of our pursuit of God? (See #125, Revelation 21–22)

10. How does a right view of our future reward help fuel prayer and fasting in the present?


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