In previous articles, we talked about the “Four P’s.”  So far, we have looked at Prevalence, Purpose Statements, and Petition Verbs.  We are not ready to move to the fourth ‘P’: Prayers.

            Students of Scripture have long observed the prayers in the Bible, especially those in the New Testament. However, most have not considered these prayers in light of their importance to exegesis and biblical interpretation.

Think about this logically.  Does it make sense that the writer would say, “This is what is on my mind; what I pray about concerning you,” – and then completely ignore those points in his book?  Of course not!  Instead, he will say, “This is what I’m praying about concerning you – now let’s talk about those things!”  Isn’t that logical? What a quick and easy way to identify significant points in the book! This is not to suggest that no other topics will be covered that were not a part of his prayer.  Sometimes, those additional topics are not necessarily a concern to the writer, but nevertheless important information to convey.

As we analyze the writer’s prayer, we should be able to answer two key questions:

  • What are the predominant words in that prayer?
  • What are the main points of that prayer?

In every case, that prayer will contain keywords for the book, as well as unlock the purpose of that book.  For example, in Ephesians 1:15-19 Paul tells the Ephesian Christians what he is praying about.  It is logical to assume that significant terms for the whole book will be found in this prayer.  Such is certainly the case.  Paul mentions words like “love,” “hope,” “spirit,” “knowledge,” “calling,” “inheritance,” “power,” “saints/holy ones,” and “faith.”  As one would soon find, these are all important words throughout the book of Ephesians.  So, we found a rather extensive list of keywords simply by looking at Paul’s prayer.  This is what we do with this information: we look for those words in other places in the book. Consider, for example, the word “riches.”  Paul prays that they might know “what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance” (1:18). Notice how Paul will develop that concept of “riches” throughout the book. He first talked about God’s riches in 1:7. In 2:4, he will mention how God is “rich in mercy.”  In 2:7, God, through Christ, intended to show “the surpassing riches of His grace.”  In chapter three, Paul will say that he was given the commission to proclaim the “unfathomable riches of Christ” (v. 8). In 3:16, Paul repeats the thought of the prayer in 1:18 when he again prays that God “would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened….” Note: We have another prayer in the middle of the book! That’s important! We also have repeated keywords from that first prayer (riches, glory, power, spirit). I don’t know about you, but I find that interesting and fascinating what Paul does with the word riches! If the Ephesians were poor in material possessions (cf. 1 Timothy 6:6-10), they could find comfort in knowing they had received riches from their God.  So, when Paul prays for them, he prays that they might be mindful that they are rich in Christ.

            Another predominant word in Paul’s prayer is the word “glory.”  Paul said that when he prays, he prays that the Ephesians would know “what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance” (1:18).  He even calls God “the Father of glory” (1:17).  He had earlier noted that God’s adopting us has led us to “the praise of the glory of His grace” (1:6), His giving us hope “should be to the praise of His glory” (1:12) and His inheritance leads us “to the praise of His glory” (1:14).  In 3:16 Paul will talk about the “riches of His glory” and that in the church He should receive “glory” (3:21).  We can clearly see a pattern here.  Paul is praying they might see how their blessed life should lead to their glorifying God! What is also interesting, and probably something we wouldn’t notice unless we did this kind of study, is that Paul uses the word “glory” in a unique way in 3:13. There, he proclaims that his tribulations on their behalf were “your glory.”  Paul’s willingness to suffer for them should provide sufficient evidence that he holds them in high regard.

            In our next article on exegesis, we’ll consider the second part of the prayer texts: “What are the main points of the prayer?”

            Meanwhile, let’s use this short study as motivation to evaluate our own prayer life.  We learn a lot about Paul by seeing how much he prayed, and what he prayed for.  We can duplicate his prayer.  What is it that we want our children to know? What specifically do we hope the church will learn about God and His plan?  This is an aspect that we can add to our prayers if they are not already a part.

Denny Petrillo
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Denny is married to the former Kathy Roberts.  They have been married since January 1978.  They have three children (Lance, Brett, and Laura) and Six grandchildren (Chloe, Ashlyn, Sophie, Easton, Brelyn, and Kyson).  He has served as the President of the Bear Valley Bible Institute since 2004 and has been a full-time instructor since 1985.  He has preached in Mississippi, Arkansas, Nebraska, and Colorado.  He has taught numerous classes for the World Video Bible School and has authored several books and commentaries.  He graduated from the Bear Valley School of Preaching (now the Bear Valley Bible Institute), received an AA degree in Bible (York College, York, Nebraska), BA in Bible and Biblical Languages (Harding University), and an MA in Old and New Testaments (Harding Graduate School of Religion), and a Ph.D. in Religious Education (University of Nebraska).