Don’t Be Afraid to Pray Like Paul – A Note on Ephesians 1:17

How many times have you heard prayers start with “Father, we thank you for this day.” I’m convinced that this is filler while the person is thinking about what they really want to say. Rather than pause and gather your thoughts we rush into saying anything to avoid the dreaded and awkward silence. We then proceed to pray for safe travel, healing for someone who is ill, upcoming exams, job interviews, etc. None of these are wrong to pray for but I wonder if we are missing something. Paul says in Ephesians 1:17 that he “keep[s] asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.” I can’t ever remember someone praying this for me. When I did a study of the prayers of Paul some time ago I remember feeling that if people prayed like Paul people would begin to think they were trying to be overly spiritual. A kind of pius show off. But I think that fearing what others would think of us can rob us (and those we’re praying for) of opportunities for a richness and depth in our prayers.

Commentators are divided (when aren’t they) over what the verse is saying. The phrase in question is “the Spirit of wisdom and revelation.” You have three possibilities. It can refer to the Spirit of God (hence “the” Spirit), others see a reference to the human spirit (“a” spirit), and still others see it as an adjective, or “spiritual.” The first option is reflected in translations like NIV, ESV, and CEV. The second is seen in CEB, God’s Word, HCSB, NASB, and NRSV. The third option is found in NLT and the NET Bible. The Voice removes any reference to “spirit” with its translation: “Give them minds ready to receive wisdom and revelation so they will truly know You.” As an interpretive option it seems to fall in the second category.

Let’s cut to the chase. I think the first view is correct. Among the resources I consulted and who ultimately persuaded me are God’s Empowering Presence by Gordon Fee (pp. 674-79), Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary by Harold W. Hoehner (256-58),  The Letter to the Ephesians by Peter T. O’Brien (pp. 131-33), and Ephesians by Frank Thielman (pp. 95-97).

Peter Williamson in his commentary on Ephesians writes quite simply what I’m thinking and the heart of the matter for this post: “It is interesting that Paul prays that God will send the Holy Spirit, ‘a spirit of wisdom and revelation,’ on his readers. How many of us would think to pray for that?” (48)

Don’t rush into prayer. Pause and think about what you’d like to say. And don’t be afraid to pray like Paul.


About Louis

I am a 1997 graduate of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
This entry was posted in Bible Translation, Biblical Studies. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Don’t Be Afraid to Pray Like Paul – A Note on Ephesians 1:17

  1. Thank you for this.


  2. Laura says:

    Amen!! Good post.


  3. I love this and have been writing about this type of thing for a long time. I hope the church gets more and more educated about prayer. I have a list of Paul’s prayers on my blog along with Carson’s Spiritual Reformation and have sold 10x more of that book thru Amazon than all others combined. We should pray like Paul, and Jesus.


  4. Pingback: Christian BLogs and Web Sites | Scripture Zealot blog

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