Paul was an intense man. Whatever he did, he did with all his heart. He accomplished astounding feats for Christ and the Church. Paul was also an apostle and helped lay the foundation for much of our theology and Christian practice today. Such a person could easily intimidate us were it not for the glimpses we have of his spiritual struggles.
Like all of us, Paul was human and vulnerable to failure whenever he took his eyes off Jesus Christ. In order to guard against failure, Paul employed many of the spiritual disciplines. These practices strengthened him in his walk with God and reminded Paul of his dependence on God.
Immediately following Paul’s conversion, he withdrew into the Arabian wilderness for a time (see Galatians 1:16 – 17). This extended retreat was marked by solitude in which Paul meditated intensely on God’s Word and spent much time in prayer. Evidently, this was when he received his gospel message “by revelation from Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:12). This time away equipped him for the lifetime of involvement and service that has changed the world even to this very day. (See Exodus 3 to learn more about solitude.)
Paul mentioned that he was given “a thorn” in his flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7). We are never told anything specific about the thorn. Scholars have debated for centuries what exactly it was. But we are given the specifics of Paul’s response to the thorn: Paul prayed. In fact, he prayed deliberately three times concerning this thorn much as Jesus prayed three times in Gethsemane about his suffering (see Matthew 26:36 – 45; 2 Corinthians 12:8). Each time that Paul prayed, God answered him clearly, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Prayer didn’t bring Paul the answer for which he initially may have hoped, but prayer brought him the strength and reassurance he needed. (See Genesis 18 to learn more about prayer.)
We see Paul’s practice of service as he committed himself “to preach the gospel where Christ was not known” (Romans 15:20). He made countless sacrifices for the sake of the gospel as well (see 2 Corinthians 11:23 – 33). We see by this that the practice of service set the agenda for Paul’s life. (See Mark 10 to learn more about service.)
Paul was careful not to waste any of the Lord’s money and even refused to receive payment for preaching to the Corinthian church (see 1 Corinthians 9:1 – 18). In turn, Paul encouraged all the churches he had planted to participate in an offering for the Jerusalem believers, who had been devastated by famine and poverty. He taught all believers the importance of regularly setting aside a certain amount to be given to the Lord’s work (see 2 Corinthians 8 – 9). (See Deuteronomy 8 to learn more about stewardship.)
Paul was a student of God’s Word. But Paul’s study was not simply a matter of academic curiosity — it was an act of worship. Paul’s theology bore the fruit of praise: “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! . . . To him be the glory forever! Amen” (Romans 11:33,36). (See Deuteronomy 17 to learn more about Bible study.)
Paul’s deep concern for people is reflected in his constant references to special friends whom he cherished in Christ. Friendship often lays the foundation for discipleship, as with Paul’s relationships both with Timothy and Titus (see 2 Timothy 1:2 – 4; Titus 1:4). (See Genesis 2 to learn more about spiritual friendship.)
LESSONS FOR LIFE
Even extraordinary people such as Paul are incapable of living the Christian life apart from the power of the Holy Spirit. Underlying all of Paul’s activities is the constant pulse of God’s power, working in and through him.
As we undertake God’s high calling in our lives, we must heed Paul’s admonition, “Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?” (Galatians 3:3). We, like Paul, can employ the spiritual disciplines as a way to help us focus on God. Thoughtful practice of these spiritual exercises can remind us of our dependence on God and form channels through which his Spirit can work in us.
Article drawn from a study article in the Spiritual Renewal Bible.