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Paul’s short letter to Philemon is hardly the most theologically challenging or practically provocative of all of his letters. Yet it is part of the inspired New Testament canon–and that means there is something for us in this personal note penned by the apostle to a friend.

Having greeted his friend in a warm and humble way, Paul does what is common in letter of the day–he offers a prayer. Although this is typical of letters of the day, we still gain a glimpse into the soul of the writer through what he writes.

I thank my God always, making mention of you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and of the faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus and toward all the saints; and I pray that the fellowship of your faith may become effective through the knowledge of every good thing which is in you for Christ’s sake. (Philemon 4-6)

Reading this, I got caught up short. I was thinking about what I am thankful for–the things for which I give God thanks. It’s pretty obvious. I thank God for the blessings he bestows directly and specifically on me. I thank Him for the tangible graces that have come into my life . . . when I do thank Him.

In these few verses Paul reiterates his thankfulness. And, apparently, he isn’t thanking the Lord for some personal benefit or blessing. He thanks the Lord for what he hears about what God is doing in Philemon. He is attentive to what God is doing and the benefit that accrues to Philemon. And he is thankful for that.

He follows this up with a prayer. And again I come up a bit short. All too often my praying has my own life and my needs and my potential benefits in store. But Paul affirms that what he is praying is for Philemon’s good and growth. And Paul’s prayer is not a superficial “Lord, please be with Philemon” generic kind of prayer. He prays a thoughtful, strategic kind of prayer. (Take a look at the things Paul prays for others he writes to in the opening of his other epistles to get a feel for this “thoughtful, strategic” praying.)

So much in so few words! Although Paul is not teaching about prayer in these few verses, just reading his words provoke me to think about how I pray for others. And I want to start . . .

Being thankful what God is doing in and through the lives of others whether it has any direct impact on me.

Asking God to do strategic and spiritually significant things in the lives of others rather than simply offer perfunctory, shallow prayers.

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