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Leaving a Spiritual Legacy

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Romans 1:8–10

Consistent prayer is indispensable to the Christian life. Thankfully, the Bible not only gives us instruction regarding prayer but also gives us examples to follow. The apostle Paul is one such example.


I read these words some time ago:

A spiritual legacy is something that money can’t buy and taxes can’t take away; it passes down to the next generation what matters most.[1]

The apostle Paul is not just writing a letter to the believers in Rome; he is leaving them a spiritual legacy. These are the matters that matter most in life.

Paul is not leaving a legacy because he is perfect, but he is progressing in his walk with Christ; and he is just a little farther down the path than the rest of us.

One of the legacies Paul leaves us is his example of prayer. We are in Romans chapter 1, where Paul delivers nothing less than a model prayer in verses 8-10:

First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world. For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God's will I may now at last succeed in coming to you.

Paul seems to be leafing through his prayer list here; and as he does, we can learn several things about godly prayer. And I am using the term godly prayer on purpose, because it is possible to pray in an ungodly manner. In James 4:3, the author rebukes believers for asking God for things with selfish motives. You will find no selfishness in this prayer of Paul’s.

First, note that a godly prayer is thankful. Again, Paul begins in verse 8, “I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you.”

The first thing Paul says is “Thank you.” And for what? Wealth or health or a life of ease? Not a chance! Paul’s thankfulness to God concerns other people—namely, the Roman Christians. And you might have noticed, Paul says, “I thank God for all of you.”

I don’t think everybody in the church at Rome deserved equal commendation. I am sure there were some problem people among them.

Well, we know Paul is writing to a church that is struggling with tensions between Jews and Gentiles. So, thanking God for them all is a brilliant way to encourage unity. And I do not think Paul is just flattering them either. I believe he is choosing to focus on their potential, not on their problems.

Now Paul is a busy man. So, to find him taking time to pray for people he has never met requires intentional discipline. In fact, it requires the discipline of refusal. You have to say no to something in order to find time to pray.

In the latter part of verse 8, Paul tells us why he is thankful for the Roman Christians: “because your faith is proclaimed in all the world.” Paul is saying, “I am proud of you, because you are becoming famous for your faith.”

Do not miss this! Paul is encouraging their priorities by what he praises. He could have praised them for a dozen different things—and later he will highlight some of them—but first he praises their faith, as if to say, “That is how you create a spiritual legacy of your own. Your faith is what matters most.”

So, first, a godly prayer is thankful. Second, a godly prayer is persistent. Paul continues:

For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you always in my prayers. (verses 9-10)

Paul’s use of the words “I serve [God] with my spirit” is intended to communicate persistence, diligence, intensity. He is effectively saying, “I am serving God with everything I am, with everything I have got!”

Godly living, which includes prayer, is not a sport; it is work! It is not something you do if you feel like it or if you have some spare time for it or if you are just naturally good at it. Paul tells Timothy, in 1 Timothy 4:7, “Train yourself for godliness.” That Greek word translated “train” is gumnazō, which gives us our word gymnasium. Just as you go to the gym to work up a sweat, you should be willing to put in the hard work for the cause of Christ.

I have heard people say, “I don’t read the Bible, because it’s too hard to understand,” or “I don’t pray like I ought to, because that’s just never come easy for me,” or “I would like to memorize Scripture, but it takes forever—it’s hard work.” Leaving a spiritual legacy requires spiritual sweat. A godly life, beloved, is never a coincidence!

Most of the time, when I get on my knees, I pray that God will do something for me. When Paul got on his knees, he prayed that God would do something for others.

Imagine, Paul is consistently praying for Christians who live in a city he has never visited, and he is praying for believers he has never even met.

Godly praying that leaves a spiritual legacy behind will be thankful and persistent. It will also be submissive.

Paul writes in verse 10, “[I am] asking that somehow by God's will I may now at last succeed in coming to you.”

How I love Paul’s transparency. He is saying, “I have been longing and praying for this opportunity. I want so badly to come to Rome, but I am going to come only if it is the will of God.”

Paul’s life was ordered by the will of God, and his plans were bathed in prayer. This is what it means to have a life of submission. Your plans are on the table, but they are written in pencil and you have handed God, as it were, an eraser. He has the final say, the last word.

So, Paul is submitting to the leadership of His Lord. He plans, but then he submits those plans to God’s will and waits to see if God will open the door.

Martin Luther, the church reformer of the early 1500s, often had students at his table during meals. On one occasion, as they were eating, Luther noticed his puppy, watching him intently; the little dog’s mouth was open, his tongue hanging to one side, his gaze never once looking away, hoping for a morsel of meat from Luther’s dish. Martin Luther commented to his dinner guests, “Oh, if I could only pray the way this dog watches [my food]!” … He has no other thought, wish, or hope.”[2] What a wonderful analogy for the godly believer who waits on the Lord.

And what a godly mentor, a spiritual mentor, Paul is to all of us. His spiritual legacy continues to this day through this model prayer.

This reminds me of the night before a newly elected senator was about to be sworn into office. His godly father invited him, along with his close friends and family members, to dinner. Later that evening, the new senator—John Ashcroft, a committed believer—knelt down by the sofa, where his aging father was seated. Everyone gathered around John to place their hands on him and pray a special prayer of commissioning and dedication for his service that would soon begin in Congress. John noticed his old father struggling to lift himself from the sofa. He was putting all his energy into getting off those soft cushions but was not making much progress. John told him, “Dad, you don’t have to struggle to stand and pray over me with these friends.” His father answered, “John, I’m not struggling to stand; I’m struggling to kneel [beside you].”[3] That left a mark on John’s life, which he recounted many years later.

That is the mark of a godly prayer warrior. That is how you make a spiritual legacy and pass down to the next generation what matters most.

[1] Steven J. Lawson, The Legacy (Multnomah Publishers, 1998), 14.

[2] Henry F. French, ed., Martin Luther’s Table Talk (Fortress Press, 2017), 5-6.

[3] John Ashcroft, “Thanks for Teaching Me the Value of Humility,” in Thanks, Dad, for Teaching Me Well, by Ken Gire (Waterbrook Press, 1999), 59-65.

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