How Do We Pray, Part 1. Wrestling in #Prayer #292
Happy Wednesday, dear friends! Today we celebrate the return of my wife and the kid’s mother to the Bible Reading Podcast bunker. The kids’ average bedtime just plummeted by about 1.5 hours…hope they handle it ok! Today we finally get to one of my absolute favorite Bible figures: Elijah. I love Elijah because he is interesting, and a mighty man of God and as powerfully as God uses him, he also displays some remarkably human characteristics, making him very relatable. James uses him as an example for us in prayer, which we will discuss tomorrow, but today we are going to learn to pray not from Elijah, but from everybody’s favorite Bible guy, Epaphras.
Epa-who, you might me be asking? Well, the thing is, we don’t know much about Epaphras at all – really just three things, and all of them are awesome.
#1 We know he was the evangelist/church planter who proclaimed the gospel at Colossae, founding the church there. “you heard it and came to truly appreciate God’s grace. 7 You learned this from Epaphras, our dearly loved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf, 8 and he has told us about your love in the Spirit.” Colossians 1:6-8
#2 We know that Epaphras was imprisoned with Paul for preaching the gospel, as mentioned in Philemon 1:23, “Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends you greetings…”
#3 Finally, we know that Epaphras wrestled in prayer frequently for the Colossian church. “Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, sends you greetings. He is always wrestling for you in his prayers, so that you can stand mature and fully assured in everything God wills.” Colossians 4:12
Let’s read our passage, and then talk about the importance of struggling/wrestling in prayer for each other, and what that accomplishes.
So, let’s focus on Epaphras for a few moments – he is most certainly an unsung hero of the Bible. I have a collection of thousands of digital sermons, and I can’t find a single one that focuses on this guy, but maybe there should be at least a few, because we learn something very remarkable from Epaphras here – that a big key to maturity and assurance in the faith is found in intercessory prayer. What kind of praying does Epaphras do? Well, some translations say struggling, some wrestling, some striving, some contending, some labouring. The Greek word is ἀγωνίζομαι agōnízomai, and though our word agony is related to it, that’s not exactly the Greek meaning of the word. Instead, it was used for a gym, or place where contested games took place, and thus the word is a very powerful action word – bringing to mind effort, intensity and strong exertion. The same word is found in a fairly well known passage in 1 Timothy and 2nd Timothy, and also earlier in Colossians
12 Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of eternal life to which you were called and about which you have made a good confession in the presence of many witnesses.
1 Timothy 6:12
7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
2nd Timothy 4:7
29 I labor for this, striving with his strength that works powerfully in me.
This is a sweat-soaked word, and it indicates that Epaphras isn’t just praying up a quick and barely thought out prayer before he digs into his morning bowl of corn-flakes. Epaphras is expending effort and pouring his heart out in prayer for these brand new believers in Colossae. Who is Epaphras wrestling with? Who is he fighting? That’s a great question, and I believe the answer is, in a sense, God. Not that Epaphras is literally fighting against God, but that He is so intense in His intercession for the Colossian church that it is indeed as if he is Jacob in the desert wrestling with God. The old-school, prayer-soaked mighty people of God used to refer to this as prevailing prayer. Consider some of these stirring quotes that will paint a picture of prevailing prayer:
“If our spiritually dead ones are to be raised, we must first get power with God. The reason we so often fail in moving our fellowmen is that we try to win them without first getting power with God. Jesus was in communion with His Father, and so He could be assured that His prayers were heard.”
“It is in the field of prayer that life’s critical battles are lost or won. We must conquer all our circumstances there. We must first of all bring them there. We must survey them there. We must master them there. In prayer we bring our spiritual enemies into the Presence of God and we fight them there. Have you tried that? Or have you been satisfied to meet and fight your foes in the open spaces of the world?” John Henry Jowett
The men who have done the most for God in this world have been early on their knees. E.M. Bounds
All great soul-winners have been men of much and mighty prayer, and all great revivals have been preceded and carried out by persevering, prevailing knee-work in the closet. Samuel Logan Brengle
It is not that God is stingy and must be coaxed, for He “giveth liberally and upbraideth not.” It is that we ourselves are so shallow and sinful that we need to tarry before Him until our restless natures can be stilled and the clamor of outside voices be deadened so that we can hear His voice. Such a state is not easily reached, and the men God uses have paid a price in wrestlings and prevailing prayer. But it is such men who rise from their knees confident of His power and go forth to speak with authority. Vance Havner
The purpose of revival is to fire the church with divine energy for her divine assignment. Revival will tear us away from our temporal pursuits to give ourselves for what really matters.Revival will not occur without prayer. Prevailing prayer is always antecedent to revival. David Shibley
Perhaps the most important thing for us to point out here is that Epaphras’ prayers, according to Paul, were bringing about maturity and assurance. Are you in a church that is struggling to walk maturely in Christ? Maybe they are over-fearful of the pandemic, maybe they are divided over issues, maybe struggling to evangelize, maybe struggling to give, or pray, or love, or whatever…if this is your church, then you need some Epaphrases to rise up and wrestle/strive/labor on behalf of your church. Here are the results: He is always wrestling for you in his prayers, so that you can stand mature and fully assured in everything God wills.” The results of wrestling in prayer are maturity and faithful, assured standing in God’s will. That is a pretty huge payout, and I am praying for more Epaphrases to rise up in our church, and in churches all around the globe…maybe part of this pandemic, which has disrupted so much, is designed to call the church back to prevailing prayer. Lord raise up Epaphrases all around the world!