Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful …
Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis. (verses 2, 12-13)
“Devote yourselves to prayer,” Paul says, using the very word that describes the passion of the early church in the immediate aftermath of Pentecost. As we saw yesterday, the word conveys the idea of being intently alert, watching, passionately focused, giving undivided attention. Often, it’s used of prayer. It describes the gathering of believers prior to Pentecost (Acts 1:14, “they all joined together constantly in prayer”), the ongoing focus of the apostles’ ministry (Acts 6:4, “(we) will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word”), and Paul’s instruction to the Roman church (Romans 12:12, “Be … faithful in prayer”).
Press on with passion as you pray. That’s the intent.
Paul now gives a living illustration of this focused devotion. It’s Epaphras. He’s Paul’s dear friend, but also a member of the Colossian community. Indeed, he’s the very one who shared the good news of Jesus with these folk in the first place. He cares about them deeply and has a vested interest in their well-being. So, he prays.
Paul says Epaphras is “always wrestling in prayer” for them. The image comes from the sports arena, athletes competing intensely, exerting all their energy toward winning the prize. That’s how Epaphras engages in prayer. Interestingly, this word comes into English as “agony” and “agonizing”, again giving something of the intensity of the activity. (Though, don’t focus too much on the pain! Paul has already reminded us back in verse 2 that as we pray, we’re to be “thankful” –enlivening it all with joyful gratitude!)
The final word about Epaphras is very telling. Paul says, “he is working hard for you” (verse 13). That’s an interesting comment, given the fact that Epaphras is nowhere near the Colossians. He’s completely separated from them, attending to Paul in his imprisonment, likely in Rome. The distance is some 2,000 km. They didn’t have motorized transportation in those days – to walk from Rome to Colossae would take something in the neighbourhood of 263 hours! That’s a long way! It’s very difficult to be “hands on” at that distance.
Yet, Epaphras is “working hard.” Really? He’s only praying. Yes, indeed – he can’t do anything else. He can only pray – and it is hugely effective work! In fact, its effect is that the Colossians “may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured” (verse 12). That’s good work indeed.
Do we think of prayer that way? As the work itself? Do we see it, in its own right, as effective activity in the kingdom? Or do we treat it as merely preliminary engagement, blessing the real activity that is to come later when we open our eyes and get up off our knees?
“Devote yourselves to prayer,” Paul says. Engage in the work. Wrestle. Give thanks. Watch for the full will of God to be done.
O Lord, your disciples requested, “Teach us to pray.” In light of the challenge in this passage, would you please teach me more. More fully. More deeply. May you increase devotion within me. Teach me to wrestle. Teach me to work hard. All the while giving thanks. Teach me, O Lord.
Pray: Take one of your prayer burdens and wrestle with it afresh today. Raise up the request often. Each time, see your prayer as constructive work, energized by the Spirit. Let that attitude spill over into the days ahead. Keep on keeping on. Watch for the Father’s will to be done, ready to give thanks.