I urge you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me. Pray that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea and that my service in Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints there, so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and together with you be refreshed. The God of peace be with you all. Amen. (verses 30-33)
In these few verses we get two powerful insights into prayer, springing directly from the experience of the Apostle Paul himself.
The first comes from the word he chooses to use in connection with prayer. Paul invites the Romans to “struggle together with me” by praying. “Struggle” is a word that comes from the context of athletic games (think of the Olympics), conjuring images of athletes engaging strenuously in competition for the prize. Significantly, the root word comes into English as “agony,” giving a sense of the effort that is expended in the struggle. That’s how you should pray, Paul is saying, with strenuous zeal, determination, and grit. It’s not to be in our own strength, since he tells us elsewhere to pray at all times “in the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:18), but we ourselves are to engage with intensity.
I’m not sure I usually think of breaking a sweat in prayer. Do you? This word challenges me to think again.
Paul uses the same root word to describe his apostolic ministry. He uses it when he urges Timothy to “fight the good fight” (1 Timothy 6:12) even as he himself has done (2 Timothy 4:7). Pray like that. On another occasion he tells the Colossians that his goal is to present everyone perfect in Christ, and he uses this word to describe the way he goes about it: “to this end I labour, struggling with all his energy” (Colossians 1:29). And he uses the same word again later, applying it specifically to the prayer ministry of Epaphras, saying, “he is always wrestling in prayer for you” (Colossians 4:12). There’s intensity to this activity.
Prayer is real work. It’s not perfunctory, not just preliminary, not just preparing the way for the real work that will get done later. No. Prayer is itself the work. “Struggle together with me by praying,” Paul says.
The second insight into prayer comes from the prayer request itself. Paul is on his way to Jerusalem to deliver financial aid to the Jewish Christians there. As he goes, he asks the Romans to pray that his ministry would be successful, that he would be “rescued” from the actions of unbelievers, and that he might subsequently come to Rome itself to visit with those to whom he is now writing.
The latter part of the book of Acts lets us know how it all turned out. The prayer was answered, but not entirely as those praying Romans might have anticipated. Paul himself had some forewarning from the Spirit that “prison and hardships” awaited him (Acts 20:23), hence his prayer to be rescued. He was indeed kept safe from the hands of those who sought to take his life, but he ended up in Roman imprisonment for two years, followed by a long Mediterranean voyage as a prisoner (punctuated by shipwreck), followed by house arrest in Rome itself. The money did indeed get delivered to Jerusalem, Paul’s life was preserved, and he was able to welcome “all who came to see him” (Acts 28:30) while in Rome (members of the Roman church included). Was the prayer answered? Yes. Was it answered as I would have expected? No. Was it all in the Lord’s hands? Absolutely.
Both of these insights compel us to pray. Exert yourself strenuously in prayer. By the Spirit, passionately engage in this real work with intensity and energy. Fight the good fight. And as you pray, envisioning the answer, trust the Lord without reservation, knowing that he is sovereign and good. He is able. But his vision may be somewhat different than your own.
Sovereign Lord, I have issues on my heart which I bring to you now in prayer. Please empower me by your Spirit to struggle strenuously, with all the energy you give me, as I intercede. And as I do, I entrust the answers – their timing and their shape – fully into your hands. You are good. You are able. Praise your name.
Pray: What are one or two or three requests that are currently on your heart? Commit yourself to praying them with new intensity. Decide for yourself what that means. Struggle in prayer.