It may be one of the most overlooked ministries we can perform for others: to struggle on their behalf in our prayers.
The idea comes from Paul’s description of Epaphras in Colossians 4:12-13: “Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God. For I bear him witness that he has worked hard for you and for those in Laodicea and in Hierapolis.”
Intense. Many may think that prayer is something that lazy people do. Such people have probably never prayed at length for others. The kind of prayer that Paul describes is hard work. It comes at a cost, but it’s worth it.
Paul’s no stranger to this kind of work. “For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me,” he wrote in Colossians 1:29. Evidently, the church in Colossae benefited from hard work. The word struggling is an athletic term, possibly borrowed from the wrestling world. Picture exertion and sweat.
Why did Epaphras feel the need to put so much effort into praying for the Colossians?
For one thing, they needed it. The church in Colossae faced danger from false teachers, just as our churches face all kinds of dangers too. It seems that Epaphras felt the weight of this concern, and it caused him to plead with the Lord so that they “may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God” (4:12).
Epaphras also felt a concern because he was one of them (4:12). It’s possible he founded the church. He felt a special concern for her welfare.
I tend to gravitate toward tasks. I wake up with a to-do list in my head. I hurtle through my day, always packing in more than I can reasonably get done. It’s hard for me to slow down sometimes and realize that my greatest ministry may not be to do more but to pray more for the people I lead.
Sometimes we overestimate our ability to affect change directly, and underestimate our ability to affect change through prayer.
What if some of us need to divert some of our energy so that we can struggle more in prayer? Paul isn’t against other kinds of work. Read the rest of Colossians and you get the idea of how much he put into his ministry. But prayer needs to be one of the areas that are included in the list of things we do. Maybe we even need to break the occasional sweat as we pray for our churches.
If you are praying like this already, please be encouraged. You are in good company. Your prayers are needed. Don’t get discouraged because it’s such hard work. Please keep going.
If you aren’t praying like this, let’s start.
Churches need people like Epaphras who are willing to struggle in prayer on their behalf. Great churches exist, in part, because people are willing to struggle on their behalf. And one of the greatest areas of struggle is prayer. Let’s rise to the challenge.