“Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ, saluteth you, always labouring fervently for you in prayers, that ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.“ (Col. 4:12)
We see here an amazing example of Epaphras, a minister (maybe the pastor) at the church at Colossae, of the tenacity and laboring of his prayers for others. Sometimes we feel like our prayers are not effectual, but actually, the scriptures clearly affirm that the “effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man (and woman) availeth much” (James 5:16). Some of the most significant impact we can have on the kingdom is by laboring in prayer for our fellow kindred in the church. Some older people who are physically limited, in nursing homes or even bedridden, might feel that they might not have anything left to do in the kingdom. Well, there are no physical limitations that prevent anyone from laboring fervently in prayer for the saints. I believe some of the most diligent, devoted, and tenacious “prayer warriors” have been old sisters who can’t even attend church anymore, but they are still laboring in the kingdom in fervent prayers for the church. Notice Epaphras was not laboring for himself but laboring “for you”, for the saints in the Colossian church, in prayer. Our prayers need to be more “selfless” and “others-centered” than selfish and self-centered. Part of the community of the church is other saints bearing one another’s burdens, and we need to pray more diligently “for others” and help bring their burdens to the Lord for healing and relief.
Epaphras appears to be a minister, maybe even the pastor, of the Colossian church. The church learned the word from his teaching, and he is called “our dear fellowservant, who is for you a faithful minister of Christ” (Col. 1:7) and Paul’s “fellowprisoner” in Christ Jesus” (Philemon 23). Epaphras shows a diligence to the church, but he also displayed a special commitment to “labor fervently for you in prayers”. The phrase “laboring fervently” here means “to struggle, to contend or fight with an adversary, to compete for a prize (such as a wrestling match in the Olympic games)”. This word “agonizomai” is the basis for our English word “agony” and is a close Greek cousin to “agonia” which is used to describe Jesus being in “agony” in prayer in the garden of Gethsemane. This shows the intensity of Epaphras’ prayers for the church and for the saints. Epaphras was “in agony” in prayer, struggling, laboring, and no doubt fighting against Satan in prayer for the church.
As with all things in our discipleship, our primary example for prayer is our Lord Jesus Christ. “Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared;” (Heb. 5:7) Jesus shows this laboring fervently in prayers for others in crying and tears, primarily in the garden of Gethsemane. Notice the intensity of Jesus’ prayers ”with strong crying and tears”. In the garden, Jesus was “in agony” in prayer for us. “And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” (Luke 22:44) Jesus was not praying that prayer for himself. Jesus was praying for the cup of God’s wrath that he was about to drink for us to eventually pass from him and cease. Jesus was in agony in prayer for me and you. Jesus’ soul – as the Son of man – was “exceeding sorrowful” even unto death in prayer for us. “Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me.” (Matt. 26:38) There is an intensity in Jesus’ prayers that go down the soul. Jesus wept in prayer to God. How often have we wept in agony in prayer to God? Before choosing his twelve apostles, Jesus went alone to a mountain and “continued all night in prayer to God” before choosing his twelve apostles (Luke 6:12). How many nights have we continued all night in prayer? I am ashamed to answer that question publicly. I’m afraid our prayers are much more shallow and superficial than the example of our Savior’s prayers.
In Genesis 32:22-32, Jacob wrestled with an angel all night until the breaking of day. Jacob refused to let go of this angel unless he received a blessing because he was about to meet Esau the next day who had sworn to kill him, and he wanted a blessing from the Lord for that encounter. The scripture does reference this other wrestling partner as an angel, but yet Jacob felt that he had “seen God face to face” (Gen. 32:30). We are also told, “Yea, he had power over the angel, and prevailed: he wept, and made supplication unto him” (Hosea 12:4). Jacob appears to “make supplication” unto this angel. It is doubtful that an angel would accept prayers being made unto him. Therefore, it is a high possibility that this angel that Jacob wrestled with in prayer all night was a pre-incarnate Jesus Christ, having seen God face to face. Jacob wrestled in prayer for God to bless him, but Epaphras wrestled with God in prayer for others, for God to bless the church. We need to follow that example and have a greater intensity in our prayers in general, but especially an increased intensity in our prayers for others in the church.
Notice who Epaphras is “laboring fervently” for in prayer – not for himself but “for you”, for the church at Colossae. While all believers need to labor fervently in prayer for the saints and the church, there is a special responsibility for the pastor to fight, struggle, and labor for the church in prayer. The ministry is called to give themselves “continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4). The apostle Paul set the tone and set the bar for his prayers for the church, a bar so high I am embarrassed to assess the commitment of my prayer life in comparison to the apostle Paul. “For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers.” (Rom. 1:9) Paul affirms that he “always” makes mention of the Roman church in his prayers “without ceasing”. This is even for a church at Rome that he had not visited in person and didn’t personally know the members of that church. Could we honestly call God down as our witness – “for God is my witness” – to affirm we pray without ceasing for the church in general, but especially for churches we have never even met before? Let’s just say, I’m ashamed to say I am not comfortable calling down God as my witness to affirm the commitment of my prayer life. Instead, my prayer would be “God forgive and give me a greater zeal in prayer like Paul and Epaphras”.
Paul truly gave himself continually to prayer. When he commanded the Thessalonian church to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17), he backed it up with his personal example. Paul talked the talk, but he also walked the walk in praying without ceasing. He prayed “always” and “without ceasing” and “night and day” for the Roman church (Rom. 1:9), Colossian church (Col. 1:3,9), Thessalonian church (1 Thess. 1:2,3:10; 2 Thess. 3:1), Ephesian church (Eph. 1:16), Philippian church (Phil. 1:4,19) and then specifically for his dear friends in the ministry, Philemon (Philemon 4) and for Timothy (2 Tim. 1:3). For Paul to pray for the churches and for the ministry like this, how many hours a day do you think he must have spent in prayer every day? He must have spent hours a day in prayer, and I do my best to squeeze in a few minutes here and there. If my ministry is weak and my impact on the kingdom is weak and seemingly ineffectual, it very well might be because my prayers are minimal, weak, and ineffectual. Paul was a giant in the kingdom because he was a giant on his knees in prayer.
Paul was fervently praying for the growth and advancement of God’s kingdom. He labored fervently in prayer to God for the natural Jews to be converted to the gospel. “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved.” (Rom. 10:1) His Jewish brethren who had not been converted to the gospel burdened his heart very heavily. How often are others outside the church so heavily on our heart that we labor fervently in prayer for them as we ought? We need to follow Paul’s pattern to pray for the advancement of God’s kingdom and converts to believe the gospel. In Jesus’ model prayer, the very first thing we are instructed to pray for after praising the name of God is “thy kingdom come” (Matt. 6:10). Even before we pray for God’s will, our daily bread, or forgiveness, God’s people are instructed to pray for the kingdom of God first and foremost. In that same way, we should pray for those who are not currently pressing into the kingdom to be converted and to press into the kingdom of God and for the growth of the kingdom.
One of the most important attributes of a healthy church body is an openness to share our struggles with others and request them to pray for us. The church is supposed to be a “house of prayer”. The church is not a house of prayer because we pray publicly during worship, but because the individual members of the church pray for one another on a perpetual basis. “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” (James 5:16) There should be an openness to “confess our faults” one to another. That doesn’t mean on Sundays that we have every member confessing their sins in public worship. Instead, in private, there should be an intimacy of connection among the members of the church that we confess our faults one with another and request prayers from our kindred in Christ for God’s grace and strength to do better. We have to get over our pride or hesitancy to not be open and honest with our fellow members of the church but to request their prayer in time of need.
Paul frequently requested prayer from the church on his behalf, usually for the spread of the gospel and growth of the kingdom. “30) Now I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that ye strive together with me in your prayers to God for me. 31) That I may be delivered from them that do not believe in Judaea; and that my service which I have for Jerusalem may be accepted of the saints” (Rom. 15:30-31) Paul was already “striving” in prayer for open doors for the gospel, but he requested the Roman church to “strive together with me in your prayers”. This phrase to “strive together” means “to struggle in company with”; one of the root words for this is same word “for laboring fervently” from Col. 4:12. Paul was already laboring fervently in prayer for all hindrances to the spread of the gospel to be removed and he requested them to strive and labor together with him in prayer for the same goal. “Withal praying also for us, that God would open unto us a door of utterance, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in bonds:” (Col. 4:3) Paul requested prayer from the Colossian church that God would bless a door of utterance to be opened for him. Paul exhorted the church to labor with him in prayer for the gospel and for the kingdom. The church “helped together” the growth of the kingdom by praying for the ministry. “Ye also helping together by prayer for us, that for the gift bestowed upon us by the means of many persons thanks may be given by many on our behalf.” (2 Cor. 1:11) Just because someone is not called to preach, doesn’t mean they can’t help in the growth of the gospel of the kingdom. We help in the spread of the gospel when we strive and labor together to pray for doors of utterance to be opened and for the ministry to boldly preach the gospel.
When we are in severe need, particularly if we are sick or afflicted, we need to call for the community of the church to pray for us. “13) Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms. 14) Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: 15) And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him. 16) Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” (James 5:13-16) We don’t need to neglect requesting the prayers of the saints on our behalf because the “effectual fervent prayer of the righteous man (or woman) avails much”. Laboring fervently in prayer is not useless, it is effective and it powerful. The word “availeth” means “to be strong or to have power” and “much” means “many, abundant, large”. Therefore, there is “abundant power” in our prayers for each other in the church. Particularly when one is sick, the scripture instructs them to not endure that sickness alone but to call for the elders of the church to come and pray over him. There is “great power” in effectual fervent prayer because “the prayer of faith shall save the sick”. Our laboring in fervent prayer for the sick can result in saving their life if God’s will is to intervene and bless them with healing.
Peter was cast into prison by Herod, and since he had just killed James, it appeared that Peter was probably going to be soon killed as well. Therefore, “prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him” (Acts 12:5). God powerfully answered the effectual, fervent prayers of the church, and an angel guides Peter literally right out the front gate of the prison. Peter immediately goes to Mary’s house where the church was met together praying (Acts 12:12). A young girl named Rhoda answered the door and recognized Peter’s voice and ran immediately to tell all the church that their prayer meeting had been effectually answered by Peter’s release. However, they thought she was mad, or saw Peter’s angel, and when they finally saw Peter in the flesh, they were “astonished” (Acts 12:16). I’m afraid our prayers often mirror the prayers of the first century Jerusalem church. They were fervently praying for Peter, but then when God actually answered their prayer, they thought Rhoda was crazy, and they were astonished that it actually occurred. In James 5:15, we are told that the prayer of “faith” shall save the sick. We need to pray in faith believing that our God is abundantly able to answer our petitions, and not be astonished when God does answer our prayer.
Scripture makes it clear that we should have a perpetual posture of prayer, to pray without ceasing. We have to live life and can’t be in our prayer closet 24/7 or have our eyes closed for hours every day. Praying without ceasing means having a perpetual communication and prayerful mindset with God. Just as with our best friends and family, we are in constant communication with them throughout the day – calling, texting, speaking in person – we need to be in constant communication in prayer with our Heavenly Father. We talk to Jesus literally all the time in prayer. Jesus is a Friend that sticks closer than a brother, and if Jesus is our Best Friend, then we need to be perpetually speaking to Jesus in prayer without ceasing. We need to be praying always unto God in the Spirit for “all saints”. “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints;” (Eph. 6:18)
Who should we be laboring fervently in prayer for? All saints. Not only our close friends and family but for all saints, even for churches abroad we haven’t even met, like Paul praying for the Roman church. We “watch” (or protect) other saints when we pray for them. Don’t leave our fellow saints “unprotected” by not watching and ceasing to pray for them. In Samuel’s farewell address to Israel, he even says it would be a sin against the Lord to cease in prayer for God’s people. “Moreover as for me, God forbid that I should sin against the LORD in ceasing to pray for you: but I will teach you the good and the right way:” (1 Sam. 12:23) We don’t need to forsake our responsibility to pray for others in the church. We need to be watchful and cover and protect all saints in prayer, praying for God to protect us from the devil and the wickedness of this world.
Paul exhorted Timothy, and the church to pray for “all men”? “1) I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; 2) For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.” (1 Tim. 2:1-2) We are to pray for “all men”, but especially for kings and those in authority in government. We pray for all governmental authorities primarily so that they will uphold our liberty and freedom to worship God so that we can live a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. We don’t have the right to neglect prayer for others just because we don’t like them. I know the first century Christians didn’t like “the king” (Nero, who was actively killing Christians). Regardless of if we like our governmental authority or not, we have a biblical responsibility to pray, supplicate, intercede, and give thanks for them unto our God.
Arguably some of the strongest laborers and warriors in prayer in the kingdom of God, are widows indeed. One of the primary characteristics of the widows indeed that the church is called to provide for financially is that she continues in prayers night and day, without ceasing. “Now she that is a widow indeed, and desolate, trusteth in God, and continueth in supplications and prayers night and day.” (1 Tim. 5:5) We see a true “widow indeed” in Anna who did not leave “the temple” (the church) but served God with fasting and prayers night and day. “And [Anna, the prophetess] was a widow of about fourscore and four years, which departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day.” (Luke 2:37) Anna served God by prayer and fasting. Anna was married for 7 years and had been a widow for 84 years. If she was 15 when she was married, then she would be 106 years old. This 100+ year old widow came “to church” every single day to pray unto God. She was still “serving God” by praying even at her age. I think some of the strongest laborers in prayer in the kingdom of God are dear older brothers and sisters and widows whose body has deteriorated, but their spirit is still strong. Some older members who might be at home or in the nursing home might feel like they are not useful in the kingdom anymore because they can’t do as much physically as they used to. Instead, they still have the ability to “serve God” and “labor fervently” for the church by their prayers for the saints and for the kingdom of God. I think some of the most impactful people in the kingdom of God have been dear sisters who cannot attend church anymore, but they don’t have anything else to do all day but labor fervently in prayer for the church. They are still serving God, just like Anna, as they strive together in prayers for God’s people and for the church.
Consider the impact your fervent prayers not just have in this world, but how God views our effectual fervent prayers in heaven. There are golden vials in heaven filled with odors of the prayers of the saints. “And when he had taken the book, the four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints.” (Rev. 5:8) Our prayers ascend up before God as burnt incense offering, as a sweet-smelling savor before God in heaven. “3) And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. 4) And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel’s hand.” (Rev. 8:3-4) How amazing is it to think that our prayers come up before our Heavenly Father as sweet-smelling incense in heaven! It is pleasing to God when the prayers of the saints come up before him as a sweet-smelling incense offering.
Arguably the greatest impact we can have on the kingdom of God is on our knees, laboring fervently in prayers for others and for the church. Paul was a giant in the kingdom because he was a giant in prayer. We need to all examine our prayer life and follow Epaphras and Paul’s fervent, faithful example. Maintaining a strong prayer life is a struggle, it’s a wrestling match, it’s hard, and it’s even tears and agony sometimes. We need a greater intensity and tenacity in our prayers. My prayers are weak and ineffectual compared to the scriptural example of Jesus, Paul, Epaphras, Anna, the widows indeed, and many more. Let us not just use our prayers to try to “get things” from God. Instead, we need a more selfless disposition in our prayers, to pray for others and labor fervently in prayers for others in the kingdom of God.
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