He’s a preacher named Epaphras who is said to have helped establish the first-century church at Colossae. And he’s such a close friend of the apostle Paul that he visits him in a Roman prison and decides to stay awhile.
But this one verse makes me wish we knew a whole lot more about him than just that. Here’s Paul, writing to the Colossians:
“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.” Colossians 4: 12
That phrase, “always wrestling in prayer for you”, resonates with me. In my mind’s eye, I see our friend Epaphras on his face before God. He’s not “wrestling” in the sense that he’s begging God to do something God doesn’t want to do, but he’s striving to represent the Colossians well, and seeking God’s will for them.
Epaphras really wants to get it right.
It is apparent that as he prays, Epaphras hits on exactly what it is that God wants for the Colossians: that they would stand firm in His will, and that they would be mature and confident in their faith. That’s a request God will certainly say “yes” to.
How does Epaphras know to pray this?
One of the coolest things I know about prayer, I read in Romans 8:26-27:
“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” Romans 8:26-27
As we Christians pray, our words are edited by God’s Spirit so that what we ask is in line with God’s will for us. Even when we don’t know what to pray and perhaps all we can do is sigh (or cry), the Holy Spirit puts words to it and implores God in our stead.
That is just amazing.
As a young Christian, I used to wonder what the point was in praying, if God was going to do what God was going to do, regardless. But I think I see the answer in Epaphras.
He has a deep love for the Colossians and prayer is Epaphras’ way of connecting with God to learn what God wants for this beloved church.
And it is in gut-wrenching, heartfelt prayer that he receives his answer.
The physical act of praying – crafting the words, formulating the thoughts, expressing the needs – prepares us to hear from God in profound and mysterious ways.
As we engage in the discipline of prayer, struggling to put our requests and concerns into words, we can know that our prayers are being heard by Him. They are being scrubbed clean and repackaged by the Holy Spirit, so that the answer we receive reflects God’s will and is always for our best.
Frequently, the insights He gives us in prayer would not have come any other way.
The truth is, I don’t know anyone actually named Epaphras (do you?), but I know plenty of people like Epaphras, and the idea that they would wrestle in prayer for me is humbling. People like …
- My parents, who stood in the gap between me and God and faithfully sought His wisdom for their relationship with me and for mine with Him;
- Christian friends, who encircle me with love when I’m hurting and shower me with healing prayers that minister to my very soul;
- Jesus Himself, who prayed in John 17:20 for “those who will believe in me”. More than two thousand years ago, we were already known and loved by God and were being prayed for!
- In a sense, I even believe Epaphras’ prayer for the Colossians, recorded in Paul’s epistle, was appropriated for you and me. Christians down through the ages have prayed for those who would come after them. And we “pay it forward” with our prayers today for future generations.
We pray not because God needs suggestions for a course of action, nor because a certain combination of the “right” religious words will unlock a holy stubbornness, but because when we are praying, we are in the best posture to hear from Him and rest in His will.
Thanks, Epaphras, for the example, the reminder…and all the wrestling.
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