"Persevere in prayer, with mind awake and thankful heart; and include a prayer for us …”
This is part of the apostle Paul’s message to the Colossians (from chapter 4, verse 2). It is far from the only place in his letters that he urges his readers/listeners to pray. As a Pharisee by background, Paul would have been no stranger to prayer in the Hebrew tradition so it’s not hard to imagine that this habit would have continued after he became a follower of Christ.
Prayer of course is a route to deepening our relationship with God, but it also serves to bring us closer to one another, especially just now when we are unable to gather for worship in church.
Over the past week or so I have been praying for two friends in particular, as each goes through a difficult time. One of the things that has sustained me in this is the certain knowledge that I have not been praying on my own: ministers, elders and members in many congregations have also been engaged in prayer for these two individuals, whether they are close personal friends or not.
Going back to the Colossians – well, how blessed were they! For Paul writes to them, “Epaphras prays hard for you all the time, that you may stand fast, ripe in conviction and wholly devoted to doing God’s will.” (chapter 4, verse 12; New English Bible)
Or what about this, the same verse from the New International Version: “Epaphras is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured.”
“Wrestling in prayer”: I like that. It takes us away from prayer as something soppy and soft and towards an understanding of prayer as something that takes effort, may be difficult, will take a lot out of us. And with training and practice, as with wrestling as a sport, we will get better at it.
In a wrestling match there will only be one victor. If we wrestle in prayer, we won’t always get the answer or outcome we want, but there’s encouragement to be found in the example of another person who wrestled with God in prayer: the writer of Psalm 13.
He goes from asking, “How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart?” to concluding, “But I trust in your unfailing love, my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, for he has been good to me.”
"Praise God for his acts of power,
praise him for his surpassing greatness.
Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet,
praise him with the harp and lyre ..."
(from Psalm 150)
Photo from Exeter Cathedral