The hard work of prayer
Paul would often tell the recipients of his letters the specific things he was praying for them. In several instances, he would ask his readers to pray for him. However, out of all his letters in the New Testament, only once did Paul commend someone for the way they prayed.
Epaphras, who is one of you, a slave of Christ Jesus, greets you. He is always contending for you in his prayers, so that you can stand mature and fully assured in everything God wills. For I testify about him that he works hard for you, for those in Laodicea, and for those in Hierapolis.
When we think of doing hard work we immediately think of manual labor. We associate the phrase hard work with physical activities, such as digging trenches, heavy lifting, and constructing structures. Similarly, we identify a hard worker as a person with a “sun up to sun down” work ethic; someone who is relentlessly pursuing the completion of a project.
Interestingly enough, Paul says that Epaphras works hard in his prayers for those in and around the town he was from. When Paul wrote the letter to the Colossian believers, Epaphras was working with Paul while he was imprisoned for preaching the gospel. It’s possible that they were as far away as Rome.
And despite that distance, Epaphras believed there was some way for him to continue to help his home community. So he prayed. But Epaphras didn’t just ask God to keep them safe; he wasn’t offering up a quick “God please help them with their…stuff…they’re going through” prayer request. Instead, Epaphras prayed, and prayed hard.
When describing the way Epaphras prayed, Paul said that “he is always contending for you in his prayers”. The Greek word for contending is “agonizomai” from which you can see a relation to our English word “agonize”. Agonizomai was an athletic competition term, and it was used when a person had an intense struggle or fight.
This is how Epaphras would pray for his fellow believers. He loved these people so much, that he was willing to regularly struggle and strive before God on their behalf. The main focus of his prayers wasn’t asking for them to be comfortable or even healthy. Instead, he aggressively petitioned God for their maturity and that they would be fully assured that their choices were lined up with God’s desires.
Epaphras is an incredible example for us. Whom are we willing to do heavy lifting in prayer for? Those in our immediate family are easy ones to start with. However, even those we are not physically close to are worth praying over. After all, the One we pray to is near to every believer.