Prayer Warriors

Background Passages: Colossians 1:7-8; 4:12-13; Philemon 23; James 2:14-16

The great Protestant reformer, Martin Luther learned the need for deep spiritual concentration in prayer from his dog, Klutz. Luther said, “If I could only pray the way this dog watches meat …(beyond that one thing) he has no thought, wish or hope.” Effective prayer requires a singular focus.

One such prayer warrior, casually mentioned in scripture, poured his every thought, wish and hope into his passionate prayers for the believers in Colossae. Consider the example of Epaphras.

I suspect the long journey to Rome gave him time to reflect on the troubles plaguing the Colossian church as it resisted the heretical attacks of those who misunderstood and misapplied the gospel of Christ. After his conversion experience in Ephesus experienced at the feet of Paul, Epaphras took his missionary zeal 100 miles west to the cities of Colossae, Laodicea and Hierapolis.

As it was in other areas, the spread of Christianity faced a host of problems caused by those who wished to assimilate Christ’s teachings into the prevailing religions or philosophies of the day. Some Jewish leaders embraced the teachings of Christ to a point, but insisted that Jewish laws, rituals and traditions be embraced as a condition of salvation. Some Gentiles attempted to blend Greco/Roman philosophies with Christian teaching, but proclaiming a “secret knowledge” that made them more in tune with God. Other philosophers tried to meld Christian humility and servanthood with the joyless stoicism of self-denial.

Faced with all of these pressures upon the churches he served, Epaphras boarded a boat to Rome intent upon sharing his concerns with Paul, his spiritual mentor and guide. When Paul heard of the difficulties in the church, he penned a letter addressed to the churches providing instruction from the apostle to the believers. In the book of Colossians, Paul encouraging them to set aside the false teachings and focus instead on the teachings of Christ.

As he closed his letter to the Colossian church, Paul spoke highly of Epaphras, one of only three times this dedicated pastor was mentioned in the Bible. In the brief biblical references to Epaphras, he is called “servant of Christ Jesus,” “our beloved fellow servant,” “faithful minister” and “my fellow prisoner.”

Paul held this man of faith in high esteem, considering him a valuable member of the ministry team and a personal encouragement in his life. However, Paul’s reference to his friend reveals a great deal about Epaphras that I find instructive. He wrote,

“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. I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for those in Laodicea and Hierapolis.”

Epaphras understood what we tend to forget. Our prayers tend to be incident specific, offered during times of personal need or want. Our prayers tend to be generic as we intercede for “them,” those whose struggles we see, but never really touch. Epaphras prayed differently.

Paul said, “He is always wrestling in prayer for you…” He offered prayers of intercession, lifting his congregation to the throne of God, laying their needs at the feet of Christ. Knowing what they faced…knowing that great was their need for the Spirit’s presence at a time when false teachers were pulling them in all directions…Epaphras prayed.

I suspect he did more than pray for the generic spiritual health of his church. He knew his people, his friends. He knew the unique struggles each individual faced. He knew their personal hurts, their unique desires, their individual weakness. He knew their joy, their devotion, their strengths. He prayed for each member of his congregation that God’s presence might be felt. God’s voice heard. God’s will obeyed.

How much more effective would our prayer life be if our first thought was not for our own needs or for a faceless crowd, but for the specific needs of the one? Praying not just for the universal needs of the Christian community, but for specific friends and family we know caught between the loving arms of God and the selfish pull of the world. Praying for friends and family that God’s joy might be made complete in them.

We learn another truth from this passage. “He is always wrestling in prayer for you,” Paul wrote. Epaphras prayed persistently and continuously for his people, lifting them up constantly to the Father. So great was his love for his congregation, their situation remained at the forefront of his heart. Though miles separated Rome from Colossae, Epaphras could not take his mind off their struggles. When you know those you care for are under spiritual attack and you cannot stand physically by their side, prayer provides a connection one to the other, linking your heart to theirs.

Thessalonians reminds us to “pray without ceasing,” not so a forgetful God will be reminded of our requests, but that we remain connected to those we love through a spiritual life line. Persistent and continuous prayer for another never allows the needs of another to get buried beneath the bustle of daily life.

Epaphras knew that effective prayer is labor intensive. Paul said, “He is always wrestling in prayer for you.” This servant of Jesus Christ agonized over the souls of those for whom he was responsible. They were that important to him. He carried their burdens as his own and that heavy responsibility left him seeking answers day in and day out, desperate to discover what he could say or do to bolster their faith and give them strength.

The word “wrestle” found in this text comes from a Greek word meaning “to agonize.” In a real sense, it paints a picture of competing for a prize. Figuratively, it suggests fighting an adversary. Both concepts ring true. The false teachers threatened the work of God’s grace, eternity’s highest prize, in the daily life of the Colossians. Those Epaphras opposed stood as enemies of the faith. True adversaries. He would fight them with every spiritual weapon at his disposal. Praying for the Colossians brought heartbreak and pain. The danger to their faith was never more real.

Epaphras labored in prayer over Colossae, Laodicea, and Hierapolis. Stretching his mind, his heart, his spirit and his soul, Epaphras’ prayers consumed his time, drew upon his strength and challenged his commitment.

Prayer that fails to burden the soul echoes as a hollow sound. Epaphras teaches us that prayer should compel us to go to the mat for those in need and should define who we are and that for which we stand.

Epaphras prayed specifically and intelligently for the people. He prayed that in the face of all that opposed them, they might “stand firm” in the will of God. That their faith might be “mature” and “fully assured” as they withstand the assault on their beliefs. We might have prayed for God’s blessing upon them, or God’s peace and presence… and God would hear that prayer. However, Epaphras prayed for specific manifestations of their faith in a troubled time. His prayer came with a stated purpose for personal spiritual growth and confidence that they did not walk alone.

The most effective prayers we utter are those that are backed by our own hard work. Paul reminded the Colossians of their pastor’s tireless effort on their behalf. “I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and those in Laodicea and Hierapolis.” It wasn’t enough to lay his concerns before God, Epaphras set out to make those prayers a reality in the lives of those he loved. He worked. He worked hard as God’s hands and feet to make his prayers a reality.

James tells us of the link between faith and works. “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?”

I suspect the same is true of our prayers. Casual prayers of blessing for those we know who are struggling sound like we simply wish them well. We need to back our prayers with our actions. In this way we serve as God’s conduit for the answers he provides.

Every day we encounter someone who lives life in turmoil. Will we wrestle constantly in prayer for the heart that is broken? Will we put ourselves to work to ensure that our prayers actually touch a life of another? Can we go to God with such fervor and focus there exists no greater thought, wish or hope beyond that for which we pray?

The lesson taught by this obscure Christian giant is a good one. Whose Epaphras will you be?


Author’s Note: This devotional thought is the third in a series of posts about some of the unsung heroes of the New Testament. These men and women, in many ways, carried the responsibility of the spread of the gospel in first 50 years after the ministry of Christ. By putting together the limited biblical references to their work and filling in the gaps with a little imagination, we find ways in which we, as ordinary Christians, can find in the examples they set our own heart for ministry.

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Fearless Love

Background Passages: Romans 12:13; I Peter 4:8-10; I John 4:18-20 and III John

“What should we do if we see one of you doing something wrong?” The question from my oldest son came out of the blue at the dinner table when he was about eight years old. My wife and I looked at each other in stunned silence as my mind raced through all the things I might have said or done since I got home that night.

My wife, unfazed by the question and probably with a cleaner conscious than mine, responded first. “You should tell us.” My son turned to me with a stern look on his face, “She talks to strangers all the time.” It seems our talks about “stranger danger” took hold. All I could do was shake my head and say, “I know. I know.”

What Adam observed is true. Robin will strike up a conversation with the woman she’s never met in the grocery line or the man at the doctor’s office…any time, any place, any one. She is outgoing and friendly to all she encounters. My son was right about her actions, but wrong in his interpretation. To my wife, no one is a stranger and all a potential friend.

I believe her ability to notice people, to make them feel special, is a God-given gift. In biblical terms, she has the gift of hospitality. Christian hospitality isn’t about fancy table settings or sumptuous banquets, it’s about servanthood. It conveys the idea of loving others in the name of Christ. While the Bible teaches all of us to love one another and to practice hospitality (Rom. 12:13), there are those whose spirit captures it in abundance.

“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one of you should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.” I Peter 4:8-10

At its core, hospitality frames the loving outreach of the Christian faith…with hands, hearts and doors open to the world. It’s more than just unlocking your home to those in need of a place to stay. It speaks more to making connections with those we encounter…even if the connection is brief.

You’ll find the gift present in the families that welcomed into their homes victims of flood, fire and storm. You’ll find it in the woman who gave up a successful career to open a shelter for abused women and children. You’ll find the gift in the foster parent who loves so unconditionally for an uncertain time.

You’ll find the gift among those men and women who meet the needs of the hurting. End the isolation of the lonely, Embrace the rejected. The gift flows naturally because they love…and they love fearlessly.

John reminds us in his first letter, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us.” I John 4:18-19

That leads me back to the first century to a man referenced just once in the Bible. A minor player with a major role to play. John wrote his third letter not to a church nor to a pastor. Rather, III John is the ancient equivalent to a quick text or email from the apostle to a dear friend named Gaius whose fearless love served as evidence of his gift of hospitality.

Let me give you the setting. During the first century the apostles journeyed through the biblical world planting new churches. As they moved on under the leadership of the spirit, they left those fledgling congregations in the hands of local pastoral leaders. To ensure these new believers stayed true to the teachings of Christ, the apostles would periodically send their personal assistants, itinerant pastors, to continue teaching the deeper truths of the gospel, helping them grow toward a more mature faith.

Inevitably, some of these local leaders felt they no longer needed the help of “outsiders.” John tells us of one such man. Diotrephes, a strong-willed man who enjoyed at little too much his prominent position in the church, constantly belittled the apostles and sent away unceremoniously the itinerant preachers sent by John to minster to the people. Diotrephes so loved “being first” he abused his authority, convincing the congregation to kick out of the church any who opposed him in this matter.

Gaius stood in the gap on behalf of these visiting pastors, defying Diotrephes and undoubtedly incurring his wrath. Yet, John encouraged Gaius to continue “walking in truth” (vs. 3) and praised him for his “faithfulness” (vs. 5).

You see, Gaius had the gift. He could make anyone feel welcomed. With Gaius, conversation flowed easily. There was something in his demeanor that instantly turned the stranger he met in the grocery store, the doctor’s office or the steps of his church into a friend. He was the kind of person who drew the lonely from their solitude.

Gaius saw the good in others and cast aside the arrogance of Diotrephes to embrace the teaching of those visiting preachers. To welcome them into his home. To share his food and provision. To invite others to hear their words of encouragement and hope. If that meant loving those he barely knew when other friends and neighbors called him a fool, that’s what he would do.

You see, like my wife, Gaius never met a stranger. He met everyone he encountered with fearless love and the open arms of Christ. Gaius had the gift of hospitality and he used it to God’s glory.

In the words of Jesus, “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother or sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.”

Most of us love fearfully, afraid to welcome the strangers we encounter. Always careful to approach only those who look and act like us. Afraid that opening our lives to others make us vulnerable to heartbreak and hurt.

We need to see that John commends Gaius for using his gift of hospitality. Gaius’ heart and home extended comfort and provision to the traveling ministers sent by John to preach and teach in his absence, despite the fact that they were strangers to Gaius. Despite the fact that others turned them away. By opening his home to these brothers, John’s beloved friend became a partner with them for the sake of “the Name” and for “the truth.” Gaius made a difference in sharing the name of Christ and his gospel of truth.

Gaius’ actions thrilled John. He wrote, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.”

We’ve each been called to love because God first loved us. Those he gifted with the spirit of hospitality take love to a new level and it is fearless. What a changed world it would be if we all put it into practice.


Author’s Note: This devotional thought is the second in a series of posts about some of the unsung heroes of the New Testament. These men and women, in many ways, carried the responsibility of the spread of the gospel in first 50 years after the ministry of Christ. By putting together the limited biblical references to their work and filling in the gaps with a little imagination, we find ways in which we, as ordinary Christians, can a heart for ministry in the examples they set.