When was the last time prayer left you bruised, bloodied and exhausted?
Prayer is not peaceful. It is not content, gentle, easy, laid back, safe. Not here. It is bloody, bruising battle ground. It is not a place of retreat. It is the frontline. Here the fighting is fiercest. Here the battle is won. Everything else is just picking up the pieces.
“I urge you, brothers and sisters, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me. Pray that I may be kept safe from the unbelievers in Judea and that the contribution I take to Jerusalem may be favourably received by the Lord’s people there, so that I may come to you with joy, by God’s will, and in your company be refreshed. The God of peace be with you all. Amen.” (Romans 15:30-33)
1. We should expect prayer to require at least as much from us as an exhausting fight with a large, sweaty mammoth of a man.
‘I urge, brother and sisters…join in my struggle…’
‘Urge’ is call to arms. It means graft and effort and striving for a difficult task requiring grit and determination. Like Paul uses it in 12:1 (“I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice…”), and 16:17 (“I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way…”)
Struggle means to wrestle, brawl, or scrap. That is how prayer feels to Paul and he calls us to take up arms and join him in that fight.
2. We need to cultivate the dual motivations of awe at Jesus’ supremacy and love for Jesus’ people if we hope to see that battle through.
“…by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit…”
It is driven equally by a vertical awe (Jesus is our Lord) and a horizontal love for those around. A supernatural love for others from the Spirit.
3. We starve our lives of vital nutrients if we are too proud to ask for prayer for ourselves.
Paul asks them to pray very practically for himself. The great missionary hero and divinely called Apostle lives up to his self-given name Paul, which means small, tiny, the little man. He is not too proud. If Paul knows he needs prayer can we imagine, for a moment, we don’t?
Why might we not be asking for prayer?
· We think our struggles are just a flesh wound and it is more faithful to battle on alone.
· We are too embarrassed to ask.
· We have no one to ask.
· We ourselves don’t pray so we assume other people don’t.
· We’ve shared something in the past that has been misused by another.
· It shows an underlining uncertainty about God and our faith.
Find a friend; ask a pastor; tell your spouse.
4. We should be practical & explicit with our requests, not vague and ambiguous. Real life should trump spiritual fluffiness.
“Pray that I may be kept safe from the unbelievers in Judea and that the contribution I take to Jerusalem may be favourably received by the Lord’s people there, so that I may come to you with joy, by God’s will, and in your company be refreshed.” (Romans 15:31-32)
Paul makes three practical and specific requests.
· Kept safe from angry unbelievers
· Favorable received by the church
· Arrive in Rome with joy
There is no crisis or disaster. It’s normal life – please pray for me he asks.
5. We save ourselves a whole lot of anguish by knowing God answers our prayers in the way he sovereignly sees and not always in the limited perspective we have.
Of the three requests, one is answered as Paul requested and two not. Paul is not especially ‘rescued from unbelievers’ and he arrives in Rome but as a prisoner (so potentially not with the joy he hoped)! The church welcome him though.
God is sovereign – pray details then trust him.
6. We will find our prayers more aligned to God’s answers the closer we saturate ourselves in the Bible and therefore pray his will.
The essence of all Paul’s requests are answered, though not in the detail he envisaged, because they are prayers aligned to God’s will.
· The gospel is not stopped by the unbeliever’s anger.
· Paul is received well by the church.
· He arrives in Rome and will look back from eternity with great joy.
He knew God’s will because he knew God’s words. Jesus says the same – the more we remain in his word the more our prayers, aligned to that word will be answered.
“If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” (John 15:7)
God speaks to us in the Bible, and we repeat back to him his own words made specific to our situation, in prayer.
7. We should say thank you when people have prayed for us.
“The God of peace be with you all” is a polite way of saying thanks!