“I Can Only Pray”
The Bible reveals that God calls and equips all Christians to share in his mission. Some seem to have very special and noticeable gifts, but we all have a special part in God’s plans. Occasionally I meet a Christian who, because of age or infirmity tells me that they can only pray. That makes we wonder whether we underrate the importance of intercessory prayer.
As I look back over many years of ministry in both evangelism and Bible teaching, I know that where there has been the greatest blessing is where there has been earnest prayer. That cannot be coincidence. John Wesley once said, “God does nothing but in answer to prayer”. That echoes the word we find in James, “You do not have because you do not ask God.” James 4:2 Charles Haddon Spurgeon is said to have always had a small group of men praying in the room below his pulpit.
Recently,in one of the Bible Study sessions in the prison where I work as a part time voluntary chaplain, we studies Colossians chapter 4 which contains some significant verses on prayer.
Firstly, he exhorts them to pray with vigilance and thanksgiving. There is a need to be spiritually watchful; that is to be ready to be alerted to pray. But our prayers should also be thankful. Jesus once prayed publicly and thanked his Father that he always heard him. When we are in a difficult situation that drives us to pray, we do not pray as those who are impoverished but as those made rich by the promises of God. But Paul urges the Christians at Colosse to devote themselves or to persevere in such praying.
Secondly, he asks prayer for himself and those with him that a door might be opened for their message. It is unclear as to whether behind this prayer is the hope of being released from prison, where he was at that time. Writing to the Christians in Rome, Paul explains that he was having a fruitful ministry within the place where he was confined. But Paul’s concern here is not for his own release and welfare but that the word of the gospel would be released from confinement.
Thirdly, he asks for prayer that he might proclaim God’s word clearly, or make it known. It is not enough to have the opportunity to preach the gospel; we need to make the message clear and plain.
But Paul has not finished with the topic of prayer, and presents us with an extraordinary example of praying. It was probably Epaphras who, having heard the gospel in Ephesus, took the same message to the Colossians, and possibly other nearby towns. Paul describes him as wrestling in prayer. The word translated wrestling also implies striving for an outcome or prize. There is nothing casual about this man’s prayer life. The word translated in the NIV as “wrestling” is elsewhere translated as “labouring”. It comes from a Greek word from which we get the sense of agonizing. His prayer is for the members of the church from which he has come to visit Paul, that they would stand firm in all the will of God, both mature and fully assured. This may have been because there were some whose ministry undermined the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice for sin and who were adding aspects of law to the gospel of grace. Here then is a model of praying for the fellow members of our own churches.
Paul not only draws his letter towards a close with this emphasis on prayer, he also wrote about this topic as the letter opens. For he too was a man of prayer. He prayed constantly for this church he had never visited. Incarcerated and unable to get out to preach and teach, he does what he can. He writes letters for encouragement to churches, and he prays. But I cannot imagine Paul saying that he could only pray. If your circumstances limit your opportunities, please grasp the amazing potential of prayer. What might seem to restrict you could be an opening to an important ministry.
Barry Osborne - 11 May 2019.