Praying Through

Neil Girrard

Scriptures Referenced in This Article:
          (Follow the Scripture links if you want to study the Scriptures for yourself.)
Acts 1:14 π Acts 2:42 π Acts 6:4 π Acts 9:15-16 π Acts 19:14-16 π Acts 20:22-24 π Acts 21:4 π Acts 21:10-14 π Acts 21:17 π Acts 21:20-21 π Acts 21:23-30 π Acts 22:24-29 π Acts 23:10 π Acts 23:11 π Acts 23:12-31 π Acts 28:15 π Acts 28:30-31 π Rom. 1:11-12 π Rom. 8:38-39 π Rom. 15:30-32; 2nd π 1 Cor. 2:9 π Col. 4:2-4 π Col. 4:12 π 1 Ths. 5:17
Greek Words Mentioned in This Article
Strive, Fightagonizomai – [75] π Persevere, Diligenceproskartereo – [4342] π Strive Togethersunagonizomai – [4865]

One of the more misunderstood practices of the New Testament is that of prayer. And there is some truth in the notion that we don’t really need to understand it - we just need to do it. Paul wrote, “Pray without ceasing.” ( 1 Ths. 5:17; top ) If we would simply obey that command, we would find that we understand prayer, perhaps not in a theological or intellectual sense, but in the more practical, experiential sense of seeing God answer our prayers in ways that we cannot expect or imagine.

However, there are certain aspects of prayer, particularly in the ongoing wrestling against the principalities, powers, rulers of the darkness of this age, and spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places, that we can observe from the life of Paul as depicted in the New Testament.

Laboring Together

Paul wrote, “Now I beg you, brethren, through the Lord Jesus Christ, and through the love of the Spirit, that you strive together with me in your prayers to God for me, that I may be delivered from those in Judea who do not believe, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, that I may come to you with joy by the will of God, and may be refreshed together with you.” ( Rom. 15:30-32; top )

Many American Christians have a drive-up mentality toward the things of the gospel. Chief among these would be prayer. Some seem to believe that if they ask God for something once, why, He must come through and give them everything they’ve asked for. Others offer up stale lists of the people they want God to bless and, when they reach the bottom of their list, they are done with their dull duty.

In this passage, however, Paul gives us a much different view of prayer. When he begs the Romans to “strive together with” him in prayer, the word he uses is “sunagonizomai” [ 4865 ]. It means to fight in company with, assist or help to fight against, especially wrestling together against the powers of darkness. It is a picture of struggling, not for a specified amount of time until a bell rings, but until the opposing army lies dead at our feet.

Paul gives this same picture when he writes to the Colossians. He wrote, “Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving; meanwhile praying also for us, that God would open to us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in chains, that I may make it manifest, as I ought to speak.” ( Col. 4:2-4; top )

When he says, “continue earnestly,” he is using the Greek word, “proskartereo” [ 4342 ] which carries the meaning to endure, tarry, remain, continue steadfastly, cleave faithfully to, continually insist, stay close to. It is a picture of steadfastness and faithfulness in the outer workings of the Christian life, especially prayer. Pictures of this steadfast waiting in prayer are also seen in Acts 1:14 , 2:42 , and 6:4 (top) .

Closely related to the first word we saw is “agonizomai” [ 75 ]. This word is used by Paul to describe Epaphras. Paul writes, “Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ, greets you, always laboring fervently for you in prayers, that you may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.” ( Col. 4:12; top )

From just these few pictures - and there are many more in the New Testament - we can see a picture of the work of prayer that is not commonly practiced among Christians today. I submit to you that this is probably the primary reason the body of Christ does not make the great strides forward of which she is capable.

What To Ask For

I would like to return to the first passage and look at it in light of what sorts of things Paul was asking for. Paul wrote, “Now I beg you, brethren, through the Lord Jesus Christ, and through the love of the Spirit, that you strive together with me in your prayers to God for me, that I may be delivered from those in Judea who do not believe, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, that I may come to you with joy by the will of God, and may be refreshed together with you.” ( Rom. 15:30-32; top )

Let’s make a list of these:

To be delivered from Judean unbelievers, God would have to override the wishes of the spiritual forces of that area, to override the intentions and plans of the unbelievers and manipulate a whole host of circumstances at just the right time in order to keep Paul safe. When he arrived in Jerusalem, Paul was told, “You see, brother, how many myriads of Jews there are who have believed, and they are all zealous for the law; but they have been informed about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs.” ( Acts 21:20-21; top ) And if there was anything a Jew of that time would get all fired up about, it was his religion. Paul was in great danger in simply showing his face around Jerusalem.

His second request would require that all the people whom he formerly persecuted would have to receive money from his hands. There would be need for a great spiritual work in many hearts in Jerusalem, people whose wives or husbands or parents or children he had persecuted or killed. Beyond simple forgiveness, Paul was asking these people to trust his sincere desire to simply help the saints in Jerusalem.

His third request was the one he probably considered the simplest of all. After all, he was a traveling apostle. He had already been as far west as Athens and Thessalonica in Greece and Rome was only a few hundred miles beyond that. All it would take, Paul probably reasoned, would be the timing of the Lord, some provisions and a good boat.

Answers With a Twist

But things were not to be that simple - in regards to any of these requests - though it is truthful to say that Paul was delivered from the Judean unbelievers, his gift to the Jerusalem saints was well received, and he did get to spend some time with the Roman believers and to be refreshed by them. But how these things happened is a great lesson in how flexible we need to be in receiving the answers to our prayers.

First, when Paul went to Jerusalem at the end of his third missionary journey, he took a purification vow, shaved his head and presented himself at the temple. All this was an effort to make an outward show of Paul’s continued adherence to Jewish customs. While he was in the temple, however, some Jews from Asia stirred up the crowd by shouting false accusations against Paul claiming that he had brought Gentiles into the temple. Needless to say, this caused a riot in which Paul was seized and quickly dragged out of the temple. ( Acts 21:23-30; top )

And this is where we see the first instance of God’s deliverance of Paul from the hands of the unbelieving Jews. The Roman commander, seeing the commotion around Paul, dispatched soldiers and had Paul arrested. Some might have difficulty seeing this as deliverance but being arrested by a Roman commander was a much better option for Paul than being stoned to death by the crazed mob. For this was not just people’s religious indignation against Paul. This was also all the evil spirits who recognized Paul, and Christ within Paul (remember how the demons beat up the sons of Sceva? - Acts 19:14-16; top ), stirring up all their own hatred against both Paul and Christ and ventilating it through this mob. The Roman commander would be welcome relief compared to being left in the hands of those people stirred up by the demonic religious spirits.

That Paul is in a much better position is also quickly seen as Paul is able to use his Roman citizenship to avoid a flogging. ( Acts 22:24-29 ) When Paul is brought before the council of Jewish leaders and they seem about to tear Paul to pieces, the commander again rescues him and returns him to jail. ( Acts 23:10 ) And when 40 Jewish zealots vowed not to eat until they had killed Paul and they enlisted the collusion of the council to accomplish this assassination, when the commander was informed of the plot, he had Paul removed to another city under armed guard. ( Acts 23:12-31; top )

Yes, Paul was delivered from the hands of the Judean unbelievers - but at the price of being arrested. But this probably didn’t bother Paul too much. He had come to Jerusalem prepared for prisons, hardships and even execution. ( Acts 20:22-24 ; 21:4 , 10-14 ) And the night before the plot to kill him was exposed, the Lord came to Paul and told him, “Be of good cheer, Paul; for as you have testified for Me in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness at Rome.” ( Acts 23:11; top ) As it would turn out, not only was his arrest the means of deliverance from the Judean unbelievers, it would also prove to be his ticket to Rome. The intervening years stuck in Roman bureaucracy would simply prove to be the timing of the Lord Paul was waiting on anyway.

As for Paul’s second request, this is the one that probably went off the smoothest, that is, the most exactly like what Paul had asked for. Luke, Paul’s oft-time traveling companion and the author of the book of Acts, records that “when we had come to Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly.” ( Acts 21:17; top ) What a beautiful picture of the unity the Holy Spirit works in the hearts of those who truly follow Christ. No resentment, no unforgiveness, no bitterness, no hatred was expressed against Paul. Rather he and his gift were gladly received.

We could learn something here. If these Jerusalem believers, who had great reason to hate Paul, could forgive him, how much more ought we to be loving toward those who, in our lives, commit only petty, aggravating sins against us? And if the work of the Holy Spirit is capable enough to bring about such a change in the hearts of the Jerusalem believers regarding Paul, what spirit are we laboring under that we cannot forgive even the petty transgressions of men against us? If we are not being changed by the Holy Spirit, we need to take serious note that it is not the Spirit of God who rules our lives but some other spirit - a spirit which will not be able to deliver us into God’s kingdom now or in eternity.

And the third request, that Paul would come to Rome with joy and be refreshed with the Romans is also testified to. Luke wrote, “And from [Puteoli], when the brethren heard about us, they came to meet us as far as Appii Forum and Three Inns. When Paul saw them, he thanked God and took courage.” ( Acts 28:15; top ) Puteoli is over a 100 miles away from Rome - that’s at least 4 or 5 days journey on foot. Appii Forum and Three Inns were about a third of that distance, at least a day or two’s journey. The Romans were rather glad to see him, I would say.

But Paul had asked to be refreshed with the Romans. He had written to them, “For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift, so that you may be established - that is, that I may be encouraged together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me.” ( Rom. 1:11-12; top ) And, at the end of the book of Acts, Luke records how this prayer was answered: “Then Paul dwelt two whole years [in Rome] in his own rented house, and received all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him.” ( Acts 28:30-31; top ) With someone like Paul freely preaching the kingdom of God and openly teaching the things of the Lord Jesus Christ, there is no doubt many hearts, including Paul’s, were refreshed during those two years.

But what a long, twisted trail Paul left behind in seeing those prayers answered.

The Underlying Calling and the Resultant Hope

Perhaps the greatest reason Paul had to go through all of those things was because of his calling. Directly after Paul’s dramatic Damascus road experience wherein he was confronted by the Lord Himself and left blinded for three days, the Lord revealed to a believer named Ananias what Paul’s calling was to be. The Lord told Ananias about Paul, “He is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.” ( Acts 9:15-16; top )

Some might suppose this is some sort of penance for what Paul had done to Stephen and the church, that this was his way of paying back to the Lord for all that he had done against His people. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Paul was called to suffer so that, in all the ensuing years and centuries, he would stand as an example that any man can embrace the fellowship of the sufferings of Christ and still be joyful - that such a one can indeed finish the race that God has called him to run. In fact, Paul is the one who left us what is probably the most encouraging portion of the New Testament. He wrote, “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” ( Rom. 8:38-39; top ) How many people throughout the centuries have faced death and hardship with this verse as an anchor for their faith?

Now there is an answer to a prayer Paul didn’t even pray! And I am convinced that, if we were to truly labor together, continue earnestly together, strive together with one another in prayer, we would see in our own lives this truth: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” ( 1 Cor. 2:9; top )

May God grant us the grace to diligently pursue Him and continually strive together in prayer, laboring fervently as we wrestle against the principalities, powers, rulers of the darkness of this age, and spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places that we may yet see His will done on earth as it is in heaven, that His kingdom may be established in our lives here and now.

I'd love to hear comments and/or questions from you! Email me!

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