Summary: I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your Prayers to God on my behalf.
The gospels attest to Jesus’ habit of prayer. Having observed Jesus’ prayer life, the disciples were encouraged to ask him to teach them to pray more effectively. The book of Acts speaks often of the efficacy of the church as it was devoted to prayer. The epistles of Paul are laced with prayers and an encouragement to be constant and faithful in prayer: You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many (2 Corinthians 1.11; cp. Ephesians 1.16; 4.18-19; Philippians 1.19; 4.6). Though Paul was set apart as an apostle to the Gentiles by the Lord himself and was a formidable force for the propagation of the gospel, he never presumed himself to be independent of the larger body of Christ. Indeed, as we have noted above, he frequently solicited the prayers of fellow believers and assumed that their intercessions on his behalf would greatly facilitate the spread of the gospel. The Christian meets the Lord in the privacy of his prayer closet and there he lays bare the innermost desires of his heart. The psalmist writes: As the deer longs for lowing streams, so longs my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me continually, “Where is your God?” These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I would go with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God with glad shouts and songs of praise, a multitude keeping festival (Psalm 42.1-4). These are the words of a person who struggles with the Lord in prayer. One aspect of the struggle of prayer is the inward longing for holiness. The believer desires to make the Lord his greatest delight. In prayer the Christian seeks a balance between the mystery of the Spirit’s intervention (Romans 8.26) and his own eager response to the Spirit’s prompting. The struggle in prayer requires a passion for the holiness of God: The eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him (2 Chronicles 16.9). It also requires a desire to be an agent for the kingdom of God. Those who have such a heart may be assured of the efficacy of their prayers.
AN INVITATION TO JOIN PAUL IN THE STRUGGLE OF PRAYER
Paul invites the Roman believers to join him in the struggle of prayer by praying for him and the effectiveness of his ministry. Paul frequently petitions his readers for prayer though he is not generally as specific in his requests as he is here. However, before we look at his requests the reader may profit from considering how strongly Paul enjoins his readers to pray for him. He does not merely ask that they remember him in a casual sort of way, but that they undertake their prayers as a struggle against every force that opposes the work of God. Paul makes his appeal in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit that has been poured out into their hearts: … God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (Roman 5.5). The request for heartfelt prayer is a reasonable one to make of fellow Christians. No other has free access to the throne of grace. Moreover, who else would rightly understand the conflict between light and darkness?
In his letter to the church at Colossae Paul commends a member of their fellowship with these words: Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God. For I bear him witness that he has worked hard for you and for those in Laodicea and in Hierapolis (Colossians 4.12). It is just this kind of praying that Paul requests of the Roman believers: “Contend along with me in your prayers to God on my behalf” (15.30). Paul uses a word that suggests an athletic contest, struggle, or fight. Paul’s language is forceful and suggests an impending danger. As a result the church’s alliance in prayer is necessary to overcome the potential opposition in Jerusalem.
Much of what God desires to give his children comes in response to a life of prayer. Jesus told his disciples in the upper room: Until now you have asked for nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full (John 16.24; cp. James 4.3). You hear people say, “I tried religion and it didn’t work”; however, the Bible doesn’t ask you to try God because “it” works. It says: Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon (Isaiah 55.6-7), and Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known (Jeremiah 33.3). Among those who say that religion does not work, who has fasted and prayed for a week? Who has taken a personal retreat in a quest for holiness? Who has saturated his mind with the Word of God and begged God for his mercy? Moses and Elijah fasted forty days. Jesus did so as well and frequently arose before dawn to spend time in prayer (cp. Paul in Acts 9.9 or Daniel in Daniel 10.2-3). The problem is that few Christians have ever seriously attempted to live such a life. The intercession Paul was asking from his Roman brethren was wholly different than what most people are accustom to practicing.