Summary: God uses our praying together to change the world.
I often remind my family of a profound truth I have learned from living: you cannot make people do what you want. Even if it is in their best interest, even if they should do it, matters little. You cannot make people do what you want.
You have tried. You have shown your friends clearly the truth that should change their minds. You know you are right, and you suspect they know it also—but they refuse to conform. Oh, yes, we attempt to control by manipulation. And it may appear to “work,” their desires win out.
Is this not one great difficulty in faithful parenting? When children are young and do not feel their own desires, we often mistake enforced behavior for heartfelt obedience. But later years reveal the error, when the desires of this young adult conflict with those of a dismayed parent.
Reuben Archer Torrey pastored in northern Ohio before joining D. L. Moody in his evangelistic work in Chicago. He also served as a chaplain in WWI, received an honorary doctorate from Wheaton College and was Dean at (what is now) Biola University. He was an internationally known evangelist (a Billy Graham of his time) and wrote forty books, the most well known ones on prayer and revival.
At a conference in St. Louis a minister was preaching on “The Rest of Faith.” He wanted to emphasize the idea that Jesus has won all the spiritual victories for us and that we need only rest on Christ’s work. But in his excitement, the minister overextended himself and said, “I challenge anyone to show me a single passage in the Bible where we are told to wrestle in prayer.” R. A. Torrey was sitting behind this pastor, and later said of the occasion: “Though contradicting another speaker is usually not done, I felt he had issued a challenge I had to take up.” So Torrey said, softly, “Romans 15.30, brother, Romans 15.30.” Fortunately the man admitted Torrey was right.
The Greek word in Romans 15.30 means “join in a struggle with,” or “fight alongside” or “strive together with.” Therefore, with Torrey, many commentators see this “striving together with me in your prayers,” (which Paul speaks of) as being similar to Jacob’s “wrestling” with God in Genesis 32. The Hebrew word is different, but the idea is the same.
Here in Romans 15.30, Paul actually coins a new word, uniting the preposition “with” and the verb “strive” or “struggle.” Though used only here in the Bible, the main verb appears several times and explains the idea. Jesus (for example) uses it in Luke 13.24: “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.” Strive, [agōnidzomai] from which we get the English verb, “agonize” and noun, “antagonist.” Jesus exhorts us to struggle against sin and self in order to enter eternal life — this is a fight worthy of the reward.
The same word appears in 1Corinthians 9.25: “Every athlete exercises self-control in all things.” You do not see it at first; the version I use (the ESV) translates [agōnidzomai] as “athlete”; the New King James has, “everyone who completes.” Literally it is: “the one who struggles” — in other words, everyone who properly strives for the prize exercises self-control.
Some of you have struggled to keep believing, to endure through the twin temptations of satisfaction and suffering that we wrestled against last week. You (I suspect) will not be surprised that the same word is used of the fight against unbelief. Three times Paul refers to the “fight of faith,” striving to believe, arguing against his own sinful nature and “the rulers, the authorities, the cosmic powers over this present darkness, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Holding fast to the faith in a fallen world is intensely agonizing, a great struggle.
I explain all this because (it appears) many Christians think about prayer the same way a football coach views his options when 4th-and-15 from his own 30-yard line. You have tried everything else; nothing remains but to punt. Prayer is like admitting defeat in the Christian life.
But the Bible does not present such a view. Instead, prayer is the real fight, the great struggle in the Christian’s life. Epaphras is famous for his praying because Paul forever recorded his story in Colossians 4.12: “Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling [agōnidzomai] on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God.”
Matthew Henry: “We must put forth all that is within us in that duty; pray with fixedness, faith, and fervency; wrestle with God, as Jacob did; pray earnestly, as Elijah did (James 5.17), and stir up ourselves to take hold on God (Isaiah 64.7); and this is not only when we are praying for ourselves, but when we are praying for our friends. True love to our brethren should make us as earnest for them as sense of our own need makes us for ourselves…. He [Paul] would have them to ply the same oar. Paul and these Romans were distant in place, and likely to be so, and yet they might join together in prayer.”