Romans 15: 30 - 33
“All of us know we need to pray more than we do” - simple, true and undeniable. We all feel the need for a deeper, more meaningful prayer life. Sometimes we need instruction in the "how-to’s" of prayer. Sometimes we need encouragement.
It is against that hopeful background that we find in our text both instruction and encouragement. Here we come to Paul's prayer request. Not his prayer—his prayer request. This is Paul the great apostle asking the Roman Christians (whom he had never met) to pray for him. If we study his words –
We will find instruction (how to pray) and encouragement (why we should pray).
2 things strike me as I ponder his words –
A. Notice how personal he is. 6 times he uses the words “I, me, my.”
B. Notice how honest he is. He speaks openly about the “unbelievers” in Judea. The word literally means “disobedient.” He is referring to Jews who had heard the gospel and not only rejected it, but had become hostile against it. They followed Paul wherever he went, harassing him, accusing him, doing all they could to stir up the Gentiles against him. Often their tactics were quite successful. No doubt Paul had come to a crisis moment and felt that his ability to minister was in jeopardy. Rather than pretend he was doing fine, he bares his soul and begs for help from his friends.
As we look at this request from the standpoint of the 21st century - 3 lasting truths emerge.
1. Prayer Involves Agony.
When Paul says “join me in my struggle,” he uses a Greek word from which we get the English word “agony.” Join me in my agony. What a thought that is. Prayer is agony. But someone says, “I thought prayer was supposed to be fun.” Who told you that? The Bible nowhere calls prayer “fun.”Prayer isn’t fun; it’s hard work. True prayer is agony of the soul. Prayer is wrestling with God, it is striving in the realm of the spirit, it is spiritual warfare against principalities and powers and the forces of evil all around us.
When was the last time you agonized in prayer?
When was the last time you wrestled in prayer?
When was the last time you shed tears in prayer?
You’ll discover what agony means when you have a sick child in the middle of the night with a rising fever and you can’t get the doctor on the phone. You’ll learn about agony in prayer when your marriage is on the ropes. You’ll know how to agonize in prayer when a loved one is wheeled away for life-saving surgery. Sooner or later, we all learn to agonize in prayer.
No one gets a free pass through life, though it is true that some people do seem to suffer less and others much more, both inwardly and outwardly. Everyone struggles sometime, and some people struggle more than we think.
If we could crawl inside the head of our favourite spiritual leaders, we might be surprised by what we find. Even the most notable Christians have times of doubt, fear, frustration, anger, uncertainty and discouragement. That's not all we would find—and we wouldn't find those things all the time. We would also find faith, determination, commitment, love, zeal, compassion, and a whole host of other virtues. Let us take to heart the admonition that things aren't always as they seem to be, and that true prayer (and all other parts of the Christian life) will often be a great struggle to us.
2. Prayer Promotes Unity.
Paul says, “Join me in my struggle as you pray for me.” Though they were hundreds of kms away from Paul, they became one with him through their prayers.Distance doesn’t matter when we are on our knees. We can be anywhere in the world and yet in the realm of the spirit through prayer, we can be joined with brothers and sisters thousands of kms away. By prayer I can influence the world. I can touch France, UK, Greece, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, South America, and even some remote island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Without leaving my home, my prayers go up to God and then descend in the form of answers from heaven to saints around the world. So by prayer I can join the spiritual battle as the gospel goes forth in remote jungles and crowded cities. Most of those places I will never visit in person, but through prayer I become a participant in God's work around the world.
Prayer builds unity because it joins hearts together in the greatest cause of all—the global cause of Jesus Christ.
3. Prayer Advances Ministry.
He asked for deliverance from his foes. Then he prayed that his ministry to the poor saints in Jerusalem might be acceptable. Then he prayed that one day he might come to Rome, meet the saints face to face, and be refreshed by his fellowship with them. Paul understood that the church advances on its knees.
Most of us have seen those signs that say, "Prayer Changes Things." I have heard that explained this way. Prayer changes things, and the thing it changes most is us. In one sense, that's a true statement. Prayer humbles us, stretches us, shapes us, encourages us, challenges us, deepens us, and leads us along the pathway of spiritual growth. But there is more to the story than this. Look closely at what Paul says: If you pray for me . . . I will be delivered from spiritual opposition. I will be welcomed by the saints in Jerusalem. I will be able to visit you in Rome.
That's very specific. Paul asks for prayer because he knows that God is sovereign over his enemies, that if people pray, his enemies may be restrained and the opposition removed. Prayer quite literally influences the human will of other people in ways that we can't see and could never bring about on our own. Prayer causes things to happen that would not otherwise happen. Paul truly believes that their prayers will open the door for him to come to Rome.
Some people talk about answered prayer as if it were nothing but a "coincidence." One Christian leader remarked, "The more I pray, the more 'coincidences' happen to me."
Don't pass over the little phrase "so that" in v. 32. When you pray - always try to include the phrase ‘so that.’ So that I would be strong in the Word of God, So that I would be faithful to the end, So that God would be greatly glorified through my life.
Look at how many times Paul prayed “so that” prayers:
“So that you may overflow with hope”(Romans 15:13).
“So that you may know him better”(Ephesians 1:17).
“So that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith”(Ephesians 3:17).
“So that you may be able to discern what is best”(Philippians 1:10).
“So that you may have great endurance and patience”(Colossians 1:11).
“So that you will be blameless and holy”(1 Thessalonians 3:13).
“So that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you”(2 Thessalonians 1:12).
The "so that" principle is a tonic for a boring prayer life. Many times our prayers are good but aimless. We ask God to “bless” someone or to “strengthen” someone, but we have no particular end in view. When you add “so that” to your requests, it forces you to ask yourself, “What do I really want God to do in this person's life?” If you don't have a reason for praying a particular prayer, perhaps it's not worth praying in the first place.
I find the "so that" principle very challenging and encouraging because it focuses my wandering mind and causes me to think about why I want God to “bless” my family, or any of my friends and acquaintances. It's amazing how “so that” can transform an ordinary prayer into a powerful petition to our Heavenly Father.
The power of the church lies not in money, plans, buildings, preachers, programs, or anything else that comes from the hand of man.Our only true power is the power of prayer. When we pray, God moves from heaven. When we pray, things happen that would not otherwise happen. By prayer all things are possible. If we want to see the church move forward and the kingdom of darkness vanquished, we must pray and pray and pray. We have no other secret. If prayer won’t do it, there is no Plan B.
Do not neglect the enormous, world-changing power God has placed in your hands.Your prayers can shape history and influence the course of events. By prayer you can help missionaries in distant lands, restrain the work of evildoers, promote the spread of the gospel, influence your children to serve the Lord, and your prayers can be a link in the chain that God uses to bring people to Jesus.
No – Yes - Yes, But …
Paul mentioned 3 specific prayer requests:
a. To be rescued from those who opposed his ministry. That prayer was not answered. His opponents became even stronger and eventually had him arrested, put in jail, and eventually he was sent to Rome for trial before Caesar.
b. That his ministry in Jerusalem might be acceptable. That prayer was answered and his ministry was successful.
c. To come to Rome and be refreshed with the saints. That request was answered but not in the way he prayed it. He eventually made it to Rome -in chains, as a prisoner.
So his 3 prayers were answered this way: No – Yes - Yes, but … That’s how it is for all of us. We never have all our prayers answered exactly as we pray them, and sometimes the answer is clearly no. Yet even in this we can see the hand of the Lord at work. Sometimes it is better for us if our prayers are not answered immediately. Sometimes it is better if they are not answered at all. The great question is not, How can I get my prayers answered? The great question is, What will it take to draw me closer to God?
“I asked God for strength, that I might achieve;
I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked for health, that I might do greater things;
I was given infirmity, that I might do better things.
I asked for riches, that I might be happy;
I was given poverty, that I might be wise.
I asked for power, that I might have the praise of men;
I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life;
I was given life, that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing I asked for, but everything I had hoped for.”
It is a great advance in spiritual understanding to be able to say, “I got nothing I asked for, but everything I had hoped for.”
Great doors are open before us—Pray!
Great challenges face us—Pray!
Great needs rise in our path—Pray!
All things are possible when we begin to pray. So Lord, do whatever it takes, but please, O Lord, teach us to pray. Amen.