When the apostle Paul “called for fire,” he habitually prayed for disciples and the churches to which they belonged. His letters in the New Testament record his constant petitioning on behalf of these converts. By telling them about his prayers on their behalf, Paul accomplished two tasks: He encouraged them by informing them of his love and he mentored them by demonstrating that mature disciples pray for the welfare of others. He made an explicit appeal to the church at Rome regarding this second task: “I urge you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me” (Romans 15:30).
Paul’s letter to the Colossians provides a case study of the apostle’s mentoring. He tells the church that he always thanks God for them because he has heard of their “faith in Christ Jesus and the love you have for all the saints” (Col. 1:3, 4). He prays that that God will fill them with the knowledge of his will so they may “live a life worthy of the Lord” (Col. 1:9-10). Another hero and mentor of prayer emerges in this letter as well, Epaphras. Paul introduces him as the one who taught the Colossians the gospel and who told the apostle about their love and faith (Col. 1:7). He concludes the letter by noting that “Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis” (Colossians 4:12,13). Of all Paul’s associates (Barnabas, Silas, Mark, Timothy, Titus, etc.), the apostle identifies only one as sharing in his ministry of praying for disciples of Jesus: Epaphras. He also describes him as a servant of Christ Jesus. Note that Epaphras was the servant of Christ, not the servant of Paul. When Paul says that Epaphras is “wrestling,” he uses a word that he had also used in Col. 1:28, 29 where he wrote of himself, “We proclaim him [Christ], admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.” “Struggling” in 1:29 is the same as “wrestling” in 4:12, and is the verb form of the noun “struggle” in Rom. 15:30. Both Paul and Epaphras work intensely (to transliterate: agonize) through teaching and prayer for the Colossians .Epaphras follows the example of his mentor in both practice and intensity. The prayers of Epaphras also demonstrate how prayer functions as part of the armor of God. As he prays, he calls for non-lethal fires from God for the benefit of the Colossians. To use the terminology of Rom. 15:30, Epaphras “joins [Paul] in [his] struggle by praying to God” for the Colossians.
We recognize people as heroes when they act without regard to themselves on behalf of others. But heroes, too, need prayer on their behalf. As Paul mentors through his letters, he reveals the heroic potential of prayer, praying continually for disciples of Jesus (and occasionally requesting prayer for himself). He challenges disciples to join him in the battle by praying to God. Epaphras, prayer wrestler and servant of Christ, answered the call. Will we?