“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” (Colossians 4:12).
For whom do you wrestle in prayer? By this, I do not mean, with whom do you wrestle in prayer? In that case you might be wrestling with God (Jacob was named Israel, because he had struggled, or wrestled, with God (See Genesis 32:28), or with Satan. No, I ask who you go to battle for when you pray. Who do you pray for and about emotionally?
Epaphras was a ministry colleague of the apostle Paul. He apparently was from the town of Colossae in what is now the nation of Turkey. As Paul ends his letter to Christians in that town, he passes on greetings from their friend Epaphras and tells them also that Epaphras wrestles (or agonizes) in prayer on their behalf. Specifically, Epaphras wants the Christians in Colossae to grow up in their faith and to be fully convinced. He wants them to stand firm in the face of opposition to Christian teaching.
I have wrestled in prayer at different times in my life about whom I would marry, whether I would be hired for a specific job, and what I should do next in my life. I have also wrestled in prayer for the health of my parents, my wife, and my children. Like Paul and Epaphras, I also have agonized in prayer for people whom I served as a chaplain or a preacher. I have prayed that they would grow in knowledge of God’s will, turn their life over to him, and be baptized into Christ. I have prayed that they would grow in maturity and assurance of the truth of what they believed. I prayed that somehow their actions and mine would reflect the heart and actions of Jesus himself.
Right now, I’m praying that last prayer for citizens of the United States of America, to include, again, myself. A pandemic (whose reality or seriousness some question) has killed over 100,000 in our nation alone, but steps taken to slow its progress have also affected our economy, our education system, and our groups with whom we worship. People have protested, and even killed, because they didn’t want to wear a mask in a public place. Others have worn their masks, even when they detested them, because they believed that they were protecting others by doing so. Both groups have criticized the other group harshly.
In the last weeks, Americans have learned how three unarmed African-Americans, two men and a woman, were killed by police officers or people claiming to attempt a citizen’s arrest. In two of the cases, the deaths were captured on video. In response, protests (some peaceful, some tainted by violence, looting, and arson) have begun to happen. Horror and indignation over the killings of Ahmaud Arberry, Brionna Taylor, and George Floyd have been balanced in the minds of many by damage done to a police station and businesses, by widespread looting, and by burning of businesses that in many cases are owned by African-Americans. I’m conscious of deeply seated desperation and fear in communities where these types of killings have happened far, far too many times with officials seeming not to care. Parents taught their children carefully how to interact with police in an effort to their dying at the hands of police needlessly. I’m aware that many of us did not experience learning “the talk” or having to teach it to our children. I personally, however, did have the experience of being put in handcuffs after trying to make it through a traffic signal before it turned red and being pushed into the back of a patrol car while a seminary student in what turned out to be a case of mistaken identity. But, while I was afraid at the time, I never feared that the policemen would kill me.
I’m wrestling in prayer because these circumstances have unveiled ugly attitudes and deeply ingrained prejudices among people who claim to be seeking to do the will of God. I’m also praying with emotion because the deaths have caused some to understand a horrible reality that they may have denied previously because it was not their experience.
I ask you join me on the figurative wrestling mat in struggling in prayer for the physical, mental, and spiritual health of the people of the United States. Join me in praying for the President, for state governors, for city mayors, and legislative assemblies, that they may speak, write, act, and legislate wisely and responsibly in treacherous times. Join me in a prayer of lament for unnecessary killing of our fellow citizens and for the sinful dereliction of duty by some policemen that has caused sections of our population to fear those who should protect us. I pray that we may overcome this virus that, because I have friends and relatives who have been affected by it, I take very seriously. Pray hard, wash your hands, wear a mask when you’re supposed to, and keep your distance. Pray that we all may grow together in love and unity. For whom are you wrestling in prayer?
- Quotation from the Bible is from the New International Version, 2011.
God of healing and justice, Have mercy on our land. Spare us from this lethal virus. Heal those who are sick. Comfort those who grieve loved ones who have died from the virus or from unnecessary violent acts. May healing justice take place that will punish appropriately but also move to repentance not only the perpetrators but those who shared their worst fears and prejudices. Restore peace to our cities and help us find a way to rebuild trust as we repair ruined buildings and honor the dead. Instill within our political leaders and our law enforcement officers a burning awareness of the very real responsibility they have to act for the best outcome for all the people they serve. Forgive us when we hate and turn our hearts toward loving both our neighbor and the person we perceive to be a stranger. Help us to avoid cosmetic actions that assert concern; inspire us with the courage to take positive, helpful action to heal and restore. Help us to love one another. I pray in Jesus’ name, amen.