by Ron Morrison
As I reflect upon our deeply held values in The Alliance, I am frequently reminded of the struggle to consistently do what is agreed upon as our primary work: the ministry of prayer. Why is it often such a struggle to have the work of prayer as a practiced value rather than another aspirational value? While we are not naive about the work of the enemy and how he easily distracts believers from this mission-critical labor, we must own the fact that failure in this area is our own fault.
However, the Lord is faithful to empower us to overcome our fleshly weaknesses and demonic opposition to do His will. We all have been inspired by the many stories in Scripture that tell of biblical heroes and heroines of the faith who gained victory through prayer. Hezekiah saw the Lord destroy 185,000 Assyrian soldiers in one night (see Isaiah 37). Esther called for fasting and prayer, and the Lord delivered the Jews from Haman’s plot to kill them (see Esther 4:15–17). David frequently received answers to prayer when he was running for his life as King Saul relentlessly pursued him (see 1 Samuel 23).
We know how prayer works and that the Lord works through prayer, yet many of us still struggle for consistency. What else needs to be done?
A Neglected Hero of the Faith
While reflecting on biblical examples of effective prayer, my attention was drawn to one of the overlooked prayer warriors in the Bible. We do not have the record of what his prayers accomplished, but we do know that his consistency is something we all need to emulate. His name is Epaphras, and his brief but powerful ministry is recorded by the apostle Paul in his letter to the saints in Colossae.
“Epaphras, who is one of you, a bondservant of Christ, greets you, always laboring fervently for you in prayers, that you may stand perfect and complete in the will of God. For I bear him witness that he has a great zeal for you, and those who are in Laodicea, and those in Hierapolis” (Col. 4:12–13, NKJV).
Epaphras is a neglected hero of the faith, and I can only imagine how much he loved the Lord and those people he prayed for. As I contemplated some of my inconsistencies in prayer, the testimony that Paul recorded about him challenged me to emulate what Epaphras had done.
His prayer focus was different than that of many of us in ministry, as we can be distracted to pray about urgent needs and major problems that come in all shapes and sizes rather than praying for consistent growth in the faith of our members. If we refocus our prayers to model what Epaphras was doing, many urgent needs and major problems will be solved in the process.
One of my favorite practices is to walk around our empty sanctuary while praying for those I am used to seeing on Sundays. It forces me to step away from the urgent matters that I may be addressing while in the office and do what is even more important. It is amazing how my perspective changes on what felt so urgent as I do this. I also stand in the pulpit and pray for those who will hear the message whenever they are able to attend. I hope to grow to be more like Epaphras as I develop better prayer habits.
The Member Every Church Needs
Those of us in pastoral ministry should remind ourselves often of what the apostles said was priority for us—prayer and the ministry of the Word (see Acts 6:4). However, in many cases, other important church business finds its way into our busy schedules and competes for priority time. We need more members like Epaphras.
I have not heard of any church that did not lose members due to COVID. Some of the losses were directly caused by the virus, while others left because they concluded they did not miss the gathering of the saints. Certain losses are felt more than others, and certainly there is one kind of member no church can afford to lose—the prayer warrior. In fact, I hope every pastor can identify this member in their congregation.
Scripture says Epaphras always labored fervently in prayer for others. What a great reminder of the kind of members we need in our churches so that we grow together and work together to do our Lord’s will.
Our church has a faithful group of ladies who get together every Friday on the phone and pray for the youth and children in our church family by name. Our prayer team leaders also make sure at least one member is fasting and praying each day of the month for our church family and all of our ministry efforts to win the lost and disciple those who respond. Corporate prayer gatherings in groups, small and large, have been helpful for all of us to see the heart and hand of God at work in our midst. I see the evidence of their faithful prayers and the work of the Lord in response to those prayers.
Praying Out of Passion
Epaphras labored in prayer while many have yet to discover that intense prayer is hard work. Fervent prayer is described as agonizing in prayer, which reminds us of our Lord’s intense prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane as He approached the agony of the cross.
Epaphras prayed for his brothers and sisters in Christ to grow to maturity and completely fulfill the will of God for their lives. He did so because he was zealous for the people he prayed for. Do our congregations pray out of a real passion for the Lord and one another, or is it simply an obligation to fulfill that makes us feel better when it is done for the day?
I am amazed to read that Epaphras would consistently and fervently pray for saints in three different locations (Colossae, Hierapolis, and Laodicea). If we could start a movement of having our members pray consistently for three other people to fulfill the will of God for their lives, we should see life-changing results and healthy church growth. After all, fulfilling the will of God for each of our lives will result in God using some of us in ways we may have never imagined, for His glory, our good, and the benefit of those who have yet to meet the Lord who loves them.
“Lord, stir in us a passion to pray for others in the same way we pray for ourselves when we cry out to You. Help us replace good intentions with good habits and spiritual disciplines motivated by love rather than obligation. Thank You again for Your investment in us, and may we all be willing to invest in others through prayer and action. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ we pray, amen.”
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