PAPHRAS PRAYED for the church. What else did he do? Did he run on the track team? Did he preach to thousands? Did he fight valiantly in war? Did he design and build huge sanctuaries? Did he lead hunting trips into rough country? Did he coach a Little League team? Did he at least wash those little glasses after Communion service?
Well, if he did any of these, we don’t have an account of it. The only thing we know about this great man is through Paul’s casual mention of him. He wasn’t the topic of the letter, and he deserves only a couple of verses. But that is enough to make me want to meet the man. What a fantastic quality — to be known as the man who prays for the church.
We hear the tales of the heroes of the faith, those missionaries who made great sacrifices of money, convenience, and safety to travel to the exotic places preaching the good news that Jesus lives and loves—men such as Hudson Taylor, Jim Elliot, Nate Saint.
We read about the great preachers who boldly and powerfully proclaimed the gospel without thought for health of personal gain – preachers such as Charles Spurgeon, Dwight L. Moody, Billy Graham.
We hear even now the tales of the men of the church who went to Venezuela for two weeks to build a church, or the men who gathered supplies and drove a truck to the hurricane zone, or the men who spent a Saturday sprucing up the church and grounds.
This is all a part of the Kingdom. It is what it means to be a servant. The Kingdom needs it . . . the people of the Kingdom need it . . . and we need it. We need the sheer spiritual joy of sensing that we have made a contribution — that we have served God by serving His people. We need the sense of sacrifice and commitment, of the willingness to share ourselves and what we have. We need to serve.
Epaphras served. He prayed for the church. There were probably some men who fed the widows and orphans, some who dry-walled and sanded the fellowship hall, some who taught Sunday school, and some who led the music. But we don’t learn much about them. What we do learn is that Epaphras prayed, and that is a worthwhile ministry.
At this point, you can guess what is coming next – an inspiring essay trying to convince all of us that we should pray. You’re right, of course. That is exactly what is coming next. But has it ever occurred to you that such essays are rather amusing?
Trying to convince a Christian that he or she should pray is about like telling a hair – raising story to a bald man. What’s the point? If we are Christians, surely we know the value of prayer. It was through prayer that we became Christians in the first place. We know the power that first prayer had on us, and we surely know the worth of continuing in prayer. That is a given.
But to satisfy the duties of expectations, I will concede and list my three reminders.
1. Prayer is portable.
The other day, a Sunday school teacher told me about the unusually positive things that had been happening to his class. The attendance numbers had swelled. People were responding with spiritual growth. There was a sense of unity and sharing. And even the teacher felt that he was teaching better.
The teacher tried to identify the reason for all those positive changes, but he couldn’t remember doing anything differently himself. Then one day, one of his members came up and laid bare his soul. The member was a timber cutter. He worked alone in the forest six days a week, operating heavy machinery. He felt guilty about not being able to participate in the mission activities and work sessions of the class, but he realized the one thing he could do in his forest setting was to pray. So he started. Like Epaphras, this timber cutter spent several hours every day wrestling in prayer for the people in his Sunday school class, and good things were happening.
Probably, most of us have been in a situation similar to that timber cutter at least once in our lives. Because of circumstances beyond our control, we just can’t be there as much as we like. Maybe we have a long daily commute; maybe we are bedfast; maybe we are working overtime; maybe we are truck drivers. Whatever the reason, it’s legitimate, but it still doesn’t erase all those feelings of guilt that maybe we should do more. But we can. We can pray anywhere, anyplace, anytime. And the Holy Spirit takes our most unlearned groans to God and explains to Him what they mean.
2. Prayer is purposeful.
When we pray, we focus. We concentrate on God, and we concentrate on the person for whom we are praying. In this manner, our prayer life gives us a sense of purpose and direction. It gets us outside ourselves and puts our minds and cares on others. It gives us a clearer picture of who we are and what God expects of us.
And prayer unites us. If 10 men in our church commit to pray for our pastor, then we 10 are united by common thoughts at least some moments of every day. Our prayers please God, but they also help us find emotional health.
3. Prayer is powerful.
God answers prayer. It is as simple as that. We have biblical illustrations. Peter was in prison. The people of the church met in a house and prayed for his release. Then there was a miracle. Peter just got up and walked out. In fact, the miracle was so great that the Christians almost couldn’t believe that it happened, even though they had prayed for it. God answers prayer. Sometimes He answers in such a dramatic way that we almost can’t believe it ourselves.
We have current illustrations. All of us know someone who has been healed through prayer . . . who has been delivered from drugs or alcohol through prayer . . . who has found direction for life through prayer . . . who has been rescued from an eternity of torment through prayer. Almost daily, we hear of some church that is in the midst of an overwhelming outpouring of God’s blessings. When we check deeper into these reports, in every one of them we will hear of some dedicated men praying for the church.
James’ letter tells us the effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man has a great impact (5:16).
In Colossians 4, we are told that Epaphras took that reminder seriously, and he did one of the most noble things a man could do: he prayed for the church.
I think I would like to meet Epaphras, to get acquainted with him, to go fishing and play golf with him.
If I can’t meet him, I would like to meet a man who has the same commitment — to pray for the church.