Wrestling in Prayer for Others
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)
Sometimes in Scripture we come across descriptions of prayer that reveal the toll faithful prayer takes on those who desperately want to see God intervene in a given situation. In asking God for a child, Hannah prayed from a place of deep grief expressed in bitter weeping and a manner that was mistaken by Eli the priest as drunkenness (1 Samuel 1:10-17). David speaks of being worn out from groaning and of tired eyes from weeping all night (Psalm 6:6-7). Jacob physically wrestled with God. He expressed his desperation for God's blessing by holding onto God until he was indeed blessed (Genesis 32:22-32). Most famously, when Jesus was praying in deep anguish in anticipation of his suffering his sweat was like drops of blood (Luke 22:44).
Epaphras too prayed with an intensity which Paul describes as wrestling. Yet he wrestled not for himself, but for the Colossian believers. He wrestled and was always wrestling. For Epaphras, the spiritual wellbeing, maturity and confidence of his brothers and sisters was worth the hard work.
A wrestler realises that engaging with the opponent is the only option. Wrestling in the ancient Greek and Roman worlds, similar to Greco-Roman wrestling today, was a sport where two gripped each other in an attempt to physically dominate the other. If, for a moment, one opponent relaxed, they would be dominated. There was no easy wrestling. Victory came after intense, intimate, hand-to-hand combat.
A wrestler cannot stop until the opponent is out of the game. And so once Epaphras got a vision of God's people in Colosse growing in maturity in Jesus, he did not stop. He wrestled. He took that vision and did not let go. Whatever might have influenced the church to settle for an immature, infant-like knowledge and doubt-ridden faith became Epaphras' opponent - an opponent he intended to overcome in prayer.
A wrestler has two issues which makes their sport so demanding. One is that they have no team-mates. It is one-on-one. Although we pray together and ask people to join us in prayer, when it comes to wrestling, it is often a lonely thing. Nobody is there to substitute with me when I am close to giving up. My most demanding task is done all alone. Nobody may ever know the toll it takes. This means the wrestler needs to resolve to persevere. Yet there is an audience who cheers us on. The audience is made up of the faithful who have gone before us (the great cloud of witnesses in Hebrews 11 and in the collected stories from centuries since) and the encouraging voices around us.
The second issue which makes the prayer of the wrestler so demanding is that there is no rest. Being a one-on-one sport, the two combatants are waiting for the other to give in first. It might be a tiny movement to adjust a footing. It might be a complete loss of footing and falling to the floor. Whatever the form, once the wrester relaxes their intensity they are overcome.
The term prayer-warrior is a popular way to describe a faithful pray-er. But the term prayer-wrestler takes things further. If someone is wrestling for you in prayer, they are locked in an intense contest on your behalf. And if you or I set ourselves to wrestle in prayer for someone then we too are giving a most rare and precious gift. Could this be the greatest gift one believer can give another?