A man was once asked, “Why do you pray?” He answered: “Because I can.” A second man was asked the same question, and he replied “Because I must.” A woman, questioned in the same manner, replied with conviction: “Because I want to.” And thus, encapsulated in these three answers, we are reminded that for a believer in Christ, prayer is a privilege, a responsibility, and a desire.
Ananias was worried when the Lord told him to go to the street called Straight and visit Saul of Tarsus (Acts 9). Didn’t the Lord know what awful things Saul was doing in his persecution of Christians? The way in which the Lord described Saul’s current condition was striking: “Behold, he prayeth.” Given Saul’s background as a Pharisee, he was likely no stranger to prayer. Pharisees were known for delivering long prayers (Matt 23:14), and one of the best-known encounters with a Pharisee in the Bible involved praying as he exalted himself and abased the nearby publican.
So what was different now? Saul of Tarsus had entered into a new reality concerning prayer. No longer was it a tedious repetition of words. Now, he was speaking to his Lord in heaven; a special relationship about which he knew nothing before. It was a new privilege, and he embraced it and appreciated it.
What was Saul praying about during those hours of blindness? We are not told, but given Paul’s pattern of prayer throughout his epistles, I like to think that he was praying for the saints that he had been persecuting just a day before. They were now his brothers and sisters in Christ, and he would exercise his new-found privilege to lift them up before the throne of grace. All throughout his epistles, the apostle Paul reminded believers how he prayed for them. “For this cause we also … do not cease to pray for you” (Col 1:9); “Wherefore also we pray always for you” (2Thes 1:11). Prayer was a privilege granted to the apostle Paul that he never forgot and always valued.
Epaphras appears only a few times in the Bible, but each time he is mentioned, it is evident that he was a much-appreciated brother. Colossians 1 tells us that he was both an able gospel preacher and a gifted teacher of the Word, and many believers in the Colosse, Laodicea, and Hierapolis assemblies had benefited from his exposition of Scripture. Nonetheless, some of Paul’s greatest words of commendation for Epaphras were to recognize him as a praying man.
In Colossians 4, Paul expresses to the believers how faithfully Epaphras prayed for them. It was not an occasional thing, nor was it a mere formality. Rather, Epaphras labored fervently, or “agonized,” as he poured out his heart to the Lord on behalf of the Christians he loved. And what was his topic of prayer? It was that the believers would mature spiritually and fulfill the will of God in their lives. This brother who had first preached, then taught the believers, now willingly accepts the responsibility to help them become something for God. His work was not done when the preaching and teaching were over; his work continued as he fervently lifted up his beloved fellow-believers to their God.
One defining characteristic of Epaphras’ prayer life is how his care for the flock eclipsed every other concern. Even while a fellow-prisoner with Paul (Phm 23), Epaphras was not concerned about his own well-being, but was fully consumed with the protection and growth of the saints that God had entrusted to him. Epaphras was, no doubt, impacted and influenced by the prayer life of his cellmate. As he observed Paul fearlessly placing his life on the altar, time and time again, for the sake of the gospel, he could see firsthand what it meant to sacrifice oneself for the sake of Christ. Love for the saints and for Christ drove Epaphras’ prayer life and he lived and breathed that responsibility.
When you were saved, God placed in you a desire to be in His presence. Through the influence of the indwelling Holy Spirit, the new creature now seeks the presence of the One Who gave it life. In good or bad times, our default mode should be to seek communion with God through prayer. Sadly, we don’t always take advantage of this lifeline, and we suffer for it. God has promised never to leave us nor forsake us. He is always there, but whether or not we take advantage of that is our choice.
David was a man who chose to seek God’s presence. Whether in success or failure, victory or defeat, exultation or despair, he wanted to be in the presence of his God. One of David’s defining sentiments about prayer is expressed in Psalm 16:11: “In Thy presence is fullness of joy.” Why did David delight so much in the presence of the Lord? It was certainly not because he was a perfect man. David’s failings are notorious and a warning to every believer. But even in his darkest hour of personal failure, David did not evade the Lord’s presence, but rather acknowledged the Lord’s lovingkindness and sought His mercy and forgiveness (Psa 51).
David’s song in 2 Samuel 22 gives us a clear view into his heart and why the Lord’s presence was so important to him. He describes a God Who is my rock, my Fortress, my Deliverer, my Shield, my Salvation, my High Tower, my Refuge, my Savior, my Stay, my Lamp, my Strength, my Power, and my Lord. David’s Lord was everything to him, and he delighted to be in the presence of the One Who met his every need.
One thing David understood about prayer is that the Lord delights when His saints seek His presence. In Psalm 18:19 he writes: “He brought me forth also into a large place; He delivered me, because He delighted in me.” May our desire be always to seek, through prayer, the presence of the One Who delights to welcome us into His place.