“Devote yourselves to prayer,” writes the apostle Paul to the Colossians (4:2) in my Bible reading for today.
The BRF Guidelines commentary observes that “Paul is hinting that prayer is always something of a battle which requires determination.” I know the feeling.
In fact, just a few verses later, we read “Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you. He is always wrestling in his prayers on your behalf.” (Colossians 4:12)
Here Paul holds up Epaphras as an example, a role model for all disciples, in his commitment to pray for his fellow believers that “they may stand mature and fully assured in everything that God wills.”
Such prayer is both necessary and hard work. In fact, the apostle – again in the words of my commentary – recognises prayer is more like a wrestling match that a stroll in the park.
Talking about a stroll in the park, the good news is that I am back running – but not yet back to full speed. My weekly ParkRun is more like a stroll in that particular park than a run – but I’m keeping at it. Running is what I do.
Even so I am keeping up my swimming. I only started weekly swimming lessons at Park Pool in September thinking my running days were over. But there I was yesterday, front crawl up the pool/back crawl down the pool, the usual struggle, thinking “Why am I doing this?
In fact, it reminded me of my interval training when I ran all those years ago on the track; for example, eight repetitions of 200m with two minutes rest. That was a struggle too but I kept at it so that running eventually became part of me.
And I guess it is the same with prayer. Like Epaphras we need to persevere and perseverance means self-discipline. .
One of the greatest athletes of all time, Jesse Owens, realised the importance of keeping at it. “We all have dreams. But in order to make dreams come into reality, it takes an awful lot of determination, dedication, self-discipline, and effort.” He could be talking about prayer.
For at one level, prayer is the most natural thing we do as beloved children of God. So the apostle Paul observes: “And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ ” (Galatians 4:6)
But at the same time, prayer can be hard work. Just think how much praying took out of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, so much so that Luke tells us that when his disciples went to sleep through sheer exhaustion, an angel was sent to strengthen him (Luke 22:43)
Hold on, there’s the doorbell.
You’ll have to wait for a few minutes while I answer the door.
Well, God just sent the right person at the right paragraph. Derek Andrews just called straight after morning prayer in church with a wonderful retirement gift of a framed photograph.
Derek is one of my heroes at Christ Church not least for his wonderful support over the years in prayer, each weekday morning. It was not unusual for just Derek and I to be there in church, to pray together. He kept me at it.
For Jesus taught us that we need each other, especially when it comes to the discipline of prayer. Remarkably at Gethsemane he needed his disciples more than they needed him.
I learnt that in athletics. If you are going to do a decent set of 200m intervals, you don’t run alone. There is an absolute guarantee that you run faster when you run with others.
One of the retirement cards I received was from Mike in Rochdale. “Thank you for encouraging us to set up Prayer Triplets when Billy Graham came to Anfield. My triplet still meets each week although the membership has changed over time.”
Clearly there is a need, a discipline, to pray by ourselves. I blogged recently how I observe my quiet time immediately after my porridge and during my cappuccino.
However, the key to disciplined prayer is when we resolve to pray together – even if it is raining and there is a strong wind on the back straight. When we learn to pray together, we are better equipped to pray by ourselves.
And more: Jesus promises to turn up. He promises “And when two or three of you are together because of me, you can be sure that I’ll be there.” (Matthew 18:20).
So think, how can you best commit yourself to pray with a fellow disciple in a disciplined way.
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