Much of the dearth of spiritual victory in our lives may result from a failure to persevere in prayer. On the one hand, since praying is work, spiritual lethargy may often be the source of our failure to persist in prayer. We simply do not care enough about our own spiritual welfare or that of others to pray about it as we should. On the other hand, failure to persevere in prayer may result from a mistaken belief that a faith that truly rests in God’s work or a will that genuinely submits to God precludes importunity. But a request that Paul made toward the end of his epistle to the believers in Rome gives the lie to those notions. For although it is true that it is possible for us to pray presumptuous prayers or to insist on having our way in a carnal fashion, it is at least equally true that God often intends for us to wrestle in prayer. Note “Exhibit A” by way of proof: “Now I urge you, brethren, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God for me” (Rom. 15:30; also vv. 31, 32).
It is striking to note that Paul does not make his appeal to the Romans to pray earnestly on the basis of the greatness of the need; rather, he invokes the authority of the second and third Persons of the Trinity. First, he urges them to pray “by our Lord Jesus Christ.” What Paul had in mind here, we cannot say. Perhaps it was the Lord’s many exhortations to pray (e.g., Mt. 5:44; 6:6, 7, 9; 9:38; 26:41); perhaps it was the example of His high priestly prayer (John 17); quite possibly it was the example of His agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. Then he urges them to pray “by the love of the Spirit.” That the Spirit of the God who is love should be producing an earnest love in them is doubtless in Paul’s mind. Additionally, he must surely be referencing a statement that he had made earlier in this same epistle: “In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (8:26). Both by commandment and by example, two Persons of the Godhead authorize earnest, importunate prayer.
The famous painting of a beatific Christ kneeling serenely beside a boulder, hands calmly clasped, certainly fails completely to depict the experience of Christ in the Garden. While it is true that not all prayer is equally intense, it is true that much prayer should and must be so. Paul implored the Romans to “strive together with me in your prayers to God for me.” The phrase “strive together with” translates the Greek verb sunagonizomai. The word means to “strive,” “fight,” “labor fervently.” It was used in relation to athletic competitions and hard physical labor. From its root, we derived our English verb, agonize. (The Greek prefix sun means “together with.”) Without doubt, tranquility of heart and mind is a foundational quality of genuine faith. But if the text before us, the examples we have cited above, and numerous other passages of Scripture mean anything, then another aspect of faith entails laboring, wrestling, and struggling in prayer. We must battle our flesh in order to go to prayer; we must battle our flesh in order to continue in prayer; and we must battle invisible but antagonistic forces in order to prevail in prayer. Particularly where the gospel is concerned, where eternal souls are at stake, and where God’s glory is being challenged, we are required to remain diligent in prayer. We must never confuse complacency or resignation with the rest associated with faith. Unless or until the Lord gives a firm “No!” answer to our prayers we should persist, even to the point of wrestling, agonizing before the throne of grace.
Do you sometimes find praying to be a struggle? That should neither surprise nor discourage you. Since the arena in which prayer is exercised is spiritual, we should expect a great battle in our flesh. Since we are attacking Satan’s domain, we should expect supernatural resistance. Since it pleases the Lord to test our faith, we should expect to endeavor. Since we are impatient by nature, we should expect the exercise of our patience. Since we are imperfect, we should expect a time-consuming refining process in our praying. And we must remember that, although the weightiest prayers usually occur during lonely vigils in our prayer closets, we are “agonizing with” others with whom we share, perhaps unwittingly, the same burdens—they equally unaware of us. Moreover, the Spirit of God is groaning with us, for us, and beyond us. May we become the prayer warriors God intends us to be.
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