In the book of Colossians, the Apostle Paul talks about Epaphras a person who was now traveling with Paul.
12 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. 13 I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis. (Colossians 4:12-13 NASV)
In this verse, Paul describes Epaphras as being from the Colossae church and tells how Epaphras was “wrestling in prayer” for those in his home congregation.
Other Bible versions translate it a bit differently, with some saying he was “laboring fervently” in prayer.
The word translated “wrestling” by the NIV is the Greek word “agonizomai.” Thayers Greek Lexicon describes the word this way:
“to enter a contest, contend in the light of gymnastic games. To contend with adversaries, fight.”
The word “agonizomai” is derived from another Greek word “agone,” that referred to the gathering of the Greeks at their national games. We call them the Olympics today.
It described the wrestling and boxing matches popular at the early Greek Olympic games. Though “laboring fervently” is not necessarily wrong, it does not portray the battle or fight this word was describing.
There was one thing about the wrestling matches in the early Olympic games that differs from the fights we see today. In today’s match, unless there is a knock-out blow or injury, most fights go a predetermined number of rounds with a group of judges voting at the end on who won the match.
That did not happen in the early Greek Olympics. Fights continued until one fighter gave up often through a submission hold, injury or in some instances, though rare, death.
The two combatants fought until one person decisively won.
So this was how Epaphras was wrestling in prayer for the people in Colossae. It was all out war. It was not for the meek. You needed perseverance and training as these were often very brutal brawls with a minimum of rules.
But the word “agonizomai” also speaks of something else. Thayers adds that it was metaphorically used to describe a “struggle with difficulties and danger.”
Every fight has its challenges. There will be moments of discouragement when you are hurt physically and you have to fight through the pain. At other times you will be beaten mentally and feel like quitting, giving up, thinking what is the use, I can never beat this opponent.
But to be victorious, a person must be willing to battle through their doubts, fears and pain. You must dig deep to find the perseverance you need to keep praying, fighting and contending.
Many times we are battling satanic forces. In Ephesians 6:12, Paul says that we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers. He uses a different Greek word here for wrestling, “pale.” It described a specific move where the victorious wrestler placed his hand on the opponent’s neck to pin him to the ground.
But we are not always fighting the demonic.
Sometimes when we wrestle in prayer, we are actually contending with God as the Patriarch Jacob did.
24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. (Genesis 12:24 NIV)
The man Jacob wrestled was none other than an angel sent from God. After that match was done, Jacob demanded a blessing.
I also remember the story in the Gospels when Jesus and the disciples journeyed into Phoenicia and a woman began pleading with them to heal her demon-possessed daughter (Matthew 15:21-28).
This was a picture of prayer in action.
At first, they tried to ignore her and Jesus and the disciples did not even respond to the poor woman. Have you ever felt that God was not hearing your prayers? Then take a lesson from a determined Phoenician woman.
This woman would not stop, she continued to badger the group. So the disciples tried to shoo her away, but she continued calling out for help.
Finally, the disciples complained to Jesus about this insolent woman prompting the Lord to speak to her.
So what was the first thing that Jesus said to this desperate woman?
He told her that it was not God’s will for her daughter to be delivered. He said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house Israel” (v 24).
Have delays in answers to prayer ever made you question if it was the will of God?
But did that stop the woman from praying? No. She continued pleading for Jesus to heal her daughter.
So then Jesus insulted her:
“It’s not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs” (v 26)
The word “dog” was a term that many Jews used as a word of contempt to describe gentiles. But the woman countered that even the dogs get the crumbs that fall off the table of its master.
A few months ago, I felt God gave me direction through several circumstances on how to pray about a situation that was concerning me. But as I was praying something happened that was opposite of what I was praying for.
I actually became offended at God. I was upset because I thought the Holy Spirit had given me direction and now it was taking a completely different turn.
So I decided to take the mature route — I got mad and quit praying about it.
A while later, after I quit pouting, I resumed praying brief, one line prayers about the situation. I watched as it changed and moved back to limbo.
It is still not resolved the way I was initially praying, but I need to keep pressing into God about this situation.
We can get offended and stop praying, but not the Phoenician woman. Amazed by her relentless determination, Jesus said she had “Great Faith” and healed her daughter instantly.
There can be roadblocks in your prayers, and sometimes God is the one who throws them out. How serious are you? How much do you want it? How willing are you to battle in prayer for what you need?
To the persevering victor, goes the spoils of prayer.