“And pray for me, too. Ask God to give me the right words so I can boldly explain God’s mysterious plan that the Good News is for Jews and Gentiles alike. I am in chains now, still preaching this message as God’s ambassador. So pray that I will keep on speaking boldly for him, as I should.”
So far in this Epistle, Paul has been dispensing wise and helpful words for the benefit of his friends back in Ephesus. He’s been praying for them, encouraging them, blessing them and revealing God’s truth, and now, as if he senses that he is coming near the end of his letter, he suddenly turns to consider himself. And so he should. Locked up in a probably disgusting prison cell, in chains, it has been amazing at what has flowed from his pen. But not a hint of self-pity. Quite simply, he asks for his friends back home to pray for him. Even then, I would have expected his prayers to be focused on his circumstances – the cold cell, the damp, the lack of sanitary facilities, the rats, his chains, poor and insufficient food. But none of this. He only wanted them to pray for him, that he would, at every opportunity, be able to share the Gospel, the Good News, with everyone to whom he had access. So a passing jailor would frequently receive Paul’s message. A soldier at the end of his shift. Fellow prisoners in adjacent cells. They all knew what Paul stood for. On occasion, he would have been taken out to meet a magistrate or some other dignitary, once again being processed through the next step in the Roman legal system. But no hint of wanting prayer for his protection, from abuse, from ridicule, from an aggression unknown in our culture. He wanted prayer for the courage to speak out clearly and boldly so that there would be no excuse for his hearers if they rejected his message. The Jews would have been incensed that this ex-Pharisee was preaching that they should intermingle with the hated Gentiles. The Gentiles too would have been upset that someone was rubbishing their gods. All in all he would have been unpopular at best and constantly vilified at worst.
But I can feel his anguish as he clenched his fists, digging his finger nails into the palms of his hands, crying out to God for more power, more opportunities, more of the right words to penetrate into the cultural fog of his day. And to help him in his mission, he asked his friends to pray for him. Was it a pointless prayer? Something he felt he should ask so that the Ephesians could think they were doing something useful to help him? No – he really valued their prayers. He believed, in faith, that God would answer them, granting him the right words and opportunities he so desperately desired.
So what about us? Do we ask for prayer from those around us? From our church family? From our pastor or minister? Or do we continue to live on in our circumstances, too proud to admit we need help? Here’s a revelation – pilgrims need prayer. Constantly. For their health, their life, their witness, their journey. And God has given us the means to help one another – prayer. Prayer changes things. God listens to our prayers and delivers answers. Paul knew the value of prayer, and so should we. Note that I’m talking to myself here as well – I’m not good at asking others to pray for me. But thankfully God hasn’t finished with me just yet.
Let’s resolve today to ask some one to pray for us. We never know – there might be a life-changing answer just waiting to be delivered, an answer that is timely and profound. Bringing clarity into our lives. Unstopping an obstacle. Removing a hurdle. Healing an illness or condition. Our journey with God is exciting – we never know what He has for us next. With prayer we might just get to find out.