The sport of obstacle racing has rapidly gained popularity. At events like Tough Mudder and Spartan Race, competitors complete a course that includes not only trail running but also dashing through burning firewood, swimming across an icy pool, and running between electrified wires. According to The New Yorker, these races are “designed to challenge strength, stamina, mental grit, and camaraderie.”
By contrast, prayer may seem like a sedentary, low-impact activity. What could be challenging about closing your eyes and talking to God? But Paul’s instructions to the Colossians reveal that prayer is often more like a Tough Mudder than like a leisurely walk in the park. To begin, Paul calls the church to “devote” themselves to prayer and to be “watchful” in it. Furthermore, he calls them to be “thankful,” which is no easy task for most of us (v. 2).
Paul gives a specific example of someone who demonstrated this kind of praying grit. Epaphras was a champion intercessor, “always wrestling in prayer” for the Colossians (v. 12). At times, we may be tempted to undervalue the work of intercession. We can esteem teachers, preachers, missionaries, or organizers more than those who pray. But Paul testifies to the churches that Epaphras was doing essential and difficult work on their behalf—by praying (v. 13).
The exchange of information and encouragement are essential. Paul challenges the churches by asking them to intercede for something that might seem impossible: a successful ministry by an incarcerated preacher (vv. 3–4). He arranges for messengers to visit the churches to collect and disperse additional requests. While unbelievers might think such updates are just news, Christians know they are fuel for the hard work of intercession.