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Prayer: Wrestling in Prayer

By Bill D. Whittaker

Colossians 4:12-13

When one thinks of wrestling, often the image that comes to mind is someone such as Hulk Hogan. At one time, his 6'6", 290 pounds, blond hair, and friendly growl grossed millions annually from wrestling and the endorsement of everything from deodorant to children's vitamins.1

Colossians 4 pictures another kind of wrestling. "Epaphras ... is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured." Our word "wrestling" translates a word used for the place of Greek athletic events. Later the word described the struggle of the competitors. The translation has come into English as "agony." I felt the agony doing sit-ups on the weight-room incline! I considered having the machine inscribed agonia.

Have you ever linked prayer with agony? Do you experience any struggle when you pray? Epaphras' example suggests we approach prayer like a wrestler approaches the ring -- in shape, alert, and on our guard. Opposing forces seek to pin us to the mat and defeat us in prayer.

Prayer involves no agony when it slips into Pharisaical formality and tradition. Jesus said the Pharisees got what they wanted; people heard their vain repetitions. But they missed the agony of prayer.

Anne of Green Gables was encouraged by her foster mother to say her prayers. Anne responded, "Saying one's prayers isn't exactly the same thing as praying."2 She remembered Sunday School superintendent Bell. "He was talking to God, and he didn't seem to be very much interested in it, either. I think he thought God was too far off to make it worthwhile."3 That's prayer without any struggle.

Many of our churches don't pray enough at prayer meeting to discover any agony or struggle. Some could be charged with false advertising when they invite people to mid-week prayer meeting.

The Struggle to Pray

The agony of prayer naturally flows from the struggle we face in the spiritual life. Paul reminded us, "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the power of this dark world, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore ... pray in the Spirit on all occasions ... be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints" (Ephesians 6:12-18). Prayer is a struggle, and like an alert wrestler we must pin some opposing forces to gain the victory.

Prayer struggles with sin. We always enter this spiritual ring with selfishness, broken relationships, or some habit we can't seem to break. Unforgiven past sin or the continuing practice of sin defeats prayer. "If we hide iniquity in our heart, he will not hear us" (Psalms 66:18). We jump into the prayer ring with our requests while sin hangs on us like street clothes. Prayer must take us through the locker room of confession and repentance.

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