During Lent, Christians often focus on intentional engagement with the spiritual disciplines, including prayer, fasting and giving to the poor. The readings for Ash Wednesday often include Matthew 6:1–18, in which Jesus outlines his followers’ approach to these spiritual disciplines. Jesus himself often withdrew from others to focus on prayer and fasting. In this short devotional, I want to focus on the spiritual discipline of prayer, particularly intercession – praying on behalf of other Christians.
In the Book of Colossians, we are briefly introduced to a character called Epaphras. Epaphras was an evangelist – he was one of the first to share the gospel with the people of the city of Colossae (Colossians 1:6–8). But Epaphras also served in a different way for the Christians of the city. St Paul tells us that Epaphras was ‘always wrestling in prayer’ for the Christians, in order that they might ‘stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured’ (Colossians 4:12). Paul writes that Epaphras is working hard in prayer! We might call him an intercessor or a prayer warrior.
Do you know someone like Epaphras in your congregation? Do you know a prayer warrior, someone who is always praying for people that they may grow in God and be fully mature? Or perhaps, does the description of Epaphras stir and excite something in your own heart?
This year, I’m launching something called the Epaphras Project. It’s my belief that in every place, in every church, God graciously puts someone like Epaphras in place – one or more people whose gifting and calling from God is simply to pray. The Epaphras Project is setting out to help identify, equip and release the prayer warriors in every congregation in the LCANZ. I believe that spirit-empowered, persistent prayer is the foundation of each ministry and mission opportunity of every congregation.
In New and Renewing Churches, we recognise that the ‘renewing’ part of our work is vitally important. We are working to see congregations of the LCANZ revived in mission, become healthier and make new disciples of Jesus. And that really can’t happen without a foundation of persistent, focused prayer, like Epaphras was praying for the Christians at Colossae, Laodicea and Hierapolis.
I’ve recently been reading a book called The Anatomy of a Revived Church by Thom Rainer, a church consultant in the USA who has helped hundreds of churches revitalise and step into God’s vibrant future. There are about seven characteristics of revived churches that consistently shine through his work and research. And one of the most important ones is prayer. He writes:
I have yet to see a sustained church revitalisation that was not undergirded by a powerful movement of prayer.
Please read the first sentence again. It is categorical. It is imperative. It is a priority. We have seen churches turn around for a brief season with a new methodology or a new emphasis. We have seen some churches reverse their negative trends briefly with a new pastor or dynamic staff member. But we have yet to see a sustained church revitalisation that was not undergirded by a powerful movement of prayer.
Later in the same chapter, he writes that it is usually a few – perhaps one, two or three members who are faithful in prayer for church revitalisation – who God uses for this ministry of prayer. He also writes that it often takes several years of persistent prayer for the congregation to move from decline or stagnation to revitalisation and growth. He finishes his chapter on prayer in this way:
If you are seeking immediate application to the principle of powerful prayer in your church, begin praying God will provide a prayer warrior. Even more, ask the members in the church if God might be moving in their lives to lead a ministry of prayer for revitalisation.
We have seen again and again in our anatomy of revitalised churches that every sustained church revitalisation is undergirded by a powerful movement of prayer. Every. Single. One. It’s just that important.
So, I’m starting the Epaphras Project, first of all, by praying – that God will raise up and bring forth one or more ‘Epaphrases’ for every congregation of the LCANZ.
- Will you join me in this prayer?
- More than that, do you know who that ‘Epaphras’ prayer warrior might be in your congregation, and would you talk to them about joining the project?
- More than that, when you read these words, might the Holy Spirit be stirring in your heart something like, ‘Hey, that might be me?’
If your answer to any of these questions is yes, please get in touch and email firstname.lastname@example.org
We want to begin to network the prayer warriors in the LCANZ, provide recognition, encouragement, training, and suggestions for prayer, and see everyone and every congregation ‘stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured’ (Colossians 4:12) and see people be able to ‘make the most of every opportunity’ for mission in their conversation and action (Colossians 4:5,6).
Gracious Triune God, we thank you that you invite us deeper into your life and mission through prayer, which is not just asking you for things but dwelling with you and letting your word permeate our lives. Would you please raise up someone like Epaphras for [name of my congregation] and encourage them in the ministry of intercession? Would you please provide prayer warriors in every congregation of the LCANZ and empower them to wrestle in prayer for your people? Would you please continue to pour out your Spirit on the members and congregations of the LCANZ, to bring renewed life, a vibrant future, and a deep joy in our shared mission with you? Would you please use our local congregation to help people to get to know Jesus and help people walk with him more closely? Thank you for your gracious gifts, including prayer warriors and intercessors like Epaphras! We pray in the precious name of Jesus. Amen.
Pastor Nathan Hedt is the LCANZ’s Pastor for New and Renewing Churches.