Praying With Power

Romans 15:30-33

April 3, 2011 | Brian Bill

In a small Texas town, a bar began construction on a new building to increase their business.  The local Baptist church started a campaign to block the bar from opening with petitions and many prayers.  Work progressed right up till the week before opening when lightning struck the bar and it burned to the ground. 

After losing his building the bar owner sued the church on the grounds that the church was ultimately responsible for the demise of his building.  The church vehemently denied all responsibility in its reply to the court.  After looking at all the facts, the judge commented, “I don’t know how I’m going to decide this, because it appears that we have a bar owner who believes in the power of prayer, and an entire church congregation that does not.” 

God’s power is unleashed when we pray

Do we believe in the power of prayer?  Does your practice of prayer affirm that God unleashes His power when you pray?  Last week we learned that God’s purposes prevail even when our plans don’t.  Today, we’ll be looking at just four verses from Romans 15:30-33 and we’ll discover that God’s power is unleashed when we pray.

It’s my prayer today that this passage on prayer will encourage, motivate and propel us to pray with power.  Let’s read it together and then let’s dig into the details: “I urge you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me.  Pray that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea and that my service in Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints there, so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and together with you be refreshed.  The God of peace be with you all.  Amen.”

To prepare us for this prayer passage to percolate deep within, let’s make a few observations.

  • This is a very personal request.  Paul uses the pronouns “I,” “me” or “my” seven different times.
  • Paul is committed to the community of believers.  He calls them “brothers” and asks them to join him in his struggle in verse 30.  In verse 32 he expresses his desire to come to them “and together” be refreshed.  And in verse 33 he pronounces a benediction of peace on them.
  • All three members of the Trinity are mentioned.  Check out verse 30: “By our Lord Jesus Christ…by the love of the Spirit…praying to God…”
  • The first three characteristics of the Fruit of the Spirit are listed.  “Love” is linked to the Spirit in verse 30, “joy” jumps out in verse 32 and “peace” is found in verse 33 (compare to Galatians 5:22).

An Intercession Outline

As we look at this passage, I want us to understand the text and then I want us to look for ways to put it into our context so that Paul’s practice of prayer can be something we practice as well.

1. Prayer is a struggle. 

If you’re waiting for prayer to come easy for you, you’re going to wait a long time.  Let’s take a look at verse 30: “I urge you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me.”  The beginning words show us that Paul has to urge us, which means to exhort or “call into service.”  This same phrase is used in Romans 12:1 where Paul pleads with us to offer our bodies to the Lord.

Notice that Paul is once again all about giving Jesus glory: “by our Lord Jesus Christ.”  This can also be translated as “for the sake of.”  He’s also motivated by “the love of the Spirit.”  When praying it’s good to ask ourselves if our requests are for the sake of the Savior and motivated by the love of the Spirit.  To say it another way, when we consider what Christ has done and what the Spirit is now doing, how can we not but pray?  

While Paul was a pioneer and a prolific church planter, he knew that he couldn’t function alone.  He needed others to intercede for him as see in this phrase: “join me.”  He calls on them to partner with him in his “struggle.”  This word was used in both athletic and military spheres and is translated as “fight” in John 18:36.   It comes from the same root from which we get the English word “agony.”  It’s the same word used of Jesus when he was in Gethsemane in Luke 22:44 when Jesus was “in anguish.”  Interestingly, while He’s doing battle in prayer, His followers fall asleep.  We’re a lot like them, aren’t we?

I think prayer is a struggle on at least two fronts.  

  • What we strive against.  There are a whole bunch of things that do battle against our ability to intercede in prayer.  Specifically, that would include self (Matthew 26:41 – “The spirit is willing, but the body is weak”), sin (Psalm 66:18“If I had cherished sin in my heart the Lord would not have listened”) and Satan (Ephesians 6:12 – “For our struggle is…against the powers of darkness”).
  • What to strive with God about.  The actual act of interceding is a battle in itself.  One of the best examples from the Old Testament is pictured vividly in Genesis 32:24-29 where we read of Jacob wrestling with God in order to get a blessing.  My New Testament hero is an intercessor named Epaphras who was known in Colossians 4:12 as a man who was “…always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured.”

Let’s not be like the prayerless people described in Isaiah 64:7: “No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you…”  I’m very challenged by something Russell Moore has written: “One of the first ways you can tell that you are moving beyond temptation into a pattern of sin is if you find yourself in a time of prayerlessness…If you are reluctant to pray, it just might be that you, like Adam and Israel before you, are hiding in the vegetation, ashamed to hear the rustling of the leaves that signals He is here.” 

2. Prayer should be specific. 

Paul is not interested in ethereal prayers; he wants us to know exactly what to pray for in verses 31-32.  While there a lot of different things to pray for in the Bible, this passage gives us three specific requests that we can incorporate into our own times of intercession.

  • For safety.  We see this in the first part of verse 31: “Pray that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea…”  Paul new that he was about to go into a very dangerous situation so he asked the Roman believers to pray for his protection.  He made a very similar request in 2 Thessalonians 3:2: “And pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men, for not everyone has faith.  When you pray for others, pray for their spiritual and physical safety.
  • For success.  In the last part of verse 31 Paul specifically asks for success: “…and that my service in Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints there.”  This was a real concern to Paul because some of the Jewish background believers were suspicious of Gentile background believers.  As a result he requested that they pray that his ministry offering would be successful.  This is good to pray for people as well.  
  • For satisfaction.  Once again we see that Paul wants God’s way and His will to be accomplished and he knows that if he’s able to come to see them he will find great satisfaction.  Check out verse 32: “So that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and together with you be refreshed.” The word “refreshed” is translated as rest in Matthew 11:28.  Paul longs to spend time with them because he knows he will rejoice and be refreshed.  But ultimately when God’s will is accomplished, we will be satisfied.  John Piper says it like this: “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”

When I got up early on Friday I used this intercession outline to pray for each of our daughters.  It really helped me to focus on some specifics instead of just asking God to bless them in a general way.

Let’s put this prayer model into practice right now.  Is anyone in need of prayer?  Simply raise your hand and I’ll come over and pray these three things for you.

Now it’s your turn.  Let’s take some time to pray this intercession outline for a prodigal believer.  Pray now for a family member.  Now pray for one of your pastors.

It’s interesting to think through how Paul’s requests were answered.  These answers are instructive and encouraging for us as well.

  • Safety (Yes and No).  Paul was rescued from three mobs and from a flogging and an attempted assimilation but he was also arrested, tried and imprisoned (see Acts 21-23).
  • Success (Yes).  From what we can tell, Paul was able to deliver the offering and the believers found it acceptable.  Acts 21:17: “When we arrived at Jerusalem, the brothers received us warmly.”
  • Satisfaction (Wait).  Paul eventually made it to Rome but he had to wait about three years and the way he got there was not how he planned it because he came as a prisoner, suffered a shipwreck and was put in prison in Rome.  However, this prayer was eventually answered as seen in Acts 28:15: “The brothers there had heard that we were coming, and they traveled…to meet us.  At the sight of these men Paul thanked God and was encouraged.” 
  • Spain (No).  While not specifically mentioned in this text, we know from verse 24 that Paul planned to go to Spain.  As far as we know, he never made it there.

That’s the way it is for all of us when we pray.  Sometimes our prayers are answered with a “yes and a no,” sometimes with a “yes,” other times with a “wait,” and we also need to be prepared for a “no.”

3. Prayer steadies us. 

When we struggle in prayer and we’re specific with our prayers, no matter how our intercession is answered, we can experience the peace that passes all understanding

When we struggle in prayer and we’re specific with our prayers, no matter how our intercession is answered, we can experience the peace that passes all understanding.  This happens because we once again settle the great truth that God is in control and that should steady us.  Verse 33 is really a benediction or blessing: “The God of peace be with you all.  Amen.”  We can count on these three things when we pray.

  • God’s peace.  I love this title: “The God of peace…”  In the Old Testament we read that He is Jehovah Shalom.  When we have peace with God we are then given the peace of God from the God who is Himself our peace.
  • God’s presence.  God is “with you.”  If you’re a born again believer you don’t have to go looking for Him because He is always with you and He will never leave you or forsake you.
  • God’s power.  I’m getting this from the word “Amen,” which literally means, “so be it” or “it is so.”  It’s our way of leaving it in God’s hands to do what only He can do.  In the Old Testament the word is used to confirm a covenant or an oath.  He shows His power when we admit that we are powerless.  Who knows when and where lightning will strike next but we do know that God’s power is unleashed when we pray.

As we’ve been reminded we’re always urged to come back to the cross.  We must remember Jesus and what He did for us when He died in our place on our behalf.  If you have not yet repented from your sins and received Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, now is the time to do so.    

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?