A Plea to Wrestle in Prayer

March 22, 2015 Series: Romans Scripture: Romans 15:30-33 by Chris Strevel

Our Lord has opened heaven to us. The throne of the HOLY, HOLY, HOLY GOD is our refuge of grace and mercy. We have an advocate there, Jesus Christ the Righteous (1 John 2:1). Corrupt, we may be assured of cleansing through his blood, for his propitiatory sacrifice never loses its efficacy to obtain pardon for our many sins. Weak, we have a standing invitation from the Lord of Hosts to seek his help in every circumstance (Heb. 2:14-16). Our Lord told us to ask in his name, to ask because God is our Father and loves us (John 16:26-27), and to ask because he is “able to do exceedingly abundantly above all we can ask or imagine” (Eph. 3:20). What shall we do with such an invitation? We must pray. We have a large prayer book, for every line of Scripture, whether a promise or command, warning or encouragement, reveals our Father’s wisdom for our every need and his willingness to hear and answer our prayers. Is it any wonder that we are told to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:18)? It is as if our Father says to us, “Have me without ceasing! Enjoy me without ceasing! Have me for your Helper, Guide, Friend, Protector and Savior without ceasing!” Embrace his invitation, child of God, and drink from the fountain of living waters deeper than any ocean. Whatever we face, however we feel, the God of our salvation invites, exhorts, commands us to come to him.

We can tell a great deal about our hearts by the things for which we pray, as well as by the things for which we ask others to pray. God is our Father, and he lovingly encourages us to cast our burdens upon him (Ps. 55:22). He cares for us and is concerned about our every need (1 Pet. 5:7). At the same time, he would not have us to be so consumed with our personal and local troubles that we forget the larger issues and needs of his church and kingdom. This is the reason that in our Lord’s short prayer the chief emphases are upon his glory, kingdom, and will, with our daily bread, forgiveness, and deliverance from sin following. We see this balance perfectly exemplified in the apostle. As was his lot, he was undoubtedly struggling with the “thorn in the flesh,” which seems to have been a persistent malady of some sort that the Lord sent to humble him. There was also the daily care of all the churches that he bore upon his apostle’s heart (2 Cor. 11:28). In the midst of these constant burdens, his prayers embraced the spread of gospel love in a region remote from the Romans but no less connected to them. He asked them to pray for his deliverance from the unbelieving Jews who were violently opposed to the apostle and the gospel he preached. Both personal and kingdom needs must be upon our heart. Was this not our Savior’s heart also? Issuing from his noble, holy heart were prayers for the needs of his church throughout all ages (John 17), as well as the prayers he uttered for his personal agony in the Garden. We must seek to have our hearts enlarged and quickened so that by praying at all times and for all things, we may commit our personal ways to the Lord and seek his blessing upon the gospel throughout the world.

Motivations to Wrestle in Prayer (v. 30)

Can there be any higher motivation for us to pray than “for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ?” We can well understand that he would pray for our sake, for we are poor and needy, subject daily to a thousand temptations, in constant need of being upheld lest our faith be overturned by the icy cold of worldly lusts and the hatred of ungodly men. He prays for us that our faith fail not. “He ever liveth to make intercession for us” (Heb. 7:26). Yet, his prayers for our sake create our prayers for his sake. Love for him is the disciple’s highest aim. To see his glory promoted in the world, his gospel proclaimed, men brought to confess his name and to cherish his sacrifice are the beating heart of each disciple. His full, Messianic title is used because prayer is such a high duty and solemn privilege. We pray adoring our Lord and King, cleansed by the blood of Jesus, and sanctified through the intercession of the Anointed. “For the sake of” or “on account of” the Lord Jesus Christ does not mean that he stands in need of our prayers, but he has bound himself to us. He is our Head. His kingdom comes and his gospel spreads on the backs of his praying, rejoicing, and consecrated people. Should we not love him who loved us? When his name is blasphemed, should we not pray for his gospel to change men so that they do not speak of him except with faith, awe, and love? When his law is ignored, should we not pray that men are “made willing in the day of his power” and obey him “as soon as they hear of him” (Ps. 110:3; 18:44)? When his body is torn by schism, is not the hope of healing and unity in truth that men are praying that we may be one, even as the Father and Son are one? Grow in love for the Lord Jesus Christ, child of God, and you will pray.

He adds the unusual incentive “and for the love of the Spirit?” Whether this is taken as the Spirit’s love for us, which seems to be primarily in view, or our reciprocal love for him which he “sheds abroad in our hearts” (Rom. 5:5), this is one of the most personal phrases used in reference to the Holy Spirit. Although knowing that the Spirit is a divine person, one with the Father and Son in power, glory, and eternity, he tends to recede into the background of our thinking as a force, feeling, or formal principle of theology. But as fully God, he loves us. Must not the love of him who is purity itself be inestimable in that he condescends to dwell with us who are filthy? What can it mean to pray for his sake? It means that we desire for his influence to grow in us and throughout the world so that we are led by his wise and gracious influences rather than by our willful and worldly desires. His glory as God, the worship due to him as God, is inseparable from the spread of the gospel. The more men are brought to know of the Savior, the more they will be brought under the Spirit’s sway, for he alone unites men in a saving union with Jesus Christ. He alone sanctifies men and slays the principle of sin so that men may present themselves to God as living sacrifices. It is through prayer that these things come about. The Spirit both stirs prayers by his inward working, intercedes for us as we pray, and strengthens us through prayer as we draw from our Savior the living waters of grace and life.

And in this context, we must observe that it is through prayer that these two “for the sake of” reach their highest expression and power in us. If we pray aright, we draw near to the Father through the intercession of Jesus Christ and with the witness-bearing intercession of the Holy Spirit. It is through prayer that we join with our Savior in his royal work of intercession and feel the Spirit’s groaning influence in us, for we know not what to pray for as we should (Rom. 8:26-27). Through prayer, we come more fully into the sphere of God’s presence, power, and promises. Thus, we must take seriously these twin motivations to wrestle in prayer. God’s name is honored, his kingdom comes, and his will is done as we pray, as we pray biblically, as we pray for the sake of our Savior and for the sake of the Spirit’s love. 

Paul’s Plea for Prayer (v. 30)

It is a sad fact of our experience that these blessings move us but little. How often do we pray half- asleep, little persuaded that God hears our prayers or that they are effectual? Such prayer does not please God, for “he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (Heb. 11:6). Faith is the Spirit-wrought conviction that God is faithful to his promises and will hear us when we call upon him. Such prayer is spoken of here as a “striving together.” It may be likened to wrestling with God as Jacob did, refusing to let him go until he blesses us, or giving him “no rest” as the widow in our Savior’s parable (Luke 18:5). This striving is urged upon us here for a particular purpose, but it is generally indicative of prayer that avails with God. It is fervent, not a half-heartedness that stems only from a sense of duty. Striving prayer has a constancy that expresses our earnest desire for God to fulfill all his holy will and to perform what he has promised. It is also persevering, for the engine or furnace of all right prayer is not only obtaining from God some good he has promised but the desire to obtain him and his blessing, however long or hard the labor.

The believer who prays long for a true, gospel need such as victory over sin or increased gospel opportunities or the salvation of a lost relative may seem to be told “No” again and again. The idea takes hold upon him that his prayers are unavailing with God. But the chief blessing of striving together with one another in prayer is that God gives us himself. We may be praying for one thing, but he knows that we need something entirely different. Our sense of need keeps us praying; our desire for God keeps us praying, as it did Job, Elijah, and our Lord Jesus throughout his earthly life and even now at the Father’s right hand. Such prayer is not against God’s will or providence, for prayer never changes him, but it does change us. It requires persistence and tenacity that only our Lord by his Spirit can give us. It is like his prayer in the garden – “Father, please take this away;” but then, “Father, thy will be done.” Striving is unto our submission to his will, our greater dependence upon his strength, and our fuller enjoyment of him. Striving prayer is never without effect, though the effect is usually different from what we anticipate, for he knows what is best for us. Through our prayers, he accomplishes his will in us. 

There is one more point to be observed about this verb. It is a corporate striving that the apostle urges the Roman believers to undertake. Individual and family prayer is vital to keep the fires of piety burning and for the Lord to sanctify us. But the greater kingdom advances are almost always the result of the church taking seriously her corporate responsibility to strive in prayer (Acts 4:29-33). This is not for preachers alone, or those who are considered more spiritual. When the toe is sick, it is not healed on its own, but requires the whole body to provide healing virtue through the grace of Christ. When one part of the church is weak, it is unlikely to heal itself by its prayers in isolation from the rest of the body. Without earnest, striving, persistent prayer, the church cannot be strong and will not be used by the Lord to promote his gospel. There can be no vitality, healing, or strength for our homes without each home drawing near to the body to fulfill its corporate prayer striving responsibilities. A praying body is a striving body. It is a body prepared by the Lord to be used by him for greater kingdom usefulness and glory. I urge you for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ and for the love of the Spirit to consider this carefully. Glory and grace are promised to a praying people who take seriously the privilege of striving together in prayer, seeking God’s blessing, peace, and righteousness upon itself and upon the whole world. Without this prayer, the word preached in a congregation may be glorious and moving but will prove in the end to be not as effectual as God would otherwise make it if we prayed. Little sins cannot fester and big ones will be defeated if we pray together. Love will flourish, fellowship will be sweet, and grace poured out. For the sake of the God, for the sake of ourselves, let us begin striving together in prayer.

Three Petitions (vv. 31-32)

Paul knew he was facing trouble in Jerusalem. Throughout his travels around the Roman world, the unbelieving Jews raged against him. As many have observed, when the Lord Jesus would set up a church, Satan ever tries to erect a chapel to oppose him. Paul asks the Roman believers to strive together in prayer that he may be delivered from God’s enemies, his own countrymen. He did not hold his life dear (Acts 20:24) and was ready to die for the Lord Jesus (Acts 21:13), but he had no martyrdom complex. He desired “to depart and be with Christ,” but his heart still pulsed with gospel ambitions. He also urged the Romans to pray that his gift would be accepted. Opposition from the unbelieving Jews might turn this gift into an occasion of trouble; they would hardly rejoice that the hated believers would be relieved from a distance and by Gentiles. There existed also in the church a party of Jewish believers who took a dim view of the Gentiles, and so they might receive this gift not as an expression of love but as a demand for equality. Paul knew that only the God’s grace would enable the Jewish believers to receive the gift as a sincere manifestation of gospel love and the desire to help fellow-believers, without any strings attached.

 This being accomplished, he urged them to pray that he might be able to realize his ambition of spreading the gospel westward. He longs for a joyful visit, one in the “fullness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ (v. 29). This he will do if they will pray and if God wills. His submission to God’s will is not a pious addendum but the constant conviction of his heart. He was ever mindful that the Lord directed his steps and that however ambitious he was for the kingdom and gospel of Jesus Christ, success depended completely upon God’s blessing. He alone can give the increase. With God’s blessing, he asks them to pray that he might eventually find himself in their company, refreshed together by fellowship in Jesus Christ, and rejoicing in answered prayer. This prayer of Paul’s was answered. He did come to them. The manner in which he came to them reminds us that our affairs are in his hand. He rejoiced with these very believers, but under house arrest. We may assume that the refreshment Paul envisioned was enjoyed, and that many of those whom he names in the following lines laid him to a final rest after his death in Rome for the sake of the gospel.

May the God of Peace with You All (v. 33)

But this is the way when we walk with the God of peace, whose blessing Paul now gives to them. Our earthy lives are topsy-turvy. What we think will happen often does not. We make plans, but then we realize that our lives are directed by God’s purposes. This sense of not being in control can be disconcerting. Imagine how much Paul would have preferred to take the gospel to Spain and to lay the foundations of a church there. He would have preferred not to come to Rome as a prisoner, but this was God’s will. Our peace is to yield to the will of the God of peace – not fight against it, complain bitterly when life does not go our way, or sulk and fret. An unyielding heart only makes the cross heavier. Worse yet, resisting God’s will robs us of the peace and joy that is ours when we walk this narrow path of peace: “Not my will, but thine be done.” If we insist upon our will being done, we sign up for misery. We may love the Lord and be loved by him, but we shall never know that happy release, that perfect peace that yields itself into his hand and sincerely submits to his will. This is true peace. It is our only peace. We live in our Father’s world, and he will test our faith. Shall we trust him or fight, even quietly, against his perfect plan for our lives. It does not seem perfect to us, admittedly, but this is because we are giddy and selfish. His will, like his love, is perfect. When we yield to it, we shall know peace: not the peace of a trouble-free, fairy-tale existence, but the peace of having God himself walk with us through every vale of tears, calming ours hearts when the stormy winds blow.