Prayer that Hurts

Like you, I pray lots of different prayers. Joyful prayer when a long-awaited request is granted. Pleading prayer when in a tight spot. Tearful prayer when the heart is broken.

pleading prayerAnd then there’s prayer for others when you care about them. When we care enough to hurt.

It’s the kind of prayer mentioned in one of Paul’s letters:

“Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God.” -‭‭Colossians‬ ‭4:12‬ ‭ESV‬‬

That word struggling is the Greek word “agōnizomai” from which we get our word “agonize.” I picture Epaphras on his knees, tears streaming, imploring God on behalf of his friends at the Colossian church: “Would You strengthen them to stand mature and fully assured in Your will O God!”

I’ll be honest: it’s easy for me to agonize in prayer when it comes to my own needs. There are times I definitely shed tears over things that are troubling me, and I implore God to deliver me from circumstances that are beyond my control.

But to agonize for others? To shed tears over their well being? That doesn’t come naturally.

It’s happened at times for my wife and my children. There are times when I so want good for them that it churns me up on the inside. Maybe that’s a step toward agonizing prayer.

And occasionally it happens as I pray for the flock at church – I see the pull of culture and the dead ends people pursue as the Enemy lures them, and I pray fervently (maybe even agonizingly) for God’s deliverance from these clutches. On a few occasions I have said to God, “If you give me tears to cry for these people, I will cry them.” Maybe that’s a form of agonizing prayer.

I have to say that in my limited experience, agonizing prayer is draining. Maybe that’s why I don’t do it very often. Weeping and pleading make a withdrawal on my emotional tank. BUT – and this is huge – it makes a deposit in the spiritual tank of someone else.

As Epaphras did for his loved ones. As many others have done for me.

Just yesterday someone told me they had been praying for me “intensely” for the last 24 hours. What a gift!

Whenever I sense the Lord drawing me into fervent, even agonizing prayer for someone, my first thought is – I don’t know what to say. Here again Epaphras helps us – he prayed for two significant things:

That they would stand mature. The Greek word for “mature” has a number of senses: complete, finished, not lacking any moral quality. We can’t go wrong asking that others would grow in their moral conduct.

Pray against spiritual immaturity, self-centeredness, and idolatry. Our world is in desperate need of those who walk so closely with God that their lives radiate His purity, love and truth. Pray that for those you love.

That they would stand fully assured in all the will of God. Wouldn’t you love to be in the zone where you are fully confident you are in God’s will and favor, nothing can succeed against you, you have all the resources you need for whatever assignment God gives you?

Pray that for those you love. Pray that they would successfully navigate the minefield of the world’s distractions and stay firmly tied to God’s perfect will for them (Romans 12:2).

It is a great privilege to come before the sovereign God of the universe in prayer.

It’s a great privilege to ask God to do good in the lives of those we care about.

And, it’s a good thing to sometimes pray so hard it hurts.

Question: What experience have you had with agonizing prayer?

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4 comments

  1. I have experienced agonizing prayer a few times – the last time was about 2 months ago. I had to stop what I was doing and physically sit to pray and intercede over a situation in someone’s life with tears and an aching heart for them. Prayer that hurts begins (in my experience) when you first ask the Lord to let you see people and situations through His eyes. Hillsong United’s song “Hosanna” states it perfectly – ‘break my heart for what breaks yours.” Thanks for the insight into Col. 4:12. It’s a verse most would skim over, but, wow, you dug out the amazing and wonderful truth found there!

    1. Thanks for sharing this Linda – I appreciate you giving us a window into your own experience! Love that reference to the song lyric – perfectly captures what we are talking about here!

  2. Good question Dave! I needed this, I’ve always felt my prayers have been lacking in some respect or the other. I’m currently reading “The Battle Plan for Prayer” by Stephen and Alex Kendrick. We’re never too old to hone our skills no matter what they are. Have a Blessed day my friend.

    1. Ed, I find prayer an ongoing growth area for myself too. Sounds like you are doing some good study on the topic. You have a great day too!

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