one of my favorite passages of scripture is romans 12. paul lays out a formula for biblical community that is incredibly simply while being impossibly difficult. he writes:
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. (romans 12:9-13)
i hate to expose my spiritual superficiality, but i recently stumbled on the phrase, “faithful in prayer.” to me, it didn’t fit the context. every word, every phrase in this passage is about relationship, connection, encouragement. being “faithful in prayer,” though, is about my quiet time, isn’t it? isn’t faithfulness in prayer about discipleship? personal growth? what does “faithful in prayer” have to do with biblical community?
boy, am i am idiot.
in oklahoma, we had a paralyzing snowstorm on christmas eve. on christmas day, i was on the way to pick up our kids (my wife drives a 4-wheel drive vehicle) when i received a phone call from a cousin in california, brad. i was caught a little off-guard because i haven’t spoke to brad in, like, 30 years. while we small-talked, i wondered what might have prompted the call. he said, “i just wanted to catch up,” but to me it felt like something more.
right before we ended our conversation, i heard his voice falter and he began to cry. he said, “i want you to know that i’m grateful for what you did for me when i was in the hospital.” it took me a minute to remember that brad had been in a devastating car wreck more than 20 years ago. he was in a coma for a month. my mom called me at the time, told me about brad’s accident, and asked us to pray. i told her to assure that family that we would be praying.
obviously, brad was under the impression that i had been “faithful in prayer.” and i began to see how “faithful in prayer” was one of the critical pieces in the puzzle of biblical community.
but i was also convicted. i had prayed for brad, but i had not been “faithful in prayer.” i didn’t check on him. i didn’t write to him. i prayed and forgot about it. when he called, though, i suddenly realized that we would have remained connected by my prayers if i had been “faithful.” if i had taken ownership of brad’s suffering and if i had stepped out of my busyness at the time and truly been empathetic, then i would have forged a spiritual link with my cousin. and who knows what impact i might have had for the kingdom?
in colossians 4:12, paul said of epaphras, “He is always wrestling in prayer for you.” wow. i’m pretty sure that my friends would describe me as fun and loyal and passionate. but i am wondering if my spiritual brothers and sisters see me as the kind of friend who is “faithful in prayer”?
and if i were “faithful in prayer,” how might my fellowship be affected?