Friends scattered around the globe, I miss you! To my partners in faith and sources of encouragement in Canada, the US, Northern Ireland, England, South Africa, Argentina, New Zealand, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, SE Asia, India, Mexico, Iraq, Afganistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Scotland, Brazil, Kenya, and elsewhere… this morning I echo these words, Paul's prayer, through the heavens:
God, whom I serve in my spirit in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you in my prayers at all times; and I pray that now at last by God’s will the way may be opened for me to come to you. I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong— that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith. (NIV)
Paul wants his friends in Rome to know that he mentions them constantly in his prayers— unceasingly even. And in case they don’t believe it, Paul suggests that God will back him up. God sees Paul doing this all the time. So, in other words, if you need proof that Paul is actually committing actual time in actual prayer for them, check with God. God, on the witness stand, says, “Yes, I can testify that Paul prays for his friends in Rome all the time.”
God is Paul’s “witness”. In other words, God is willing and able to testify about Paul’s actions because God has seen Paul do it. It’s become a bit cliché in our societies today, but I must ask: How often do we say we’ll pray for people and then forget, or usually neglect, to actually pray for them? If God were to testify about our altruistic prayer life, what would he say?
Interesting side note: The word for “witness” in Greek is μάρτυς, or martyr. To say that God is your “martyr” is just very intriguing to me… and I can’t help to ponder the implications. Paul is not making this point, he’s simply using the common vernacular of his day to describe that God is willing and able to stand up and tell the truth about Paul’s prayer habits. But we understand, also, that standing up and telling the truth to an unbelieving world has consequences… which is how the word “martyr” developed it’s meaning of “a person who voluntarily suffers death as a penalty for witnessing.”
God is a willing witness for Paul because Paul has been serving God with his “spirit” (whole self) “in the gospel of his Son”— a loaded phrase so full of Paul’s passion and identity that it just streams from his thought process. The impact of Jesus is always there, always flowing, always watering his every action… and his every prayer.
And when prayer is saturated by Jesus, pray becomes about communion of relationship. As Paul prays, Paul’s spirit begins to long more and more to be present with his friends. So Paul’s prayer for his friends morphs into an deeply intimate request— that he would be allowed to be with his friends in Rome. Paul deeply wants to visit them. Out of love for them he longs to strengthen them spiritually and he longs to be equally, mutually encouraged by them.
Paul doesn’t see himself as a lone ranger. He views himself as part of a team. There is no isolationism within Paul. He genuinely longs to be with others, sharing not only ministry responsibility, but also the everyday life of faith. He wants to be an encouragement to others, and have others be an encouragement to him. Paul’s prayer is not arrogant; nor is it devoid of his self. Paul’s own being is encompassed in his unceasing prayer. Paul’s prayer for his friends, is integrated with his own self, his own walk, his own passion, and his own sense of calling:
Please God, allow me to be present with my friends that I may give them a gift that will spiritually strengthen them and that their faith may mutually encourage me. Please God, let me visit them. Amen.
*Note: The photo is one of my all time favorites… Steve McCready encouraging our Brentview team in Belfast back in 2008.