A Meditation on Romans 15: 30

Kevin J Youngblood

“I beg you, brothers and sisters, through our Lord, Jesus the Messiah, and through the love of the Spirit, to strive hard with me in your prayers to God on my behalf . . .” (Romans 15:30)

When I was a boy, I remember we often sang the hymn “There is a Balm in Gilead.” A line from that hymn has stuck with me through the years and I have often thought about it. The line is “If you cannot preach like Peter, if you cannot pray like Paul . . .” As a boy, I always wondered why Paul was singled out for his prayer life. Now, as an adult, having read all of Paul’s writings, I think I understand why. Paul had a most remarkable theology of prayer – the kind of theology that can only emerge from experience, from the determined and ceaseless practice of prayer.

This is not only evident in the obvious places, the places where Paul writes down his prayers at the beginning of his letters, or the places where Paul is explicitly teaching on prayer. It is also evident in the unexpected places, the places where Paul’s profundity catches us of guard and by surprise, such as in his laundry lists of pedestrian commands and instructions at the close of his letters.

This morning I was caught off guard by just such statement – something Paul says in passing, a simple request he is making of the Christians in Rome as he is just about to sign off and close his masterpiece of Romans. He begs the brothers and sisters there “through our Lord Jesus the Messiah and through the Spirit to strive hard with me in your prayers to God on my behalf.” I was thunderstruck by two things that Paul takes for granted about prayer that I still struggle to remember and understand.

The first is that prayer is ACTIVE, not PASSIVE. Prayer is intense, aggressive warfare against evil. It is proactive not reactive, it is offense, not defense. I know this because the word Paul uses here which I translated “strive hard” is the Greek verb synagonizomai – a word with strong combative connotations. It means to fight on the same side with the apostle Paul against a common enemy to advance a common cause. For most of my Christian life I have viewed prayer as passive, reactionary, defensive. I suppose this is at least in part because I have limited prayer to the mental/verbal activity of speaking to God when, in fact, prayer is the singular mode of Christian living. Every God-directed thing we do is prayer. Our singing is prayer put to music. Our almsgiving is the prayer-currency of our love for both God and humanity. Our service and obedience is prayer in motion. Prayer is not reducible to prayers. Prayer encompasses all of our worship and all of our service to others for God. Paul is dispatching God’s elite forces, the Christian equivalent of the Navy Seals or the Green Beret. When we pray properly we are engaged in the most active and most effective practice of Christian spirituality, and when we pray properly we will find ourselves aggressively propelled into sanctification and service. It is unfortunate that, in this day and age, the statement “Our prayers are with you” has become so vacuous as to be insulting, so anemic is our theology and practice of prayer. To pray for someone is to commit ourselves to action on there behalf. When we pray we offer ourselves to God as the very instrument by which God will answer our prayer. Prayer is not an escape from responsibility but a radical acceptance of it.

The second is that prayer is trinitarian. Paul makes his appeal “through Jesus and the love of the Spirit.” He recognizes that prayer is only possible because of the mediation of God the Son, the motivation of God the Spirit, and the invitation of God the Father. Prayer is participation in the eternal trinitarian communication of Father, Son, and Spirit. When we pray sincerely and attentively, we are caught up into the supreme reality of the perfect reciprocal love of Father, Son, and Spirit. We experience the eternal, inextinguishable joy and delight of their fellowship and find ourselves profoundly satisfied. I am not suggesting that this is obvious to me every time that I pray. I am suggesting that the more I practice prayer, the more obvious this becomes and Paul is a particularly good model and teacher. I may not yet be able to pray like Paul, but I am going to keep practicing until I can.


Thank you for the gift of prayer and forgive me for underestimating the value and significance of this gift. Impress upon me the effectiveness of prayer in advancing your will in this world and open my mind and heart to recognize it as participation in nothing less than the eternal inter-trinitarian communion of Father, Son, and Spirit. Lord Jesus, thank you for ascending to the Father and taking your place at God’s right hand to be the mediator of our prayers. Your presence there has forever placed humanity within the sphere of triune love and communication. Holy Spirit, thank you for ceaselessly praying within me and for empowering my own prayers. Make me more consistent and constant in praying with you.