Who’s Got Your Back?
Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ.Galatians 6:2 NLT
Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured.Colossians 4:12 NIV
When I was in college, I took a job at a state psychiatric hospital. It was quite an experience for a 20 year old man-boy. My supervisor was a nurse who had worked there for many years, and eventually became the director of nursing. I was a long-haired, kind of insolent kid who knew little, but was happy to share what I thought. One day, one of the physicians took offense at something I said. He yelled and called me names, and I figured I was about to lose my job. Instead, my supervisor got between us. She informed him that I didn’t work for him, but that I was employed by the nursing department. She told him in no uncertain terms that if he had a problem with me, he should speak to her. He looked shocked, then just walked away.
After the confrontation, my intercessor took me to her office, closed the door and told me emphatically that I was wrong, and that she wouldn’t tolerate that kind of disrespect from staff toward the physician, or from the physician toward her staff. I was dumbfounded. She stood up for me even though I was wrong, then corrected me in private so I was not shamed in front of my co-workers or the patients. The offence that I committed is long forgotten, but after more than 50 years I still remember what loyalty and integrity in a leader looks like. (It was a rare thing then, and it still is.) I would have stormed a machine-gun nest with a pitchfork for that woman. She had my back.
In our search for the places where we have holes in our doctrine and practice of divine healing, we’ve come a very long way. We’ve explored how to put on our new identity as children of God. We spent time finding things that might be lacking in our understanding of faith. Now we are talking about the importance of being part of a community of believers. We need each other. I believe that what we are about to look at is the number one issue in our modern faith-world that prevents us from enjoying the full benefit of what God wants for us. That issue is covering one another in covenant based prayer.
In the verse from Colossians above, we see Paul referring to a man named Epaphras. This guy was apparently a man Paul had great confidence in. He refers to him as a fellow servant who both preached the Gospel to the Colossians and reported to Paul about their spiritual growth (Colossians 1:7-8). In Philemon 23, we find that Epaphras was at some point with Paul in prison. Paul’s reference to Epaphras in Colossians 4:12 tells us a good deal about how we could be praying for one another.
- There is power in connection. Paul specifically says that Epaphras is “one of you.” He was a native of Colossae and part of that Church community. That’s the “you” to whom this letter is addressed. (Colossians 1:2) As we get a better grasp of the responsibility and authority of covenant relationships, we will see the importance of praying for those to whom we are connected.
- There is a prayer that is ongoing. Paul used the term pántote (Gr.) It means always or ever. This guy was constantly praying for the people in his home church. As we learn more about this kind of praying, we’ll find out how to more effectively cover our covenant friends with prayer that actually helps. We want to have their back.
- There is a prayer that requires effort. Paul used the word agōnízomai (Gr.). It was used to describe fighting for victory in athletic contests. As used here it implies a struggle or a fight of some kind. This is not a simple prayer of faith and “I believe I receive,” or, “I’m in agreement with you, brother.” There is a battle in the realm of the Spirit that requires us to learn to fight for one another.
- It takes the prayers of others to fulfill God’s will in you. Epaphras constantly struggled in prayer that his home church would, “stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured.” Notice, this implies that it’s possible for Christians to fall short of the full will of God. That includes healing. We are going to learn how to pray for one another until we stand together mature and complete in the will of God. We are not designed to do this alone. Connected, covenant prayer covers our back.
- There is a prayer that is connected and committed to community. Epaphras was hanging with the great apostle, yet he continued to prioritize praying for his own people. He was connected and committed and passionate about their well-being, It was a priority, and not just on Sunday morning. Even when far away and busy with other things, in a spiritual sense he had their back.
Over my lifetime there have been a number of interesting movements in the church. Out of denominational form and decorum arose the Charismatic Renewal. From that fount came several streams. I came in through the “Word of Faith” crowd, for whom I remain very grateful. A parallel movement was called “discipleship,” or sometimes “shepherding.” Out of this latter group emerged a doctrine known as “covering.” Some of these folks invented a need for every Christian to have a spiritual head, or covering, of some sort. Husbands :covered wives. Apostles covered pastors. Pastors covered sheep. The role of the “covering” was a bit hazy, but it included some kind of spiritual oversight, prayer, and all too often, hard control.
Some of the remnants of the idea of “covering” slopped over into many other faith streams. I still hear this term used in a sort of vague way. People in other countries often ask me if I will be their covering, or if my organization will cover their church. My first question is, “what do you think that means?” The answers are varied. Some expect me to tell them what to do. Others expect the organization to give them money or provide legal recognition. A few honest souls are looking for spiritual elders who will mentor them, pray for them, and hold them accountable in their doctrine and lifestyle. We all need the latter.
As I prayed about this section of our study, I wanted to avoid the term “covering.” It’s not really biblical, and it has so much baggage attached as to be useless and misleading. The only covering I need is Jesus. I report directly to Him, and so do you. He even allows us to enter directly to the Presence of the Father. I don’t need anything else. However, in living out the Kingdom on earth, He has designed me to live in connection and community with other believers. We need more than fellowship, we need a supernatural bonding and an understanding of covenant responsibility.
As we go forward, I believe we can learn some things about a kind of prayer for one another that transcends what most of us have experienced. I see it in the Bible, and I want it here in the current age. It will take some reprogramming, some spiritual growth, and a fresh commitment to serve Jesus with our whole being. Here’s what the Spirit spoke to me “You don’t need a covering. You need connection and community.” We are going to learn about connected, covenant prayer. In a disconnected age, we are connected. We are in this together. If you’re part of my spiritual community, then I have your back. Let’s do this!
God wants you healed and so do we.