Paul regarded prayer as an aspect of his service for Christ: ‘For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you always in my prayers.’ Sometimes we think that prayer is not part of spiritual work, that instead it is something we do after the work is over. So we may do something for the Lord and make a brief prayer about it asking for his blessing. That may be fine for some practical things, but in any spiritual activity the initial details are the easy part. If we witness to someone, we may need to pray for years before we see the result. Obviously in that example, diligent prayer is far harder than the witnessing.
How did Paul manage to keep on praying for them? The answer is that his service was driven by the kind of person he was on the inside. What kind of person was he? He was a servant, a servant of Christ. A servant basically does what he knows his master would want him to do in a situation. Our prayer lives reveal the depth of our service and the determination of our service. People are often looking for techniques and methods that will improve their prayer lives. The way to pray is both simple and demanding – become a servant.
Of course, some might ask how they would know that Paul was telling the truth here. In order to prevent such an objection, Paul states that he could call on God as a witness that what was said was true. This way of speaking is a form of oath and makes it obvious that there are times when a serious oath involving the name of God is appropriate. No one who believes in God would make such an oath if they were not being honest about their claims.
We can see Paul’s sense of service in his determination to get to Rome. In verse 10, Paul mentions that he was ‘asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you.’ Clearly he had been prevented from getting to Rome before. We are not told how often he had tried to go there. I suspect that the main reason for this failure was the demands of caring for churches elsewhere, as we can see from his letters. We know from this letter itself that Rome was not the furthest away place that Paul wanted to go to. After he reached Rome, he had the desire to go as far as Spain, which perhaps was the most distant westerly point that Paul would have been aware of.
In addition, we see his sense of service in the way he wanted to be a blessing to others. He tells his readers in verses 11 and 12: ‘For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you – that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.’
What does Paul mean by imparting a spiritual gift? I suspect he means that he would use his own God-given abilities to help them become better Christians, and that such benefits would have good effects on himself as well. If he had wanted to give a specific supernatural spiritual gift he probably would not have used the general term translated as ‘some’. This is one of the goals of Christian service, to enable others to make progress in the spiritual life. And for Paul, it was part of his prayers for them.