In looking at what Paul says briefly about prayer in these three verse, we can deduce four important attitudes towards prayer or four ways through which we reveal our estimation of the value of prayer.
First, it is obvious that Paul eagerly desired the prayers of the Roman Christians, even although he had not met many of them personally. He appealed to them to do so. I don’t suppose that there were many things in life that Paul would plead for, but one of them was intercession on his behalf by other believers.
Second, Paul valued strong, intercessory prayer. We can see that the prayer should be earnest from the way Paul describes it in verse 30 – ‘strive’. This word points to energy and persistence, giving it our all, we could say. Perhaps the image of wrestling comes to mind. The inhabitants of Rome were used to seeing wrestlers at the games in the circus in which every muscle was used in order to win. Paul says that we should use energetic prayers.
Third, the kind of prayer that Paul valued was united prayer. He wanted them all to participate in prayer for him. So we can imagine the believers in Rome meeting together to pray for Paul as he engaged in his service for the Master. This involvement of more than one indicates that plurality in prayer has more likelihood in receiving an answer. If that was not the case, then Paul and his friends would have prayed together and not bothered asking for others to join them in prayer.
Fourth, Paul wanted them to engage in specific prayer for him and he provided them with three details to pray about. He wanted protection from those he knew would oppose him in Judea, he wanted the collection from Gentiles to be accepted by the Jewish church, and he wanted to come to Rome in order to have fellowship. Paul’s example here is a reminder and a challenge to us to use intelligent and relevant prayer requests.
We can read the petitions that Paul stated and we know that God did not answer each of them in the way Paul wanted. The only petition that was answered in that way was the middle one, that the collection would be accepted. God did not protect Paul from unbelievers and he had to be rescued from a mob by the Roman authorities, so the first petition was denied. Paul did get to Rome eventually, but not in the way he had anticipated; when he reached Rome a few years later, he did so as a prisoner about to go on trial.
This raised the issue of unanswered prayer. Paul had good and wise reasons for his petitions, so we cannot find fault with them. No doubt, the Roman Christians would have prayed for him, so we cannot find fault with them. Instead we have to bow to God and confess that he knows best.