Epaphras, who is one of you, a bondservant of Christ, greets you, always laboring fervently for you in prayers, that you may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God. (Colossians 4:12—NKJV)

No one likes to be helpless to aid a loved one facing life’s challenges. Yet helpless is the best explanation of how we feel when we can no longer intervene in a physically measured way.

Children grow up, step out from under our care, make their own way and swiftly run into the challenges and heartaches of life. For a time our advice is sought, if it is sound, but soon they even outgrow our experience and our advice. Like the layers of an onion, our ability to be needed by our loved ones seems to be taken from us. We sense we have lost significance in our loved ones’ lives. Significance yields to helplessness.

This is not just true in our relationship with our children; sooner or later it becomes true of all our relationships. We grow old, even if we do not grow stale. Relationships change and the rules for maintaining those relationships change. Does God have an answer for your feeling of the need to be needed?

For the believer the answer is a resounding “Yes!” Our text is rich with instruction for the grace of measurable, practical significance in every relationship you will ever have, whether successful or not, until God calls you home. Epaphras was the founder of the church in Colossae. He had a great heart for the Colossian church and its local mission field. Epaphras also had a great heart for God, so much so that Paul describes him as a bondservant of Christ. He was nothing but a loving shepherd and faithful servant alongside those who were serving Christ.

Epaphras had arrived in Rome where Paul was imprisoned and had spoken to him about the church. Thus Paul describes him: “Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf, who also declared to us your love in the Spirit.” (Colossians 1:7–8) There was no getting the Colossian church out of the heart of Epaphras—he loved them.

The combination of physical distance, being restricted in the imprisonment with Paul, and his inability to return to the ministry of shepherding the Colossian flock certainly peeled away his layers of significance in relationship to them. But no distance could remove them from his heart. Paul states in 4:13, “for I bear him witness that he has a great zeal for you, and those who are in Laodicea, and those in Hierapolis.” What could he do to maintain his usefulness for his loved ones?

Epaphras knew the significance of intercessory prayer. To that end he labored (agonidzomai—strive fervently, wrestle) in prayer. The fire for his prayers was his love for them and his love for his Lord. Though we should be prayer warriors when our loved ones are within our reach, how much more adamant about our prayer life should we be when our loved ones are beyond our reach?

His prayer emphasis for them was something that was immensely practical, and divinely measurable. His intercessory prayer effort in engaging their lives and interests before the throne of grace must have resembled the intercessory prayer life of Job (Job 1:5) and the intercessory prayer of our Lord (John 17). He was concerned that the Colossian believers would stand perfect (teleioi—full grown, carry to an end) and complete (plerophoreo—to be fully persuaded, convinced and assured) that what occupied them was meeting and fulfilling every one of God’s desires and wishes. Now there is a prayer list!

Knowing human nature as you do, you know that it is easy to wander from God and pursue selfish ends—to this nature your loved ones are not immune. Though you may feel like you are shedding your physical significance, do not lose sight of the significance of your intercessory prayers on their behalf. Let the fire of your love for them and for your Lord cause you to treasure the eternal significance of intercession for others. Trust and obey.