Proskartereo: Small Steps to Big Results

Word of the Week

June 29, 2024

Proskartereō: Small Steps to Big Results

 

Rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer.

Romans 12:12 NASB

In March 1950, Francis Johnson began rolling lengths of twine into a ball.  Day after day he added more twine to the ball, devoting up to four hours a day to the task.  For the next 29 years, the ball grew as Frank persisted in his task.  Eventually the ball reached a diameter of 12 feet and a weight of 17,400 pounds, earning a listing in the Guinness Book of World Records (from 1979 to 1994).1  You can see it for yourself in Darwin, Minnesota.

Personally, I have no idea why you would devote that much effort to wrapping a ball of twine, but it does demonstrate how much you can accomplish if you stick to a task over the long haul.

That’s a virtue that plays a crucial role in the Christian life, and there is a Greek word that captures the idea perfectly.  Let’s take a closer look at it.

The word is proskartereō [prahss-kar-teh-REH-oh], and you can find it 10 times in the New Testament.  It is usually translated “be devoted to, continue, attend to.”

Proskartereō comes from a word that means “to remain strong, to endure,” with an extra emphasis on the time element involved.  It describes more than just a momentary push in a crisis; it portrays the kind of strength that is ready for action over the long haul.

Watch how it is used in  secular contexts:

  • Jesus asked his disciples to have a boat ready for him to use when the excited masses of people threatened to crowd Him (Mark 3:9). It was on call whenever He asked for it.
  • Cornelius the centurion sent messengers to ask Peter for help, including one of the soldiers who regularly attended him (Acts 10:7). This man was part of the officer’s staff who stayed with him, available to act on command.
  • Simon the magician was so impressed by the miracles that Philip performed in Samaria that he continued with the preacher, hanging around to watch the action (Acts 8:13).
  • When Paul exhorted believers to submit to government authority, he explained that rulers are devoted to their God-given task of suppressing evil (Romans 13:6). That’s their job description, and that’s what they do – whenever necessary.
  • The early Christians continued to gather at the Temple in Jerusalem daily (Acts 2:46). They were committed to show up day after day.

As you can see, the translation varies, but the idea is consistent:  being ready and available to carry out the task at any time, for as long as it takes.

The New Testament applies this concept to spiritual responsibilities as well.  Acts 2:42 summarizes the standard practices of the earliest believers:  “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”

Did these activities fill every hour of every day?  No.  But the Christians were committed to these practices.  They did them as part of their regular pattern of life, always ready for them, willing to maintain the pattern over the long haul.

Above all else, the New Testament underscores the need to use proskartereō for prayer:

  • The people in the upper room after Christ’s ascension were devoting themselves to prayer (Acts 2:14).
  • The apostles delegated the task of feeding widows to others so that they could devote themselves to their primary tasks: prayer and the ministry of the Word (Acts 6:4).
  • Paul instructs believers to be “devoted to prayer” (Romans 12:12).
  • A final command: “Devote yourselves to prayer” (Colossians 4:2).
  • The matching noun occurs similarly in Paul’s teaching on prayer as a part of spiritual warfare: “With every prayer and request, pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be alert with all perseverance and every request for all the saints” (Ephesians 6:18).

Why does the New Testament focus so strongly on the need to be devoted to prayer?

Because prayer is hard – we are easily distracted and easily discouraged.

Because answers are slow – we may not see the results for a long time.

Because results are small – we feel that our prayers don’t matter.

That’s why the Lord calls us to be devoted to prayer:  doing it when it takes effort, ready to bring everything to our Father, and refusing to give up.

One prayer at a time, one strand at a time we can share in the task as God weaves His kingdom around the globe.  Don’t miss the privilege of participating with Him!

 

Study Hint:

The word proskartereō is related to the word kratos, which means “strength.”  In classical Greek, this resulted in the verb kartereō, which means to be strong or steadfast. This word appears in the New Testament only in Hebrews 11:27, describing the faith of Moses. Adding the pros added emphasis on the time element, the idea of persisting in a task.  It could mean sticking with a person or holding to an idea.

1 Wikipedia, “Biggest Ball of Twine.” Image by August Schwerdfeger – Own work, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=119339319

 

 

Coming Up

Some people love to spend time in wild places; others see the wilderness as a depressing set of dangers.  How does the New Testament portray it?  Join us next week for a closer look at the Greek word.

©Ezra Project 2024

2 Responses

  1. My time devoted throughout my day to prayer and Godlike tasks are to be consistent in my daily walk. This is the basis for my faith.

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