May 22, 2022 | In Christ Alone | Prayer Life in Christ| Colossians 4:2-4
This is who you are in Christ. (wk 1- Identity in Christ)
This is who you should be becoming in Christ (wk 2- Maturity in Christ)
This is how you came to be in Christ in the first place. (wk 3- Reconciliation in Christ)
This is what your leaders and assembly ought to look like. (wk 4- Together in Christ)
This is what happened to you when Christ reconciled you. (wk 5- Alive in Christ)
This is how you live out your new identity. (wk 6- Life in Christ )
These are the things that do fit with your new self (wk 8- New Self in Christ II)
This is how your closest relationships are affected (wk 9- Relationships in Christ)
Today's text falls under Paul's exhortation that began in chapter 3 for us to seek the things that are above. After describing the things that do not fit with our new life (wk 7), laying out the things that do fit with our new life (wk 8), and then dealing with how the reality of our new life affects our closest relationships in the home and our vocations (wk 9), he finishes his exhortation with two final matters concerning our new life in Christ.
In doing so, Paul draws us first upward towards our communication with God and then outward towards our interactions with those outside of Christ. A fitting conclusion to Paul’s instructions. We will deal with the first one today and finish our look at Colossians next week.
Colossians 4:2-4 (ESV) 2 Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. 3 At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison— 4 that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.
Of all the topics Paul has covered in this letter, I believe I struggle with this one the most. The practice of diligent, consistent, powerful prayer often eludes me. Hasty, disjointed, and sporadic probably more accurately describe my prayer efforts most days. God has been growing me in this area but I acknowledge upfront that I stand before you as someone who needs this teaching as much or more than you do today. May God show us both how to grow in this practice this morning.
Prayer Life in Christ
The topic of prayer serves as a bookend to this epistle. Paul began his letter by talking about his own prayers on the behalf of the Colossian believers.
He tells them that ever since he heard about their faith he has made sure to thank God for them when he prays for them. He describes his intercessory prayer on their behalf as unceasing. (1:3 And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you.) He tells them what he is praying for them. In week two of our series, we looked at his prayer under two areas he is praying they would grow in. That they would be growing in their understanding of God’s will and that they would be growing in their exercising of God’s will. Now, as Paul comes to the close of his letter, he exhorts the believers concerning their own prayer lives.
As we dig into this topic of the Prayer Life of A Believer in Christ, I believe Paul gives us four characteristics of our prayer life, while not exhaustive, they are certainly informative on how the practice of prayer ought to be exercised in our new life.
We should pray with diligence.
Continue steadfast in prayer
Continue steadfastly-Literally- combines two words that mean 'steadfast' and 'in regard to'
John Calvin calls it an earnest readiness.
It can be hard to establish exactly what Paul means here with this single word, but when we take it in conjunction with what he says elsewhere and remember what the Lord himself taught on prayer, the picture begins to become clear.
Paul begins with our disposition concerning prayer.
Going to God in prayer ought to be our natural disposition in all things.
In a parallel passage in Ephesians, Paul says it this way 6:18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.
In this passage, Paul essentially says praying always with all prayer.
There is a double emphasis on the idea of always. Here in Colossians, he summarizes it with ‘be devoted to prayer’.
What does it mean to be devoted to something?
It is an attachment, a fondness for something. We devote ourselves to many things. Some good, some bad.
If you want to know what you are devoted to, just ask yourself where you direct your time, money, and effort.
What thing or things do I make time for regularly?
For some it’s their career, for some it’s travel ball, for some it’s the gym, for others it’s their own enjoyment and satisfaction.
Paul says, in the same way, we devote ourselves to these other things, one of our primary devotions ought to be to prayer.
What is prayer? The simplest answer is that it is communication with the Father, because of the Son, by the power of the Spirit.
What does it look like to be devoted to prayer?
Have you ever noticed that you don’t have to constantly bring to mind the things you are devoted to in order for them to be prevalent in your life?
You find yourself planning your life around them, you find them at the forefront of your mind when you lie down, and you gravitate towards them when you have a free minute, right? Why? Because your devotion to this thing has become your natural disposition.
In the same way, prayer must become our natural disposition in order to be devoted to it. When good things happen, we should immediately want to thank God for them, when bad things happen, we should immediately want to bring them before our Father, when everything is fine, we should want to discuss that with our Father. It is a constant approaching God that we need to cultivate.
How do we get there? Diligence in it until it becomes our disposition.
An attentive and persistent effort.
You may say, wait a minute pastor, shouldn't prayer come naturally to a Christian? Are you saying I have to work at it? Absolutely.
Listen to the way Jesus talked about coming to the Father in prayer.
Luke 18:1-8 (ESV) 1 And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. 2 He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. 3 And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ 4 For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’” 6 And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. 7 And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? 8 I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
Similarly in Matthew 7, he says ask and it will be given to you. The verb there is to 'keep on asking'. Persevere, devote yourself to asking. Many of us have powerless prayer lives because we don’t pray with diligence.
After dealing with the disposition we should have when it comes to prayer, Paul tells us the manner in which we should engage in prayer.
We should pray with vigilance.
being watchful in it
In Ephesians, he says it this way…
18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance (same root word as 'continue steadfast' in Colossians), making supplication for all the saints
I think there are two ways to think about being watchful in prayer, the first is the plain meaning, to engage in prayer vigilantly, not allowing yourself to drift, to be distracted, but to seriously engage in prayer.
Now, it doesn’t take much effort in prayer before you realize how difficult it can be to stay engaged in prayer. One of the things we are doing together on Wednesday night in our prayer gathering is trying to spend significant more time in prayer, to labor in it, to fight to stay focused and engage with God in prayer.
The other way we are watchful in prayer is that we are watchful in how we are engaging in prayer. Jesus, gives us two ways we can wrongly engage in prayer that we need to be on guard against in Matthew 6.
Matthew 6:5-9 (ESV) 5 “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
7 “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. 9 Pray then like this:
We must be on guard against prayer becoming something we either do just to make others think our relationship with God is better than it is, or making prayer into some kind of ritualistic exchange with God that if we say the right thing or the right way, God will answer us the way we want.
We must be intentional, paying attention to our prayer life, ensuring that we are remaining not only diligent, but with the right attitude.
Before I came here, Brittany and I went through a season of earnestly seeking the Lord in prayer. During that season, God taught me about examining my prayers. Why did I pray that? What am I really asking God to do? What if he doesn’t answer my prayers the way I want?
It was difficult and laborious, but ultimately fruitful in that I learned about being watchful in prayer.
When was the last time you evaluated your prayer life? Essentially, that’s what Paul is encouraging us to do. Our manner of prayer is to be vigilant, watchful, paying attention to our prayer life, because it is no secondary matter, it is of utmost importance in our walk with Christ.
Devoted, watchful, and then Paul adds two seemingly innocent words that have the power to transform our prayer life. He says our attitude of prayer should be one of gratitude.
We should pray with gratitude. Our prayer life should be marked by an outpouring of thanks to God.
Now, this is easy when God answers our prayers isn’t it?
When he heals that person, when he opens that door, when he blesses that thing, right? If we remember to thank him, it comes easily.
But what about when he doesn’t answer in the way we want him to. We lose that person, that mass is cancer, our child doesn’t turn back to him.
And yet Paul doesn’t give us any modifiers here.
Having already addressed thankfulness in this letter, let me just briefly touch again on what Paul has said.
Colossians 3:16-17 (ESV) 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Paul is even more clear in the corresponding passage in Ephesians.
Ephesians 5:19-21 (ESV) 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
The penetrating attitude of our prayer life should be gratefulness, regardless of what we are praying about.
Even in our darkest days and most difficult trials, as a child of God, there is so much to be thankful for.
The fact that God hears our prayers. The reality that he gave himself on the cross so that we could be reconciled to him. The promise that this is not the end and that he will receive us to himself for all eternity.
Of all instances, when we are talking to our heavenly father gratitude ought to come easy to us, and I believe that it will if we stay devoted and watchful in prayer. Amen?
Finally, Paul, in asking for prayers for himself and his co-laborers helps us see the last characteristic of our prayer life.
We should pray with purpose. What is Paul asking for? The advancement of God’s kingdom.
Notice he doesn’t ask for them to pray for his immediate release from prison, but that God would give him both the opportunity and ability to proclaim the word of God clearly like he should.
To return once last time to Ephesians 6:18, Paul says this.
18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints.
I think too often our prayers lack real, Godly purpose. We pray for physical healing, we pray for blessings, we pray for situations to be righted. While we can definitely pray for those things, we have to ask ourselves, what does God want from this situation? What are his purposes?
That alone would revolutionize and transform our prayer life.
God would you work this situation out for your glory?
God whether or not you heal this person, would you strengthen their spirit so they may run their race with endurance?
God, would you use this situation to draw me closer to you regardless of the outcome?
Isn’t that much more in line with God’s purposes for us?
In the Baptism Catechism, adapted by John Piper, the second question gets to the heart of the purpose of man.
Question 2: What is the chief end of man?
Answer: Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.
Comment: Other words you could use for "end" are "goal" or "purpose"
To glorify God is to reflect God’s glory, and we do that by becoming more and more like Christ, or advancing the kingdom of God both in our lives and in the lives of those around us.
Here is a sobering question I have asked you before and no doubt will many more times as long as I am able.
“If tomorrow God answered all the prayers you prayed this week, would it make a difference in the kingdom of God?”
If the answer to that is no, then you can be sure your prayers lack purpose.
Such a brief exhortation, but as you can see, one that is full of implications for our lives in Christ.
As we close this morning. I want to encourage you that no matter where your prayer life is today, no matter what characterizes it, you can move towards these truths today. It is never too late to allow God’s word to transform you.
Would you surrender your prayer life today?
Would you commit to diligence in your prayer life?
Would you ask God to make you vigilant in your prayer life? Would you ask God to remind you of everything you have in Christ to be thankful for?
Would you surrender your purposes for his in your prayer life this morning?