Devoted To Prayer
What a fitting, and challenging, conclusion we have to Paul's letter to the Colossians. After numerous exhortations to become mature Christians--exhortations to "increase in (our) knowledge of God "(1:10), exhortations to "walk " according to the pattern of Jesus Christ(2:6), exhortations to root out sin in our lives(3:5-10), exhortations to be a Christ-honouring spouse, child, parent, and worker(3:18-4:1)--Paul gives us a most fitting concluding exhortation: "Devote yourselves to prayer "(4:2).
It is significant that Paul gives us this exhortation to pray after his many exhortations to pursue godly, Christ-like, living. Godly living cannot be accomplished without prayer . Reading the Scriptures, evangelizing, rooting out sin--none of these things can be effectively done without devotion to prayer.
How devoted are you to prayer? How devoted is St. Andrew's / Fraser Presbyterian Church to prayer? I know we have 3 or 4 individuals at St. Andrew's that meet for prayer every Sunday morning. I know that the Bible study in Tottenham spends significant time praying together. But as a church, I think it is safe to say that, we need more corporate prayer.
If we think of ministries in the church as a vehicle for the gospel, then we must understand that prayer is the fuel for these vehicles. Our session, our board of managers, our youth ministry, our Sunday school will ultimately be ineffective for the Kingdom if they are not fueled by prayer. Success in these ministries does not depend on our clever ideas, our conservative decisions, or our balanced budgets. Success in these ministries depends on God --their success depends on whether God is working within that particular ministry. If God is not at work, you might as well pack it in and close the doors, because no plan of action and no amount of money can effectively fuel a ministry. Prayer, and dependence on Christ, is the only fuel that will drive our ministry vehicle .
In verse 2, Paul gives us a threefold rhythm for prayer, "Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving ". In other words, Paul is saying devote yourselves to asking , devote yourselves to watching for God to answer, and be devoted to thanking Him when He does.
Most of us are good at the asking part, but we often forget to thank God for previously answered prayers. Many of us also fail to stay alert, and so we miss what God is doing in the midst of our prayers. Sometimes we don't even recognize answered prayer. It is so important to "keep alert " when praying because God sometimes answers our prayers in ways we wouldn't expect.
I think of the story of a man caught in a terrible flood. The man prayed, "Lord, save me!". Shortly after his prayer, a boat paddled towards him and the people urged the man to get in.
"No thank-you", said the man, "The Lord is going to save me".
An hour later, a motor boat drove by and the people urged the man to get in.
"No thank-you", said the man, "The Lord is going to save me".
The flood waters continued to rise--so much so that the rescue efforts were significantly hampered. The man, at this point, was clinging to the roof-top of his flooded house when a helicopter flew overhead and lowered a ladder.
"Don't worry about me. The Lord is going to save me".
Shortly after, the man died.
As the man stood before God, he asked Him, "Lord, I trusted in You--Why didn't You save?".
"Save you?", replied God, "I sent you 2 boats and a helicopter! What else did you expect?".
The lesson for us, of course, is to understand that the Lord does not always answer us the way we expect Him to . We must, therefore, be on the alert. We must remain watchful.
When we are alert, we will recognize answered prayer. And when we recognize answered prayer, we will naturally want to give thanks. Giving thanks, however, is not something reserved simply for answered prayer. Paul says that when we "devote (ourselves) to prayer " we are to do so "with an attitude of thanksgiving "(v.2). Being thankful in the midst of prayer is so important. Being thankful in the midst of prayer means recalling God's faithfulness in answering past prayers. When we remember thankfully all the difficult times God has pulled us through, it should inspire confidence in us that God is working as we pray.
What sort of things should we be praying for? Can we pray for a parking spot at the mall? Is it appropriate to pray for our back pain to go away? How important is it to pray for those who live apart from Christ?
I will be the first person to say that no issue is too small to bring before God. If the issue is important to you, and affects your ability to follow Christ, then you should pray about it. However , when you examine Paul's prayer requests, and when you examine Jesus' prayer requests, what is unmistakable is that their prayers are always centred on God's eternal kingdom and His eternal purposes.
Paul says to the Colossians, "(Pray) also for us "(v.3). 'What should we pray for Paul? Should we pray that you escape affliction? Should we pray that you get enough to eat? Paul, what do you want us to pray for you?'.
Listen to Paul's answer: "(Pray) also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned, so that I may reveal it clearly, as I should. "(v.3, 4). Paul's main concern is that he, and other Christian leaders, might gain opportunities to preach the gospel of Christ .
An appropriate analogy for the purpose of prayer, I think, is a military mission . The mission has been given by Jesus--our Field Commander: "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations "(Mt. 28:19). To help us carry out this mission, Jesus, our field commander, has given us each a personal transmitter coded to the frequency of the General's headquarters. Thanks to the work of our Field Commander, the General is as close as our transmitter.
So what is the difficulty? Why are so many churches struggling to effectively communicate the gospel within their community? Could it be that we have resigned from active duty, and yet we are still trying to use the transmitter? The unfortunate reality is that many Christians have taken prayer--our wartime walkie-talkie--and we have tried to turn it into a civilian intercom. Rather than focusing our prayers on the mission entrusted to us, we have used the transmitter in hope of obtaining a more comfortable standard of life.
The primary purpose of prayer is not to serve as a domestic intercom. It's primary intention is not to increase our personal conveniences. A close examination of Scripture reveals clearly, that the primary purpose of prayer is to empower us for a mission .
Paul asks the Ephesians, "Pray for me that utterance may be given me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel "(Eph. 6:19). To the Thessalonians, Paul writes, "Pray for us that the word of the Lord may run and be glorified "(2Thess. 3:1). And of course, Jesus urges us, "Pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into His harvest "(Mt. 9:38). We must stop using our divinely given transmitter as a domestic intercom. Our prayers must be focused on the mission given to us by Jesus Christ .
Paul wants us to be devoted to prayer that opens doors for the gospel, and in verses 5 and 6, Paul explains how we are to conduct ourselves when that door is finally opened. When the door is opened, we are not to 'ram' the gospel 'down their throat'. Rather, Paul says, "Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of every opportunity "(v.5). Conducting ourselves "with wisdom " does not mean avoiding conversations about Christ because Paul maintains that we must "make the most of every opportunity ".
Paul is clearly advising us to have a certain disposition when we proclaim Christ. Proclaiming Christ is not about setting up an argument that you are determined to win. Many a Christian have won arguments while, at the same time, have blown their witness through their arrogant, self-righteous, disposition.
When we pray for opportunities to share Christ, and when the door of opportunity is opened, Paul insists that "(our) speech always be seasoned with grace, as it were, with salt, so that you may know how to respond to each person "(v.6).
Many of us, quite frankly, are reluctant to share our faith in Christ. Even as a church, we are often afraid to take necessary 'steps of faith' and to "make the most of every opportunity ". Some of these 'steps of faith', some of these "opportunities " are, indeed, downright scary. It is much more comfortable to drive our ministry in neutral and to stay close to the shore. Those who know me, however, know I can't lead a ministry in neutral. I'm simply not built to coast in shallow water.
The truth is, I blame myself for any missed opportunities. I have been urging us to drive our ministry vehicles, but I have neglected to make sure that you had enough fuel for the journey. We cannot, and should not, do ministry without the fuel of prayer . "Devote yourselves to prayer ", Paul says.
Mark this day--mark this day as the day where you commit yourself to pray constantly for the advancement of the gospel of Jesus Christ and look for opportunities to share Him with others. Make this the day where you commit yourself to praying regularly for the ministries of this church. Make this the day where you commit yourself to praying regularly for the leaders of this church. Pray for me. I, too, need your prayers.
Mark this day--"Devote yourselves to prayer ". Amen.