If you’re a child of God, God wants to hear from you often and regularly. In fact He loves to hear from you. Proverbs 15:8, “The prayer of the upright is His delight.” Revelation 5:8 pictures the prayers of the saints as sweet pleasant incense that ascends before God.
How committed to prayer are you?
Are you at least a…
Periodic meal prayer?
Do you at least, before you indulge in the good stuff that God has provided, take a moment to acknowledge Him and say “Thank you”? Sadly most just take and enjoy what God gives without a “thank you.” But let me read to you from I Timothy 4:4-5. “For everything [talking about foods in the context] created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer.” “Sanctified” there in the context appears to mean set apart for use, for consumption. What makes food okay to eat is two things. It is the word of God that has declared that all foods are good and clean and okay to eat, and prayer, more specifically, prayer of thanksgiving. Now, I wouldn’t say that means if we pop a snack in our mouth without first thanking God specifically for it, we’ve sinned. But it does mean that on a regular basis we need to be thanking God for what He provides for us.
Are you maybe also at least a…
When a loved one is really sick, when your marriage is crumbling, when you’re overwhelmed with debt, when your struggling at work, when you’re going in for major surgery… Times of crisis bring many people to their knees who would not normally be there. Certainly pray is what we’re supposed to do in times like those. I Peter 5:7 says, “cast all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.” But we probably ought not to wait until we’re in the crisis to start praying, wouldn’t you say? It’d be good to already be on talking terms with the Lord before we come to Him with a big crisis. How do you feel about friends who only ever talk to you when they really need something from you?
Are you maybe also a…
That’s certainly one of best times to insert a habit of prayer; just put it in your bedtime routine like brushing your teeth or putting on your pajamas. I’ve noticed that my bedtime prayers have greatly improved since I had kids, because not only do they give you more to pray about, but now I pray sitting up or on my knees with my boys in their room before I turn out their light, rather than just lying in a dark room comfortably and cozy in my bed where I easily drift off mid prayer. And also I’m speaking my bedtime prayers out loud now with my boys rather than just in my mind. I’ve found my mind doesn’t wander near as easily when I’m speaking my prayers out loud than when I’m just thinking them. Sitting up and praying out loud makes a big difference.
Well, Colossians 4:2, where we are in our study of Colossians, urges us to be not just meal prayers and crisis prayers and just-before-we-drift-off bedtime prayers, but…
Colossians 4:2, “Devote yourselves to prayer…” Or your version might say, “Continue steadfastly in prayer…” The word in the Greek text suggests serious commitment and effort and perseverance in something even when gets to be difficult.
You have two examples of this in the book of Colossians. One is Paul himself. 1:9, “… since the day we heard of your faith and love, Colossians, we have not ceased to pray for you…” 2:1, “For I want you to know how great a struggle I have on your behalf [Colossians] and for those who are at Laodicea [a city just 12 miles away in the same valley], and for all those who have not personally seen my face“. Paul had never met the Christians in the Lycus River Valley, in Colossae and Laodicea. And at the time he was a thousand miles away in prison in Rome. So how could he be having a great struggle, a great wrestling on their behalf? I think it must have been in prayer. Paul was praying so often and so fervently for them that he could describe it as a great struggle. Then your other example in Colossians of devotion to prayer is Epaphras, the man who brought the Colossians the gospel and who had come to visit Paul in Rome. 4:12, “Epaphras, who is one of your number, a bondslave of Jesus Christ sends you his greetings, always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers… ” You know, I’m a meal prayer and a crisis prayer and a bedtime prayer and here and there throughout the day I send up little prayers. But it would probably be a stretch to describe my prayer life with these terms that described the prayer life of Paul and Epaphras, “a great struggle” and “always laboring earnestly.” There’s not a lot of struggle or laboring to my prayer life. I’ve definitely got a lot of room to grow in my devotion to prayer, I don’t know about you.
And I see it all the more when I think about the prayer life of Jesus that we’re given little glimpses of in the gospels. Mark 1:35 says, “In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there.” And He didn’t go to bed that early when you read the context. But still He got up before everyone else to go have some quiet moments to pray. Have you ever done that? Luke 5:16 says, “Jesus would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.” Luke 6:12, the night before Jesus selected His 12 disciples it says “He went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God.” Have you ever done that when you have some big decisions to make? Don’t you think it would be good to follow not just in the footprints of Jesus, but also in His knee prints as well? That’s what Paul is saying. “Devote yourselves to prayer.”
Outside of Colossians when I think of devotion to prayer Daniel comes to mind. Three times everyday he would take time out to go into his room, open the windows toward Jerusalem, go to his knees and pray. And he kept on doing that even when he knew that King Darius had issued a decree that anyone found praying to any god aside from the king was to be cast into the lions’ den (Dan 6:10).
Jesus was concerned about His disciples being devoted to prayer. Look with me at Luke 18 where we have some teaching of Jesus intended to help His disciples in this regard. Luke 18:1, “Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not lose heart“. In other words He told them a parable to help them see that they ought to be devoted to prayer; that they ought to pray at all times, meaning in times of crisis and when things are good. We ought not to get discouraged when times are tough and quit praying. And we ought not forget about God and our dependence on Him when times are good and quit praying. No matter what we’re going through in life we need to keep the line of communication open and keep talking with God often and regularly. And Jesus told this parable to show us why. “In a certain city there was a judge who did not fear God and did not respect man. There was a widow in that city, and she kept coming to him, saying, ‘Give me legal protection from my opponent.’ For a while he was unwilling; but afterward he said to himself, ‘Even though I do not fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow bothers me, I will give her legal protection, otherwise by continually coming she will wear me out.'” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge said; now, will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them? I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly.” Jesus is saying if an unrighteous judge will be moved to grant the good request of some lady he doesn’t know or care about because of her persistence in asking, then definitely God who is righteous will all the more be moved by the persistent appeals of His chosen people whom He loves to grant their good requests. I think the biggest reason why Christians are not devoted to prayer, if they’re not, is because they don’t really believe that prayer makes much of a difference. Jesus is assuring us that if we’re God’s people our prayers, especially persistent prayers, move God to action. We’re missing out on blessings from God and blessings for others perhaps by not being persistent in prayer. “The blessings come down as the prayers go up” is not just a kid song; that’s “Thus saith the Lord.” Then Jesus ends this little teaching on prayer with an interesting statement that I’ve often wondered about. “However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find the faith on the earth?” It’s seems like a statement suggesting that when Christ comes back the faith that He wants to see in people is going to be rare; that the majority of the world will not be believing as God wants them to be. Why does He say that here in this context? Well, I think perhaps, like the purpose of the parable, it’s to help us not lose heart and keep on praying (18:1). One of the things that can really discourage us is how many people don’t believe the truth. It can cause you to question your faith when you look around and it seems like almost nobody shares your faith. So Jesus told us in advance that’s how it’s going to be, the faith will be in the minority, but you don’t let that discourage you and shake your faith and your devotion to prayer.
Let me ask you another question.
When you pray, what do you pray for? What is the content of your prayers like?
Do you pray…
Like Janis Joplin?
“Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz? My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends. Worked hard all my lifetime, no help from my friends, So Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?” A lot of people are praying for the golden ticket in the lottery or that their sport team will win the championship. If our prayers are just for our temporary earthly pleasure I think we’re wasting our time, because James 4:3 says, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.”
Do you pray…
Like the Pharisee in the temple in Luke 18?
He said, “God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all I get.” It’s like he was saying, “God, I deserve your favor. I’m worthy of your kindness. You owe it to me.” No sense of his unworthiness, no sense of sin in himself, no sense of his great indebtedness to God. Jesus said it didn’t do that man any good to come to the temple and pray, because of his arrogance. Probably the content of our prayers is better than that.
Do you pray…
Like the Gentiles of the 1st century?
Jesus said, Matthew 6:7, “they use meaningless repetition, supposing that they will be heard for their many words.” Repetition is not necessarily bad in prayer. Jesus prayed the same thing 3 times in the garden of Gethsemane. “Father, please remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.” Paul prayed 3 times that his thorn in the flesh might be removed (II Cor 12:8). But it’s when you’re not speaking from your heart, it’s when you’re just rambling off perfunctory rote sayings that I think Jesus is talking about. Mealtime prayers can become this way. Like the family man who says before the family eats, “Lord, for these and all other blessings make us truly grateful. Amen.” Which is a good prayer. But then the next evening at dinner, “Lord, for these and all other blessings make us truly grateful. Amen.” And then the next time, “Lord, for these and all other blessings make us truly grateful. Amen.” And every time. And it can become just mindless routine. Sometimes public prayers at church can become this way. I remember as a kid at church sometimes a man would come forward to lead prayer and I already knew pretty much everything he was going to say, because he always led the same prayer full of a lot of the regular phrases we use in public prayers. You know, phrases like, “We thank You that we can assemble without fear of molestation.” “Bless the sick, guide the hands of those that minister to them.” “Guide, guard and direct us.” And then there’s that one I really appreciate, “Give the preacher a ready recollection of the things he has studied.” “Bring us back at the next appointed time.” All good prayer phrases. But Jesus taught us that God listens to our hearts and minds in prayer not so much our words. We’ve got to be comprehending and meaning what we’re saying, speaking from our hearts. Probably the content of our prayers is better than that.
Probably we pray…
Like most prayers
For the health, comfort, safety, finances and relationships of ourselves, our family and our friends. I do. I pray about physical and emotional needs. And I think that’s good prayer content. Jesus taught us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” James 5:13, “Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray.” III John 2, John says to brother Gaius that he wrote the letter to, “Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers.” Paul prayed for the removal of his thorn in the flesh. And you know King Hezekiah in the OT attained healing of a deadly infection and 15 more years of life by prayer (II Kg 20:1-7). That’s good prayer content. Pray about physical and emotional needs.
But our text in Colossians 4 encourages us to emphasize some different things in our prayers. Colossians 4:2 tells us to…
Keep alert in prayer.
The word in the Greek text literally means stay awake. You could interpret that to mean literally don’t let yourself fall asleep when you’re praying. But I don’t think that’s what Paul is saying. Because the all throughout the NT we find this command to stay alert or stay awake, and it doesn’t mean literally and physically. It’s used metaphorically. It’s talking about being spiritually conscious and aware, keeping the eyes of our heart open to the unseen spiritual realities that the Lord has told us about.
Let me give you a few examples. Matt 24:42, “Therefore be on the alert [stay awake], for you do not know which day your Lord is coming.” Matt 25:13, “Be on the alert [stay awake] then, for you do not know the day nor the hour.” He’s saying you need to stay awake until the Lord comes back. Can’t be talking literally. He’s talking spiritually. I Thess 5:5-6, “We are not of night nor of darkness; so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert [awake] and sober.” He’s not commanding us to not get 7 or 8 hours of sleep at night like others do. He’s talking about not falling asleep spiritually, staying spiritually conscious and aware and seeing unseen that the Lord has revealed to us. I Pt 5:8, “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert [awake]. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” And then there’s Rev 16:15, “Behold, I am coming like a thief. Blessed is the one who stays awake…”
Paul wants us to be praying spiritually alert, spiritually minded kind of prayers, to be aware of judgment, of eternity, of souls, of the activity of Satan in this world, of spiritual needs, of spiritual dangers, of spiritual concerns. Think of Paul’s prayer for the Colossians that he said he was constantly praying. It wasn’t for their health. It wasn’t for their jobs. It wasn’t for their earthly safety. He said, “since the day we heard of your faith and love, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously giving thanks to the Father…” And 2:2 his great struggle for them in prayer was “that their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love, and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding in the true knowledge God’s mystery, which is Christ“. And Epaphras, 4:12, was “always laboring earnestly for them in his prayers, that they may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God.”
Do you pray prayers like that for your family and friends and others? “Father, please fill my wife with a knowledge of Your will. Please let her fully understand your plan of salvation and what you have in store for us and what you want her to do in her life. And give her confidence about all that. Take away her doubts.” “Father, please help brother so and so to see the changes you would have him to make in his life. Please help him to see how much you love him and to see how short this life is and how important it is that he follow you. Please work in his life and motivate him to make those changes.” Those are the kind of prayers that you pray when you’re spiritually awake.
And Paul also says in Colossians 4:2, make sure that in your prayers you have…
An Attitude of Thanksgiving
Always have lots of “thank you’s” in your prayers among your “help me’s” . And that’s not just for God, but also for us. Reviewing what all God has done for us and is doing for us and has promised to do for us dispels anxiety, because you see He’s taking good care of you. It dispels greed for more, because you realize you have far more than you deserve. It dispels grouchiness, because you realize you’re blessed. And it fosters greater love for God. Make sure your prayers have lots of “thank you’s.”
And then look at…
Paul’s Prayer Request
He says in v3-4, “Colossians, be praying at the same time for us as well, that God will 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; that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak.” Think about that. If you were in prison unjustly, what would be your prayer request? “Please pray that I get out of here! Please pray that at my upcoming trial I’ll be found innocent and released, and that until then I get some better food and warmer blankets.” But Paul was spiritually awake. Paul was conscious of the things that matter far more than his temporary earthly comfort. So he asked them to pray that a door for the word might be opened before him, that God would work to create an opportunity for him to share the gospel the lost. And that God would help him to communicate the message clearly; that He would help him to word it in a way that the truth of the gospel and the proof of the gospel would be plain and understandable and evident to people.
We have an old song that expresses it well. “Lead me to some soul today, teach me Lord just what to say, friends of mine are lost in sin, and cannot find their way.” Paul, the apostle, believed that was a worthwhile and a needed prayer. Could that be a missing element in our evangelistic efforts? Are we praying for open doors for the word for me and for you and others who can share the word? Are we praying for help that we might make the truth clear to people?
Is prayer a challenge for you? It is for me. I find it much easier to read and study Scripture than pray, because when you read and study you get the instant benefit of knowledge and insight. I find it much easier to do an act of kindness for somebody, because there’s the instant observable benefits in the life of someone and strengthened relationships. But prayer is one of those things that requires faith. We are praying to someone we cannot see and the answers to our prayers often aren’t immediate. It takes faith to see the power of prayer. And like every other thing which requires faith, prayer runs contrary to the natural man and to the world in which we live and it’s difficult.
But the Lord assures us that prayer is about the most powerful thing in the world. The prayers of the righteous move the God of heaven and earth to action. And I’m learning that the more you pray, the more you experience the peace, the closeness to God and the spiritual growth that comes from it and experience answers to your prayers it gets easier to be devoted to it.
Let’s not be just hearers of the word of the Lord this morning. Let’s do the word of the Lord this morning. Let’s devote ourselves to prayer and to spiritually alert prayers with thanksgiving, including prayers for the spread of the gospel, for open doors for the word and that we might make it clear to people.
– James Williams