John Wesley. Martin Luther. George Whitefield. William Wilberforce. William Temple. What have these got in common, apart from being amongst the most well-known and influential men of God in recent centuries? The answer is simple. Each of them spent at least two hours a day in prayer. Like all of the other saints of God, they had discovered that prayer is both the means to maturity and the measure of maturity for every Christian.
John Wesley wrote, “God does nothing but in answer to prayer.”
Martin Luther said, “I have so much business I cannot get on without spending 3 hours daily in prayer.”
William Law said, “He who has learned to pray has learned the greatest secret of a holy and a happy life.”
We have seen from Colossians that God wants every Christian to move on with Christ towards Christian maturity. We saw the supremacy of Christ as the image and the firstborn and the fullness of God, and considered the amazing truth that Christ lives in us! More than that – we have fullness of life in Christ and Christ is all we need for Christian growth. Our real life is Christ – so we should live all of our lives “the Jesus way”, as Christ would live in our shoes, doing everything in the Name of the Lord Jesus. So how should we put all these glorious truths into practice? Paul answers in Colossians 4:2
“Devote yourselves to prayer.” “Continue steadfastly in prayer.”
There is a wealth of riches in prayer. Most of us only begin to scratch the surface of the tremendous power of God which prayer can release. If we want to press on to Christian maturity, prayer as an expression of our relationship with God is key! And it is no surprise that prayer is mentioned in different ways more than a dozen times in Colossians. There are at least three themes, and the first is this.
THANKFUL PRAYER (Colossians 4:2)
2 Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.
We have already seen this theme of thanksgiving several times. All prayer should begin with thanksgiving. And if we followed Paul’s example in the pages of Colossians, we would spend as much time thanking God for His benefits as we do asking Him for those benefits.
Colossians 1:3-4 3 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4 because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints.
It’s easy to thank God for the ways he has blessed us. But do we make time to praise and thank God for bringing other people to faith and for His work in their lives?
Colossians 1 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. 13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
Thanking God for the wonderful salvation he has given us all – rescue from darkness into his light, redemption, forgiveness, a marvellous inheritance and all the blessings of His Kingdom. After we have been Christians for a while it is easy to forget the amazing difference becoming a Christian makes to a person. We have Christ living in us and our real life is Christ. For all we have received in Christ, may the Lord make us truly thankful!
Colossians 2 6 So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, 7 rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.
We should rightly be overflowing with thankfulness. Thankfulness is more than just saying “thank you” lots of times. If you give a child a present, sometimes you will receive a polite “thank you.” At other times you will see their eyes widen and a big smile as they say “thank you, I love you.” It is obvious to God whether our words of gratitude are only on our lips or whether they come from our hearts.
Remember what we learned a few weeks ago now about our worship being characterized by thankfulness.
Colossians 315 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Paul says that the whole of our lives, everything we say and everything we do, should be offered to God in the Name of Jesus as an expression of our gratitude.
The opposite of gratitude is not just ingratitude. It is taking things for granted. And that is so easy, the more that we have. We forget to be thankful – we just take all the blessings God pours on us for granted. All the blessings of this life – food and drink, clothing and shelter, warmth and security, health and strength and doctors and medicines, travel and freedom. And then there are all the blessings God has poured upon us in our Lord Jesus Christ! We must make time to actually express our thankfulness to God.
Colossians 42 Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.
Thankful prayer which recognises our total dependence on God and His grace is the first stage which then leads on to what I will call
EFFECTIVE PRAYER (verses 3-9 and 18)
Some people have problems with Colossians 4 and indeed the final chapters of all of Paul’s letters because they seem so disjointed, often just a list of names which can appear boring or irrelevant. Who could possibly be interested in all these people? Well of course, the Colossians were! We need to realise that these chapters are Paul’s prayer letters to his prayer partners. The Colossian Christians want to pray for Paul and so they were eager for topics for prayer and the names of individuals to pray for. The only reason these verses seem less relevant for us is that we don’t know the people. If we were Paul’s prayer partners we would want these details. But even if we don’t need to pray for these specific individuals, Colossians 4 gives us some valuable principles for effective prayer.
1 Effective prayer will be INFORMED
Colossians 47 Tychicus will tell you all the news about me. He is a dear brother, a faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. 8 I am sending him to you for the express purpose that you may know about our circumstances and that he may encourage your hearts. 9 He is coming with Onesimus, our faithful and dear brother, who is one of you. They will tell you everything that is happening here.
Paul shares his personal news so that his readers will know all about his circumstances and the situations of others, so the Colossians will be able to pray for them more effectively. He even sent messengers who would be able to share in much greater detail than would be possible in a letter. Paul believed that prayer works. So he kept other Christians informed of his work.
2 Effective prayer will be INVOLVED
Effective prayer will be caring and committed. Think of Paul’s example in chapter 1.
Colossians 13 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4 because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints …. 9 For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. 10 And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God
It is obvious that Paul really cared about the Colossian Christians. The kinds of prayers God loves to answer are those where we passionately care that He DOES answer, where we are meaningfully involved in the situations. Just going through a shopping list of requests for things we don’t really care about isn’t really prayer. If it doesn’t matter to us whether God answers our prayer or not, it isn’t going to matter to God either!
3 Effective prayer will be INTELLIGENT
Colossians 4. 3 And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. 4 Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.
Effective prayer is specific. “An open door for the gospel” “that I may proclaim it clearly.” Effective prayer is also realistic. Note that Paul doesn’t ask the Colossians to pray that he will be miraculously freed from prison as he had previously been in Philippi. He only asked the Colossians to pray for what they could realistically believe God could and would do.
And as Paul asks the Colossians to pray that he should be an effective witness in his own life, he also reminds the Colossians to aim for the same in their lives.
5 Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. 6 Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.
And then there is the personal plea in verse 18. Remember my chains.His primary concern is for his witness to the gospel. Almost as an afterthought, he then asks for prayer for his personal needs.
Thankfulness leads on to effective prayer. Informed. Involved, caring and committed. Intelligent, specific and realistic. We all need to grow in these aspects of prayer. But then there is a third theme of prayer through Colossians which we also need to discover more about, and we can call that
12 Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. 13 I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis.
There are actually two examples of people wrestling in prayer in Colossians. Here we have Epaphras, and in a moment we will look also at Paul himself.
We learn from the letter to Philemon that EPAPHRAS was a fellow prisoner along with Paul. We had met him back in Colossians chapter 1:6-8
All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth. You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, and who also told us of your love in the Spirit.
From this it seems very likely that Epaphras was the evangelist who had taken the gospel to Colossae in the first place. As founder of the church he had become its leader. When he took news of the church to Paul Epaphras had ended up in jail with him. But that hadn’t stopped him from working on behalf of the church.
12 Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured.
Paul writes that Epaphras is wrestling, or agonizing, or contesting in prayer for the Colossians. He is “fighting spiritual battles for you,” Paul says – a real prayer warrior.
13 I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis.
Epaphras was busy doing the only work he possibly could do for the Colossians while he was in prison. He was praying for them – praying that they might stand firm, mature and fully assured. Mature – the same word as we have been thinking about all the way through this letter, that the Colossians might become mature in Christ.
When I get to heaven I am very much looking forward to finding out who it was who was praying for me all those years before I was a Christian and none of my family were Christians and none of my friends were Christians. I have a strong suspicion that it was actually the school secretary of my primary school. Somebody must have been praying for me. I know for sure that my salvation and being led to the right church and ultimately becoming a minister did not result from my own prayers but from somebody else’s prayer. Epaphras was wrestling in prayer for the Colossians.
But the apostle Paul himself also had that ministry of wrestling in prayer. Colossians 128 We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. 29 To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.
2:1 I want you to know how much I am struggling for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally. 2 My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ,
What was the hard work which Paul was doing on behalf of the Colossians? How was he struggling for them and for the Laodiceans and for so many Christians he had never met, there in his prison cell. Of course it was his prayers for them all. Praying that they be encouraged in heart, praying that they be united in love, praying that they might have the full riches of complete understanding, praying that they may truly know Christ who is the mystery of God. How important it is to pray for the spiritual growth and maturity of other Christians!
Thomas Chalmers said, “Prayer does not enable us to do a greater work for God. Prayer IS a greater work for God.”
Our maturity in Christ often depends as much on the prayers of others as it does on our own prayers. How much we grow up into Christ as a church in the coming years may well depend on the committed prayers of the faithful few who know what wrestling with God in prayer is really about. The effectiveness of our outreach and evangelism certainly rests supremely on all of our prayers!
Colossians 128 We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. 29 To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.
Our goal is to become mature in Christ – perfect in Christ. And we do that not only by labouring with all God’s energy, but also by the hard work of prayer – thankful prayer, effective, informed, involved and intelligent prayer, but also wrestling prayer.
Prayer on the handout:
Lord, grant me the grace to desire and to pray
that others might become more mature in Christ than I,
provided that I become as mature as you want me to be. AMEN.