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Chris Appleby Ministries

Chris Appleby Ministries

 

Praying with Paul - How Should we Pray  audio

Col 1:9-14 

      Today we move into a short series on prayer that we were introduced to last week by our service of “Music as Prayer”. Over the next 4 weeks we’ll be looking at Paul’s prayers to various churches in order to see both a model and a foundation for our prayers. Let’s listen to this short prayer that Paul prays for the Colossians and as you’re listening see if you can pick up some principals that might help you in your prayer life and we’ll see if you find what I’ve found. [Read Col 1:9-14]

I should begin by pointing out that Paul’s prayer for the Colossians has one major difference from the other prayers that we’ll consider over the next few weeks as well as a couple of similarities.

  1. Praying for strangers

The big difference is that he prays here for Christians he’s never met. In the other examples he knew his audience well. He’d spent some time with them, he’d experienced the sort of opposition they were up against. But here he’s praying for a church that was started by one of his disciples, by Epaphras. This’d be similar to us praying for the people John and Deb tell us about in Indonesia, or those that Jim and Tanja tell us about in Valencia. He doesn’t know them personally, but he is praying for them. In other places he writes to those he considers his own sons and daughters in the Lord but here he’s praying for his spiritual grandchildren

So here’s a test of our own prayer life. How much time do we spend praying for our own circle of friends and family and how much do we pray for those in the wider church, for those we’ve never met?

If you think about it, praying for your family and even your close friends can be a self-centred activity, focussed on what affects you. If we’re praying about our own family, our own set of friends, our own ministry situation even, then our prayers can become parochial in the literal sense of the word, can’t they?

Now that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t pray for family and friends; nor that we should broaden our prayers to the point that they become meaningless. I’m not suggesting that we pray the sort of prayer that says “God bless everyone”. But it is good to pray for people we don’t know, who we only hear about through the missionary letters we get, or in the news reports we read or see on television or social media, so our vision is enlarged, our horizons expanded, our ministry of prayer increased.

  1. Persistent Prayer

 One of the things that pop up in Paul’s references to prayer time and time again is this phrase: “we have not ceased praying for you.” Now that doesn’t mean that he never sleeps, or that he goes into some sort of mystic trance, where he’s in constant communion with God. No, what it means is that he prays repeatedly and persistently for them. Since he’s heard from Epaphras about their faith and love he’s had them on his regular, and no doubt extensive, prayer list.

It’s interesting, isn’t it, that there are some things that we need to pray about over and over again. There are some things that need to be prayed for specifically and urgently in the moment. They're the sorts of things that might appear in a parish prayer email or on the back of the news sheet. But there are other matters that require a long term approach, or that never go off the agenda. For example, there are issues in our political system that never seem to go away or be resolved. Similarly, we should always be praying for opportunities to serve God, to share our faith with others. And we should also be praying for the things we see in these prayers of Paul.

You see prayer is the way God has arranged for us to receive his many blessings. He wants us to ask. He delights to give his children good gifts. And when those blessings are related to ongoing needs then we need to ask for them constantly.

  1. Perceptive Prayer

Thirdly, Paul’s prayers are built on what he’s observed already. Now we didn’t read the first section where he gives thanks for them, but let’s look at it now. (Col 1:3-6 NRSV)  “In our prayers for you we always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, 4for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, 5because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. You have heard of this hope before in the word of the truth, the gospel 6that has come to you. Just as it is bearing fruit and growing in the whole world, so it has been bearing fruit among yourselves from the day you heard it and truly comprehended the grace of God.”

Do you get that? He’s heard of their faith in Christ Jesus, of the love they have for all the saints and of the way the gospel is bearing fruit in their lives. And that’s what he bases his prayers on.

Again, it’s interesting to see that when we pray it isn’t always praying for some situation of need. The sort of prayer we so often find ourselves praying are those emergency prayers: prayers for some particular need or crisis; or pleading prayers begging God to do something to fix what continues to be a major problem.  But here we find Paul first giving thanks, then praying for the ongoing growth of these Christians, praying into a situation of success rather than crisis. And notice his prayer reflects a general attitude to growth in maturity. That is, that we can never rest on our laurels. We can never have enough growth, enough maturity. In fact I’d suggest it’s a truism that the more we grow in maturity as a Christian, the more we’ll be aware of our need to grow more, the more we’ll be longing to become more Christ-like. So whenever he sees Christians growing in their faith, he gives thanks to God, then he prays that their growth might continue.

So let’s look at what it is he prays for here and as we do it, ask yourself whether these are things that you pray for those you know or have been asked to pray for.

The Prayer

  1. That they be filled with the knowledge of God’s will

He says: “we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God's will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding.” What does it mean to be filled with the knowledge of God’s will? Does it mean knowing who you should marry, or go out with? Does it mean knowing what job to apply for, or which house or which new car to buy, or church to go to? Or does it mean more than that? Again we run the danger of self-centredness when we begin to think like that, don’t we? Not that we shouldn’t be seeking God’s will when we have to make those sorts of decisions, but to think that that’s all that knowing the will of God might comprise is very limited isn’t it?

When the psalmist says “Teach me your way, O LORD, and lead me on a level path because of my enemies (Ps 27:11)”, or when he says: “Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths. 5Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long” (Ps 25:4-5), what is he thinking of? Perhaps Ps 86:11 makes it clearer: “Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart to revere your name.” When the Bible talks about knowing the will of God or God’s ways, it’s, almost without exception, talking about knowing the sort of behaviour, the sort of lifestyle that pleases God, that God would have his people follow. Now that’s not unrelated to the sorts of questions I just mentioned. If you want to know whether you should marry someone, first ask yourself whether they’re the sort of person who will help you to live a life pleasing to God. That might narrow down the field a bit, but then you did want to know whether God might want you to do it, didn’t you? Similarly if you’re trying to work out whether to join a new church ask yourself whether the new church will help you in your Christian walk. If you’re thinking of leaving a church ask whether your leaving will help your Christian walk and at the same time help or hinder the work of the gospel in the place you’re leaving.

You see, the prayer that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will isn’t just a prayer for more knowledge. Rather, it’s a prayer that you may know how to do God’s will. It’s tied to the notion of wisdom and the notion of wisdom in the Bible is almost always to do with knowing how to do something, how to live, how to please God in what you say and do.

Now at this point a little background might help. Paul writes to the Colossians because they’re in danger of being led astray by false teachers; people who are suggesting “spiritual” ways of getting closer to God or of becoming more holy. They’re trying to introduce some of the old Jewish customs of fasting and religious festivals, they’re promoting asceticism, angel worship, the need to be initiated into hidden knowledge. His answer to these false teachers is to pray that the believers might be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding. Only then will they be able to see through this false teaching.

There’s a certain relevance to our present day here I think. There are still false teachers around. Liberalism has been growing over the past century to the point where Christian leaders are openly questioning the miracles of Jesus, the resurrection, the authority of the Scriptures. Many in the church would like to lower the moral standards set by God’s word so it’d be easier to convince people to become Christians. The idea of absolutes of moral and ethical behaviour is gone from our culture today.

If we’re to fight these influences, if we’re to navigate what are often complex and difficult discussions, we need God to fill us with the knowledge of his will, of his way of living. We need the wisdom and understanding of his Spirit filling us and teaching us. So let’s make sure we pray that for each other.

  1. That they might be utterly pleasing to God.

The corollary of his first petition is that their lives might bear the fruit of the knowledge of God’s will. He prays that they “may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him.” Notice that he isn’t praying that they’ll be able to keep the commandments or live lives that are morally upright, though I’m sure those would be part of his desire for them. No, what he prays for is much more personal than that isn’t it? Much more relational. He prays that they might live lives that are pleasing to the Lord. It’s bit like the school teacher who says to the year 9 boy “would you do that if your grandmother was here?” There’s something significantly different about keeping a rule and pleasing someone you love, isn’t there? Or between breaking a law and disappointing someone you love. When I trained as a counsellor with Lifeline, one of the questions we were taught to ask someone who was threatening suicide was: “Who do you think might find you?” Or “How will your parents or children feel when they discover you’ve killed yourself?” The aim was to put their plans into a relational framework; to remind them that they have people who love them and care for them who’ll be deeply hurt if they kill themselves.

That’s what Paul does here. He reminds us that it’s the Lord we’re pleasing or disappointing when we act in certain ways. We live in relationship to Jesus Christ and our actions affect that relationship. So he suggests what sort of behaviour might constitute a life pleasing to the Lord. First that they bear fruit in good works. Ephesians 2 points out that though we’re saved by grace, God has created us to do good works. What’s more, God has prepared those good works in advance for us to do.  Each of us will have different things to do, depending on the gifts God has given us, but whoever we are God has things ready for us to do.

Secondly they’re to grow in the knowledge of God. It pleases God to see us growing in our knowledge of him. Here he returns to his first petition. But how do we grow in that knowledge? First and foremost by reading his word. By studying what God is like, what he desires of us, what he’s made known to us. Then we learn by doing. We learn by experience as we follow his teachings; as we do the things he tells us and discover that it actually works.

  1. That they might be made strong

Not only do they need to understand God’s will, they also need to be strong enough to stand against those who oppose that will. They need the sort of stamina that keeps you going for the long haul. That’s why he prays that God would strengthen them with his power. But they also need the sort of stamina that maintains a positive attitude, a joy in serving God, even when the going gets tough.

  1. That they might have joy and thankfulness

So he prays that they might endure “while joyfully 12giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light.” Again, the knowledge of God’s will means that we’ll understand not just how we should live, but what God has in mind for us at the end of time. It means we’ll have a clear and certain knowledge of our place in God’s kingdom. And so whatever suffering we might have to endure, whatever opposition we meet, however people might ridicule or seek to hurt us, we’ll remain confident in the power of God to overcome and to bring his plans to completion.

I hope you’ve seen that central to this prayer is the knowledge of the will of God. It’s both the thing that will guide our living and the thing that’ll assure us of our final destiny. But remember, it’s primarily a means to an end. It’s the means by which we can do what is pleasing to God. It’s the means by which we can remain strong, it’s the means by which we can remain joyful even in the midst of struggle and hardship.

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