July 30, 2000
Robert B. Ives, Ph.D., Pastor
The Grantham Church
One of the things Christians do is pray. From the time we are children and our parents prayed with us at bedtime; from the time when , growing up, our parents prayed before meals - even out in restaurants; and from the time we began to go to church, there has been a lot of praying. What is supposed to happen when Christians pray? And does it?
One caveat. Today there is a lot of talk about meditation in the sense of finding quiet in your inner self. For some people this has become their form of praying, but this sort of meditation has nothing to do with Christian prayer. Instead it arises from anti-intellectualism and an interest in mysticism. A second caveat. Today Christians tend to focus on methods of approaching God, but this is quite different from being concerned about God himself. The question to ask yourself is, when you pray, do you seek the reality of God?
Colossians 1, verse 9: Since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. What Paul asks for is that the Colossians might be filled with the knowledge of his will, and be given spiritual wisdom and insight. Paul continues in verse 10, What we ask is that you might live in a manner appropriate to your relation with the Lord, so that you may please him in all respects, and bear fruit: good works and a deeper knowledge of God. 11. What we ask is that you might be empowered by Gods glorious might for obedience and patience exercised with joy.
One day, in the early 16th century, Peter Beskendorf, the barber in Wittenberg, Germany asked Martin Luther, the reformer, how an ordinary working man could pray. Not being a monk, not having leisure time, how could he pray without being distracted. Luther wrote a little booklet of instructions for him. Dear Peter, I want to tell you as well as I can, how I myself view and practice prayer. May our Lord grant that you and others shall profit by it.... And then Luther wrote, dont say, Wait a while, I will pray an hour later, I must first do this and that. With such thoughts a person drifts from prayer into occupations which surround and hold him until the prayer of the day is omitted. And then he added, Christ plainly speaks of unceasing prayer in Luke 11: Men ought always to pray. For we ought to guard continually against sin and wrong, which cannot be done when God is not feared and His commandments are not kept in mind, Psalm 1: Blessed is the man who meditates day and night on the law of God.
This is advice from the man who once said, I have so much to do I must spend several hours praying before I can begin to do it. Now, I want to be honest. I, and probably you, live life at such a hectic pace, that it is hard to find a couple of hours to pray. My catch phrase is, I have so much to do, Id better get started doing it or Ill never get done.
Now Paul, like Luther, had so much to do, how can he write in verse 9, I have not stopped praying for you. Where does he find the time? Or maybe we should ask, what does he mean by saying he never stops praying? Paul doesnt answer that question, directly, but his comments in verses 10 -14 contain an answer. Paul has priorities. Prayer is one of them. This is the same man who, in writing to the Thessalonians (1 Thessalonians 5:17) says to them, Pray without ceasing. Paul had the Colossians constantly in his mind and as he thought about them, he prayed, rather like a mother concerned with a daughter on her first date.
Ive known a few people who prayed constantly, or who set aside large amounts of time to pray. One morning about 6:30 I was walking in Dillsburg and I met Marlin Zook. I stopped to chat and I got him to tell me he was on his way to pray for an hour or so for people and needs around the world. He does this every morning. One day, while I was a seminary student, Ray Ortlund took me to visit a woman he called Mother Mac. She prayed regularly for him and the ministries of Lake Avenue Church. Since that meeting, as long as she lived, she prayed for me.
When Paul prayed for the Colossians, he prayed primarily for two things: 1. in verse 9, he prayed that they would know Gods will. 2. In verses10 and 11 he prayed that they would be empowered to do Gods will. When Paul founded a new church, he taught these new Christians what Gods will was, but he did not found the church in Colossae, a man named Epaphras did. Paul may never have visited Colossae. Some 8 to10 years after the church was founded, an earthquake destroyed the city. But, in those 8 to 10 years, after Paul heard about the new Christians there, he did not stop praying for them.
1. He prayed that they would be filled with the knowledge of Gods will, verse 9. Now we have all asked at one time or another, what is Gods will for my life? Or, every Christian parent has prayed for Gods will to become clear to his/her children. God, what is your will about this? We need to know Gods will, and so we need, as verse 9 puts it, wisdom and insight to discern what it is when we meet it because sometimes Gods will is so clear but we are distracted by the way our culture would see things instead of the way God sees them.
When Jill and Eustace travel to Narnia in C. S. Lewis children story, The Silver Chair, Aslan gives Jill four signs by which he promises to guide her and Eustace in their search for Prince Rilian of Narnia. The first sign is, to seek advice of an old and dear friend who will be the first person Eustace meets in Narnia. But they dont have the insight to recognize the person right away, and they nearly miss the other three signs because signs can bear several meanings. It is because we have similar problems that Paul, in verse 10, outlines three standards which help people discern Gods will. When we are doing these things in our lives we will be closer to recognizing Gods will.
a. We want to live in a manner worthy of the Lord. Chris Panos, a Christian who was an evangelist who supported Open Doors With Brother Andrew, told a story about a gas main erupting on their street, with neighbors shouting, get in your car and drive to safety. They took their next door neighbor in the car with them and this neighbor expressed the fear that they would lose everything. As they drove away, a huge ball of flame erupted into the sky behind them. And the Panoses said to the neighbors, no you wont lose everything. We will pray for Gods protection for our houses, and so they did. Thats living in a manner worthy of the Lord, because it commits the details of ones daily life to the Lord, against all human odds.
About ten oclock that evening they were allowed back into the neighborhood. As they drove back, they saw some houses that were totally demolished by the gas explosion. One house near theirs had the roof lifted off and put back crooked. Some had cracked foundations. Only two houses were not damaged, Chris Panos and his neighbors. In times like those people need to live by trust in God.
b. We will be helped in discerning Gods will when daily we want to please Him. That means we ask God, what would You like? What do You not like? Instead of doing what pleases us.
c. We will be helped in knowing Gods will when we are bearing fruit in our lives. This means our faith needs to show in how we make decisions and how we relate to people in our lives.
These three factors help people come to be filled with the knowledge of Gods will because they all indicate a yearning for Gods will.
2. Secondly, we not only need to know Gods will, we need to be empowered to do Gods will once we know what it is. In that same Narnian story of C. S. Lewis, the two children and Puddleglum, a Narnian Marsh-Wiggle, have a fourth sign of Aslan yet to discover, the first person to say the name, Aslan, is the person they have been sent to help. At one point in the story, they come upon the black prince, who has always seemed a bit spacy and demented to them, who is strapped in a magical chair, where he begins to cry out that they would release him. As he gets more desperate, he cries out, in the name of Aslan, help me. And the three stare. They know its the sign, but one says, but its only the words of the sign. They finally decide that they do know what this means and then they act, cutting the cords that bind this black prince to the silver chair and then they discover the black prince is Prince Rilian of Narnia who was captured by the witch and enchanted. Once they heard the sign of Aslan, they had to act. Thats true for us.
When Paul talks about doing Gods will, he says in verse 11 that we need power so we can endure and have patience. Why do we need endurance and patience? Because in our world its hard to wait for God. We want things right away and that is not the time frame in which God works. That word in Colossians 1 that is translated endurance means to endure in hard circumstances.
In 1984 the German pastor and leader of the Confessing Church opposed to Hitler and national socialism, Martin Niemoller, died. He had spent eight years in Nazi concentration camps. In the 1950s and 1960s he was the most prominent pacificist in Germany. He had his critics and he used to respond to them by saying, Live according to the Gospel without fear or fail. That is an example of what it means to endure in circumstances.
The word translated patience in verse 11 expresses an attitude toward people. That means when people hate you, you are not driven to road rage or bitterness. You wait because God is teaching you a different time frame.
In summary, Paul says we need strength so that no situation would knock us down and no person undo us. We keep on because we are putting Gods will into practice in our lives and we are beginning to realize the import of that.
Now this may all seem to you like basic lessons about prayer. We realize that we should pray for people to know Gods will and be able to act on that knowledge. Here comes the trick. What we find Paul doing in the New Testament is repeating lessons over and over again. Because Christians forget. Because Christians dont get it right the first time, or the tenth. When was the last time you prayed that someone would know Gods will and act on His will in his life? We need to learn to do this.
We need the basic things repeated for us. Those of you who are teachers know this principle. You have to repeat things to students in your classes so that finally it will sink in.
Now, having told the Colossians how he prays, Paul next, in verses 12-14, talks about theology. Specifically he tells the Colossians what God has done for them.
12. You give thanks to the Father who has empowered you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. 13. He delivered us from the power of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of his beloved son. 14. In him we gain redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
Paul is saying in these verses, dont forget this. Behind all prayer lies the theology of who God is and what He has done. Who God is and what He has done makes prayer possible. Paul had said in verse 9, since the day I heard about the change in your life. Here in verses 12-14 he defines what that change is. You have been rescued from the kingdom controlled by darkness, the bizarre world of Stephen King might be one way to put it, and you have been brought into a kingdom of light and forgiveness.
Sin is the power that holds people in thrall. In order to break this power, God forgives our sins. The Gospel is the offer of freedom precisely because it offers forgiveness of sins. There is no capability in us to make this change. Thats why the word brought in verse 13 is important. God has brought us from the dominion of darkness into the kingdom of His Son. We cannot do this by our own exertion. People on drugs have no power to resist the desire for drugs.
Now the phrase, the dominion of darkness is not merely about people on heroin. This dominion is anything that keeps people from knowing and doing Gods will: x-rated movies, marital affairs, masturbation, drunkenness, road rage, witchcraft. God is able not merely to wipe that sin out, He forgives you for ever taking part in it. Your part then becomes to begin to act on the basis of what His will is.
The Colossians did that, and for the first time they knew what God wanted them to do, and for the first time, they had power to do what they knew Gods will is. It can be that way for you. This all comes as a result of prayer. Prayer changes us and it moves God. Thats why the church is an advocate of praying.