Devoted to Prayer
Topic: Expository Passage: Colossians 4:2-4
Read vv. 2–6
Colossians 4:2-6 (NKJV)
2 Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving;
3 meanwhile praying also for us, that God would open to us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in chains,
4 that I may make it manifest, as I ought to speak.
5 Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time.
6 Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.
I would imagine that if we were to take a poll among us of our biggest spiritual struggles, the two topics raised in these verses would probably in the top 5. Verses 2–4 challenge us to be devoted to prayer, and I have not met many Christians who are satisfied with their prayer lives. Most of us know we need to do better. And vv. 5–6 challenge us to live evangelistically, and again, I’ve not met many Christians who are satisfied with how often they share the gospel. Again, most of us feel like we need to be better evangelists.
Therefore, although this isn’t a particularly complex text, I’d like to divide it into 2 sermons, because we need to be challenged on these topics. I know that I do. It was very good for me to spend time this week reflecting on my prayer life, and I imagine that you probably need to reflect on yours.
With this in mind, we are going to narrow in today on vv. 2–4 and on the subject of prayer. I think you can see pretty easily that there are two major sections to these verses. Verse 2 commands us to make prayer a priority, and in vv. 3–4 Paul asks that the Colossians keep his ministry in mind as they pray. Therefore, I have two main points I want to challenge us with today. First…
I. Devote yourself to prayer (v. 2).
This verse gives 3 descriptions of a praying life that I’d like to use to give 3 challenges. First…
Make prayer a priority. The verse begins with the central command for vv. 2–4, “Continue earnestly in prayer.” The point of this command is not so much to describe the intensity with which we pray, as if we need to have some emotionally strained spirit when we pray, though we obviously should pray fervently.
Rather, the point is that prayer must be a priority or a way of life. I like how the ESV translates it when it says, “Continue steadfastly in prayer.” My prayer life can’t rise and fall with my moods or the busyness of life. God says I must be devoted to a praying life, where I give serious time to prayer.
This is because prayer is at the very center of a godly life. Robert Murray M’Cheyne was absolutely right when he said, “What a man is alone on his knees before God, that he is, and no more.” What a statement! We can look so good to others. We are doing well at work, our families look put together, and we’re serving at church. We look like good Christians! But M’Cheyne says that it means very little if it isn’t rooted in a healthy prayer life. Why is that? I’d like to offer 4 heart symptoms that manifest themselves in a lack of devotion to prayer. First a weak prayer life demonstrates that…
#1: We think too much of ourselves. For example, some mornings when I get to the church I’m already anxious about everything I have to get done. Often I feel the weight of preparing an excellent sermon, and I actually think, “I’ve got too much sermon prep to begin with prayer.” I actually believe my excellence will create dynamic services and a healthy church.
It’s absurd, and yet I would guess that I’m not the only one who thinks that way. Parents, are you ever so busy instructing your kids that you don’t have time to pray for them? Have you ever been to busy with pressures at work to ask God for help? Or here at church we are all so busy, busy, busy running an excellent program that we don’t have time to pray. We begin to believe that our excellence can change the hearts of people.
And my point is not that we shouldn’t work hard at all of these things, but if we are too busy to pray, we’ve lost sight of how little we are. We are just clay pots, who desperately need the hand of God. Don’t lose sight of how little you actually are. 2nd, it demonstrates that…
#2: We think too little of God. We can talk about the fact that we serve a sovereign God who “owns the cattle on a thousand hills.” We can say that all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are found in him. But often it doesn’t show in how we pray. Do you pray like someone who believes God is the answer to all your problems? Do you pray like someone who believes that God can perform miracles or that he can give wisdom for all the troubling questions of life?
We serve a great God, who is full of power, wisdom and abundant grace. If I clearly see God’s glory, I’m going cry out to him for grace. See who God is, believe in his grace, and devote yourself to prayer. 3rd, a weak prayer life demonstrates that…
#3: We don’t share God’s priorities. So often our hearts crave for financial security and entertainment. We want to look good to others, and we want friendship. The common denominator with all of these is that they are usually within my reach if I just try hard enough. But the things that really matter to God are clearly outside my reach.
I can’t grasp holiness on my own, and I can’t save my children or any of the lost people around me. I can’t protect you from spiritual warfare, grow this church into maturity, or see it make a powerful impact for the gospel in our community. Only God can do the kinds of things that weigh heaviest on his heart. Therefore, if I share God’s priorities I’m going to pray because God has to do these things. Therefore, we need to reflect the heart of God and then devote ourselves to praying for the things that weight heaviest on his heart. A 4th problem is…
#4: We don’t value our relationship with our Father. I’m often challenged by Jesus’ words in Luke 10:41–42, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part,” speaking of how she sat at Jesus’ feet and listened to him.
There is no greater gift we can enjoy than to be near to our Father. The nearness of God will be the greatest blessing of eternity, and when we approach the throne of grace in prayer, we enjoy a foretaste of that blessing. Therefore, we need to learn how to pull ourselves away from all the vain distractions of life and to like Mary, sit quietly at the feet of Jesus, marveling at the wonderful privilege of prayer. Devote yourself to prayer.
And we also need to learn how to do this as a church. I say this because in context, Paul is primarily concerned with congregational prayer when we meet for worship, since he is speaking to the church as a whole. Therefore, God is saying we must give serious attention to prayer in our worship.
And we really need this challenge today because so often churches believe that people are too ADD for us to spend much time in prayer. If we pray too much people will get distracted or it will kill the mood. Many times, prayer is just a way to transition from one part of the service to another or to smoothly get the choir off the stage. We’ve made church juvenile.
But one of the greatest tests of a church’s maturity is how it prays together. When God’s people can voice significant prayers and can endure in prayer, it says something about how their private practices. And I do believe this is an area where Life Point needs to grow. Since I’ve been here, we’ve dedicated several Sunday night services entirely to prayer, and without fail, we have significantly smaller crowds those evenings. Why is that?
Is it because people don’t know how to pray? Is it that we only come when church is interesting? Or do we not sense our desperate need of God? It’s concerning. I’m challenged as a pastor that I need to teach and model devotion to prayer, and as a people we need to build our dependence on God and our endurance in prayer. We must make prayer a priority. The second challenge in v. 2 is that we must…
Cultivate awareness for prayer. It’s very likely that Paul wrote this verse thinking of Jesus’ exhortation in Luke 21:34–36. Jesus warns his disciples not to get caught up in the cares and temporary pleasures of this world and thereby miss the signs that history is moving toward the coming of the Lord.
Rather, Jesus says, “Watch…and pray.” His point is that we must remain alert to what God is doing around us, and to what he wants to do in us, and then we must respond in prayer. Similarly, our text says that if we want to be devoted to prayer, we must remain watchful. Rather than getting sucked into the rat race of life, we must maintain a spiritual focus that drives us to pray for the things that matter to God. So how do we cultivate this kind of watchful, alert attitude of prayer? I’d like to offer 4 simple practices I’d challenge you to embrace. First…
Prioritize prayer in your schedule. Do you have a chunk of time blocked off in your daily schedule when you give all your attention to prayer? If not, you need to find a way to make it happen. You might need to get up earlier, or go to bed later. You might need to cut out a hobby or part of your lunch break. But regardless find a time, because I can about guarantee that there is something in your life that is less important than getting on your knees at the throne of grace and communing with your Lord. Second…
Discipline yourself to disconnect. We live in a culture where we are always trying to do 3 things at once. We should offer little prayers throughout our day even as we talk with people and do tasks. But we also have to find a way to get alone with the Lord, and give him our full attention.
And I know that even when we try our minds sometimes wonder, and it’s so frustrating. One simple way to combat this is to use a prayer list or some kind of pattern that keeps you on track. As well, pick a time of day when your mind is sharp and not cluttered by many things. Folks, God deserves our full attention so discipline yourself to disconnect and focus on him. Third…
Pray for spiritual priorities. This is a very important aspect of what Paul is saying with this verb. If we are going to be devoted to prayer, we must be alert to the things that matter to God. Therefore, discipline yourself to pray for Great Commission priorities. Pray for the lost, pray for victory in spiritual warfare, pray for a growing knowledge of God and heart of holiness. Pray for God’s name to be glorified.
One simple way you can help yourself do this is to pray the prayers of Scripture. In particular several of Paul’s epistles include prayer testimonies that can serve as a wonderful model. I printed out a sheet for today that includes all of these prayers. I’d encourage you to pick one up and learn to pray like Paul so that you are alert to God’s concerns. Fourth…
Build habits of dependence. When you are up against a difficult challenge, is it your natural response to pray? You may know that you need God, but learn to take a moment and ask God for help. God will hear your prayers, but it will also build into you a sense of spiritual alertness that will lead to more prayer. Prayer breeds prayer. Christian be “vigilant in prayer.”
We are engaged in a war of cosmic proportion that is far beyond us. We must see the battle, and see that if God is for us no one can stand against us. And then we must pray accordingly. And then the 3rd challenge in v. 2 is…
Flavor your prayers with thanksgiving. Paul ends v. 2 by saying that all of our prayers must be flavored with thanksgiving to God. And so Paul returns to a theme that has come up over and over in Colossians. 1:12–14 said that thankfulness, and especially thankfulness for the work of the gospel is at the heart of godliness. 2:7 said that walking in Christ will result in abundant thanksgiving. And 3:15, 16, and 17 all said that the work of God’s grace in our midst will cause thankfulness to bubble over.
And here in 4:2, Paul says that our prayers cannot merely be a laundry list of requests. No, prayer is worship, and it is fellowship with our Father, and one of the most significant ways we honor him is to reflect on the multitude of his blessings but especially as 1:13–14 say, that “He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood the forgiveness of sins.” We must rejoice every day in the grace of the gospel.
And this kind of thanksgiving is essential to a right perspective on life. Pastor Kris was absolutely right when he said in Sunday School last week that the narrative of our lives that we choose to remember time after time, is the narrative that we will believe. If I’m always thinking about what I need or want, I’m going to think like a victim, and I’m going to think that God has let me down. But if I constantly rehearse how God lifted me out of darkness into light, and bestows grace upon grace, I’ll have joy.
Be thankful, and express it to God. And in general be devoted to prayer. How we need the challenge of v. 2. But Paul’s not done. Verses 3–4 challenge us to…
II. Pray for the advance of the gospel (vv. 3–4).
After calling the Colossians to give themselves to prayer, Paul follows by turning their attention to just one priority in prayer—the advance of the gospel. Grammatically, there are 2 prayer requests in these verses, but I’d like to branch it out into 3. First…
Pray for gospel partners. It’s very instructive for us to notice throughout Paul’s letters that even though Paul was an apostle, he never saw himself as a lone ranger. No, he always speaks of the churches as being significant partners in the work God had given him. When they sent him money, they weren’t just making a donation; they were partnering in his ministry. He talks over and over about how God lifted him through the encouragement of the churches and God’s work in them. And even though he was the Apostle Paul, he knew that he needed the prayers of the churches, because his mission was far beyond his ability. He needed them to partner in prayer.
This is exactly what he is doing here, and it truly is incredible. Paul had never visited Colossae, and he had only met a handful of these people. But even while they were far away from Paul, they could partner in his ministry through lifting him up in prayer.
Maybe you feel very inadequate to do much ministry yourself. You can’t imagine ministering to children or being in any sort of teaching position, so you feel useless. Or maybe you are getting older, and your body is breaking down. Your heart is torn when we talk about the needs we have because you want to serve, but you can’t. But isn’t it incredible that no matter what limitations you may have, you can participate in the world’s greatest mission by faithfully praying for gospel partners.
You may have a hard time getting out of bed in the morning, but without even moving, you can pray for a Bible Institute class on the other side of the world that God is using to raise up Tanzanian pastors. You can help to bring down the hand of God in dark, spiritually dead culture like Wales. You can lift the hands of the McPhillips as they labor in Roseville, and you can participate in preaching the gospel to children and teens in Southern California by praying for the Lawsons, Magees, and Shad. What an opportunity!
I hope that you read our missionary letters, and I hope that you regularly pray for their works, because your prayers are a significant partnership in their ministry. And I hope that you do the same for Life Point. Pray that God would work in Apple Valley. Take time on Wednesdays to pray that God would save souls through AWANA and teens. Pray that the gospel would find fertile soil on Sundays when unbelievers are with us. Make the spread of the gospel a primary subject of your prayer life. The 2nd request in v. 3 is…
Pray for gospel opportunities. There are several fascinating aspects to this request. For one, this is the only place in Colossians where Paul mentions the fact that he is in prison. Assuming that Paul wrote Colossians during his first Roman imprisonment, he was probably chained to a soldier while on house arrest. That would be tough. Of course, Paul wanted to be released, but his release from prison is not even significant enough for him to raise it as a prayer request. No, he is consumed with the advance of the gospel.
As a result, he doesn’t request prayer for a door for himself, but for a door for the Word, because God’s Word illuminated by the power of the Spirit is what changes hearts. Paul didn’t really care what happened to him as long as the gospel was going forth. And he knew that no physical chains could bind the gospel. I love what Paul says in 2 Timothy 2:9. “For (the gospel) I suffer trouble as an evildoer, even to the point of chains; but the word of God is not chained.” There is nothing the government or law enforcement or any evil power can do to stop the gospel.
Therefore, Paul understood that his chains or any other type of adversity do not equal a closed door for the gospel. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 16:8–9, “I will tarry in Ephesus until Pentecost. For a great and effective door has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.” Everywhere Paul went he seemed to face opposition, but he never saw it as a closed door. Rather, he saw it as normal spiritual warfare.
This is convicting for us, because so often the moment someone gets a little on edge about our witness, we think God is closing the door. Or we think that the hostility in our culture might stop the gospel. But we need to remember that the gospel is not bound. And tying this to v. 2, we need to be alert to the cosmic war taking place and to the fact that we live in the last days, and then we need to pray for the advance of the Word. We need to pray that Word would go forward in the HD, in SoCal, in America, and around world. And then the 3rd request we should pray is…
Pray for clear communication. This is an incredibly encouraging prayer request for Paul to make, because most of us get frustrated at times with our inability to communicate the gospel as well as we would like or our inability to give that stunningly perfect reply when someone asks a question.
But here’s Paul who has written inspired epistles, and who has shared the gospel time after time, and he is concerned about his ability to clearly communicate the gospel. It’s possible that Paul is anticipating his upcoming trial before Caesar. He knew that it would be a tricky setting. But more than he was concerned to gain his freedom; he was concerned to preach the gospel clearly.
But in general, Paul also was concerned that God would give wisdom in how to best share Christ in each setting with each individual. And we can see throughout Acts that Paul didn’t have a cookie-cutter gospel presentation he always used. No, he adapted to each situation in an effort to make the gospel clear to that particular audience.
And we should also be concerned about clearly articulating the gospel, and we should pray that the Lord would give us wisdom. And we should also pray that the Lord would do the same for those who teach and preach at Life Point and for our missionaries, because making the gospel clear in a foreign culture is no easy task.
Christian, be devoted to prayer. Prayer is a wonderful, gracious gift of God. We can kneel at the throne of grace in the presence of our Father and now that he will give whatever grace is necessary. Take advantage of this gift. Devote yourself to it.
And specifically devote yourself to a lifestyle of prayer that is alert to the spiritual significance of the times in which we live. Satan is active trying to destroy the faith of God’s people, and he is trying to rip this church apart. He is blinding the hearts of unbelievers all over the world, and his target is on the backs of our missionaries and pastors. Pray for protection, and pray the advance of the gospel.
But I want to close today by saying that this wonderful privilege of prayer only belongs to those who have been born again. The Bible teaches over and over that our sin is a brick wall between the throne of grace and sinners. And there is nothing you can do to make yourself acceptable enough to approach the Lord. You need grace in order to approach the throne grace, and this grace is available in Christ. If you will repent of your sin and put your faith in what Jesus accomplished on the cross, you can be saved, you can be made acceptable to God, and you can enjoy the wonderful privilege of prayer. Please do that today.