Let me ask you a question. How is your prayer life going during lockdown?
Personally, I have found it a blessing to have more time to pray, yet I’ve found that I easily get stuck in a rut with praying for the same things for the same people in the same way. And that’s why I’m thankful to God for the time I have had to dwell on these two Bible verses in Colossians 1:9-10. It has given me time to allow Paul and Timothy’s prayer for the Colossians to refresh my own prayer life. I hope that my experience will be your experience too this evening.
If you’re not a Christian watching this evening – or even a pray-er of any sort, the prayers in the Bible are still really important to face up to. Seeing how Christians pray gives you a behind-the-scenes window into our priorities – and our prayers introduce you to our God who can answer such ambitious prayers.
Let’s pray as we start.
Father, please refresh us with a deeper commitment to prayer and a greater vision in prayer. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
1. Paul and Timothy Encourage Us to Have a Fresh Commitment to Prayer (v.9a)
This evening, I have two simple lessons we can learn from Paul and Timothy’s prayer for the Colossians. Firstly, by their example, they encourage us to have a fresh commitment to prayer (v.9a). Look at verse 9,
"And so (following on from v.3-8), from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you."
Paul has never actually met these believers in person. He writes later in chapter 2 verse 1:
"For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face"
He and Timothy have heard news about the Colossians from one of their own, the church leader Epaphras, one of Paul’s co-workers. And in chapter 1 verse 4, we see that Epaphras has passed on to Paul and Timothy good news of the Colossians’ faith in Jesus and their love for other believers. And Paul and Timothy’s response to this good news is to continue ceaselessly in prayer for these young but spiritually vibrant believers!
And here already are three lessons we can learn from Paul and Timothy to refresh us in our commitment to prayer.
1) Don’t limit your praying to Christians you know!
It’s very striking that Paul has never met these Colossian believers face-to-face. He only knows their pastor Epaphras! And yet he and Timothy have not ceased to pray for them.
So, let me ask: are you praying regularly for any Christians you don’t know? You reply to me: how can I pray for them if I don’t have news from them? Well, let me give you some suggestions about how you might do this:
- how about praying for our persecuted brothers and sisters by using the Barnabus Fund prayer guide? Or material from Open Doors?
- or what about praying for different countries around the world by working through Operation World in a year, as I’ve done before?
- Or how about watching the 2-minute ‘Pray Around the World’ videos on Clayton TV in your prayer time each day, followed by a short time of prayer for that country?
- maybe you could pray for one other evangelical church in your city? Or for one particular church plant elsewhere in the country?
- or you could subscribe to feeds from the Anglican Mission in England (AMIE) or the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches (FIEC) to pray for a range of gospel churches around the UK?
Be creative! Just whatever you do, don’t limit your praying to Christians you know!
2) Make sure you don’t forget to pray for Christians who are growing spiritually!
In case you’re confused by that, let me explain what I mean! I wonder how much of your praying – whether for yourself or for others – is ‘crisis-prompted’ prayer? A friend has stopped coming to church. Someone in your homegroup has started a romantic relationship with someone who is not a Christian. A Christian you look up to is deeply fed up with God because they have recently been made redundant. It is totally right to be concerned about these brothers and sisters in spiritual need – and to pray earnestly for them!
But what about these people? The friend who became a Christian six months ago and is now starting to speak about Jesus at work. The Christian married couple who are slowly making real progress in forgiving each other for past hurts. The small group leader who is always cheerful, despite ongoing health concerns. I think it’s very easy not to pray for these people, because we think: 'They are doing well!' 'They don’t need our prayers!' 'I’ll save my prayers for spiritual 999 calls!'
But we should pray for them too! Because Paul did! He heard about a small group of Christians in Colosse who had great faith in Jesus Christ and real love for other Christians, they were growing in their faith, and yet what was his response? To pray for them! Let’s copy his example.
And just on that point, if you’re watching and you’re not a Christian, maybe you think praying is a kind of psychological crutch for Christians to bring personal needs to God when times are difficult. I hope you can see that the vision for Christian prayer is much bigger than that! Certainly, we are not ashamed to bring our personal needs to God in prayer when we need help, but we always want to be praying for others to grow spiritually.
3) Plan to pray in an organised and intentional way!
Paul and Timothy wrote in verse 9: "we have not ceased to pray for you." Now when they wrote we have not ceased, they didn’t mean they were praying literally every single hour of the day. Paul writes in Romans 1:9-10 that he also prayed for the Christians in Rome without ceasing!
So what do they mean? If you say to me: 'Since lockdown, I’ve been on Zoom all the time', I don’t understand by those words that you have been literally been glued to your computer screen for 24 hours a day without sleep! I just understand that Zoom has been a constant, regular, daily companion for you at this time. In this sense Paul and Timothy prayed without ceasing for the Colossians.
And friends, if we are to copy their example, this will mean us planning to pray in a more organised and intentional way. And getting organised to pray may mean ringing the changes in our prayer routines!
For me a few months ago, this meant I could delay ‘the great digital transfer’ no longer! I transferred all my prayer material from my paper ‘prayer folder’ which was full of printed A4 prayer letters – to the App PrayerMate which I can use on my smartphone. This meant I could receive prayer updates from various Christian mission organisations and charities automatically – and I could save prayer letters in PDF form without needing to print them.
Depending on your personal circumstances and routines, PrayerMate might not be the right thing for you. But whether or not you use PrayerMate, make a wishlist of everyone, every church, every mission agency you want to pray for (including some people you’ve never met!), create a system, either online or in paper form, and get praying!
This is not just something for church workers like me to be doing! Certainly those who are in full-time gospel ministry have a particular responsibility to pray. But Paul instructs all the believers in Colossians 4.2 to: "Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it, with thanksgiving." Plan to pray in a more organised and intentional way!
That’s the first thing we can learn from Paul and Timothy. Fresh commitment to prayer.
2. Paul and Timothy Encourage Us to Have Fresh Vision in Prayer (v.9b-10)
What exactly were Paul and Timothy praying for the Colossians? Look at verse 9 again:
"And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding…"
Now it’s easy to be impressed by the sound of spiritual prayers like this one without understanding what they mean!! So let’s take it a step at a time.
1) Pray for other believers to have a deeper grasp of God’s salvation plan
In the Bible ‘God’s will’ can mean either God’s moral will (how he wants us to live) or his permissive will (what he allows to happen), but here in Colossians Paul has something else in mind – he is speaking about God’s salvation plan in Christ, which he goes on to explain in the rest of chapters 1-2. They want these believers to go on being filled with a better spiritual understanding of everything God has done for them in Christ, in whom, as chapter 2 verse 3 says are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
So Paul and Timothy are praying for the Colossians to grasp God’s wonderful salvation plan more deeply and more vigorously.
But why are Paul and Timothy asking God to give these things in particular to the Colossian Christians?
In part, they positively want to see them continue to grow spiritually. But in part, it’s also preventative medicine. From chapter 2, we see that they want the Colossians to avoid moving away from the faith as they hear voices which say: 'Christ isn’t enough. You need to be circumcised.' Or 'It’s great you believe in Jesus, but to grow, you need access to special dreams and visions.'
The ‘spiritual top-up packs’ available – then and now – can look ‘clever’. So Paul and Timothy pray constantly for the Colossians to grasp more deeply the wisdom of God’s rescue plan, so they don’t fall for second-rate alternatives.
And this means that we need to change our focus away from praying in a wooden manner for events – and pray for people to radically benefit from Bible teaching opportunities – so that they increase in spiritual wisdom and understanding. Let me give a very practical example.
We have Foundations, our church’s annual Bible teaching conference for our undergraduate students online from Monday to Wednesday this week. How should we pray for Foundations? Well, yes – please pray for those preparing Bible teaching (Matt Elder and I in particular!), yes – definitely pray for the technology to work – and yes – pray for many students to come to Foundations. But what do we long for God to do through Foundations?
From verse 9, pray for God to fill the students with his understanding and give them spiritual wisdom through the Bible teaching in Foundations. Pray that they would grow so confident and assured in the gospel that they would not be tempted to mix it with the barrage of popular false ideologies and philosophies around today. Rather pray for them to stick with Jesus and grow in their faith.
But there’s more! There’s still more we can be praying for these students at Foundations – and for any other Christians too! Let’s move on to verse 10.
2) Pray for other believers to honour God more in the way they live
Paul and Timothy write:
"And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God."
The language of ‘walking’ is used later to talk about ‘living God’s way’. So in chapter 2 verses 6 and 7, Paul commands the Colossians to keep walking in a godly way:
"…as you received Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving."
And in chapter 3 verse 5 to 7, Paul commands them to no longer walk as before:
"Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them"
What Paul and Timothy are doing here is to pray for the Colossians to take to heart the message of the letter they have written to them! They are praying that they will understand and obey the teaching in the rest of the Colossians! They are praying that, having grasped God’s amazing salvation plan more deeply, they will then live in a way which honours God and fully pleases him.
So, brothers and sisters, we cannot just listen to this series of sermons in Colossians 1 each Sunday evening and expect automatic spiritual growth. We must pray earnestly that God would fill us with all spiritual wisdom and understanding as we listen, so that we then live lives which honour God.
But there’s still more to this prayer! Let’s continue in v.10. Paul and Timothy pray for the Colossians to be bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.
Before they came to know Jesus, Paul says of the Colossians in chapter 1 verse 21 that they were once alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds. But now they have been reconciled! And God has work for them to do! As Christians today, we have not been saved from hell to sit around idly and amble our way to heaven! We have work to do! We have good works to do for Jesus! He has prepared them for us! Let us pray for his help to do them!
3) Pray for other believers to know God better
And these good works are not something totally separate from our relationship to the Lord. They are part of it. It is as we increase our knowledge of God that we are more and more keen to serve him.
And at this point, Paul and Timothy’s prayer loops back to the beginning! Being filled with a knowledge of God’s will – his salvation plan (in v.9) leads us to increase in the knowledge of God (v.10). Know God’s plan better, know God better! Know God’s salvation plan more fully, know God more intimately! Such is the awe-inspiring sweep of Paul and Timothy’s prayer for the Colossians! And such are the prayers God wants us to be praying for other Christians!
Father, we are sorry that we are not committed to prayer as we should be and that our prayers are not ambitious enough. Expand our prayer horizons and move us to constantly pray for the spiritual growth of other Christians. And fill us all with your spiritual wisdom, so that we live lives which are more pleasing to you, rich in good works and advance in knowing you more. We pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.