Powerful Praying with Paul – 5. Wanted: Bold Believers!
Colossians 4: 2 - 4
So how is your prayer life? “It depends. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s not so good.” Prayer can be easy or difficult depending on many factors. There are days when we seem to touch heaven with our prayers, and other days when our words seem to bounce off the ceiling. Regardless of how we feel, if we want to know God better, nothing matters more than our prayers. Nearly 1400 verses in the Bible speak about prayer. If you want to grow spiritually, you must learn to pray effectively. There is no shortcut to spiritual growth. Prayer is essential.
Facts and Excuses about Prayer
Prayer makes a difference - we don’t know how - we just know it does. Prayer brings wisdom. Prayer provides strength for difficult times. Prayer convicts us of areas in our life that need changing. Prayer brings us assurance of our position in the Father. We know these things by heart. We know by experience that “prayer changes things.” We know that prayer changes us and it changes the world around us. We know that God gave prayer to us as a wonderful gift. Then why don’t we pray more than we do?
6 excuses we make - do any of these sound familiar? “I am too busy to pray.” “I feel too spiritually dry to pray.” “I feel no need to pray.” “I am too bitter to pray.” “I am too ashamed to pray.” These excuses amount to nothing at all. We fail to pray because we don’t want to pray. If we wanted to pray more, we would.
Whenever someone preaches on prayer, if you’ve gone to church for many years, it’s tempting to say, “Hey, I already know this. Tell me something I don’t know.” I smile when I hear that because one of my jobs as a pastor is to tell you what you already know - and then to tell you over and over and over again. Some things are so important that we need to be constantly reminded of them. Nowhere is that more true than in the area of prayer. The question is not, “Do you already know this?” but rather “What are you doing about it?”
We’re looking at the prayers of Paul in the letters he wrote to different churches. Today we’re looking at something different. This is not a prayer by Paul for others; it’s a prayer request Paul made. Paul answers the question, “How should we pray?” Then he answers the question, “What should we say when we pray?” So from it we learn how to pray and what to say when we pray.
1. Three Ways to Pray Effectively
A. Be devoted to prayer v. 2a
“Devote” means to grab hold of something and not let go. It’s what happens in Tug of War. One team grabs one end of the rope and another team grabs the other end. “Pull!” - people shout -“Don’t give up. Don’t let go.” You hang on for dear life. If you lose, you end up getting dragged across the grass. To “devote” yourself to prayer means to hang on no matter what happens. You never give up on prayer even when it seems useless.
Always be ready to pray. Pray when you feel like it, pray when you don’t feel like it. Pray when you believe in it, pray when you doubt it. Pray when your heart is filled with faith, pray when you do it by habit. Paul says, “Keep at it!”
“And Jesus told them a parable, to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1). “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Doesn’t mean that every word we say has to be a prayer. But we should always be ready to pray at a moment’s notice. Keep the lines open so that you can breathe a prayer in an instant. There are times we all feel our prayers are bouncing off the ceiling. In those times when we want to give up, we must keep on praying in spite of how we feel.
B. Be watchful in prayer v. 2b
“Stay awake” - good advice for prayer and also for Sunday morning! This is a call for earnest prayer. It is the opposite of sleepiness, laziness, coldness or indifference. Have you ever noticed how easy it is to be distracted when you pray? Just as you bow your head, the phone rings, or some music distracts you, or you suddenly remember something. A thousand things come crowding into your mind. Sometimes it seems as if the devil’s best work comes when we decide to pray. He unloads his full armoury of distractions against us.
James 5: 16 - “effective fervent prayers” of the righteous person. They “avail much” with God. They matter to God. He pays attention. Greek word for “fervent” means “boiling.” Boiling prayers get God’s attention. You’ll discover what that means when the doctor says, “We’re taking your child for surgery. It will probably last 2 hours.” Nothing can distract you then. Praying like this speaks of total concentration. Better a short prayer from the heart than a long prayer that puts you to sleep.
“If God is up in heaven, why do we have to close our eyes and bow our heads when we pray?” Good question. You don’t have to bow your head or close your eyes when you pray. We do that simply to keep out distractions. OT - often pray standing up, with outstretched arms, looking up to heaven, eyes wide open. Whatever helps you stay alert is the right way for you to pray.
C. Be thankful in prayer v, 2c
The Message - “Stay alert, with your eyes wide open in gratitude.” Gratitude is the doorway to every spiritual blessing. Why would God give you more if you are not thankful for what has already been given? If we don’t know what else to do when we pray, we can always find reasons to be thankful. There are only 2 basic prayers - “Help!” and “Thanks!” If we said “Thank you” to the Lord more often, we might get the help we need more often.
How to improve our daily “attitude of gratitude.” When you wake up, take 30 seconds to give thanks to the Lord for the day that stretches before you. Thank him in advance for all that will happen that day. When you are tempted to lose your temper during the day, instead of counting to 10, take a few seconds to count the blessings you have received. You may find that your anger has melted away. When you are interrupted (as we all are every day), instead of being exasperated, remember that God rules over the “interruptions” of life. When you climb into your bed at night, take 30 seconds to review the day, giving thanks for the blessings you have experienced and for God’s protection every step of the way. So there you have it. When you pray - Be devoted to prayer. Be watchful in prayer. Be thankful in prayer. This is not just good advice. These attitudes make prayer life-changing. Having told us how to pray, Paul now tells us what to pray.
2. Four Ways to Focus Your Prayers
4 very practical prayer requests. These are prayers God welcomes and desires to answer.
A. For those on the front lines of spiritual conflict v. 3a
Contains a little Greek word that means “together” or “at the same time.” “O Colossians, when you come together to worship, take time to pray together for us.” United prayer honours God because the faith of one believer strengthens another and causes a great outpouring of prayer to our Heavenly Father. I can testify that my personal prayer life improves as I pray with others.
Christians have a special duty to pray for their spiritual leaders. I know that many people have been praying for me for a long time, and I am truly grateful. But I sense the need for special prayer. All of us who labour in the Lord’s work, soon realise that our own strength is small compared with the challenges we face. It’s easy to be discouraged and overwhelmed as you consider what is required versus what you have to offer. So prayer is always needed for those who lead God’s people.
“Would you like a better pastor?” Yes, I would too. You can have one, and I can be one, if you will pray for me - not just for me but for all our pastors, all our leaders - for all our missionaries - for pastors everywhere - for Christian workers everywhere, especially for those you know personally.
B. For God-sent open doors of opportunity v. 3b
The concept of “open doors” in the NT almost always has to do with new opportunities for spreading the gospel. It might refer to someone you want to reach for Christ. It could refer to a brother or a sister, your parents or your children, or some other relative. It might be an open door to preach Christ in a new town or a new country. It could refer to an open door to reach an unreached people group. Christ himself opens and shuts the doors of opportunity (Revelation 3: 7). Therefore, we should pray to the Lord that in his grace, he will open wide the doors of opportunity so that we can make Christ known to others.
Powerful thought - we all have the opportunity to open doors for others through our prayers. You can open doors for me and I can open doors for you as we pray for each other.
There are doors waiting to be opened everywhere. Some are in our suburbs, offices and schools. Others are located in Muslim, Buddhist, or Hindu countries. Some doors are marked CLOSED, but they wait to be opened by the power of God. Would you join me in praying for God to open doors for the Word to go forth in conquering power? Let this be our prayer: “O God, blow the door off the hinges in Malawi, Libya, Saudi Arabia, China. And while you’re at it, Lord, blow open the doors in Wilro Park!”
C. For boldness despite difficult circumstances v. 3c
When Paul wrote these words, he was in prison in Rome, chained to guards 24 hours a day. He doesn’t ask his readers to pray that he might be set free. Instead, he asks for boldness in his current unpleasant circumstances. He knows he is in prison for the gospel. He got there by obeying the Lord. Therefore, God must want him there. God can use him there. He will not ask to be set free. Clearly, he is not ashamed of his present situation and he makes no attempt to hide it. He simply asks prayer for boldness to preach even while he is in chains. His message is all about Christ - the “mystery” - the story is not about Paul - it’s about Jesus! That’s the focus of his whole life.
D. For clarity in presenting the gospel v. 4
He wants to make sure that what he says is easily understood by others. Anyone can make the simple complicated; it takes wisdom to make the complicated simple. Paul knew better than anyone how to speak for Christ. He certainly knew the gospel better than these young Colossian believers. Yet he asks them to pray that he would do what he already knew how to do. The greatest Christians, the best speakers, the most powerful evangelists, the most knowledgeable teachers all need the prayers of others that they might do effectively what they are called by God to do. We must labour and pray so that our speech is clear and plain, with no ambiguous phrases, nothing left unclear, nothing hidden from our hearers. The Good News is not good news if those who hear us don’t understand what we are saying.
John Piper - “What good is an open door if no one has the courage or the clarity to go through it and speak? And what good is courage and clarity if all the doors are slammed shut on the people who need the word? Therefore pray, pray, pray.”
Changing the World through Prayer
Would you please pray for me? I know that I will not have open doors and I will not be able to communicate clearly unless you are praying for me. If you don’t pray for me and I preach a confusing sermon, it’s really your fault! I can’t take all the blame for a sermon that makes no sense! As a pastor, I can’t think of anything more encouraging than knowing that you are praying for me and for all the pastors of this church.
§ By prayer we change the world. § From our knees we can impact distant lands. § We may never preach but our prayers make the preaching of others successful. § We may never be foreign missionaries but our prayers open doors for missionaries around the world. § By prayer we partner with God’s people everywhere. We do that even though we never leave our home. So how are things at Wilro Park Baptist Church in 2010? The words of 1 Corinthians 16: 9 come to mind: “There is a wide-open door for a great work here, and many people are responding. But there are many who oppose me.” These are great days, amazing days, days when doors are opening. Yet the challenges are real and must be faced. I believe our best days are yet in front of us. God has so much more to do through us if only we will unite together to seek his face.
“O Lord, make us a praying people. O Lord, make us a praying church. O Lord, do whatever it takes to see your power unleashed here. O Lord, teach us to pray. Amen.”