Pursuing Answers to Questions of Faith & Life

Monday, January 16, 2012

Three Lessons on Prayer from Colossians 4

In the college Sunday school class at Westside Baptist Church, we’ve been going through the prayers of Paul.  It’s been a good class.  As always, I don’t always know where it’s going to end up.  And several of the students made good contributions.

Today we were going over Paul’s prayer in Colossians 4:2—“Devote (diligent or steadfast) yourselves to prayer; stay alert in it with thanksgiving.”
We learn three things about prayer in the passage.

1.    Prayer requires devotion/diligence/steadfastness
2.   Prayer requires Watchfulness/Alertness
3.   Prayer requires Thankfulness

1.    Prayer needs deliberate attention and a part of our daily existence. 
Not to be neglected, taken for granted or ignored.  We have the opportunity to approach the throne of grace by God’s invitation.

Prayer can be easy—there are times when it comes naturally and flows from the heart just like breathing.  Sometimes waking up in the morning is like that.  In many instances, difficulty or trouble causes prayer to roll off the tongue because we are asking for help.

But prayer can also be hard.  There are times when I don’t want to go to God in prayer.  It’s usually after I have messed up in some way.  Praying when I know I need to repent is difficult.  It’s sometimes hard when He is not doing what I think He should—when I’m angry, confused or upset.  It’s hard when 

I’ve been asking or praying about the same thing for a long time, but not seen any movement or activity from Him (that I can tell).

We must be devoted to Prayer, steadfast and diligent in it—showing commitment and perseverance.  We should not quit or give up because to do so is a sign that you really don’t believe God is going to hear or act—or you do not trust His answer.  For example, sometimes I pray like a child asks a parent for permission—I try to figure out which one will give me the answer I want and I’ll ask them first.  Well, if I think I know God is not going to answer, or think He’s not going to give the answer I want, I won’t want to pray.

Prayer doesn’t always come easily or naturally, so we must be diligent in it.  It should be a part of your nature and who you are, like in the movie
Shadowlands where Anthony Hopkins as C.S. Lewis says of prayer:

"I pray because I can't help myself.  I pray because I'm helpless.  I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping.  It doesn't change God.  It changes me."

2.  But why do we need to be Watchful or Alert in prayer? 
How is that possible since we typically close our eyes during prayer (at least in our culture)?  Maybe it means something more than physical sight.

One of my college students brilliantly pointed out that maybe our prayer time is a moment to be practicing and honing our “ninja senses”.  We all laughed at the comment, but maybe it’s not as far off as you might first think.  There are two ways I think he is on to something.

First, we need to be watchful or alert in prayer for the opportunity to pray and bring something before God.  People are hurting all around us, people are in need.  Moments of ministry and encouragement are there right before us, but if we are not paying attention, the door of opportunity will slip by. 

We have not because we ask not, Jesus said.  Paraphrasing… we see not (no answer to prayer) because we do not see the opportunity to pray and ask.
There are many more things that we should be praying for and bringing before God but we don’t see them as a need or something that merits praying about.   
Maybe we see them as trivial and insignificant, maybe we’re so caught up in our own life and what’s happening in that moment, that we don’t allow our mind to move toward prayer.

Nothing is too trivial.  But we are way too distracted.  We don’t like uncomfortable silences, so we are not comfortable with our own thoughts.   

We’ve always got to have noise, the TV on, music playing… while those things are not wrong, they do often prevent our mind from thinking and considering its own thoughts and concerns.

And because of that, we need to be Watchful and Alert for the Opportunity for Prayer.

Second, we need to be watchful and alert because Prayer truly is the front lines of the Battle.  We do have an enemy that is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  We do have armor that we are supposed to put on in fighting the battle that is not against flesh and blood.

In that context of the Armor of God from Ephesians 6, Paul brings up the subject of prayer.  Ephesians 6:18—“And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.”

Paul urges us to pray in the Spirit because it doesn’t happen automatically and doesn’t come naturally.  Our mind does wander, our worries do overwhelm us.  We don’t necessarily take the situation or our enemy seriously so we just go through the motions.

That last point is worth hitting a little harder.  Think of the experience of our military personnel.  When the enemy is openly firing, everybody is tense and paying close attention to the battle.  When you know the enemy is there and you just haven’t found him yet, you’re listening for any stray sound, watching for any stray movement, careful for traps and ambush points. 

But the longer the enemy has been inactive or not a threat, the more relaxed our guard becomes.  We don’t listen as carefully.  In essence, we are not taking the enemy seriously and so we are less watchful and alert.

That is the state of many believers today.  We do not directly feel threatened by the enemy.  Too many of us dismiss the spiritual battle and old superstition from people who didn’t know how to explain what’s going on the world.  In some cases, that’s true. 

But the enemy is very real and demands our full attention.  In the moments that we lose that sense of battle, when we think everything is fine, we lose the urgency of prayer.

And so we are not devoted to it and we are more likely to be going through the motions if we go through them at all.

3.  Lastly, we must be Thankful
Thankfulness requires recognition: recognition that what you have or where you are is not merely a product of your own accomplishments and ingenuity.   

Thankfulness requires that we acknowledge that Active involvement of someone greater than ourselves for our existence and circumstances. 

The old expression of 2 Certain Truths, comes to mind.   
1.  There is a God.   
2.  I’m not/You’re not Him

If you really believe that, then you will acknowledge that with Thankfulness.  Thankfulness is giving Him credit, honoring Him, acknowledging that He is the greater, the Sovereign Power before whom you have been granted an audience.

Realize that God is not obligated in any way to hear our prayer.  He is not obligated to respond in any way to our prayer. 

He could consider them a nuisance much like Jim Carrey’s character did in Bruce Almighty.  In the movie, Jim Carrey thinks he can do a better job than God at running the universe.   So God gives him a shot at it. 

In one brilliant scene, Jim is supposed to answer people’s prayer.  When he listens, all the voices overwhelm him, so he sets up a computer system, like e-mail to respond.   He works as fast as he can but the number of prayers and requests keeps on climbing to which he responds, “What a bunch of whiners!”

That could be God’s opinion of us.  Most other religions, especially ancient Babylonian depicted their gods being annoyed by the noisy humans.  But our God does not want us at a distance.  He wants us close and invites us into His presence (Hebrews 4:16, 10:19-22, 1 John 3:21-22).  He considers the prayer of His people a pleasing aroma rising to Him like the burning of incense (Revelation 5:8).  Even when we don’t know what to pray for, we have the Holy Spirit interceding on our behalf with more than we can express (Romans 8:26-27).

We have an audience with the King, the Creator of the Universe.  We owe Him our very existence and every day is a gift.  The relationships we have with family and friends are gifts.  Our possessions, our opportunities, are all for His Glory. 

If we really understood that, believed that, and lived that… Thankfulness would pour out of our mouths and prayer wouldn’t really be all that hard.  We would be compelled to pray because we know we have the audience of the king—

Such moments cannot be squandered or wasted.  We must take seriously that time before Him.  We must be watchful and alert or risk disrespecting the awesome power and authority and dignity He possesses.  And we must be thankful for those precious moments, when the Authority lowers His guard and invites us up into His lap as a Father who truly loves us.

May we be evermore Devoted to Prayer
May we be evermore Alert & Watchful through Prayer
May we be evermore Thankful in Prayer

Our lives, our churches and this world would truly be changed.

Pursuing Answers to Questions of Faith & Life


Richard said...

Again and as usual, I believe you have that rare ability to strike straight at the center of the issues facing us as Christians each day.

Prayer is essential to our daily attempts to reach our Lord and Saviour and lay before Him our concerns, our wants and our wishes.

I know that the results of my prayer may not be what I want or expect it to be but I hope that I continue to believe that God does answer all our prayers. As my Sunday School teacher continually reminds us: God does answer our prayers but He does it in His time and with His knowledge of what we truly need.

Thanks for this lesson.


Ryker said...

Good stuff brother!