A message by Pastor Bill Mann on Wednesday, January 9, 2019 at King’s Grace Fellowship.
We are studying the how’s, whys and what’s of Paul’s prayers. The Bible of course will always be our chief source of information and inspiration that continues to shape our prayer life as we study the prayers that are recorded. One way this takes place is the more we learn about God, His ways, and His perspectives, the more we increase our understanding of basic theology and of prayer.
Yet another way our prayer life grows can be very specific. Imagine learning to barter in prayer with Abraham, or to argue in prayer with Moses, perhaps even to sing with David. What would it look like to pray the prayer Jesus Himself taught us? And of course, to learn to pray with Paul. D.A Carson says:
. . . we must ask ourselves how far the petitions we commonly present to God are in line with what Paul prays for. Suppose, for example, that 80 or 90 percent of our petitions ask God for good health, recovery from illness, safety on the road, a good job, success in exams, the emotional needs of our children, success in our mortgage application, and much more of the same. How much of Paul’s praying revolves around equivalent items?D. A. Carson, Praying with Paul: A Call to Spiritual Reformation, Second Edition. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2014), 76–77.
That quote really got me. It’s not a bad thing to invite God into every aspect of our lives, but to be so adsorbed in our own stuff without being the intercessors God has called us all to be, speaks of unintended shallowness. I think that’s why we need to study prayers like those of Paul. Our text tonight provides us with some fascinating lessons. Let’s read:
Lessons From The Setting of Paul’s Prayer
I found this interesting that Paul writes that “since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you” (Col. 1:9). This is different from the first prayers we’ve looked at. In those prayers, Paul prayed for believers whom he personally knew. After all, he did plant those churches. But here Paul is writing to a church he has never visited, a church that was probably founded by Epaphras, a Colossian himself who was probably led to the Lord through Paul’s ministry in Ephesus (Col. 1:7; 4:12–13; Acts 19:1, 8–10).
Even though Paul had never visited them, he assures the Colossian believers that he is praying for them and that he never really stops. As often as Paul received new reports of God’s work in Colossae Paul continues his intercession for them.
So, here’s something to think about. Do all our prayer requests revolve around our own families and churches, our own small, close knit circle of friends? Don’t get me wrong, we have been given a great charge to pray for our circles of influence. If we don’t, who will? Yet, if that’s the extent of our prayers, we become very narrow in our prayer focus. Again from Dr. Carson:
. . . it will do us good to fasten on reports of Christians in several parts of the world we have never visited, find out what we can about them, and learn to intercede with God on their behalf. Not only is this an important expression of the fellowship of the church, but it is also a critical discipline that will enlarge our horizons, increase our ministry, and help us to become world Christians.D. A. Carson, Praying with Paul: A Call to Spiritual Reformation, Second Edition. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2014), 78.
2. Paul prays unceasingly.
From the many passages dealing with this, Paul is always praying for people. Again, from verse 9, “since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you”. I think at times when we read about Paul unceasing prayer life, we get discouraged by our own because we don’t view ourselves as intercessory giants. I don’t believe that Paul was “mystical” in his praying, going about with a prayer always on his lips. But he maintained a spirit of prayer as he went about his normal activities. Rom. 1:9-10 suggests that he maintained set times for prayer. To put it another way, Paul is telling the Colossians that since hearing about them, he has made it a point to intercede with God on their behalf in his disciplined, regular prayer times; he has “not stopped praying” for them.
Here’s the point: When Paul tells the Colossians that he has “not stopped praying for them,” he implies that there are some things we must pray for people again and again. Of course, this unceasing nature of his praying serves as a model which encourages us to learn how to be persistence in prayer. It also should pique our curiosity. Carson asks the questions:
What does Paul think he should pray for constantly, whether on behalf of the Colossians or on behalf of anyone else? Is this what we pray for constantly?D. A. Carson, Praying with Paul: A Call to Spiritual Reformation, Second Edition. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2014), 79.
3. Paul links thanksgiving(s) to requests.
In verse 9 Paul says, “For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you”. Once again, we are able to observe that Paul’s petitions are in some ways linked to his thanksgiving (vv. 3–7). Most generally we pray for people and situations when they have fallen into desperate need, yet Paul’s common practice was to pray for ongoing concerns.
Many of us pray when things are going well. But consider our propensity to pray with much more urgency when things are going badly? When there is illness, financial pressure, moral failure, dissension in the church, a difficult decision, tensions in the family—those are the times when we are driven to prayer. That’s not bad in and of itself, but, if we pray only at those times, we are overlooking this great lesson from the Paul’s prayer life.
Paul seems to always be linking his thanksgiving for signs of grace in the lives of believers, with his requests for more signs of grace in the lives of the same believers. This is not accidental. The good news he hears of them does not inspire mere thanks alone give him specific requests that he lifts before God.
Doubtless Paul intercedes when there are barriers to be hurdled; the point here is that he also intercedes when there are signs of life and power and grace, for his concern is that such signs should be protected and increased.D. A. Carson, Praying with Paul: A Call to Spiritual Reformation, Second Edition. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2014), 80.
So, we should ask ourselves, are we more inclined to pray when our church is about to split, (it’s not) or when people are coming to the Lord? Are we as eager to pray for our kids when they seem to be making great progress in the faith as when they are caving into worldly influences? Do we ask God for continued signs of grace and genuine love among Christians we know when we see evidence of those virtues in them already? “Do we seriously pray for ongoing concerns?”D. A. Carson, Praying with Paul: A Call to Spiritual Reformation, Second Edition. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2014), 80.
Lessons from the Content of the Prayer
So, what is it, then, that Paul again and again prays for on behalf of the Colossian believers? In this prayer, there is really only one petition, followed by a statement of its purpose and a description of the way God’s answer to the petition works out in daily life.
Let’s think through what Paul may have meant by “the knowledge of [God’s] will” with which he wants believers to be filled. Most often when we use the expression the will of God, we use it to refer to God’s will for our vocation or for some aspect of our future that is determined by an impending choice. We “seek the Lord’s will” over whom we should marry, over major purchases, over what church to attend when we move to a new city. None of this is intrinsically bad.
Yet our focus at times can be misled because it this encourages us to think of “the Lord’s will” primarily in terms of our own future, our vocation, our needs which is really not the way the Bible speaks of the will of God.
Consider this passage:
Psalm 143:10 (NKJV)
10 Teach me to do Your will, For You are my God; Your Spirit is good. Lead me in the land of uprightness.
To do the will of God in this passage is virtually synonymous with obeying what God has mandated. What God has mandated is his will; our responsibility is to do it.
The psalmist does not . . . encourage us to find God’s will, . . . he assumes it is already known. Rather, he is concerned with [our] performance of that will. When he says “Teach me,” he does not say, “Teach me your will,” but “Teach me to do your will.”D. A. Carson, Praying with Paul: A Call to Spiritual Reformation, Second Edition. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2014), 81.
In Romans, Paul says:
Romans 12:2 (NIV)
2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Here the assumption is that the transformation of character and conduct brought about by the renewal of the Christian’s mind is precisely what equips such a Christian to test and approve God’s will—that is, to discover personally and experientially that God’s ways are best.
Elsewhere Paul says:
Ephesians 5:15–17 (NIV)
15 Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish but understand what the Lord’s will is.
To “understand what the Lord’s will is” cannot be reduced to a mere intellectual pursuit. Carson writes:
When some perpetually morose and whining Christians come to me, I tell them I know what God’s will is for their lives: “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” It is folly to pretend to seek God’s will for your life, in terms of a marriage partner or some form of Christian vocation, when there is no deep desire to pursue God’s will as he has already . . . revealed it.D. A. Carson, Praying with Paul: A Call to Spiritual Reformation, Second Edition. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2014), 82.
And of course, the purpose of this request is straight forward in Paul’s thinking. Verse 10 says:
Colossians 1:10 (NKJV)
10 that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God;
We have heard this before (2 Thess. 1:5). But here the language is stronger yet, because it is more personal. Carson suggests that our thoughts should be along this line of reason:
If we are to join Paul in his petition, we will have to align ourselves with his motives: “And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way.” In thought, word, and deed, in action and in reaction, I must be asking myself, “What would Jesus have me do? What is speech or conduct worthy of him? What sort of speech or conduct in this context should I avoid, simply because it would shame him? What would please him the most?”D. A. Carson, Praying with Paul: A Call to Spiritual Reformation, Second Edition. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2014), 85–86.
The incessant marketing of the phrase “WWJD” wore out the important notion behind the phrase. “What would Jesus do?” Just because the phrase has been over used, does not mean that we shouldn’t consider the notion in everything that we do. We want our lives to matter. We want to honor Christ in all that we do. So, this prayer for this reason is a great prayer to pray for ourselves and for people always which God is desirous to answer.
So, what does a “pleasing” life to the Lord look like?
We know that “real” Christians are saved “by grace”, “through faith,” “and this [is]… not by works, so that no one can boast” (Eph. 2:8–9). But God’s free grace in our lives has an irreducible purpose: “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:10).D. A. Carson, Praying with Paul: A Call to Spiritual Reformation, Second Edition. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2014), 86.
David “strengthened himself in the Lord” because he’d learned how to access God’s strength.) Paul really wants this for believers because he knows they will need God’s power and strength to endure with joy and patience.
So, as I bring this teaching to a close, let me share one last quote from Dr. Carson to sum it all up.
Christians . . . bear fruit in every good work. They grow in the knowledge of God, they are strengthened by God’s power so as to display great endurance and patience, and they joyfully give thanks to the Father for the astonishing salvation he has granted them through the Son he loves, Jesus Christ.D. A. Carson, Praying with Paul: A Call to Spiritual Reformation, Second Edition. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2014), 89.