Text: Colossians 1:9-14
Today is a day when we are joining together with countless other Southern Baptist churches in many different locations to answer a call to prayer. Specifically, the call to prayer is designed to ask for a spiritual awakening at every level, from the intimacy of our friends and family to the fellowship and missions work of our church and denomination and on to the furthest reaches the world. Proverbs 15:29 says, “The Lord is far from the wicked, but He hears the prayer of the righteous.” And as James 5:16 reminds us in the venerable King James Version, “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”
There is no need to explain why we need to be in fervent prayer for spiritual awakening in our land and around the world. The news media online, on the television, and in print in newspapers and magazines does a fine job of articulating the darkness and spiritual malaise of the world in which we live.
As Solomon finished and dedicated the Temple, God responded in 2 Chronicles 7 with an anticipation of a day when the curses of Deuteronomy would be poured out on the people of Israel. So in the midst of the celebration of the Temple’s completion, God says, “When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” We are not Israel, but we still see those same effects all around us. It is necessary that we respond by standing up as the people called by God’s Name and by praying that we would turn from our wicked ways and see our land forgiven and healed.
But what do we pray for? I think the SBC Call to Prayer offers a fine guide. The prayer card that is available in the foyer and reproduced in today’s bulletin gives an overview. The card helpfully suggests that we think of a specific individual or group in each of five different categories. Those categories are: a family member or friend, someone in our church, a locale or city somewhere in our nation, a people group from across the world, and a leader at some level of our denomination.
I would encourage you this week to take up this cause and pray for these different levels and relationships we have with those in and around our community and world. Better yet, don’t just do this for one week, but let it guide at least a portion of your time of prayer every day. You might pray for all five categories every day. You might take each Monday to pray for family and friends, each Tuesday to pray for those in our church, and so on. As you follow God’s leading, you may find yourself praying for the same individuals and groups each time you come to them, or you may find yourself led to pray for someone new in a deep way with each new visit.
What we are doing in such prayers is the work of intercession. Intercession is the offering of prayers on behalf of someone else. It is something that we do often in our prayers, usually on behalf of those who are sick or suffering, just as James 5 encourages us. But today’s Call to Prayer reminds us that the work of intercession is for more than just those who are sick and suffering. The work of intercession is also beneficial – even necessary – for believers and those who work to spread the Good News of the Gospel wherever they are.
So this morning, I want us to consider specifically how we can be praying for Christian workers and leaders. Really, this kind of prayer is something that every believer needs. Every Christian needs someone ready, willing, eager, and active in interceding on their behalf before God as they engage in the work of the Great Commission. After all, we are all commissioned in this work by virtue of our salvation. We all need this kind of support.
Paul was aware of this, and he provided an excellent prayer aimed at believers. His prayer can serve as a guide in our own work of intercession as we take up this Call to Prayer as a community. I want us to consider and work out this morning how to pray for Christian workers – professional clergy, lay leaders, volunteers in disaster relief or parachurch ministries, and everything in between. The prayer is found at the beginning of Paul’s letter to the Colossians.
Here, Paul gives three specific means and examples of how to pray for other workers. First, pray unceasingly for them. Second, pray that they would know God’s will. Third, pray that they would work out of the strength of God’s might. Let’s consider each of these and see how we can implement them ourselves.
Paul mentions praying without ceasing in Romans 1:9, Ephesians 1:16, here in Colossians, and most famously in 1 Thessalonians 5:17, where he simply admonishes his listeners to “pray without ceasing.” We might say, well, that’s a nice thought, but how practical is it to never stop praying? How am I supposed to carry on a conversation over lunch while praying at the same time? How am I supposed to pray while filing taxes (well, maybe that won’t be so hard)?
We have the image of prayer as something we do at the dinner table and at church services and, perhaps, on Tuesday mornings or Wednesday nights, and maybe when we first get up or just before we lay down in bed at the end of the day. We practice praying that includes closing our eyes and bowing our heads. It may even involve folding our hands together or kneeling. Certainly, this kind of praying is impossible to do without ceasing. At some point we all have to eat, drink, sleep, and other necessities of life.
So what is Paul talking about? Prayer is no grander or simpler than talking with God. It’s a conversation with someone who happens to be omnipresent – always right there with you, wherever and whenever you happen to be. Certainly, praying is conversation with a holy God – a not insignificant part to remember. But it is no more or no less than a conversation. Because God is always with us, we can have this conversation whenever we want to have it. In the car, doing dishes, on our knees before going to bed, with our eyes open or closed, while eating lunch, while filling out a spreadsheet at work, while painting a bathroom, while reading a book or magazine, or whatever else we might happen to find ourselves doing.
Remembering that God is always with us and ready to engage us in conversation is the hard part of praying without ceasing. Once we remember and own that truth, it becomes easy to engage God at all times and in all places. Every person we meet is an opportunity to beseech God on their behalf. Every news story is a challenge to speak to God about it. Every passage of Scripture is a reminder that it is the cool of the day, and God is walking in our Garden. So then, use every moment as an opportunity to talk to God about whatever that moment holds. And as often as the moment holds in your mind one of these categories, speak to God about them. Then you are praying without ceasing.
This is what Paul does for the Colossians (and Ephesians and Romans). But for the Colossians, Paul goes on to give us a glimpse as to what his conversation with God contains. He divides his prayer into two sections. One prays to God that the Colossians would know God’s will. I have been in many prayer meetings and groups where the default prayer is, “O God, just let your will be done.” That’s a cop-out prayer. It’s a lazy way to pray. God is the omnipotent creator and ruler of the universe, His will is going to be done. How about praying instead, “Lord, this person (using their name would be ideal) is struggling with (whatever they are struggling with). Help them to see what you are accomplishing through this. Fill them with what Your eyes see.”
What might it be like if we were able to see what God sees and to react to our world based on that? Paul lists just what knowing God’s will would accomplish for the Colossians. Primarily, knowing God’s will would allow the Colossians to walk in such a way in this life that their life is both worthy of God and pleasing to Him. Their lives would tell God’s story and help to carry out the very thing God wants to see carried out – His will!
Is a life worthy of God worth living? Well, for one, it pleases God. Surely something that pleases the one who created and maintains the universe is worth doing. But Paul also mentions two things that those who walk in a manner worthy of and pleasing to the Lord will accomplish.
First, they will bear fruit in good works. Jesus talked in Matthew 7 about how a tree is known by its fruit. So if we are God-followers we will be known by the God-type fruit that we bear. Those who know God’s will and walk in such a way will be those who are trees that bear such fruit as to be identified as God’s. Indeed, Jesus mentions several times that those trees who do not bear good fruit would be cut down and cast into the fire – always a reference to Hell when Jesus uses it. Certainly that is not the future that we want. Knowing God’s will is key to doing God’s will and bearing fruit that identifies us as God’s and keeps us from being cast into the fire.
In John 15:8 Jesus says, “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” We must be fruit-bearers, and to be fruit-bearers, we must know God’s will so that we can do it. This is why knowledge of God’s will is a key part of Paul’s prayers on behalf of the Colossians. And this is why we should make knowledge of God’s will a key part of our prayers on behalf of other believers.
Paul also says that walking in a manner worthy of the Lord will also lead to an increasing knowledge of God. Hosea was an Old Testament prophet best known for falling in love with, marrying, and continually pursuing a prostitute. This was meant to be an example of God’s continual pursuit of His people. One of the repeated accusations of Hosea against the people was that they had no knowledge of God.
Hosea 4:6 says, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me. And since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.” Hosea 6:6 goes on to express God’s desires. It says, “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” God wants to be known more than He wants our religious observances. Paul will go on in his letter to the Colossians to plead in 2:2, “that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ.”
Paul doesn’t desire that the Colossians merely know God’s will. He wants them to be ever increasing in their knowledge of God. He wants them to know God better day by day, the way spouses get to know each other better and better with each day they spend together. So it is to be with us and God. And Paul says we accomplish this as we walk in a manner worthy of God, which we will do as long as we know the will of God. So as you pray for others, be active is asking that they would know God’s will so that they might walk in it.
But Paul is not yet done. He has another request on behalf of the Colossians that we can also use as we pray for others. Paul prays unceasingly for the Colossians that they would know God’s will, and he prays unceasingly that they would be “strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy.” The church was coming under greater and greater modes of persecution. Paul himself was in prison in Rome on account of his faith. Martyrdom was becoming a much more common thing. Nero would soon use the Christians in Rome as torches to light up his parties. Believers would desperately need the strength of God to endure.
Paul asks specifically that God would give them strength in measure to God’s own strength. Nothing less would be sufficient to provide what would be needed to face the challenges to faith that all believers will endure. Once we have this strength from God, then we will be able to endure whatever comes in our path with both patience and joy, to the glory of God. As Paul would later tell Timothy in his very last letter, “If we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us.”
Peter writes in 1 Peter 2:20, “For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.” Paul considered his own sufferings to be a gracious gift from God, who considered Paul worthy to share in Christ’s own sufferings for us. We will suffer, but Paul prays for the Colossians that they would have the strength of God that would allow them to persevere through the suffering with grace, love, and even joy, to the glory of God.
So we pray for other believers who in turn pray it for us. When we have endured with the strength that God provides to us, then we can give thanks to God for the many ways in which He has blessed us. Paul lists three of them. That we share in the inheritance with the saints, that we have been delivered from the kingdom of darkness and delivered into the kingdom of the Son, and that we have been redeemed and forgiven of our sins. All these things are great benefits of having the strength of God on our side.
So as you take up this call to prayer this week, I encourage you to model your prayers on behalf of fellow believers on the prayer that Paul offered for the Colossians. Pray unceasingly for your fellow workers, as often as the Spirit brings them to your mind. Pray that they would know the will of God that they might walk in it and so honor God. And pray that they would walk in their life by the strength of God himself, which will allow them to overcome whatever obstacles and temptations this world might bring their way.
Learn the way of intercession, not just for the sick, but for those striving to carry out the work of the Kingdom of God in every place that they go.