There are no inconsequential or unimportant verses of Scripture in our Bible. Every word is God-breathed and Spirit saturated. Therefore each verse requires our attention…ideally.
The reality is, however, we tend to speed through sections like the one before us now. In Colossians 4:2-16 the brief letter ends. But it does not end with polite nods and social niceties. Paul reserves some very significant thoughts for his conclusion as the Spirit inspired him.
Some Thoughts about Prayer
Though we claim to believe in it, prayer sometimes falls to the list of “the last thing we do” when we are facing a crisis or problem in life. That was not Paul’s practice or belief. For Paul, prayer was the first, middle, and final thing to do!
We have already looked in detail at the prayer that Paul prayed for the Colossians in Chapter One. It would be a life-transforming event for us if we began praying for the spiritual issues of life with the same fervor that we pray for physical ones.
When a child has gone missing, or a young person needs a heart transplant, or a financial crisis is looming on someone’s horizon, calls for prayer abound in our mailboxes and on our social media pages. It becomes a matter of desperation for us when we are seeing the problem and feeling the potential impact of an impending disaster.
But when will we learn to pray with that same zeal and devotion and desperation over the spiritual condition of neighbors and the nations? When will our hearts burn and our internet accounts flood with requests of desperation for what we are feeling for a lost sheep in God’s fold?
Now we’re human, I can hear some say. Of course we are. But that doesn’t mean we should pray limited to our humanity! We are human, and frail, and weak and broken. Yet we have been given a “limitless reach” in prayer.
But listening to our prayer requests I wonder if we really believe that. When our prayer concerns go no further than Aunt Gertie’s upcoming appendectomy, our prayers may as well be written by the folks who write Hallmark get well cards!
What if we began to see our requests for prayer differently? I wonder if you really believed that, when you pray for a missionary in another country or for an unreached people group that your prayers literally shake the ground spiritually.
When we see the world in the grip of the evil one, have you seen your prayers as ICBMs dropped behind enemy lines? What if numbers of Christians gathered together in a meeting to pray for the persecuted believers in China, sending “weapons of mass intercession” against the persecutor seeking to keep the Chinese people from the Gospel?
Does Satan dread your prayer life? Or does it really just give him a good laugh? Now don’t misunderstand me. I believe all of life is to be brought under the concern and attention of God in prayer. Nothing is too big, or too small.
The problem is we get stuck on “the small stuff.” We can’t pray beyond Uncle Bob’s hangnail because our faith is small and won’t let us. We can’t believe the global impact we could have from little Fruit Cove Florida!
Prayer matters. Paul believed that. Wiersbe interprets these verses in the early part of Chapter 4 this way: Be faithful. Be watchful. Be thankful.
Be faithful. Our prayers should be “steadfast.” We are to “continue steadfastly” in prayer. REO White points out that the reason for this was two-fold in the early Christian church. (1) It was the only resource available to most of them, especially those who find themselves living in a pagan household in the midst of a pagan culture. (2) Devotional aids would be unavailable to these Christians who were poor and illiterate.
This is not to be seen as an admonition to “wear God down” with our words, though we can think almost of that very picture with the parable of the widow and the unjust judge. It’s not the persistence of our words that turn the corner in prayer, however. It is the posture of our hearts!
We are not to “grow weary” in prayer when answers do not come quickly. God’s delays are not always God’s denials. But it pleases God to see His children wait in faith. He doesn’t dangle the answer like a carrot to a horse, but sometimes He allows our heart to be tested as we wait.
This is a call not to quit in our praying; not to be discouraged when answers do not fly our way quickly. Be steadfast. Pray continually. Be devoted in prayer!
Be watchful. Jesus asked His sleeping disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night His passion began “could you not watch with Me…?” How often have we fallen asleep on the watch? Our prayers grow lifeless and listless. We lose the urgency and fervency of the early moments of our prayers. It requires effort to continue to “watch and pray….”—notice this— WITH Jesus!
Did you know that when YOU pray you are never praying alone? When you are watchful, you are watching WITH the One Who is our High Priest and Who “ever lives to make intercession for us!” I have walked into the Garden of Gethsemane, wondering “would I have gone to sleep with the rest?”
We sleep on the watch because we don’t really believe we are fighting a battle as we pray…and indeed as we live each day. But as we sleep the bullets fly overhead, taking out fellow soldiers in the war. Watch and pray! You need this. Your fellow soldiers need this. And Jesus is calling you to this. Be watchful. Be vigilant. The enemy prowls like a hungry lion.
The antidote is spiritual watchfulness.
Be thankful. The third component of a powerful prayer life is this: We pray with gratitude. This seems to be the missing element in many of our prayers. Gratitude should saturate everything we pray about. Paul has mentioned gratitude several times in Colossians. It was a word never far from the tip of his tongue or his pen. Be thankful. Be grateful. We are remembering the goodness of God, and His greatness as we pray. We are thankful when our prayers are answered, but we are to be also thankful when our answers are delayed, or the circumstances have shown we will not get what we asked.
I read an article recently that reminded me of something and I remind you of the same. The article pointed to our propensity to celebrate the goodness of God when we get what we were asking for and our circumstances turned out well.
But, the writer asked, is God still good when the unpleasant circumstance doesn’t change? When it seems our prayer is not answered? We do not tweet, text, or post on our social media pages our affirmation of God’s goodness when cancer takes our loved one, or the job we were hoping for falls through, or our son or daughter come home and tell us they are uncertain of their gender.
Is God still good? Well of course He is. But our enthusiasm in proclaiming this weakens when our circumstances collapse under us. And it communicates a message that God is good when He “works” for us, and maybe we live in uncertainty about His goodness when He doesn’t seem to work in our favor.
Be thankful. Be “devoted” in prayer, Paul tells us. Our “devotion” time is an affirmation of our faith, our steadfastness in prayer, our eagerness to watch and our determination to be thankful in all things.
Be purposeful. Our prayers should be purposeful. For too many, I fear, the purpose of praying is to “check the box” and “say” their prayers. Rather than believing they are literally grabbing hold of God’s altar—and not releasing it until they convinced God has heard—they believe God is “keeping score” in Heaven over their daily devotional time. Paul prayed with purpose. We have seen that clearly in Colossians and in several other epistles. Paul does not pray aimless, rote prayers. There is an agenda…an “ask.” Paul prayed because he knew God listened. And more often than not, God responded.
Now let’s not fall into thinking that says we can “make” God do something or bend God’s will to ours. That is absolutely not what the Bible teaches.
No we pray, in alignment with God’s will, for His kingdom to come. Paul could ask the Colossians with confidence to “pray for us” because he knew that he and his co-workers in the Gospel were seeking the agenda of the Kingdom first and not their own. As Richard Trench said, “Prayer is not overcoming God’s reluctance; it is laying hold of God’s willingness!”
It’s easy to miss something if we read this too quickly. Paul asked the Colossians to pray something VERY SPECIFIC for him. You would think Paul would say, “Pray for the prison doors to be opened so we can be free.” Many of us would, and no one would blame us. Who wants to be stuck in a prison cell…in this case on death row…when the whole world needed to hear the Gospel?
But Paul understood the will of God was not to cater to our needs for comfort or even the basic cry for freedom. He asked them:
And pray for us too, that God may open a door for our message…
Hardly the prayer we would expect for a man who had so many needs he could have requested prayer about. But his burden was first for a SPIRITUAL door of opportunity to be presented (implied: WHILE he was in prison) so that he may “proclaim the mystery of Christ.”
That jars me. It should rock us all to our core to examine why we pray; what we seek for in prayer. And as that opportunity came that Paul requested they pray about, the Colossians shared in the sweet fruit of spiritual victory that would abound!
Paul’s prayer request was (1) specific (2) measurable (3) urgent and (4) kingdom driven. It reminds us to check our motives and continually re-evaluate and “upgrade” our prayer life. It is far too easy to let it slip into tepid word, devoid of power. Far better to lay hold of Heaven’s altar of prayer and lay on it a sacrifice worthy of our God and King. Don’t bring the lame, blind, and sickly animal to sacrifice, the Old Testament prophets taught us. Don’t bring that which we would have nothing to do with anyway. And the same holds true for the sacrifice of our prayers. Do we give God the most useless scrap of our time when we pray? Do we bring to the Almighty requests that are almost an insult to His power and capability to do great things? Do we just “mark time” with our intercession, or are we bringing the best of our time; our thoughts; our faith? “Pray that I may proclaim it clearly,” Paul requested. Pray that my own faltering, stammering tongue and my lack of eloquence will not interfere with the lost soul hearing the message. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. As WE should.
It is also interesting to note in this passage that there is nowhere a request from Paul for his own release from prison or the death sentence. It is so hard, when we are shut up in our own “prisons” of physical disability, or circumstances that are less than pleasant or even situations that are critical, to believe that God may be using us in our finest moment.
Paul was not desperate for release. Luke tells us in the Book of Acts that Paul was imprisoned in Rome for two years before his trial. What a waste, we think in our humanity. “How much more could Paul have done if he was free?” Let’s get a petition, let’s go to the governor to appeal for Paul’s release! Isn’t that God’s will?
But let’s remember that, from this cell which had become a sanctuary…a place where ministry happened to many…a place where worship was continual…let’s remember that from here were sent letters that become some of the most precious parts of our New Testament: Ephesians; Philippians; Philemon. How much lacking would we be without these letters? And it was prison that served as Paul’s writing platform. His preaching would not have touched nearly the number of lives these inspired letters have changed over the millennia.
Don’t argue with God’s plan sometimes to restrict you; to slow you; to even lock you in for a while. Who knows what He will draw out of you in those seasons?
And that leads me to a personal request. Will you pray for me? For Fruit Cove? Let’s apply what we have learned. Will you pray for your pastor as I read, study, prepare, meditate, write long before I ever step into the pulpit on Sunday morning? Will you pray that I might “proclaim it clearly, as I should? And that every person who has the opportunity to share Jesus with a lost individual will do the same?
Will you pray for our church that a door of opportunity will open that we might preach the Gospel fully in our community and far beyond to the uttermost parts of the earth? Will you pray that, as Paul told the Colossians to pray that we might “behave wisely toward outsiders” (v 5) in our lifestyle and our language? Will you pray that we might “make the most of every opportunity?” Your prayers are not the least or the last thing you can do. They are the first and most important thing you can do!
In the closing verses, Paul mentions by name seven individuals who were with him at that time. Two of the men (Tychicus and Onesimus) were going to be the carriers of the letter back to them. Six of them were sending greetings (vv 10-14).
We do not know a great deal about most of them. But that’s ok. Heaven knows. Heaven knows the names of those who come and visit those in prison. “I was sick and in prison, and you visited Me” our Lord reminded us.
Greetings were also sent specifically to Laodicea, a lady named Nympha, and a leader named Archippus. Each of these places and all of these people would have been known personally to the Colossian church. Each of them had their role to play in history, and each now occupies a place in eternity. They are known to God and that’s what truly matters.
Paul was not a Lone Ranger practitioner. One of the great tragedies of our day, now resulting in some who attempt suicide and others who fail tragically in ministry, is the loneliness of those in ministry. But Paul’s model was not that of a Lone Ranger. He was a team player, and a team builder. We do not do the Gospel alone. We are part of a family; part of a body.
And together, the Gospel will be proclaimed; ministry will be carried out, and the mission accomplished.
The letter closes with a reminder that “I Paul write this greeting with my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.” (v 18) Paul ended where he began. The entire epistle is an argument for the principle of grace, that God’s salvation is free, and that He requires nothing but trust in the work of His Son, Jesus. It is grace that sustains the Christian’s life. With God’s grace, they will need nothing else! (Melick)
So may the grace of our Lord be with us all, and may we always make Christ Above All!