Big Prayers for One Another
Passage: Colossians 1:9–1:14
Big Prayers for One Another
April 20th, 2008
Way of Grace Church
I. Learning to Pray from Prayer
I suspect that most of us learned to pray by listening to other pray, whether we were listening to the prayers of a parent or a peer.
I've been in a number of Bible study groups where, over time, you can watch a new believer in Christ become more and more comfortable as they pray out loud to God using some of the language used by other members of the group.
Well, this morning, I hope we will do that very thing once more; that we will learn to pray from the prayer of another. Turn with me to Colossians 1:9-14 (page 983).
We are continuing this morning our study of what God's word teaches us about praying in Jesus' name. So many of us finish our prayers with that phrase, but what does it mean?
Well, in the first half of this series, in the first two messages, our primary focus was on this One to whom we pray. In those studies we learned that to pray in the name of Jesus was about our privilege of being able to pray as those who have identified with Jesus through faith.
And because we have identified with Jesus through faith, because we are, as Paul often puts it, because we are "in Him", we can not only come before God freed from the stain of sin because of what Jesus our Advocate did at the cross, but Jesus' death has also won for us the privilege of addressing God just as Jesus did, as "Abba! Father!" because of our adoption as children of God through His Holy Spirit.
When we pray "in Jesus' name" we are, therefore, praying from our new position before God, the position that Jesus alone makes possible.
But what we have not talked about thus far is how our new relationship with God through Jesus Christ changes even the content of our prayers. If have been given a new heart as new creatures, shouldn't the things for which we pray be, in some way, ‘new' as well?
II. The Passage: "We Have Not Ceased to Pray for You"
I think what Paul has written here in Colossians 1 can help us answer that question. I should say, what Paul has prayed here in Colossians 1:9-14. But before we look at those verses, let me read the opening verses of this chapter in order to establish the context of Paul comments in verses 9-14.
Listen to how he begins this letter...
A. The Context (1:3-8)
3 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4 since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, 5 because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, 6 which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and growing-as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, 7 just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant.ï»¿ He is a faithful minister of Christ on yourï»¿ behalf 8 and has made known to us your love in the Spirit.
Now what we learn from these opening verses is that Paul is writing to a church that he did not plant or found. As we see from verse 7, a brother named Epaphras was used by God to declare the Good News, the gospel of Jesus Christ in the city of Colossae.
And so what Paul is doing here is following up with these disciples of Jesus in light of the good report that has come to him about their faith and their love. Specifically what we see here is that Paul, right from the "get-go", lets them know that he has been praying for them in light of what he's heard.
Now from the rest of this letter we know there are plenty of things that Paul could be praying about for this church. But listen as he goes to explain how he has been praying for them in light of their new life in Christ.
B. The Main Text (1:9-14)
Paul writes this, beginning in verse 9:
9 And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. 11 May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, 12 giving thanksï»¿ to the Father, who has qualified youï»¿ to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. 13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
That's quite a prayer, isn't it? And given the identity of the one who prayed this prayer, even more so, given the fact that this prayer is part of God's inspired word to us, we need to learn from this prayer.
1. The Request for Which We Pray (1:9)
But what exactly is the request that Paul is making here? What is he asking for here? Well it's clear from verse 9:
He's asking for the believers in Colossae to be "filled with the knowledge of [God's] will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding." He's praying that they may know God's will.
Now that may sound a little mystical, or even a little ambiguous to us. God's will about what? Is he praying that they may know God's will about some big decision they need to make?
Sometimes we think of God's will in this way. Sometime we pray in the hope that we will understand God's will for this or that issue.
But let me suggest that when you come across the phrase, "God's will" or "the will of God" in Scripture, in most cases, try reading "what God desires" instead of the word ‘will'. What Paul is talking about here is much bigger than any circumstantial decision, but one that still speaks to all of those decisions, whatever they might be.
When Paul talks about "a knowledge of God's will" he is talking about what God's desires for their lives in Jesus. He is talking about what God wants their hearts and minds, and consequently, their lives, to look like because of Christ.
This is confirmed by the fact that such knowledge must be accompanied by "spiritual wisdom and understanding". Paul's not praying here about knowledge that will simply shape the content of their minds. He's ultimately praying for truth that will, at the same time, shape the spiritual convictions of their hearts.
Think about this: if you have two people who both claim to know that crack cocaine is addictive, one who has never used drugs, and the other a recovering addict, what's the difference between their "knowledge" of this fact?
Or if two people who both claim to know that organ donation is a good thing, one who has never been under the knife and the other who has given one of his kidneys away, again, what is the difference between their "knowing" in this scenario?
Paul's wants them to know what God desires for their life with an understanding and a wisdom that shapes how well they live, not how well they could do on a Bible quiz.
Sadly, all of us find ourselves deceived by this difference of knowing. We might know gossip is wrong, we might know that greed is idolatry, we might know that looking with lust is destructive, but we often don't fully "know" with all spiritual wisdom and understanding.
Paul's request here should be the request for which we pray: to be filled with the knowledge of what God desires for us in Christ.
2. The Result for Which We Pray (1:10, 11)
And if we continue to follow this prayer, we see that Paul makes the nature of his request even more explicit in verses 10 and 11.
He's pray that they may be filled with the knowledge of what God desires, "so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord". The word "walk" here does not of course mean literally walking. It means ‘living life'.
The only kind of life that is worthy of the sacrificial love of Jesus Christ is a life of sacrificial love. The only kind of life that is worthy of our Lord's glory is a life that glorifies our Lord.
When we are truly filled inwardly with the knowledge of what God desires, we are ready to live according to that knowledge.
Look at how Paul continues to expand on this. This living in a worthy manner means being "fully pleasing to Him".
We all live to please, don't we? Some of primarily want to please ourselves. Others want to please someone else first and foremost. But if you are a follower of Jesus, your greatest desire should be to please God; not to win his favor, but because He's already showered you with his favor.
But what exactly does a life lived in a worthy manner for God's pleasure look like? Well, Paul goes on here to describe by way of four different participles in the original Greek, all of which are linked to the main verb "to walk".
The participles are "bearing fruit" (v. 10), "increasing" (also v. 10), "being strengthened" (v.11), and "giving thanks" (v. 12).
If you are a Christian, a follower of Jesus, and you are attempting to live in a worthy manner, in a way that pleases God, then God wants your life to be characterized by these things.
He wants you to bear fruit for His glory as you practice good works, those self-giving acts that bless others in the love of Jesus Christ.
He wants you to increase in knowing Him, in learning more about His goodness, His power, His holiness, His heart, and His love.
He wants you to be strengthened by the power that He alone can provide, that power than enables you to stand firm through the good times and the bad times, the patience to trust that He is always with and always working for your good and His glory, the power that makes it possible for you to do all of it with joy not self-pity.
And last, but certainly not least, he wants you to, as Paul put in I Thessalonians 5:18, he wants you to "give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you."
The result for which Paul prays here should be result for which we pray: that when we are filled with the knowledge of what God desires, we are empowered to live our lives in manner worthy of Christ, living to please him as we serve others in love, grow in the knowledge God, joyfully endure in our faith, and give thanks because of God's grace.
III. Praying According to His Will in Jesus (1:12-14)
But notice how Paul concludes this prayer. He does not abruptly end it with an "amen". No, the last verb describing a life pleasing to God, "giving thanks", is actually a bridge that takes us to an incredible panorama on God's deliverance.
We are called to give thanks to the "Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light." On our own, the only thing we qualify for is to receive God's just verdict in regard to our sin. But in His grace, God qualifies us to share in a heavenly inheritance.
What is this inheritance and how could we possibly qualify for it? Well, he tells us in verse 14. God "delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we had redemption, the forgiveness of sins." Our inheritance is a kingdom inheritance, it is an inheritance of forgiveness and restoration. And it is all made possible by the Son of God, Jesus Christ.
The reason the conclusion of this prayer is so important is because without the reality our redemption in Jesus Christ, Paul's requests here are impossible. That's why verses 3-8 come before verses 9-14.
As we've talked over the last couple of weeks about what it means to pray in Jesus' name, we have focused on the work that Jesus did on the cross and how that can bring us into a right relationship with God. But this morning, I want us to see that praying in Jesus' name should also focus us on the work that Jesus wants to do through us because of the cross.
When Jesus said in John's Gospel, "Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son". (John 14:13), the context there helps us to understand that the "whatever" is not just "whatever". It is a "whatever" qualified by the phrase "in my name".
As we've talked about, to ask "in the name" of Jesus is to identify ourselves with Jesus. And if we have truly identified ourselves with Jesus, then we have identified ourselves with his will and his work. And if that's true, we will not be asking for a Mercedes in His name. We will not be asking for a life of ease, in His name. We will not be asking for things in His name when we are motivated by a heart of greed or pride or bitterness.
When we claim to pray in Jesus' name we should be praying for what Jesus would pray for. And isn't that what we see Paul doing here in Colossians 1?
Brothers and sisters, we need to learn from Paul's prayer here. We need to learn because the way we pray for one another is usually so small. When is the last time that someone asked you to pray that they would be filled with "the knowledge of God's will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord"? When is the last time YOU shared that as your prayer request?
Our health or the health of another, our inability to manage our time in the midst of busyness, someone's need to find work, safety in our travels, tension in a relationship, a blessing on this or that new endeavor, all of these are not unimportant requests.
But if they are the only, or even the primary ways that we pray for one another, we are in big trouble. Why?
Because when we only pray or primarily pray for these kinds of things, we confirm the fact that we believe these are our most pressing needs. And that is simply not true.
Paul did not know these Christians in Colossae. But the rest of the letter demonstrates that he knew many of the circumstances in which these brothers and sisters found themselves. He knew many of the details of their most serious struggles.
But right here, at the beginning of this letter, he teaches them about their most pressing needs by praying for their most pressing needs.
When someone is sick, our only prayer for them should not be, "Lord, help that person to get better." No, if we are to pray in Jesus' name, then our prayer should reflect His heart. And He knows there is always a greater need that we should be praying for: "Lord, fill them with the knowledge of your will, so they might walk in a manner worthy of you, fully pleasing, bearing fruit in every good work, and increasing in their knowledge of you. May they be strengthened in all power, according to your glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy. Help them to give thanks, Father, even in the midst of their suffering. And along with that, Father, would you restore them to full health, for you glory."
You see, that's what the New Testament calls, praying according to the will of God. In reflecting on this idea of praying in the name of Jesus, the Apostle John wrote:
This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. (I John 5:14)
John is not talking here about aligning our prayers with some mysterious master plan or divine script that includes all the details about every event in the universe. No, he's talking about aligning our prayers with what God's revealed about what he desires, about his agenda in Jesus, about his heart for our lives.
Jesus did not die on the cross to guarantee physical healing, or protection in travel, or job security, or relational bliss. No, he died in order to accomplish God's will for you, that you might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding.
And when we pray according to what God wants, he always hears us, because all we're doing is, as one writer describes it, "is laying hold of God' s willingness and ability to act in accordance with the divine will."
Another commentator put it this way: "When we learn to want what God wants, we have the joy of receiving his answer to our petitions."
What am I telling you this morning? Not to share prayer requests for this or that need, for this or that difficult circumstance, or this or that friend or relative? No, share, please share those things. But let those things be like rain drops that fall into the rushing river of big prayers that are being prayed according to the heart of God; big prayers that are being prayed in Jesus' name.
And when pray like this, like Paul, like Jesus, our perspective will be shaped by the incredibly big and incredibly beautiful heart of God.
We will have new eyes to see beyond circumstances and beyond felt needs. We will have new eyes to see the spiritual realities that shape our lives and our world. We will have new eyes to see our own needs and what God wants to do in and through us.
The only way our prayers will be enlarged is if our hearts our enlarged by the wonder of God's greatness and grace seen most clearly in the cross of Jesus Christ.
If you have never put your trust in Jesus Christ as your only hope, I encourage you to talk with God this morning. Admit your desperate need. Ask him to change you.
And if you have been walking with Christ through faith, then brothers and sisters, pray for one another. Look around. Will you pray this week for those who are gathered here? Would you commit to praying each day this prayer or a variation on this prayer, on behalf of your brothers and sisters? For other believers in different churches, or in different states or countries?
God wants to answer these prayers, because this what God wants for each of us.
And as God enlarges our prayers for one another, just watch as he enlarges our hearts at the same time; which in turn will continue to grow our prayers.
Let's pray and thank God for what He's shown us this morning through His word, and allow me to pray for you in light of this lesson.