Jesus taught us that the words that flow from our mouths reveal the true content of our hearts (Matt. 12:33-37). Indeed, He taught that we will give an accounting for everything that we have said. That is an important truth for us to consider as we think about how we speak, talk with others, and express our ideas on a daily basis.
Lately I have been giving some thought to this idea of the importance of words, especially as they deal with the issue of prayer and our relationship with the Living God. If words in general reveal what is in our hearts, then surely what we say in prayer reveals what we truly think in our hearts about God and the nature of our relationship with Him. This is also reflected in the things for which we ask others to pray as well.
I was curious, then, to revisit some of the prayers of Paul that are scattered throughout his epistles and look at the things for which he prayed as he taught and instructed believers in the faith. In this article, and in others to come in future articles, I want to look at some of those prayers to analyze the things for which Paul prayed. In this issue, we will look at two prayers that Paul offers in his letter to the Church at Colossae.
Paul writes this letter while he is sitting in prison because of his active ministry of preaching and teaching the Gospel. In spite of his confinement, however, we find him rejoicing in his sufferings and willing to struggle for the work of the Gospel. He is thankful to be a servant of Christ, determined to preach with joy, and working hard to see that believers are brought to maturity in Christ (1:24-29).
Before that exhortation and encouragement, however, he lets the Colossian believers know how he is praying for them. I urge you to have your Bible open as you read this article. Look at the things I mention and find them in the passage before us. We begin with the prayer of Paul in Col. 1:3-14.
In the opening to the letter, Paul tells the Colossians that he is thankful for them and continues in prayer for them. He points out their faith in Christ, their love for each other, and the hope they have laid up in heaven. This is the result of their having received the Gospel, which is bearing fruit in their lives locally and in the lives of believers all over the world. Thus, we see that Paul’s emphasis is on a community of saints that are growing in the Gospel. So, how does he pray for such a group of believers?
Beginning in verse 9, he tells them. As we consider this “prayer list” of Paul, we do well to compare it with the lists that we often make for ourselves. In doing so, we will move closer to the understanding and purpose of prayer intended by the Father than what is commonly given and practiced.
Without going into great detail, look at how Paul says he is praying for the believers in Colossae:
That they would be filled with the knowledge of God’s will, with spiritual wisdom and understanding.
As they grow in this knowledge, he prays that they will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord; that they will be pleasing to the Lord; that they will be fruitful in good works; that they would increase in the knowledge of God.
That they would be strengthened in His power;
That they would have endurance and patience, leading to joy in their service to the Lord.
That they would be thankful for the wonderful blessings of salvation given to them by the Father. These blessings include the inheritance of the saints, deliverance from the domain of darkness, transference into the kingdom of the Son, redemption, and forgiveness of sin.
Notice first of all how God-centered his prayer requests are. Paul understands that our greatest need is to know God, to know His person, His character, and His will. Secondly, notice that his prayers are Gospel-focused. They look at the truth and the impact that the Gospel is to have on our lives. Paul is concerned that believers are growing spiritually, pleasing to the Lord, walking in holiness, strengthened in Christian service, and thankful for what God has given them in Christ Jesus. Thirdly, his prayers are more concerned with spiritual transformation of believers than with temporal creaturely comforts. I think you will agree that this list is quite different than ones we typically see in our small groups and worship gatherings. How often is it that we pray for one another in this manner? Not only does Paul pray these things for the Colossians, but he tells them he is praying in this manner. In that way, his prayers are both an encouragement to believers and a reminder to them to grow in what is really important.
But what about Paul’s personal life? How did he want others to pray for Him? He gives us a few details in Col. 4:2-6. The first thing he does is reminds the believers to be steadfast in prayer and watchful in thanksgiving. Paul knows that as they persist in prayer, they will see many things for which to be thankful and this will change their focus and heart attitude as they pray.
But note the nature of Paul’s requests here. Though he is in prison and suffering physically, he doesn’t pray for pain relief or for freedom or for an easier path to walk. He prays for the opportunity to preach the Gospel and to do so with great boldness and clarity. In doing so, he reminds the Colossian believers to use wisely their time and speak with wisdom and grace to those around them.
Paul would remind us that it is not always God’s will that we be healthy, comfortable, and pain free. His call to us, rather, is to pray for wisdom and strength, to learn about God and His ways, to learn the lessons He has prepared for us in our trials, and seek His glory always over our personal gain.
This example of Paul challenges me. He causes me to think over my own priorities in prayer. He reminds me that prayer is more about knowing God and learning about Him than receiving things from Him. He is to be pursued as my Heavenly Father whom I serve, rather than a heavenly bellhop who serves me.
Though there is more that can be said on prayer, I hope that Paul’s example will challenge you as well. In my own life and ministry, I resolve to pray for the saints of EFC by emphasizing the following priorities: Christian character over personal comfort, growth in holiness over happiness, deepening faithfulness over fun, committed service over serenity, intentional evangelism over ease, and trusting God in the midst of difficulties instead of just seeking to be released from them. My prayer for the saints of EFC-Oroville is “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” (2:2).