Praying Paul’s Prayers (Colossians 1:3-14)

Praying Paul’s Prayers (Colossians 1:3-14)

What has been your experience with prayer? Has prayer for you been positive, negative, or just neutral? How might you like to change your attitude and relationship with prayer? 

My name is Dave Bovenmyer and I’m a pastor here at Stonebrook, currently coaching several community groups and doing pastoral counseling. 

Having served as a pastor for almost 50 years, I’ve learned a few things about prayer. 

My early experience with prayer was that it was largely mindless.

“Come Lord Jesus, be our guest and let these gifts to us be blessed.” We said it before every meal until it lost almost all meaning, other than a ritual expressing thanks to God for our food.

The same thing happened with the prayer that Jesus taught us to pray. “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  The entire church said it every Sunday until it became a meaningless ritual, at least to me.

Now there were times when my prayers were more heartfelt. 

When I was a teenager, working the fields with a D17 tractor pulling a disk, I came upon a wet spot. The tractor wheels started spinning and I stopped moving. I knew I was in danger of getting thoroughly stuck.  So I carefully rocked the tractor back and forth several times, trying to get some traction.  But I knew that if I kept doing this, I would just dig myself in deeper. I thought “Awe Shoot!  I’m going to have to walk all the way back to the house and find Dad and have him bring the other tractor and pull me out.”

But, before I started the long trek, I thought “Maybe I should pray.” It was a really simple prayer. “God, help me get out.”  And, to my great surprise, when I tried again, the tractor pulled itself forward, out of the muck with the disk in tow. At least that time, prayer worked.

But overall, I was not a young man who prayed. And when I came to ISU to study physics, I sadly, began to party and experiment with drugs with my friends.  And one night, after we’d taken what we were told was LSD, we started to get irritated, aggressive, and outright mean to each other. Concluding that we were having a “bad trip,” we decided to go to bed. And as I lay there, trying to sleep, I became frightened as colors and shapes started swirling in front of me like a real-life Kaleidoscope.  My mind was in chaos, and I became terrified that I might lose my sanity, as I’d heard rumors could happen with LSD. And in my panic and alarm, I cried out, “God, please, help me!” Again, to my surprise, the swirling colors and mental chaos instantly stopped and I was flooded with peace. I was so relieved and so grateful. Maybe there really was a God. Maybe He cares.  Maybe He answers our prayers when we cry out to Him—sometimes even when we’re doing things we know we shouldn’t do. 

Well, a few months later, after much thinking and many other nudges from God, I heard a clear presentation of the good news about Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection, repented of the way I was living, and received Jesus into my life.

That’s when I really started to learn about prayer. I began going to Bible studies on campus. And during these studies we would often break into groups of four or five and pray. Well, the first time this happened I was terrified.  I had never prayed in a conversational way in front of others and I was deathly afraid I would mess it up and be so ashamed. But I listened to the others, who were just talking to God like any normal conversation, just talking to Him person to person. And when it was my turn, I said a few words of thanks to God and made a few simple requests.

These were the very early days of this church, and I quickly discovered that these were people who know how to pray.  Not just the leaders, but all of them prayed to God all the time about whatever was on their heart.

Now, don’t worry, I’m not going to break into groups of four or five this morning, but if you hang around Stonebrook long enough—if you come to a small group or are involved in a ministry team, you’ll learn that most everyone is comfortable praying to God in this conversational way and we do so all the time.

The last several Sunday’s we’ve been going through a series of messages on prayer, and particularly we’re looking at how we can use the Bible as a stimulus and pattern for our prayers. 

Have you noticed that most Christians struggle with prayer? And even those who do know how to pray—when you ask them, “How are you doing in the area of prayer?” most would answer, “Not so good,” or at least “I could be doing a lot better.”

Today I hope to share some ideas that will help you in your praying, both in how to be more consistent in praying, as well as give you some ideas what to pray for. 

We’ll be looking at one of Paul’s prayers in his letter to the Colossians.  So, if you could turn in your bible to Colossians 1, we’ll look at verses 1-12. 

Now, Paul originally wrote his letter to the Colossians in the Greek language. And it turns out that translators—rather than translating the meaning of several words into English, simply brought the Greek word itself into English. So, in an effort to better covey Paul’s meaning, I’m going to use a few different words than what you read in your Bible.  Hopefully it will be helpful to you and not annoying.

Paul, an apostle 

 This is the Greek word “apostolos.” You can see that the Greek word has been brought into English. It means “sent one,” or emissary

An apostle of Christ 

 This is the Greek word Christos.  It means “anointed one” or “king.” It particularly refers to Israel’s long awaited Messiah-King.

So, he says, “Paul, an emissary of the Messiah-King, Jesus by God’s will, and Timothy our brother: 

To the saints

 Actually comes from he Latin Sanctus and means, “holy or consecrated” one. Today the word is usually used for super-spiritual Christians of the past.  But it’s clear here that Paul calls all the Christians in the church “saints,” holy ones, consecrated ones. 

 To the holy ones in the Messiah-King at Colossae, who are faithful brothers and sisters. Grace to you and peace from God our Father. (Colossians 1:1–2, CSB)

Notice that in his salutation, Paul uses some extremely affirming language.  He calls them holy, set apart to God.  Faithful. He calls them “brothers and sisters,” members God’s family with God as their Father. These are value-affirming words, words that we long to hear.

Every human being has at times been devalued, shamed, and rejected for our faults and weaknesses, some of us terribly so.  But those of us who have believed in Jesus the Messiah-King possess deep, secure, eternal value. Because we have Jesus, we will never be rejected or cast away. 

So, if you hang around us long enough you’ll likely hear us talk to each other in this same kind of value-affirming language — saints, holy ones, brother or sister, faithful.  We would do well to use this kind of language more.

After this salutation Paul presents a prayer, consisting of two sections.  Verses 3-8 present a prayer of thanksgiving for the Colossians, and verses 9-12 contain his intercession on their behalf.

Let’s read the first section and discover why He was thankful for the Colossians. 

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus the Messiah-King, when we pray for you, for we have heard of your faith in the Messiah-King, Jesus, and of the love you have for all the holy ones because of the hope reserved for you in heaven. You have already heard about this hope in the word of truth, the gospel [or “good news”] that has come to you. It is bearing fruit and growing all over the world, just as it has among you since the day you heard it and came to truly appreciate God’s grace. You learned this from Epaphras, our dearly loved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of [the Messiah/King] on your behalf, and he has told us about your love in the Spirit. (Colossians 1:3–8, CSB)

 First of all, let’s note who Paul and Timothy were praying to. They prayed to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus. They’re praying to YHWH, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—the God of Moses and Samuel and David and the prophets.

We don’t pray to a pantheistic force like in Star Wars or in New Age religion.  We don’t pray to Vishnu or Krishna. We don’t pray to Odin or Thor. And we don’t pray to St. Peter or St. Andrew or to Mother Mary. And although we can pray to Jesus or to the Holy Spirit, the overall instruction and example is to pray to God the Father in Jesus’ name. Jesus is the only mediator we need. Through Him we can come boldly to God the Father to receive the mercy and grace that we need. 

 Now, a bit of background knowledge can help us here—Colossae was a city in Asia Minor—modern day Turkey. It was close to Ephesus, where Paul had preached for two years. But Paul had never preached in Colossae and had never met the Colossian Christians. They had heard the good news about Jesus from Epaphras, whom Paul calls a fellow servant and faithful minister of Jesus.  

So, we see here, that Paul prays for people that he’d never met. His love, passion and mission extended beyond his personal relationships and beyond his relationship-inspired love. So we should ask ourselves, “Are my prayers exclusive to my own sphere of interest—my health, my family, my church, my community?” Certainly, it’s OK to prioritize those closer to us for prayer, but what might God desire for you to be praying that’s beyond your own personal sphere of interest? 

 Another thing we see in this passage is that Paul begins his prayers with thanksgiving. We saw the same the last two weeks in our study of his letters to the Ephesians and Philippians. And the same is true in Romans and in first and second Thessalonians.

So, are you balancing your prayers between making requests and giving thanksgiving and praise to God? If we beginour prayers with thanksgiving and praise, it will help us focus on who God is and what He’s done and is doing. And giving thanks renews and refreshes our hearts and helps us to bring our petitions with greater faith. 

 Psalm 100 says: “Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise. Give thanks to him and bless his name. (Psalm 100:4, CSB)

 And Psalm 92 says: “Let’s enter his presence with thanksgiving; let’s shout triumphantly to him in song. (Psalm 95:2, CSB)

So, it’s a good practice to begin your prayers with thanksgiving as well as to spend equal time giving thanks and bringing requests.

Also in this section we see that Paul is thankful for Epaphras.  Let’s take a closer look at him.

 Colossians 4:12 says: “Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of [the Messiah King] Jesus, sends you greetings. He is always wrestling for you in his prayers, so that you can stand mature and fully assured in everything God wills“ (Colossians 4:12, CSB).

Paul commends Epaphras for faithfully praying for the Colossians. And he compares Epaphras’ prayers to “wrestling.” For Epaphras, prayer involved a struggle. 

 This was also true for Paul. Colossians 2:1 says: “For I want you to know how greatly I am struggling for you, for those in Laodicea, and for all who have not seen me in person. (Colossians 2:1, CSB)

Paul doesn’t specifically say in what way he was struggling, but most likely it was in his prayers. Truthfully, prayer is often a struggle.  You know this if you’ve ever tried to pray for an extended amount of time.  Prayer can be hard work. But just like other kinds of work, it’s worth it. 

It’s work to mow the lawn, but it’s worth it to keep your home from becoming an eyesore.

It’s work to cook a meal, but it’s worth it when you eat the delicious food.

It’s work to go to work, but it’s worth it when you buy your groceries and pay your rent or your mortgage.

It’s work to change a dirty diaper, but its’ worth it to keep your child from getting diaper rash and keeping you up all night.

Most of the things that are profitable in life involve work. It’s important to understand this with prayer, so that when we start to struggle to stay awake or persevere, we understand that, just like so many things in life, prayer involves a struggle. We need to learn to push through that struggle in order to gain the reward. 

But let’s move on to the second section—Paul’s requests in verses 9-12

 For this reason also, since the day we heard this, we haven’t stopped praying for you. We are asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, so that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, so that you may have great endurance and patience, joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the saints’ inheritance in the light. (Colossians 1:9–12, CSB)

Before we jump into the content of Paul’s requests, I’d like to make a couple observations.

 Paul started to pray for them on the very first day he heard the news that they had believed in Jesus. And he didn’t stop. Clearly, he was praying for them regularly, probably daily. 

When Paul talks about his prayers in his letters, there seems to be a sense of regularity about them. 

 For example, Ephesians 1:16: “I never stop giving thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.”

 And in Romans 1 he says “. . . I constantly mention you, always asking in my prayers . . . (Romans 1:9–10, CSB)

 And 1 Thessalonians 1:2: “We always thank God for all of you, making mention of you constantly in our prayers.” (1 Thessalonians 1:2, CSB)

It’s clear that Paul was orderly in his prayers, praying constantly for all the churches.  He likely had set times in his daily routine for prayer. So, if you would like to grow in prayer, start by putting it into your schedule. Set aside a time and find an undistracted place to pray.  Set a timer for fifteen minutes and pray until the timer goes off. As your prayer muscle grows, increase it to thirty minutes or an hour.  Set aside a time alone with God on your day off, perhaps once a month, and pray and read the Bible for several hours.  Develop a prayer list to help you remember what to pray for. So often we don’t do what we know we should do because we don’t plan for it. 

 My second observation involves the word “we.”  “We haven’t stopped praying.” It wasn’t just Paul. Timothy, his co-worker, was also praying.  And, as we’ve already seen, Epaphras was praying. These men were praying together for the Colossians. 

I’ve found that praying with others is so good and so helpful.  We know that it’s good to pray alone.  Jesus said that we should pray in our closets where no one sees.  But the Bible also commends praying with others. It’s how we learn to pray. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul speaks of how others can be built up by our prayers. Praying together stokes our passion and expands our thinking. So, pray with others.  Pray with your friends. If a friend opens up and shares their struggles, pray right there with them. Pray with your spouse.  Twice a week, Dawn and I have an hour of prayer scheduled.  We aren’t always faithful.  But we’ve scheduled an hour to pray for our family and our week’s activities and a second hour we pray for you all, particularly for the people in the community groups we coach. 

Pray with others! If you and your spouse are having a conflict or if you can’t seem to resolve a family problem, pray together. Pray in your community group. And when Stonebrook has our prayer summits, come!  It will bless you. If you’re like me, you’ll come thinking, “Oh, I don’t want to go to this” and you’ll leave thinking, “This was so refreshing. I’m so glad I came.” 

But let’s look now at the content of Paul’s requests.  Paul is notorious for writing long sentences and verses 9-12 are actually one long sentence.

 So, to help us, I made a diagram of the sentence, particularly emphasizing its six verbs.

 We see here one primary verb, which seems to be Paul’s main prayer request, with the other verbs branching out from it. He prays that they would be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding

 And as they are filled with the knowledge of God’s will, he prays that they might walk (or live) in a way worthy of the Lord Jesus and pleasing to Him.  

 Then the final four verbs fill out and describe what that walk would look like: first, bearing the fruit of good works, second, growing in the knowledge of God, third, strengthened with God’s power to endure, and fourth, joyfully giving thanks to the Father because he has enabled (or qualified) us to share in the inheritance of the holy ones in light.

 This morning I’d like to concentrate on the first verb, since it is the primary one and the request upon which all the other requests hang.

What is Paul talking about when he prays that they would be filled with the knowledge of God’s will? 

Often when Christians talk about finding God’s will, we’re thinking of finding direction in life—what city to live in, which house to buy, whether or not to marry this person, which church to attend, which small group to join.

This is likely part of what Paul is asking for, but I think he’s talking about something much broader and more significant. 

Interestingly, Paul’s letter to the Ephesians also talks about God’s will.” 

Now, Ephesians and Colossians are sister books, containing many parallels.  And if you study the salutations at the end of each letter, you’ll see that it is very likely that they were written at the same time and even carried by the same messenger to these two churches.

 So, let’s look at Ephesians, chapter one, verses 8-11.

He made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he purposed in [the Messiah King] as a plan for the right time—to bring everything together in [the Messiah King], both things in heaven and things on earth in him. In him we have also received an inheritance, because we were predestined according to the plan of the one who works out everything in agreement with the purpose of his will, (Ephesians 1:9–11, CSB)

We see here that God has a purpose and a plan for all of creation. He has purposed, when it is the right time, to bring together everything in heaven and earth in Jesus the Messiah-King. Through Jesus, He’s going to sum everything up, bring everything to a conclusion, fix everything. And this grand plan includes an awesome inheritance for those who believe in Jesus.

Now I think it’s highly likely that Paul has this same plan in mind when he speaks of God’s will in Colossians. In fact Immediately after his prayer in Colossians, in verses 15-20, Paul presents what is likely an early hymn about Jesus, which speaks about his supremacy over all creation. 

 The hymn concludes with this statement:

. . . and through him to reconcile everything to himself, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (Colossians 1:20, CSB)

Just as in Ephesians, here we see God bringing everything together, reconciling everything to Himself, mending all that is broken. 

 So this is likely the will of God that Paul prays that the Colossians would be know and be filled with. 

To me, it makes sense that Paul would make this his foundational prayer. Of utmost importance to all of us are the answers to the questions: “Who is God? What is He doing, Where is everything heading?” From these we can then answer secondarily questions, like: “Who am I? Why am I here? Where am I going?” Our answers to these questions will determine absolutely everything about how we live. They’ll affect our mental state, our emotional state, our relationships, our goals, our moral values, and ultimately all of our decisions—how we walk in the world. 

So we should pray for this.  Pray it for yourself. Pray it for one another. Pray that we would not only understand who God is, but what He’s doing, and how we fit into His purpose and plan. 

And pray that we would be filled with this knowledge.

We know it up here.  We say it in our creeds.  We sing about it in our songs.  But does it fill us down here?  Does it captivate our hearts? 

I find that, for me, it so often doesn’t.  When things don’t turn out as I have hoped and dreamed, I tend to lose sight of God and of what He is doing. I tend to forget, to lose hope, to become discouraged.  I tend to turn to what seems to be the easier way, the quick fix—maybe to food or entertainment or activities—trying to escape my fears and sorrows.  But I’ve forgotten God and forgotten His grand plan and purpose—to bring everything together, reconciling everything, fixing all that is broken through Jesus, the Messiah-King. Resulting in an eternal inheritance, an eternal age of love, joy, peace and life forever. It’s the Age of Aquarius a hundred times over.  It’s Shangri-La multiplied a thousand times over.  It’s utopia supercharged. It’s God and man together ruling the earth and even the universe in perfect love, peace, and harmony.  

Let’s pray for one another, that we will be filled to the very depths of our being with this knowledge of His will—so that we might walk worthy of the Lord, pleasing Him in every way, bearing the fruit of good works, growing to know God better, strengthened with His power to patiently endure the multitude of challenges and trials that come our way, and joyfully giving thanks to God the Father who has enabled us to share in this brilliantly awesome inheritance.

So, this morning I’ve given you some ideas that I hope will help you in your praying:

 First, pray to God the Father in Jesus’ name. Jesus is the perfect mediator.  We don’t need any others. Through Him we can pray with confidence directly to our creator God.

 Second, expand your prayers to include people that you don’t know. Pray for the success of other Bible-preaching churches in town.  Pray for our community that we would turn to the Savior.  Pray for our nation and its leaders.  Pray for the world—for peace and for world evangelization.

 Third, include much thanksgiving in your prayers. Begin your prayers with thanksgiving. Turn to the Psalms for ideas on what to give thanks for.  Or review your Bible passage for that day and give thanks for something you find there.

 Fourth, realize that prayer is a struggle.  Prayer often feels like work. But just like any other work, it is worth the effort. Sometimes it can help to memorize some verses to remind you that you’re are praying to the living God.  He really is there, and He actually hears our prayers. That’s actually quite exciting! So, find ways to remind yourself that prayer is worth it because God hears and answers.

 Fifth, schedule your prayers. For me, good intentions seldom amount to anything unless they get in my schedule. It’s not enough even to put them on my to-do list. I’ve got to carve out a time to actually do it.

 Sixth, pray with others.  I’ve learned so much through listening to the prayers of others. I’ve been challenged by people’s zeal, their love for God, their openness about their faults and neediness, by the content of their prayers. You learn so much by praying with others.  And praying together helps to keep us on task.

 Seventh, pray that we would be filled with the knowledge of God’s will. Pray that we won’t forget who God is, what He is doing in Jesus and in His creation, who we are, why we are here, and where we are going.  It’s the foundation for walking worthy of the Lord and pleasing to him. 

Prayer:

Lord, teach us to pray.  Give us grace to work hard at prayer.  And grant us the joys and rewards that come from prayer. And fill us with the knowledge of Your will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding.  We pray to you, God our Father, in Jesus name. Amen.