In the city hall lobby in Warren, Michigan, north of Detroit, unemployed Chrysler auto worker Rick and wife Maria Litwin stand under a maroon vinyl banner with a Bible in hand and ask passersby, “Do you need a prayer today?” Tabernacle church, a Pentecostal congregation of about 200 in town started the prayer station.
In an area with 17% unemployment, they pray with an average 125 people per day. Now others in town are asking for prayer stations. The manager of a 7-Eleven wants a station set up next to his soda machines. So does the owner of a ConocoPhillips gas station.
After nearly five months of doing this, the Litwins remember a blur of faces and first names: Daniel was looking for a job after the death of his wife. Dave needed guidance after losing his factory job. Roxanne, a housecleaner, skipped meals to pay the bills and buy clothes for her children.
Then Claire Martin walked out of the library with a stack of books about how to file for bankruptcy."All four of my kids are in trouble," said Martin, 74. "They're in construction at GM. One calls one day, another the next. I'm exhausted."
"Would you like to pray? Or have us pray for you?" Rick asked.
Martin hadn't been to church in ages. She shrugged and said, "It can't hurt."
Indeed. Today we will look at a passage of Scripture that can’t hurt. It is about Christ-centered prayer.
Contextual Notes: We have started Paul’s letter to the Colossians and seen that his focus is being “in Christ.” Last week we looked at Col 1:3-8, and Paul’s invitation to the Christ-centered life. In it, he focuses on thanksgiving (1:3). Just like verses 3-8, verses 9-14 are one run-on sentence in the original Greek language, but 9-14 is about prayer, intercessory prayer. Paul intercedes for the Colossian church, and his prayer is a model for you and me of how to pray for others.
Key Truth: Paul wrote Colossians 1:9-14 to teach the Colossian Christians to pray for others for Christ-filled wisdom, Christ-led living, and Christ-purchased deliverance.
Key Application: Today I want to show you what God’s Word says about prayer for others.
- Pray for Christ-filled wisdom (Col 1:9)
- Pray for Christ-led living (Col 1:10-12)
- Pray for Christ-purchased deliverance (Col 1:13-14)
The text here (v. 9) says that Paul has not stopped praying for the Colossian believers. Prayer is one of those things that you always could have done more of, like exercising or cleaning the house or sponsoring children in South America or saying nice things about your mother-in-law. Because of that, prayer gets put into “Guilty Me” column inside our heads. We can never pray enough for others. We often feel guilty about it. And we just give up and decide to quit trying.
Our lives have been run over somewhere back down the road by several big things we still need to get done this week and so we leave that praying thing to folks who have time for it, like the Apostle Paul (what else did he have to do way back then anyway?), people who don’t do anything but sit at home all day and watch Oprah, and those who get paid to do it anyway, like the preacher and nuns and chaplains and church staff.
We hope they get their praying done well for the rest of us, and we finish the day with a guilty feeling that we should have prayed a little more than we did. This sermon could degenerate into me pointing my finger and saying, “you don’t pray enough!” And that would motivate you through guilt which would be powerful in the short term but not good at all in the long term.
My goal today is not to beat you over the head about the prayer you’re not doing. That is false guilt. Instead I want to encourage you from the Scripture about how you can improve the praying you do.
A retired Swiss textile executive once told me that prayer was positive self-talk. No, prayer is speaking with a Living Person outside of myself who is actually listening and can respond in overwhelming power. That person is the Lord. If that is correct, and Bible-believing Christians who have walked with the Lord do believe it because of the Word and our own experience of the answer to prayer, then we can look at Paul’s prayer here and find some ways to improve our prayer time. So let’s put the guilt thing behind us and look forward.
Exposition: Note well,
1. PRAY FOR CHRIST-FILLED WISDOM (COL 1:9).
a. Knowledge of His will: Paul’s regular prayer for believers; mentioned in all four prison epistles (Phil 1:9; Eph 1:17; Philmn 6; Col 1:9)
b. Spiritual wisdom & understanding: these two words frequently found together (Exod 31:3; Deut 4:6; 1 Chron 22:12; 2 Chron 1:10; Isa 11:2; 29:14; Dan 2:20; 1 Cor 1:19). The word spiritual is emphatic because it is the last word in the Greek. The false teachers’ wisdom only appeared so (2:23), but was an empty counterfeit (2:8) from an unspiritual mind (2:18).
d. APPLICATION: Now think of those close to you who need some wisdom. A student needs wisdom about choosing a major. A friend needs wisdom about what to say to her supervisor next week. A lawmaker needs wisdom about how to vote on upcoming legislation. A family needs wisdom about whether adding the debt is worth the purchase. A business owner needs wisdom about a needed purchase in these tough economic times. A family member needs wisdom to speak with the doctor about treatment options. A young person needs wisdom about his life-style or you might need some wisdom to know what to do with him! A friend needs the wisdom to see that Christ is the only way to salvation.
e. Do you see what intercession for others does for you? It gets your eyes off your own navel and puts them on Christ, the one who doles out wisdom. Intercessory prayer is not a chore to be endured. It is an access point to provide things that you can’t run out to Wal-Mart and pick up this afternoon, like wisdom – God’s wisdom.
2. PRAY FOR CHRIST-LED LIVING (COL 1:10-12).
a. Live worthy of Lord: (see 1 Thess 2:12; Eph 4:1; Phil 1:27). Infinitive denotes the consequence of enlightenment from the knowledge of God’s will.
b. Please Him in every way: (cf 1 Thess 4:1). “Please” describes the correct attitude of men toward God, to please Him. Paul gives four ways to live a worthy life as a disciple of Jesus Christ: bearing fruit, growing, being strengthened, giving thanks.
c. Bearing fruit in every good work
d. Growing in knowledge of God
e. Being strengthened with all power: “being strengthened” found only here and Heb 11:34. Kratos: “might” only used in NT for God.
f. Great endurance and patience: found together in 2 Cor 6:4, 6; 2 Tim 3:10; James 5:10-11. Endurance does not easily succumb to suffering. Patience is the self-restraint which does not quickly retaliate a wrong. Endurance opposes cowardice or despair; patience opposes revenge or anger. Endurance is allied with hope (1 Thess 1:3); patience is connected with mercy (Exod 34:6).
g. Joyfully giving thanks to the Father: Paul encourages them to be thankful several times (2:7; 3:15-17; 4:2; cf. 1 Thess 5:18)
h. Qualified you to share in the inheritance: “the portion consisting in the lot” as in the allotment of the promised land, now spiritualized. It is not earned by us but allotted to us.
j. APPLICATION: Christ-led living is called discipleship. Living to please God is living as a disciple of Jesus Christ. We are pretty good at getting the prayer requests for physical ailments published. But what about praying for those among us to grow in Christ? What about our young people? Right now they are developing habits that will guide them for a lifetime. What about your spouse? What about your Christian buddies at work? Are you praying for their development as Christians? You don’t know how to do that?
k. Look at the text with me starting at verse 10. Let’s try a live-fire exercise. I’ll pray for one of my friends right now to show you how I do it: “Lord, would you help Amanda live a life worthy of You? Cause her to please you in every way, in her mothering, in her house-keeping, in her friendships, in her speech, and in her attitudes. Lord, cause Amanda to bear fruit in every good work that you have her do. Make the fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5:22 be the heartwood of her life. Put resources and time in her path as a young mother so that she can grow to know you more and more. Give her strength. Strengthen her with all your power so that Your glory would rest on her. Cause her to have great endurance and patience with her little ones, with herself, and with her fine-looking husband. Fill her with joy each morning and a heart of thanks each night because of the inheritance she has in You and the privilege of being bought by Your blood.” See what I mean? This is not rocket science. You have the prayer cheat sheet in front of you if your Bible’s open. It’s as easy as falling off a horse, and a lot less painful. You can pray like this.
3. PRAY FOR CHRIST-PURCHASED DELIVERANCE (COL 1:13-14)
a. Rescued us from the dominion of darkness: delivered us with his strong arm as a mighty conqueror (2:15). Dominion: tyranny, unrestrained power, dictatorship. The phrase, “dominion of darkness” occurs in Luke 22:53 where idea of disorder is involved. The idea is of a transfer from arbitrary tyranny to an orderly sovereignty, a kingdom.
b. Brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves: These verses teach that Christ’s kingdom has already begun; it is present now and will be perfected and brought to fullness when Christ returns.
c. Redemption, the forgiveness of sins: Metaphor here changes from war to slavery. A captive and enslaved people is set free by payment of ransom. Similar to Romans 3: . In Eph 1:7, redemption is forgiveness of sins.
d. ILLUSTRATION: Notice the two images here? In the first, Christ rushes in like a victorious general and liberates all of us in the P.O.W. camp like the American armies did in Germany in 1945. In the second, a wealthy Christ purchases all of us off the sale block at the slave market and sets us free.
e. APPLICATION: Notice that all these verbs have changed from present to perfect tense? It is a done deal. The rescue has happened. The purchase has been made. Then why are so many of us who name Jesus as Lord still bound in sin? Why are we living like POWs when we’ve been liberated? Why are we living as slaves to sin (Rom 5-7) when we have been emancipated? We still live in a sin-tainted world with temptations that overcome us at times. By our own sinful choices we find ourselves entangled in sin, caught by our own foolishness. Captive to lusts, greedy for a dollar, drunk on our own pride, addicted to a chemical or behavior, secret idolators. The Bible here says that we have been redeemed and rescued, so we must reclaim that freedom through confession and repentance. Christ purchased our freedom, and we don’t have to live like slaves any more.
f. He is our deliverer and Redeemer, not just for ourselves but all who would receive Him. At the cross he purchased us. At the cross he rescued us from ourselves and our sin. We all know people who have not received Christ as their Lord. They are not saved. That’s why we pray for the lost in this church. We pray that they will be convicted of sin and righteousness and judgment and receive the free gift of eternal life. It is the way one becomes a disciple.
Invitation: Are you one of those who needs Christ today? Do you need to be rescued from a sin that has entangled you? Today the altar is open. Today the Redeemer stands ready to buy your freedom. Today the General is set to storm hell’s brazen gates for you. Will you receive Him right now?