As we continue this morning with our series in the spiritual disciplines, we come to the topic of prayer. For most Christians this is one of the most challenging areas of spiritual discipline. I know it is in my own spiritual life.
It is one thing to read Scripture, because we get the instant benefit of knowledge and insight, but prayer is one of those things which require faith. We are praying to someone we cannot see and expecting an answer we cannot control. And like every other thing which requires faith, prayer runs contrary to the natural man and to the world in which we live and thus is not only often neglected but is difficult to do.
F.B. Meyer, the author of the great little book, the Secret of Guidance said, “The great tragedy of life is not unanswered prayer, but unoffered prayer.”
Charles Spurgeon, the great preacher of the Victorian era said of prayer in the church, “If the spirit of prayer is not with the people, the minister may preach like an angle but cannot expect success. There may be in that church wealth, talent, labor and many outreach efforts, but the Lord is not there. Prayer is as sure evidence of the presence of God as the rising of the thermometer is evidence of an increase in temperature. If God is near a church, it must pray. If he is not, one of the obvious signs of His absence will be lethargy in prayer.”
If we were going to be honest this morning, we’d have to admit that prayer is, for the most part, an undisciplined area of our spiritual life. It is sporadic at best, erratic most of the time and often more prosaic than powerful. It is an untapped resource, an unexplored continent where countless treasure remains to be unearthed. It is talked about more than anything else, and practiced less than anything else. And yet, for the believer it remains one of the necessary disciplines we must inculcate in our spiritual lives if we are going to continue to be conformed to the image of Christ.
Our text this morning is found in the book of Colossians chapter 4, verses 2-4. Hear the word of the Lord. (read text 1-6)
Paul understood prayer and its power. Prayer was an undeniable part of his life, and if you read through the portions of scripture which God used him to pen, you will find that over and over and over again he calls all Christians to pray.
The fact of the matter is, you cannot really be a growing Christian and not pray, just like you cannot have a growing marriage if you don’t talk to your wife. You can be a Christian and not pray, just like you can be married and not talk to your wife. But in both circumstances your fellowship will be stagnant and you will never know the full benefit of your relationship. Prayer is the pipeline of communication between God and His people, between God and those who love Him and the growing disciple will be one who is in the habit of praying.
Notice with me several things which our text tells us we are called to do with respect to prayer.
I. Pray persistently
Paul begins by saying, “Devote yourselves to prayer,” (NASB) or “Continue earnestly in prayer,” (NKJV). In the original language it says, “Continue steadfastly in prayer.” The word translated, “continue steadfastly,” is one word in the original language. It can be translated, “persist in, adhere firmly to, or remain devoted to or to give unremitting care to.” It caries with it the idea of dedication. Of the ten times it is used in the New Testament four of them have to do with being devoted to prayer. It is a very powerful word and in this verse is given as an imperative, or a command.
This is exactly what Paul says in 1st Thessalonians 5:17 where he says “Pray without ceasing.”
Persistence in prayer is not an option for the Christian; in fact, it is an order from the Lord Himself; a direct command.
Two of the most instructive parables Jesus ever told on prayer, one in Luke 11 and the other in Luke 18, both have to do with being persistent and not giving up in prayer.
Luke 11:9 is where we find the promise that says, “ask and it shall be given to you; seek and you shall find; knock and it shall be opened to you.” Each of those verbs is in the present tense, active voice and could be translated, “keep on asking, keep on seeking; keep on knocking.” Jesus does not want us to give up in prayer, He instructs us to be persistent.
Luke 18:1 says, “Now He was telling them a parable to show them that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart.”
Now there is a difference between a persistent prayer and a long prayer. A person who is persistent in prayer does not necessarily have to pray for a long time. They are simply people who have developed a habit of prayer and practice their habit.
Persistence means not giving up. It means not quitting, not giving in and not becoming discouraged when answers don’t come as quickly or in the manner we imagined. Some people give up easily on prayer, they quit because they say they don’t feel like praying, the joy is gone, the feeling is just not there. But we are not to live by our feelings but to live by the commandments of our Lord who tells us to pray without ceasing.
George Muller, known as one of the greatest prayer warriors of all times had this to say about persistence in prayer.
“It is a common temptation of Satan to make us give up the reading of the Word and prayer when our enjoyment is gone; as if it were of no use to read the scriptures when we do not enjoy them, and as if it were no use to pray when we have no spirit of prayer. The truth is that, in order to enjoy the Word, we ought to continue to read it, and the way to obtain a spirit of prayer is to continue praying. The less we read the Word of God, the less we desire to read it, and the less we pray, the less we desire to pray.”
If you are going to take up your cross and follow Jesus prayer is not an option for you. If you are going to be like Him you will pray as He did. He was persistent in prayer and as His followers we are commanded to follow His lead.
The second thing Paul tells us is also found here in verse 2, and that is that we are to pray passionately.
II. Pray passionately
If you are persistent in something, it stands to reason that you would want to be passionate about it as well. In fact, Paul says we should be vigilant or be watchful; it is the opposite of slothfulness. This describes passionate prayer.
Jesus was passionate about His prayer life. S.D. Gordon in his book, Quiet Talks on Prayer, says
“How much prayer meant to Jesus! It was not only his regular habit, but his resort in every emergency, however slight or serious. When perplexed he prayed. When hard pressed by work he prayed. When hungry for fellowship he found it in prayer. He chose his associates and received his messages upon his knees. If tempted, he prayed. If criticized, he prayed. If fatigued in body or wearied in spirit, he had recourse to his one unfailing habit of prayer. Prayer brought him unmeasured power at the beginning, and kept the flow unbroken and undiminished. There was no emergency, no difficulty, no necessity, no temptation that would not yield to prayer.”
And every time we see Jesus praying He was praying with passion.
In Luke 3:1 at His Baptism – while He was praying the heaven was opened. Passionate prayer opens Heaven.
In Luke 6:12 before He called His disciples – He spent the whole night in prayer. Passionate prayer opens the windows of heaven and shines God’s light of direction on our path.
In Luke 9:29 at His transfiguration – And while He was praying, the appearance of His face became different, and His clothing became white and gleaming. Passionate prayer ushers us into the throne room of heaven and enables us to experience the glory of the Father.
In John 17 He prayed for all of those who would follow Him, that we would be kept from the evil one and that we would be sanctified by the truth, which is His word. Passionate prayer expresses the deepest desires of our hearts and reveals our love for others.
In Luke 22:44, where Jesus is praying through the night in the garden of Gethsemane, the bible says,” And being in agony, He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground.” Passionate prayer enables us to be totally honest with God, even in the midst of the most trying circumstances.
In Luke 23:24 as He hung on the cross. Passionate prayer is a portal to God’s power. It strengthens us internally and is often a conduit for God’s grace upon us.
Jesus always prayed with passion, because He knew Who it was He was talking to and He knew that access to the Father is a powerful thing and not something to take lightly.
Prayer from the heart, that’s what passionate prayer is, it is prayer from the heart not just from the head. Think about the last time you were passionate about something. We should never lose the passion when we talk to God. Jesus was always passionate when He prayed and that’s how He wants us to pray.
In fact, He taught us to pray this way, not only through His example, but specifically through His teaching In Matthew 6:7, in the Sermon on the Mount as Jesus instructs on prayer, He gives us what has become known as the Lord’s Prayer. But just before the Lord’s prayer what does He say?
“When you pray, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do.”
(Jews around the world may now send prayers via fax to the Western Wall)
What has happened to the Lord’s Prayer? People repeat it as if it were some kind of magic mantra that will bless them or move God to hear them. They are doing with it is exactly what He was instructing us not to do with it. The gentiles, when they prayed tried, through their religious repetitions, with their chants and their mantras to call forth or impress their Gods. That is not what you do when you are in a relationship.
James 5:16 says, “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.”
If we are going to be disciples of Jesus Christ, to take up our cross and follow Him, it will require us to be passionate in our prayer life. But not only must we pray persistently and passionately, we must pray gratefully. Look at the last part of verse 2.
III. Pray gratefully – pray with thanksgiving
A constant theme which should run through our prayers is that of gratitude. Paul never fails to mention it.
- Ephesians 5:20 tells us that thanksgiving is the natural result of being filled with and walking under the influence of the Holy Spirit.
- Philippians 4:6 tells us to be anxious for nothing but in everything we should pray, giving thanks as we make our petitions known to God.
- First Thessalonians 5:18 tells us that giving thanks at all times is God’s will for us in Christ Jesus.
- Colossians 3:17 says that as believers everything we say or do should be done in the name of the Lord Jesus as we give thanks to Him.
- First Timothy 4:4 says that food and marriage are good things given to us by God and are to be received with thanksgiving and gratitude.
Expressing gratitude as we pray accomplishes several things:
a. It articulates dependence – It says you know who God is, you know who you are and you are aware, at least to some degree, of how desperate you would be were it not for His providence and presence in your life.
When we pray it should always express our understanding that every breath we take is, in fact, a gift from God. Failure to pray with gratitude demonstrates a sense of self-reliance and self sufficiency that is insulting to God. Which brings me to my second observation here about the expression of gratitude, not only does it articulate dependence
b. It generates humility – expressing gratitude continues to remind us of how truly helpless we are without God.
Everything in this world, our flesh, the world system, the people around us, all try and reinforce the idea of a self-made man. But everything in God’s word speaks to the contrary. Micah 6:8 says, “He has told you, oh man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God.”
c. Expressing Gratitude demonstrates relationship – It says we know that He is our Father and that we are His children and as His children we know He loves us and has provided for us out of that love.
Folks, there are few things as disappointing or heart breaking as an ungrateful child. When we fail to express gratitude we are taking God for granted and assuming that we somehow deserve His grace and His kindness. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are blessed because Jesus has made it possible, through His death, burial and resurrection, for us to be adopted into the family of God. The benefits we enjoy are the benefits of relationship, and when we express our gratitude it demonstrates the reality of that relationship.
When we pray with persistence and with passion, it enables us to express the depth of our gratitude to God who loves us so much, and so desires to be in fellowship with us that He sent Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son, to die on a cross so that we could have forgiveness of sins and fellowship with God. What greater thing is there than this? And is this not sufficient reason to give thanks as we pray?
Pray with gratitude. But there’s more. Look at verse 3 where we are instructed to
IV. Pray selflessly – we must pray for others
Intercessory prayer is basically praying for others, it is praying for God’s will to be done in the lives of other people. Not only is there far too little prayer being offered these days, but much of what is offered is purely selfish. Lord give me this, Lord give me that; do this for me; do that for me. Read the prayers of Jesus and you find that a large majority of His prayer life was devoted to praying for others.
Intercessory prayers characterized the prayer life of Jesus.
- Isaiah 53:12 says, “He Himself bore the sins of many, and interceded for the transgressors.”
- Luke 22:23 Jesus tells Peter, “I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail.”
- Luke 23:34 on the cross, Jesus was praying for others when He said, “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”
- John 14:15 Jesus interceded for us, asking the Father to send the Holy Spirit
- John 17:19 He prayed for us, the church, in His High Priestly prayer. Listen to the intercessory nature of this prayer, “I ask on their behalf; I do not ask on behalf of the world, but of those whom Thou has given Me.”
- Romans 8:34 tells us that Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father, making intercession for us.
- And Hebrews 7:25 says, “Hence, also, He is able to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.”
Jesus prayed intercessory prayers, He was ever praying for others.
Understanding the power of Prayer, Paul wanted to be sure the Colossian Christians understood what it was they were to pray for. He wanted them to pray with a specific purpose. He wanted them to pray for him, asking God to open a door so that they could speak the gospel. It was the gospel that Paul lived for; it was the preaching of the gospel that had landed Paul in prison; it was the preaching of the gospel that was ever on the forefront of Paul’s mind. You see, Paul was about following the great commission. He was about making disciples of all nations.
One of the most misunderstood realities of discipleship, which is the goal of spiritual discipline, is that it is never a purely selfish thing. God’s purpose in making us more like Jesus is not an end unto itself, it is always purposeful, He wants to conform you to the image of Jesus so that you can continue on with the work of Jesus. In John 20:21 Jesus says, “As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” Our purpose in spiritual growth is not merely to enjoy the personal benefits of fellowship with God, though this is certainly a glorious benefit. It is ultimately to become more useful in the kingdom and to carry out the great commission of making disciples of all nations and of embodying the great command which is to love the Lord our God with all that we are and to love our neighbors as ourselves. This finds its ultimate expression when we help others come into a personal relationship with Jesus.
Note that Paul is not asking them to pray for his legal situation or that he would be released from prison. He is asking them to pray that he will have the opportunity to lead someone to Christ. He is focused on the Kingdom of God; on helping them become the Christians they need to become so that God can use them to accomplish the things they need to accomplish.
Paul was always concerned with doing the will of God. How many of our prayers are directed at the expansion of His eternal kingdom rather than the expansion of our petty kingdoms? If you were able to chronicle your prayers, knowing how much time you spent praying for different things, how much of your time would be spent praying for your family, for their health, for the health and well being of your loved ones, compared to how much time you were praying for the lost who are headed to hell?
We are called to pray for others.
There are three things I would say to you this morning about your prayer life, three things you need to examine as you pray:
1. Examine your heart attitude – because prayer is fellowship with God and is a direct reflection of our relationship with Him, it always involves our heart attitude. If you are in love with Him, your prayer life will reflect that love. Prayer begins in our hearts. It is an outpouring of our heart towards God and always reveals the truth about how we feel towards Him.
2. Measure your words – Prayer begins in our hearts but makes its way to our lips. This is what the psalmist means in Psalm 19 when he says, “may the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in thy sight…” God hears what we say. Be careful what you say because God is always listening and holds us accountable for every idle word, especially words spoken in prayer.
3. Release your life – How can you expect God to take you seriously if you are not at least willing to participate in God’s answer to your prayer? Can you seriously pray for lost people to come to Christ if you are not willing to share with them? Can you honestly pray for God to meet the material needs of another if you are not willing to contribute some of what God has entrusted to you? You see if we are going to be effective in our prayer life, we must first be sold out and willing to take action when God responds. Your involvement may be part of His answer to your prayer.
What does your prayer life look like this morning? Are you persistent in prayer? Are your prayers passionate or are they perfunctory? Are they filled with intensity and fervor or are they weak, timid and lacking faith? What about gratitude? How much time have you spent thanking God for all He has done for you? And who are you praying for? Is there anyone in your life that you are praying will get saved? Is there a burden on your heart to see God’s kingdom expand, to see His will done?
What would happen in your life if you really began to pray? If you became a disciplined prayer warrior? If, instead of doing some of the things you are in the habit of doing which have no eternal consequence, you were to dedicate that time to prayer? What would happen in your family if you began to pray for them more, what would happen here at your church if you prayed for God to move in our midst? What would happen in your heart if you prayed regularly that God would search you and know your heart and cleanse you from any attitude or action which was keeping you from being more like Jesus? What’s keeping you from prayer and is it really worth it?