The Priority of PrayerColossians 4:2-4 • Gabe Morris • March 20, 2016 • Topical Sermons by Gabriel Morris
SUGAR LAND BIBLE CHURCH
Gabe Morris 3-20-16
The Priority of Prayer, Colossians 4:2-4
Good morning. Can we pray: Father, we honor You today Sir, we thank You so much for this day. We acknowledge our dependence on You; in You we find victory and we find strength. And Father, please bless this time in Your Word and in the teaching of Your Word, use me as You teach this. May we glorify You today; grant us understanding from Your precious Word, and may we more and more conform into You’re the image of Your Son. In Jesus name we pray. And God’s people said Amen.
Could we take our Bibles and turn to Colossians chapter 4, verse 2, and as you turn there I want to thank the Lord for giving me another opportunity to speak to you guys. I do consider this an honor and a privilege to be up here in God’s pulpit teaching the Word of God. I also want to ask you for your forgiveness, when I preached last time Andy’s mother-in-law came up to me after the service and said you just got the award for the longest sermon. [Laughter] And I was “WHAT?” Anyway, for those who endured that I apologize but at least now we know who the elect are, right, as Andy would say. So I brought my trusty smart phone to watch the clock.
The topic that I want to cover this morning is on The Priority of Prayer. Really it’s one of many principles of prayer, of the disciplines of prayer. We covered two weeks ago, if you can recall, Fear and the Believer, and how fear can manifest itself in three ways, fear, anxiety and worry. And I hope I got the message across that in order to counter fear, anxiety and worry, two reasons: one, don’t do it, God, Jesus and Paul and others literally command us not to fear, not to worry, and “Be anxious for nothing.” And number 2 we briefly learned from the example of Nehemiah how he countered fear and that was through prayer. And so we should all be familiar with the New Testament command by now, “B anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, letting your requests be made known to God, Philippians 4:6.
That’s such a timeless and relative passage, especially for today. And so God placed it on my heart to talk about the priority of prayer. And so I believe it would be fitting to continue in this direction. So let’s get right into it; here is the outline that we’ll be going through, talking about the priority of prayer found in the Bible. We’re going to give a brief outline of Colossians, and then four characteristics of prayer found in Colossians 4:2-4.
Before we get into the details of a particular passage it’s always beneficial to employ good Bible study methods and discover the background and the context of a particular passage. So this is Paul’s letter addressed to the church of Colossae. Colossae was a small city located near the western tip of Asia Minor in a region called Phrygia, alongside the Lycus River. And with regard to historical setting it was written around A.D. 60-62 and this was during Paul’s first imprisonment, and approximately the same time the letters of Ephesians and Philemon were written.
And the city of Colossae, it was teamed with commerce and it was known for its exotic fabric and its dyes and so because of that it attracted a host of people, which naturally brought diversity and culture and also in pagan religion. And a man named Epaphras founded the church at Colossae; it wasn’t Paul. We find that in Colossians 1:4-8. [Colossians 1:4-8, “since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love which you have for all the saints;  because of the hope laid up for you in heaven, of which you previously heard in the word of truth, the gospel  which has come to you, just as in all the world also it is constantly bearing fruit and increasing, even as it has been doing in you also since the day you heard of it and understood the grace of God in truth;  just as you learned it from Epaphras, our beloved fellow bond-servant, who is a faithful servant of Christ on our behalf,  and he also informed us of your love in the Spirit.”]
And that church consisted mostly of Gentile believers…very important! And it was likely that Paul’s only contact with this church was through this letter. And so the church at Colossae began with a lot of energy, a lot of vigor. However, being surrounded by these various cultures and pagan religions it posed a significant threat and problems for this young church because of the infiltration of false doctrine.
And so one scholar said, “Although the Colossians had not yet succumbed,” to the false doctrine “an encroaching heresy was threatening the predominantly gentile Colossian church. The nature of the heresy can only be deduced from Paul’s incidental references to it in his refutation.” In other words, we can tell the purpose of the book because of Paul’s writings. “It was apparently a religious system that combined elements from Greek speculation, Jewish legalism, and Oriental mysticism. It involved a low view of the body and probably nature as a whole. Circumcision, dietary regulations, and ritual observances were included in this system, which utilized asceticism, worship of angels as intermediaries, and mystical experiences as an approach to the spiritual realm. Any attempt to fit Christ into such a system would undermine His person and redemptive work.”
And so this, the purpose of this letter, it would explain Epaphras’s visit to Paul in prison, he was reaching out to Paul for help and you can tell by Paul’s urgent tone in the letter. And no doubt problems with the cultic scholars of that day intimidated the young church. And so the church needed spiritual and doctrinal reinforcement to help them stand in their faith. That’s the purpose of the writing, judging by Paul’s writing, was to refute heretical teaching, to encourage the church and to progress the church to maturity in Christ, and also encourage individuals. And so because of this there’s no doubt that Epaphras, the founder of the church, wrestled with fear himself, with worry and anxiety for his congregation. And in fact, of course the whole letter was prompted because of that in large portion Epaphras’ information regarding the church he led.
But if you study the brief references that the Bible gives of Epaphras there’s about three references, three or four times. You will learn that Epaphras never gave in to those fears because every time Paul references him he is described as a man of prayer. And so some of the report Epaphras gave to Paul was good and some of it was bad. The good news concerning the church is found in chapter 1, verses 3-8, Paul’s thanksgiving of the church. And the bad report was concerning the external circumstances, like the pagan people surrounding that church. And he addresses that in chapter 2.
In fact, in Colossians 2:8 Paul says, “See to it that on one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.” And so typical of Paul he goes through a concise treatment of doctrine, correct doctrine, or we know it as orthodoxy, concerning Christ and their position in Christ. In fact, many scholars call Colossians the most Christ-centered book in the Bible. It’s very apparent in the Colossian letter. Colossians 2:9-10 says, “For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority;” very Christ centered. And so Paul details in part in chapter 3 crucial details that contribute to what we call in systematic theology Christology, or the study of Christ. It’s everything in the Bible that has to do with Christ. For example, Pastor Andy is currently going through the doctrine of soteriology, everything the Bible has to offer on salvation. And Paul was teaching that, the doctrine of Christology, to a young and fledgling church, the doctrine of Christ.
And why? Why did he have to teach a young church the doctrine of Christ? Because they needed it; the people of God will not grow without fundamental teaching found in the Bible. Christology is one of them, soteriology is another, eschatology is another, and so on. All of that is important.
I remember before I came here to Sugar Land Bible Church I helped start a young church and they were very enthusiastic about serving the Lord and building up a new church in their neighborhood. And at that time I was progressing through my CBS studies, sitting under professors like Dr. Woods, Paul Shockley, Israel Loken, and at that time I began to notice things out of sync in regard to what they were focusing on compared to what the Bible says we were supposed to be focusing on. And so as a leader, one of the leaders in that church, I finally gathered the courage in a meeting one day to say I think we should be teaching more doctrine. And the response I was got took me by surprise, they said essentially, you know, we don’t want to do that, we don’t want to look too religious, we don’t want to scare people away. Doctrine divides they said. And I thought to myself wait, didn’t the first century church give themselves to doctrine? Anyway, that didn’t turn out to well, that was my cue for me to “get out of Dodge.”
But that experience was kind of surreal, but very valuable to me. After that I was banned from the pulpit, the remaining sermons were about submission to spiritual authority and things of that nature. It began to look more like spiritual abuse, but anyway… it was odd to say the least. Long story short, we ended up here. Amen.
So Paul says you saints in Colossians, Epaphras reported to me of your faithfulness. That’s in chapter 1 verse 2, your faithfulness, [Colossians 1:2, “To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ who are at Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father.”], “your love for one another,” chapter 1, verse 4. [Colossians 1:4, “since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love which you have for all the saints.”] The gospel came to and because of it your consistent bearing of fruit he says, chapter 1 verse 6; your understand of the grace of God, also in verse 6. [Colossians 1:6, “which has come to you, just as in all the world also it is constantly bearing fruit and increasing, even as it has been doing in you also since the day you heard of it and understood the grace of God in truth.” ]
And given your situation, your present need at the time, with spiritual enforcement; you need to reinforce your mind with truth, correct teaching, correct doctrine. You need to know that Christ is preeminent over all creation; Christ is preeminent in redemption and in the church Paul says. AND, you also need to be warned of false teachers and teaching among you. You need to know this.
You also need to know your position as a believer in Christ. It’s so important for the church of God to know their position in Christ. Christ is our life. Paul said in Philippians 1:21, “[For me] to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” So once Paul laid out correct doctrine, this is how you should think, then Paul says now this is how you should act, very typical of Pauline writings, correct practice both in your private life and in your public life. In other words, put off the old man and put on the new man, which is in Christ Jesus. He touches on what it looks like to be holy in your life at work in those passages; in your life at work and in prayer. And that’s where we’re going to be spending most of our time in, is that section right there, Colossians 4:2-4, in prayer.
Paul was a man of prayer and he revealed critical elements regarding prayer and the priority of prayer. Now as we open the Bible we immediately see from Genesis to Revelation the importance of prayer. Before the fall, in the Garden, communication with God was virtually perfect, right? God spoke directly to man, man had the distinct privilege of hearing God’s audibly, the sound of the Lord is actually found many times in the Old Testament, and the voice of the Lord. And of course, after Genesis 3 the fall comes and I believe communication with Almighty God began to shift. Like our physical lives communication began to degrade immediately after: audibly hearing his voice became less and less prominent. In fact, the very first reference to prayer to my knowledge is found in Genesis 4:26, not the actual word but the act of it This is after the fall; Genesis 4:26 says, “To Seth, to him also a son was born; and he called his name Enosh. Then men began to call upon the name of the LORD.”
And then of course Moses comes along with the introduction to the Law and immediately God inaugurated the priesthood, right? And because it was by them and through them only that the sins of Israel could be atoned for; only through them by way of sacrifices and offerings. The priests were the mediators between God and man.
And then when we reach the New Testament we see that we are commanded to pray. In fact, Jesus had a formal lesson with His disciples, Prayer 101. And of course, upon the death and resurrection and the ascension of Christ, in this dispensation of grace, prayer took on a whole new dimension, did it not. In the book of John we learn that the believer can come to God in the name of Jesus. John 16:24 says, “Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be made full.” John 14:14 says, “If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.”
Prayer, then, is the believer’s most basic responsibility. I guess what I’m trying to convey that prayer in the Bible is very important; it should be a fundamental discipline in our lives; such a basic practice yet so important for us as a believer, as believers, because it’s the heart of our relationship to God. Two-way communication, right? God speaks to us through His Word, we speak to Him through prayer. The concept of prayer permeates the Bible. It’s important; it’s very important!
Look with me to Colossians 4:2 please, it says this, let’s read the first part, “Devote yourselves to prayer….” “Devote yourselves to prayer,” Paul is saying it should be like breathing, it should be, as growing and maturing believers in Christ, should be second nature to us. The phrase, “Devote yourselves” or let me back up. The phrase “Devote yourselves to” is one word in the Greek, it’s the Greek verb proskartereo and it means to preserve or persevere devotedly, to busy oneself with, be visibly engaged in, be devoted to prayer. Are we busying ourselves in prayer or are we too busy to pray. This was an ongoing command for Paul.
He says the same thing to the church at Ephesus. In Ephesians 6:18 he says, “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, [and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints,”]. And to the church at Thessalonica, three words Paul says, “Pray without ceasing.” [1 Thessalonians 5:17.”]
Prayer is a priority for believers, it was recognized of the church at its inception. Acts 2:42, this is after the birth of the birth of the church, “They” the church, “were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” I’m so thankful that our church is devoted to these things. As a member of SLBC I may sound biased but if there’s anything that we excel in it’s the teaching of the Word, right? The first century church devoted itself to teaching and we are very blessed to sit under a preacher and teacher like Pastor Andy.
The first century church devoted themselves to fellowship; there’s another strength of SLBC, at least from my perspective. If you disagree may I ask, are you part of the great fellowship that’s found outside of what we have on Sunday and Wednesday? If you’re not I encourage you to do so; there’s great Bible studies, men’s Bible studies, women’s Bible studies, youth, kids, young couples which I’m a part of. We’re having our men’s expedition coming up soon. The first time I went I was hooked, the best time I’d had in a very long time. I had such a good time my wife got mad at me because I didn’t call her, and I said honey, it’s the reception, we’re in the middle of the woods.
But the first century of the church devoted themselves to the breaking of bread. Now the breaking of bread here has a closeness with the previous word, “fellowship.” It could mean the Lord’s Supper to some, and it could mean what they call a love meal, a meal ticket celebrating what Christ has done. I say that because Luke uses both terms in his writings. Either way, this is another area we excel in, the Lord’s Supper and sharing a love meal together. We know how to break some bread…right? The day we moved to Sugarland was May 31, 2012, and that was a Thursday and the first Sunday of April we attended, and then we had the fellowship meal, and I asked someone, what’s the occasion, and they said oh, this is a fellowship meal, we have this every first of the month. I said where do I sign up for membership. [laughs] This won’t be good for my waistline but I’ll sign up anyway.
They devoted themselves to the breaking of bread. And the first century church also devoted themselves to prayer. Now when I step back and I see the elders and the leaders of this church, they’re very serious when it comes to prayer. Very serious! I don’t mean that in a legalistic way but we, as a staff every Friday we have prayer meeting and I understand, we all have families and obligations but every Friday we spend at least an hour, depending on the prayer requests and the list of prayers that we have. And we pray for our congregation, for the sick, for the marriages, for the ill, for the ones that need jobs, things of that nature. I understand that in elders meetings most of their time is devoted to prayer. We have an e-mail chain, a prayer e-mail chain, as soon as we get the prayers in, by phone, by e-mail, our church secretary, Carol, sends them out in e-mails so those prayer requests can be lifted up. And for the past few years now, in our home, we’ve made it a habit to have family time, we call it family time, a time where after dinner we read the Bible and then we pray. Because as a Christian, right, as Christians we’re all commanded to pray and to teach our children likewise. So after we read, I told my kids, each one just pray for one or two people, and just pray for them. Even Jonah prays, my little three year old son. We can’t fully understand him but most times without fail he prays for… we ask him who do you want to pray for? Pastor Andy, uncle Andy. And on that note, in addition to devoting ourselves to prayer are we including our children in this process? Are we teaching them the priority of prayer? To devote themselves to prayer? I think it’s safe to say that Paul assumed, you as a parent, if you’re receiving the exhortation and the teachings from him as he follows the Lord, then naturally you would be teaching them to your children. Right? Does not Paul exhort the parents to bring your children up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord? Ephesians 6:4, [“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”] I want to encourage you and urge you, as Paul did the first century church, to devote yourselves to prayer. Make prayer a priority, as leaders in your household, as parents, Bible time and prayer is a priority, especially in these last days.
Before I go through the characteristics of prayer I found in Colossians 4:2-4 allow me to briefly address this, just to make you aware of it because I didn’t know this until I started studying this passage. In the Greek there’s grammatical rules and syntactical decisions that one has to make to interpret a particular passage. And it’s just like any other language, and as it stands this particular passage has been under debate, and the debate is concerning the relationship between the two participles, “keeping alert” and “praying.” If you look back at Colossians 4:2, “Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving,  praying” those are two participles, and it has a relationship to the leading imperative, “devote yourselves to.”
So for example, one camp says Paul is commanding us to do three things, devote, keep alert and pray, while the other camp says Paul is only saying one command, “Devote yourselves to prayer and the other participles modify the “devote yourselves to” they call that the independent imperative participle. It could be used in circumstantial adverbial sense,[can’t understand word]. In other words, the participles are used as a means, they modify the lead imperative, “Devote yourselves to.” So this gets important because of the purpose clause in this passage. You’ll notice the words “that” and “so that” in verse 3, which is used as the former can suggest, if you use it that way then you receive a distinct set of commands and distinct set of purposes.
I’m of the persuasion that it’s the latter camp, the latter camp rendering that Paul was communicating one commandment, “Devote yourselves to prayer,” and I lean this way because as I study the material it makes sense, depending on the version you have, and I also trust the Greek scholars that Andy himself uses, like A.T. Robertson, so on and so forth.
So before [can’t understand word, sounds like: ya’alls] head exposed let me just cut to the chase; if you were to structure Colossians 4:2-4 it would look like this: “Devote yourselves to prayer by keeping alert in it with thanksgiving  and by praying at the same time for us as well, namely that God will open up to us a door” of opportunity” for the word, “that” purpose statement, “we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which,” the ministry, “I have also been imprisoned;  that” purpose statement, “I might make it” the mystery “clear in the way I ought to speak.”
That’s the structure. Okay, let’s move on to the four characteristics of prayer; we briefly touched on devotion, we briefly touched on how prayer should be like breathing, it should become second nature as believers, we touched on the Greek term proskartereo, devote yourselves to, be busy and engaged in it with prayer. In other versions it says be steadfast in prayer, give yourselves to it, be deliberate about it. And the great thing about the Apostle Paul, he not only exhorted them to pray, he modeled it. He modeled a life of prayer to his audience.
Back in chapter 1, 9-10 it says, “For this reason also, since the day we heard of it,” that was their faith, “we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding. [10, “So that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.”] Paul was persistent in prayer, okay. And that’s the first characteristic, persistence in prayer. He modeled it. Persistence has the idea of consistent determination and continuance, a stick-to-itiveness. It’s the polar opposite of quitting or stagnancy. Wasn’t it Jesus who said in Matthew 7:7, don’t just ask, seek, don’t just seek, knock and don’t just knock, keep knocking. [Matthew 7:7, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.”]
God delights in our prayers and delights in answering them. He also delights in those who are persistent in prayer. This is what Calvin Coolidge said, our 30th President, he said this: “Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”
Back to Colossians; even the church’s founder, Epaphras, exampled this persistence and determination in prayer. Let’s go down to 4:12, Colossians 4:12, it says, “Epaphras, who is one of your number, a bondslave of Jesus Christ, sends you his greetings, always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers, that you may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God.” He was persistent in prayer. Here we see devotion to prayer is equivalent to laboring earnestly; it’s hard work; sweat and tears. Can you remember a time in your prayer life where you prayed with tears on behalf of someone, a loved one, a sick individual.
And also, please notice the adverb that is modifying the word “laboring,” it’s the word “always.” For you married folk, you guys remember going to those marriage conferences or marriage counselors for that matter; they teach you never to use absolutes, right? Of your spouse, your partner, or your spouse [laughter] Your spouse! Remember that. You always nag me, things like that, you always do this and you always do that. That’s an absolute. Just a tip for you single folks, don’t use that, don’t use that term. It’s the Greek word pantote, it means always. It’s the same exact word… now notice, Paul uses it to describe Epaphras’ prayer life… always. Wait a minute, I thought you weren’t supposed to use absolutes? Paul did it. It’s the same exact word, “always,” used of Jesus, of Himself, in John 8:28, “So Jesus said, ‘When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me.  And He who sent Me is with Me; He has not left Me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to Him.’” Persistence in prayer. Laboring earnestly, these passages indicate prayer requires constant and unfailing dedication, persistence in prayer!
A second characteristic; in addition to persistence we find the characteristic of vigilance in prayer. Look with me at Colossians 4:2 again, it says, “Devote yourselves to prayer,” by “keeping alert in it,” this exhortation to prayer, by “keeping alert in it” has the idea of being awake, being watchful, being on guard. I had my first experience with vigilance in the military, in boot camp. Recruits are taught early to stand watch, they call it duty, we have to stand watch at a door, or a gate, or a tent or wherever you had watch you had to stand watch. And you basically guarded your platoon or your division. So one particular night in boot camp, around 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning our division commanders decided to show up. And the poor and unfortunate soul who was on watch that night was caught sleeping near the door. And let me just tell you, no one in that room wanted to be that guy. He was humiliated in the worst way. He ended up being dishonorably discharged from the Navy a few days later. And that night, 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning the whole division received a lesson on vigilance, a hard lesson. Every single person paid for his mistake, and we went through what they call AIT, it’s called Advance Intense Training.
There’s IT, Intense Training, and then there’s Advanced Intense Training where they made you exercise on the spot for a couple of hours until you were exhausted. You couldn’t move. And then our division commander’s ended with this lesson. Imagine if this was a time of war and we were the enemy, all of you would be dead, simply because of an individual’s lack of vigilance. Wasn’t it Peter who said be sober, “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary” who? “the evil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” [1 Peter 5:8]
We are called to stand watch for our fellow brethren, brothers and sisters, our church leaders, in a posture of alertness, especially in these last days. Paul uses the same word, “alert” to exhort the people of the Corinthian church. He says in 1 Corinthians 16:13, “Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.” The NIV says “be on guard.” And given the context of Colossians, particularly the threat of the false teachers and the false teaching infiltrating the church, Paul says stay alert in prayer. I believe he’s warning of a casualness in our prayer life, a lackadaisical or lazy attitude towards prayer.
Pray at this particular time was not… in the church’s existence was not to be treated like a game. Christians were being persecuted, they were being killed systematically. Nero was ruling at that time, right? Paul was in prison when he wrote this letter. The value and importance of prayer was not to be taken for granted, and may we, as a 21st century church, never take that kind of posture. As we speak there’s Christians out there, right, churches out there, universities out there, governmental leaders out there, falling for lies and following liars because of the church’s lack of a watchfulness in prayer. And may we at Sugar Land Bible Church refuse to settle for a mediocre prayer life. Devote yourselves to prayer by keeping alert in it. [Colossians 4:2, “Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving;”] And just to reiterate, if you’re not part of the SLBC prayer chain, please, please, I encourage you to get on that list. We need prayers; there’s strength in numbers.
Okay, a third characteristic of Paul’s exhortation to the Colossians church regarding prayer was thankfulness; thankfulness sin prayer. Look with me again to Colossians 4:2, “Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving.” Almost every instance in the Bible that prayer is referenced or when someone is recorded praying in the Bible, thankfulness is attached to it, both Old and New Testaments.
David, in 2 Samuel 22, he writes a Psalm of his deliverance to his God. It starts out, “The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, My God, my rock, in whom I take refuge; My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold” and my refuge, you saved me from violence,” I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised.” And then 49 verses later, in 22:50 he says this: “Therefore I will give thanks to you, O LORD, among the nations, And I will sing praises to Your name.”
Paul is saying you want to know the correct way to give yourselves to prayer and what that looks like; it should be done in a posture of thanksgiving. Thanksgiving places the believer in the right attitude before God, before Almighty God. One scholar said that thankfulness is the environment of good and effective prayer. He also said thankfulness is a safeguard to informed prayer. I agree. Remember, Paul is writing this letter from prison, right? From a prison cell; he could have easily had an attitude of ungratefulness stuck in that prison cell. But that wasn’t Paul’s mindset.
And by the way, thankfulness is a major theme in this book. Paul not only commands it, that we pray with an attitude of thanksgiving, in Colossians 3:17 he says, “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks….” “Whatever you do,” are we thankful in our prayers? We in America, as Americans we have a heck of a lot to be thankful for; we have a lot to be thankful for. I like to say we, as Americans in a first world country, with our first world problem, right, we should be very thankful. I mean, running water, electricity, food on the table, breath in our lungs, two hands, two feet, two eyes to see, access to some of the best hospitals, the best medicine. We should be thankful. We have a church that we can come to without the fear of being beaten or beheaded. We have a lot to be thankful for.
What is the antonym to thankfulness? Ungratefulness, and ungratefulness seems to be an increasing trend in our day. Didn’t we learn this in Andy’s series, 2 Timothy, where in the last days, men will be all kinds of things and one of them in ungrateful. We also know from Scripture where ungratefulness can lead; it led an entire nation to grumble in disbelief, unbelief, ungratefulness. Ungratefulness was in part the reason why a nation spent forty years in the desert. Scripture says they began to grumble and that’s one of the symptoms of ungratefulness. David said in Psalm 92:1, “It is good to give thanks to the LORD.” Turn to your neighbor and say “it is good to give thanks to the LORD.” By the way, I always wanted to do that. Anyway! We should be thankful… thankful. We should be persistent in prayer. We should be vigilant in prayer. We are to be thankful in our prayers.
And then this brings us to our fourth and final characteristic of prayer, that is focus. We should be focused in prayer and what I mean by this is when we pray we should have a mission in mind. This was so important for Paul. In fact, he gave significant intention to this by giving them something to pray for. Look again at Colossians 4:3-4, Paul said, “Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving,” here it is, “praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned;  that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak.”
Here Paul gives a special prayer request for himself and his missionary partner as they continue in their calling to proclaim the gospel of Christ, specifically through an open door he called it, which was an opportunity. And it was, if we noticed, for two specific reasons. You can tell by those conjunctions we talked about earlier, “so that,” that indicates purpose or reason. Reason 1, to speak forth the mystery of Christ. And purpose 2, when Paul does speak of the mystery of Christ he does so in a clear manner, clear and understandable manner. And Paul uses open door lingo in other letters as well. 1 Corinthians 16:9 says, “for a wide door for effective service has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.” And he was coveting their prayers.
2 Corinthians 2:12 says, “Now when I came to Troas for the gospel of Christ and when a door was opened for me in the Lord,” so clearly when Paul is soliciting prayers for the Colossians church it was evangelistic in nature. Right. He needed prayers to empower himself to fulfill the work of the Lord, which was to spread the gospel. He had the mind of Christ, “not my will, Lord, but Your will be done. [“…‘Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.’” Luke 22:42]
Now in these last days the priority of prayer should be for God to open more and more doors of opportunity for us, for the church, for the people of God, to share the gospel. After all, that’s the purpose of the church, correct. In our Constitution SLBC’s constitution under Purpose, three purposes, To bring God glory, to minister to one another, and to minister to non-Christians. It’s evangelistic in nature. It says this in our Constitution: “We are committed to a goal of evangelism toward non-Christians. This takes place primarily outside of the regular church meetings and, as such, it is our intention to continually and regularly exhort and encourage each other toward a loving ministry of personal evangelism and missionary support.” That’s our purpose, that should be a purpose of ours.
Look at verse 3 again, “praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ….” Do you remember how Pastor Andy explains “mystery.” It is something concealed then revealed, right? Well, what in the world is “the mystery of Christ”? Turn left with me to chapter 1, verses 25-27, Colossians 1:25-27, Paul explains this mystery of Christ. He says, verse 25, “Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, so that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God,  that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints,  to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”
I think Paul is pointing something very specific here when he references the phrase, “mystery of Christ.” Please don’t overlook that important clause found in verse 27, “among the Gentiles.” Up until the death and resurrection of Christ the Gentiles were considered to be separate or without Christ. In fact, the Bible says they were without Christ, excluded from Israel’s citizenship, aliens, foreigners to the covenant of promise. Gentiles were without hope. To put it in a nutshell, we Gentiles were doomed. Oh, but the grace of God, God had plans for us. Right. Ephesians 2:13 says, Paul says, “But now in Christ Jesus,” speaking to the Gentile believers, “who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” That was Paul’s focus of prayer.
There’s still a lot of unbelieving Gentiles in this world. And we as a church should be focused in our prayers that God open doors for us and opportunities. So it’s quite clear, the gospel message was of extreme importance to Paul, so much so that he went to prison over it. So much so that he solicited prayer from the church, that he was able to speak the gospel clearly.
Look again at Colossians 4:4 and we’ll wrap it up here. Paul said,  “Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving;  praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I also have been imprisoned;  that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak.” Notice Paul wants to be “clear” in his gospel presentation. I just want to be clear he says. And I love how Sugar Land Bible Church and its leaders put a strong emphasis on the clarity of the gospel. In your prayers I encourage you, continue steadfast in prayer, not only for the congregation but for our leaders as well. I often pray for our leaders so they won’t fall to compromise. We all should do that.
The Apostle Paul, he was a prayer warrior; Epaphras, he was a prayer warrior. And for him to solicit prayers to present the gospel with clarity speaks volumes of his humility and his focus at prayer, at the task at hand.
So we learned that prayer should be a priority in our lives. We should devote ourselves to prayer, do everything in our power to devote ourselves to prayer. Paul says give ourselves to the devotion of prayer. We should be alert in it; we should be persistent in it, be thankful in it, and be focused in it.
Now there can be some of you today that have not trusted in Christ Jesus as their Savior and there’s good news. There’s an open door for you. The Bible says today is the day of salvation. How is one saved? Through the gospel. The gospel is what Christ has done for you; some 2,000 years ago, he lived a perfect life in your place, He lived a sinless life in your place. God actually gave His Son in your stead; He also died, resurrected and ascended. And he sits now at the right hand of His Father.
And John 3:16 says, “…whoever,” “whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” If you desire eternal life and there’s just one thing you need to do and that’s believe… just one. That’s it! Another word, trust, depend, and if you’ve done that congratulations, you are a child of God. And glory awaits you, my friend. Amen. All your sins have been paid for, past, present and future. That’s the gospel. And if you’re unsure, I’m available to speak after the service. Can we pray.
Thank you so much, Lord, for the privilege of prayer. Lord, teach us in these last days to pray fervently, to totally devote ourselves to the discipline of prayer. I pray that you teach us how to be persistent in it, vigilant in it, thankful in it and focused in it. May we challenge ourselves as we leave here today to cultivate an extraordinary prayer life, not only in our lives but in our children’s lives as well. And may we do it all for Your glory. In Jesus name… and God’s people said Amen.