Praying like a Christian
Topics include: How do we pray and enjoy it?
Glossary: kingdom of God; endurance, redemption,
What things do you like to pray about?
The Apostle Paul is writing to a church that he has never met in person but has heard much about from his partner in mission, Epaphras. The reports are that this church has heard the true gospel of God and have truly understood what God’s grace is all about. The evidence is in the faith that they display for Jesus and their love for one another. The true gospel comes to us from God the Father. It is about salvation through Jesus Christ alone and not based on any of our own merits. And it is spreading across the globe by the words of faithful servants like Epaphras and Paul and by the Spirit of God.
Paul always thanks God for what he hears about the church in Colossae because of the reports that he is hearing about them.
Read Colossians 1:9-14
9 For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives,t 10 so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, 12 and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. 13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
What did you see?
- Paul’s prayer for knowledge of God’s will (9)
- In order to live worthy of the Lord (10-12)
- Good work (10)
- Growing in knowledge of God (10)
- Strength from God to endure (11)
- With a life of thankfulness to God (12)
- Because that is God’s plan (13-14)
Paul’s prayer for knowledge of God’s will (9)
“For this reason…” Phrases like this mean we need to recap what was the reason already laid out? Epaphras has told Paul and Timothy about the faith and love of the Colossians springing out of the hope that they have because of the gospel that they heard! Because of this report…
“…we have not stopped praying for you.” The subject of this section is the content of Paul’s prayer. We mustn’t imagine that Paul spends his whole day 24/7 praying and not doing anything else. His ministry is about preaching and teaching but he is a prayer. He says elsewhere to pray continually (1 Thessalonians 5:17). This verse is worth looking up and including in the study somewhere. It is God’s will that we speak with him with joy and contentment in all situations.
“We continually ask God…” This is a reminder that one prayer to God once only is not a sign that you really need what you are asking for. Jesus spoke about approaching God the Father in prayer and being persistent. He also gave the profound formula of prayer in the Lord’s Prayer which can be prayed over and over because we know what God desires in our prayers. You see, prayer is faith speaking. We know who God is through his word, we know what he is like and what he has promised to us. We now, by faith, ask God to fulfill exactly what he has promised. Not because he is likely to forget, but because our prayers are a reflection of our understanding and relationship with God. Shallow prayers about selfish things are indications of immaturity. But mature prayers are about fulfilling God’s purposes in your life and in the life of others. This is why the Lord’s prayer is so profoundly helpful! It is about God’s will being done and his kingdom coming. This kingdom is about forgiveness, the provision of what we truly need while continuing to trust God for the future and it is about running away from darkness and into the light of God’s grace. So, Paul does not just pray once and forget. He is invested in the church in Colossae and his prayer for them is repeated because he is keen for them to grow up in the kingdom of God’s grace.
“…to fill you with the knowledge of his will…” Let this request be clear to us! Christianity is not about choose-your-own-adventure and let love guide your way. It is about knowing the will of God! In Ephesians 1, Paul explains that God’s will was a mystery for ages but now that Christ has appeared, it has been made known. His will is to bring everything under Christ’s rule. Paul’s prayer is that the Colossians would get the full grasp of that will. This is life changing to anybody to grasp what God’s plans are for this world and everyone in it and then to shift their thinking to fall in line with him! This is foundational to the Christian faith.
“…through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives…” The bible teaches us that the Spirit works through transforming minds in accordance with the word of God. Jesus spoke in John 16:12-15 about the Spirit being sent in order to speak only what the Father and the Son gives Him to speak. Although God is one, he is three persons in one. All three are equally God. Yet there is a relationship within the Godhead which is other-person-centred. The Spirit is not fighting for headship nor is the Son. The Father freely gives everything to the Son and the Spirit gladly works in this world to tell of the good news of Jesus and the love of the Father. It can be difficult to wrap our heads around an apparent hierarchy without imagining the Spirit as less than God. But this is a truth that we must grapple with and give all glory to God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. 2 Timothy 3:16 tells us that the bible is God-breathed which literally means ‘God-Spirited’. It is the Holy Spirit that has worked in the mind and hearts of people to bring us God’s word the bible (2 Peter 1:21). The Spirit of God fills our minds with the knowledge of God’s will through the message of the bible. If we wish to know the will of God, pray for the Spirit to help you to understand the word of God, the bible, as you try to read and understand it. The COMA method is very helpful in learning how to listen well to the Spirit of God through the word of God.
In order to live worthy of the Lord (10-12)
“So that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way…” Context changes everything and is vital to a good understanding of the scriptures. It is important to live worthy of the Lord and to please him but it is impossible for us to do this without a) hearing the gospel and truly understanding God’s grace; and b) living in response to the grace of God by knowing the will of God by truly listening to him through his word. The point is that we are saved in the first place so that we can actually pursue a life of pleasing him. We do not work at living a good life in order to get his approval to begin with! The words ‘so that’ flow from the prayer that we be filled with the knowledge of God. You can’t please someone without knowing what pleases them. What pleases God is a life of faith and love flowing out from his grace. We were made to glorify God which looks like a life of pleasing the Lord – yet we cannot do that without the salvation of the cross nor the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. But with the Spirit and the Word, we can now pursue life with Christ. Paul lists what he has in mind when he says this…
Good work (10)
“…bearing fruit in every good work…” The gospel carries a cause and effect message with it. When a person hears and responds to the gospel, it is expected that the outworking of this is a life of faith and love. This is the good fruit that flows from a born again Christian. If the fruit is not there, this is evidence of a person who is not born again. Matthew 7:17-19 describes Jesus using the fruit of a tree to illustrate whether someone is worthy of the kingdom or not. Galatians 5:22-23 describes the fruit of the Spirit in terms of the virtues of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Conversely, Galatians 5:19-21 describe the fruit of someone who is not part of the kingdom: sexual immorality, impurity, hatred, jealousy, fits of rage and so on. The gospel brings personal change to people. At this point, a genuine Christian can lose heart because of their failings in some of these areas but a fruit tree doesn’t immediately sprout great juicy fresh fruit! It takes time and nurture and good feeding. The same is with the Christian but the direction and purpose remains the same – we live for the kingdom now and not for ourselves. Good work refers to everything that is done in love for others and not self. “Good works” are the first in the list of ways we live pleasing lives for God.
Growing in knowledge of God (10)
“…growing in the knowledge of God…” There is an intrinsic link between what we learn and how we act. The fruit of the gospel is righteous living and we grow in our obedience with the growing of our knowledge of God. To be ‘godly’ or to live a life of ‘godliness’ (words common to this world, not quoting from Colossians) is to grow in our knowledge and love of God. We are godly when we are Godward! Fill our minds with the knowledge of Him and we learn about his grace and mercy and patience and kindness and contentment and faithfulness and truth and so on. Paul’s prayer is to keep growing in the knowledge of God. See Colossians 2:6. “Growing in knowledge of God” is the second way we please God.
Strength from God to endure (11)
“…being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might…” Living in the strength that God provides is one element of faith. That is, we trust him to grow us and equip us for the works of service. But what is the strength for?
“…so that you may have great endurance and patience…” Endurance and patience are a key lesson in the New Testament as we continue to live in this world, waiting for Jesus to return! Jesus spoke of being dressed and ready for when he returns even though we do not know the day or the hour that he will return (Luke 12:35-40). He says that whoever gets tired of waiting and is not ready when he returns will be treated as an unbeliever (Luke 12:42-46). This is about faithfulness. The nature of our lives while we wait for heaven is to persevere with endurance and patience. The strength to endure comes also from the growing knowledge of God! Enduring through the power of God is the third way we live pleasing lives.
With a life of thankfulness to God (12)
“…and giving joyful thanks to the Father…” The audience of Paul’s prayers is God the Father and he is our Father too. He is the source of our salvation since it is his great love that sent Jesus into the world to save us. He is our creator and our lives exist to give him thanks and praise (Romans 1:20-21). The gospel doesn’t come to us so that we can praise ourselves or one another but that we can live in joy of knowing God and growing in our knowledge of him. This is what we were made for! The trouble is that all of humanity are hopeless at doing this by nature. So how can we ever come to God with joy in our hearts unless we knew for certain that he was happy to receive us?
“…who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light.” Wow! God’s kingdom is a kingdom of light – with no darkness allowed – filled with his holy people, the righteous, sinless ones – and we who have heard the gospel and truly understood the grace of God have been qualified to share in this – it is our inheritance! When God sees you and me, in Christ he views us with the purity of Christ. The fourth desire of God for our lives is that we rejoice in the assurance of salvation!
Because that is God’s plan (13-14)
“For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves…” Paul is underlining his last statement that HE has qualified US and we have not qualified ourselves. This is the gospel of grace. We were living in darkness but he rescued us. He saved us. He pulled us out of the pit and placed us in the kingdom of the Son whom he loves. We must be clear by now that Christianity is not about earning God’s praise but that he saved us so that we can, in truth, praise God! We praise him with our lips but also and more significantly with our actions. This is God’s plan for us.
“…in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” What an amazing couple of verses of the gospel! Rescued, brought, redeemed, forgiven. Out of darkness and into light. And all of this has been done in Christ! Our next study will follow Paul’s theme of the Son of God, who he is and what he has done. We finish this lesson on the foundation of our lives which is to get on board with God’s plan for us to be part of his kingdom! He has qualified us and we ought to live lives that praise him because he loves us so much. The key to all of this is our knowledge of the gospel which transforms and grows our knowledge of God and his will.
What did we learn?
Christianity is completely for us, for our benefit, and it is at the heart of the will of God but it is not about us! It is about God and his great will and purpose to give us the qualifications of entry into the kingdom of God. Paul’s prayer is for the knowledge of God’s will to grow clearer and clearer so that we live just as God intended for us to live. Without this, we remain in darkness. But with wisdom and understanding, we can enjoy and embrace a life that pleases God. This comes to us by the power of the Spirit through the reading of his word.
Topic A: A praying life. Notice the content of Paul’s prayer for the people of God in Colossae. Prayer is our privilege as children of God to bring to God any of our concerns (Philippians 4:7) but our concerns must be transformed to be the same as God’s for us and for the world. Look at the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:9-13 and compare what Jesus outlined with the prayer of Paul in Colossians 1:9-14. As we grow in our knowledge of God, we learn to pray continually for God’s will to be done. This is not merely a respect for God’s will to trump your desires but it is a plea for your desires to be the same as God’s.
Topic B: How do we pray? Just like any relationship, talking to God in prayer involves knowing who you are talking to. It also involved just talking. Calling him Father is a great start. Talking out loud is said by some to be helpful. Also, writing down your prayer can be a good way of staying focused and not drifting your mind onto other things. It’s as easy as speaking to someone who you trust with your life and every secret thing. It is also tricky because God doesn’t speak back or provide head-nods as you speak. But start praying and do so while growing in your knowledge of God. It is always helpful to take a passage of the bible, read it, and then turn that lesson or story into a prayer. You’ll be surprised how helpful that can be.
Topic C: Praying for one another. Paul shared in writing what he was praying for and this is a very useful thing to do when you intend to pray for others (see Luke 22:32). Rather than suggest that you’ll pray for a sick person to get better, be clear about what you are praying for. Also, praying out loud with one another is a practice that Christians have done right from the beginning (Acts 1:24; 4:31; 12:12; 16:25; 20:36; 21:5). Learning to pray in Growth Groups is not only a growing opportunity for the prayer but whole groups that are comfortable with open prayer are a very encouraging thing to be a part of. Start by saying a short prayer of thanks to God for one thing that you learned in the study and take things slow. You’ll be comfortable with open prayer in no time.