Sermon: The Prayer Life of a Christian - Colossians 4

Prayer is, for the most part, an untapped resource, an unexplored continent where untold treasure remains to be unearthed.

Prayer is the pipeline of communication between God and His people, between God and those who love Him.

Scriptures: Colossians 4

Introduction

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 un-offered prayer."

Instead of it being something we do everyday, like breathing, eating and walking and talking, it seems to have become like that little glass covered box on the wall that says, "break in case of emergency." It is true that so very often we associate prayer with crises in our life.

I heard a story the other day of a man who encountered a bit of trouble while flying his little airplane. He called the control tower and said, "Pilot to tower, I'm 300 miles from the airport, six hundred feet above the ground, and I'm out of fuel. I am descending rapidly. Please advise. Over." "Tower to pilot," the dispatcher began, "Repeat after me: "Our Father Who art in heaven...'"

Prayer is, for the most part, an untapped resource, an unexplored continent where untold 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 greatest gift our Lord has given us outside of salvation.

In 1952, Albert Einstein was delivering a lecture on the campus of Princeton University. A doctoral student asked the famous scientist "What is there left in the world for original dissertation research?" With considerate thought and profundity Einstein replied, "Find out about prayer. Somebody must find out about prayer."

Paul was somebody who understood prayer and its power. Prayer was a part of Paul's life, and he took it for granted that it would be a part of the life of every Christian. You cannot really be a good Christian and not pray, just like you cannot have a good 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 you will be miserable. Prayer is the pipeline of communication between God and His people, between God and those who love Him.

I. Pray with persistence

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. In other words, persistence in prayer is not an option for the Christian it is an order from the Lord Himself.

Two of the most instructive parables Jesus ever told on prayer, one in Luke 18 and the other in Luke 11, both have to do with being persistent and not giving up in prayer.

  • 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."
  • 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 are 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.

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. Persistence means not giving up.

Some people give up easy, they quit because they say they don't feel like praying, the joy is gone, the feeling is gone. 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."

Be persistent in prayer.

II. Pray with passion

If you are persistent in something, it stands to reason that you are to be passionate about it. 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, it was something He was always doing.

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 gives direction.
  • 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 enables us to experience the glory of the Father.
  • In John 17 in His high priestly prayer - Passionate prayer impacts the lives of others.
  • In Matthew 26:39 in the Garden of Gethsemane - It is only through passionate prayer that we can pour out our hearts to God.
  • In Luke 23:24 as He hung on the cross - a life that is lived in passionate prayer will enable us to maintain that spirit, even in the most difficult of circumstances.

Jesus always prayed with passion, because He knew Who it was He was talking to and He knew that prayer to the Father is a powerful thing and not something to take lightly and glibly.

Prayer from the heart, that's what passionate prayer is, it is prayer from the heart not just from the head.

That is how He taught us to pray, not only through His example, but specifically through His teaching Look in Matthew 6:7, in the Sermon on the Mount as Jesus instructs on prayer. It is here that we find 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 Wailing 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.

You don't tell your wife. "I love you, oh I really love you and I just wanted to tell you today that I love you, I'm so glad that I just have this time to just say I love you. Please feed the children, please clean the house and may all go well with you." Amen

James 5:16 says, "The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much."

III. Pray with thankfulness

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.
  • 1 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.
  • 1 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 does several things:

  • It articulates dependence
  • It demonstrates relationship
  • It communicates gratitude - proper attitudes
  • It generates humility

IV. Pray, making intercession

Intercessory prayer is basically praying for others, it is praying for God's will to be done in the lives of other people.

Intercessory prayers characterized the prayer life of Jesus.

  • In Isaiah 53:12 the Bible 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 wanted God's kingdom to expand. Like Jesus, he was concerned about others, about their souls, their salvation and their sanctification.

It is instructive to 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.

Paul wanted their prayers to be in accordance with God's will not simply after the greedy desires of someone living for this world.

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?

Intercessory prayer changes things.

Howard Hendricks, who for years taught at the Dallas Theological Seminary and pastored in the area shared this story. He said:

Years ago in a church in Dallas we were having trouble finding a teacher for a junior high boys class. The list of prospects had only one name -- and when they told me who it was I said, "You've got to be kidding." But I couldn't have been more wrong about that young man. He took the class and revolutionized it.

I was so impressed I invited him to my home for lunch and asked him the secret of his success. He pulled out a little black book. On each page he had a small picture of one of the boys, and under the boy's name were comments like "having trouble in arithmetic," or "comes to church against parents' wishes," or "would like to be a missionary some day, but doesn't think he has what it takes."

"I pray over those pages every day," he said, "and I can hardly wait to come to church each Sunday to see what God has been doing in their lives."

You see, when you pray for others, when you pray for God's work to be done, for His will to be accomplished, He will begin to use you and grow you in ways that will astonish those around you. Sometimes I think we do not become what God wants us to become, because we are too focused on ourselves and not on others. It is when we pray for others that we will become more like Jesus, and as we become more like Jesus God will grow us more, show us more, and use us more.

We must pray for others.

Five things that happen when we pray:

1. Prayer internalizes the burden

It deepens our ownership of the burden and our partnership with God. As we pray we begin to become aware of how God might us to answer the prayer, how He might involve us in ways we had not theretofore foreseen.

2. Prayer forces us to wait

Part of prayer is always waiting for God. God has three answers to prayers: Yes, no and wait. Yes and no are no-brainers. But wait, that is tough. John MacArthur says: "There is a tension between boldness and waiting on God's will. That tension is resolved by being persistent, yet accepting God's answer when it finally comes." Instead of getting frustrated that God is not on our schedule, prayer forces us to be on God's timetable.

3. Prayer opens our spiritual eyes

It enables us to get in touch with what God is doing and how He is doing it.

In II Kings 6 you may recall the story of when the Army of Israel was surrounded by their enemies and Elijah's servant got nervous. Verses 15-17 say

Now when the attendant of the man of God had risen early and gone out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was circling the city. And his servant said to him, "Alas, my master! What shall we do?" 16So he answered, "Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them." 17Then Elisha prayed and said, "O LORD, I pray, open his eyes that he may see." And the LORD opened the servant's eyes and he saw; and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.

Prayer opens our eyes, enabling us to see what God is doing, to see things we are blinded to without prayer. That's because prayer is communication. We speak to God, God answers us, speaking to us, showing us.

4. It aligns our heart with God's heart

Adjustment, alignment, setting our thoughts, emotions, actions.

5. Prayer enables us to move forward

Prayer engages God, enables God's people, and enlarges His kingdom. Jesus said, "without Me, you can do nothing." Once we have prayed we are ready to do anything, until we have prayed we can do nothing, but once we have prayed we can accomplish anything.

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?

Dr. Calvin Wittman is pastor of Applewood Baptist Church, Wheat Ridge, Colorado. He serves as a trustee at Criswell College, and regularly contributes to Open Windows, a monthly LifeWay devotional publication.