Summary: The knowledge of the will of God is both the thing that will guide our living and the thing that’ll assure us of our final destiny. But it’s primarily a means to an end. It’s the means by which we can do what is pleasing to God. It’s the means by which we
The reason we’re following this series on the prayers of St Paul is first because if we’re going to pray to God, then it’s good to know something about the God we’re praying to. You could say that the way we pray shows the way we think about God. If your view of God is of someone a bit like Santa Claus then your prayers will most probably contain lots of requests for things you want. If your view of God is of a strict authoritarian then your prayers may contain lots of repentance and self-deprecation. So the more we understand the nature of God the better our prayer life will be. But secondly, if we want to improve our prayer life then what better way to do it than to examine the prayers of the godly people of Scripture. Of Moses as he argued with God about whether God would go with him to lead the people of Israel. Of David whose prayers were so often songs of praise. Of Solomon as he praised God at the dedication of the Temple. Of Nehemiah as he prayed for forgiveness for his people or as he called to God to help him as he stood before King Artaxerxes. And of course, as we’re doing this month, we can learn from the prayers of St Paul, how to pray for one another, how to pray for the church.
Paul’s prayer for the Colossians has one major difference from most of his other prayers as well as a couple of similarities.
1. Praying for strangers
The difference is that he prays here for Christians he’s never met. In the prayer we looked at last week, to the Thessalonians, he knew the people he was praying for well. He’d spent some time with them, he’d experienced the sort of opposition they were up against. But here he’s praying for a church that was started by one of his disciples, by Epaphras. This’d be similar to us praying for the people the Peters have told us about in the church in Valdivia, or Concepción, or those the Prentices have mentioned in the theological college in Namibia. He doesn’t know them personally, but he is praying for them. In other places he writes to those he considers his own sons and daughters in the Lord. Here he’s praying for his spiritual grandchildren
Again, here’s an important corrective for us. A test of our own prayer life. How much time do we spend praying for our own circle of friends and family and how much do we pray for those in the wider church, for those we’ve never met.
I occasionally talk to people about their giving and I’m always disappointed when I hear someone say that their priority, as far as their money is concerned, is to give it to their grandchildren or their nephews and nieces rather than giving their money to support the church or some Christian ministry. Disappointed not for the church but for them. The problem is that when you give to your own flesh and blood you’re basically giving to yourself. It’s basically a self-centred activity. And the same goes with praying. If we’re only ever praying about our own family, our own set of friends, our own ministry situation even, then our prayers are tending to be self-centred, parochial in the literal sense of the word, aren’t they?
Now that doesn’t mean that we should broaden our prayers to the point that they become meaningless. I’m not suggesting that we pray the sort of prayer that says "God bless everyone". But it is good to pray for those people we hear about through the missionary letters we get, or in the news reports we read or see on television, so our vision is enlarged, our horizons expanded, our ministry of prayer increased.
2. Persistent Prayer
One of the things that pops up in Paul’s references to prayer time and time again is this phrase: "we have not ceased praying for you." Now that doesn’t mean that he never sleeps, or that he goes into some sort of mystic trance, where he’s in constant communion with God. No, what it means is that he prays consistently and persistently for them. Since he’s heard from Epaphras about their faith and love he’s had them on his regular, and no doubt extensive, prayer list.
It’s interesting, isn’t it, that there are some things that we need to pray about over and over again. There are some things that need to be prayed for specifically and urgently. They’re the sorts of things that might be passed around the prayer chain. But there are other matters that require a long term view, or that never go off the agenda. For example, it’s good to give thanks to God before beginning each meal simply as an acknowledgment of our dependence on him for our daily bread. We should always be praying for opportunities to serve him, to share our faith with others. And we should always be praying for the things we see in these prayers of Paul.