Summary: The purpose of prayer complemented by a model on how we should pray.
I hope you remember the Peanuts cartoons. One day Lucy and Linus had a chicken wishbone and were going to pull it to make a wish. Lucy was explaining to Linus that if he got the bigger half his wish would come true. Linus said to her, ‘Do I have to say the wish out loud?’ Lucy said, ‘Of course, if you don’t say it out loud it won’t come true’.
So Lucy went ahead and made her wishes first. She said, ‘I wish for four new sweaters, a new bike, a new pair of skates, a new dress and one hundred dollars’. Then Linus made his wishes and he said them out loud. He said, ‘I wish for a long life for all of my friends, I wish for world peace, I wish for great advancements in medical research’. About that time, Lucy took the wishbone and threw it away saying, ‘Linus, that’s the trouble with you. You’re always spoiling everything’.
Two different wishes, two different prayers, two petitions asking for very different things.
Today we begin to look at Paul’s prayer in Col 1:9–14. These verses are not grammatically easy for Paul piles idea upon idea as he brings the needs of the Colossian church before the Lord. The purpose of the prayer is made clear in verse 10, ‘And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way’. This is why Paul prays, and I think he shares his prayer with the Colossians and with us because he wants us all to learn to pray this way.
‘For this reason’, Paul writes in verse 9, ‘since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you’. (Col 1:1:9). ‘For this reason’? For what reason? What reason drives Paul to petition God on behalf of the saints in Colossae? It’s the thankfulness the apostle has for the church. ‘We always thank God, the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you’—Paul says in verse 3—‘because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus’.
Paul’s thankfulness for the Colossians in verses 3–8 provides the fodder for his intercessory prayer in verses 9–14. Their faith in Christ, their love for the saints, their longing for heavenly realities—Paul is thankful and he intercedes—he prays that God will give the Colossians more of the same. What Paul has thanked God for (verses 3–7) are now the kind of things which Paul prays for more of in verses 9–14. This drives us to an extremely important conclusion: although we are inclined to pray for people and situations only when they fall into desperate need, Paul’s common practice is to pray in all circumstances for those entrusted to him.
When life derails and we are on the rocks, these are the times when we pray with a renewed sense urgency. When there is accident, illness, financial pressure, moral failure, dissension in the church, a difficult decision, tensions in the family—these are the times when we are driven to prayer. In itself, this type of prayer is not bad. It’s great that we take our needs and fears to God.
But if we pray only during these times, we are overlooking a great lesson from the apostle’s prayer life. Paul tells us in verse 9 that he prays for others even when there are signs of life and power and grace. Paul’s concern is that such signs should be protected and increased. So after Paul gives thanks for a particular situation, he doesn’t move on to pray for another groups of believers—he keeps praying for the church that is doing well. Paul prays just as earnestly for a healthy, mature church as he does for the shaky, problem-ridden churches under his care.
We must ask ourselves whether or not our instincts push us in the same direction. Do we feel the burden of prayer only when our church is experiencing trouble? Perhaps when finances are down or numbers are declining. Do we only pray for other congregations when they are suffering? Are we as eager to pray for our children and grand-children when they are making great progress in the faith, or only when they are under the influence of ill-chosen friends?
With these three words, ‘For this reason’, Paul teaches us to link our prayers of petition with our prayers of thanksgiving. The spiritual growth which causes us to be thankful to God ought to become the subject of our prayers of intercession. When we have seen the fruit of the Spirit amongst us, then we must keep asking God for ongoing evidence of perseverance and endurance, for the prize awaits only those who cross the finishing line.
Notice in verse 9 that Paul hadn’t met those for whom he is praying. The Colossian church was apparently founded by Epaphras, himself a Colossian converted through Paul’s ministry in Ephesus. Paul comments that he has been praying, ‘since the day we heard about you’—though he had ‘heard’ about them he had never met them. This is confirmed in Col 2:1, ’I want you to know how much I am struggling for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally’. Even though he hasn’t met them, Paul is praying for them.