Praying Like an Apostle
Praying Like an Apostle
“How’s your prayer life?”
What does that question even mean? “How often do you pray?” “How long do you pray?” “Do you use the right words when you pray?” “What posture do you use to pray?” “Where do you pray?” “What kinds of things do you pray for?” “Why do you pray?” “Whom are you addressing when you pray?”
In every one of Paul’s letters, the apostle gives us a glimpse into his own prayer life. Several times, he requests specific prayer for himself, but in every letter he refers to or expresses something specific he is praying for his readers. This morning, we’re going to take a look at one of those prayers, recorded in Col. 1:9-14. Please turn there now.
In your sermon notes, you’ll see a sheet with an outline; go ahead and take a look at it, so that we can see where we’re headed. This passage will help us address 3 questions: 1) What does Paul request in this prayer? 2) Whom does Paul address in prayer? and 3) How can Paul pray? What you see in your outline is a breakdown of this passage that I will be following this morning, beyond answering those 3 primary questions.
We read the passage earlier, so we’ll dive right in, but, before we do, let me make one more introductory observation about this passage. Verses 9-14, in Greek, are part of the longest Greek sentence in the New Testament. Col. 1:9-20 is, in fact, one single sentence in Greek, comprised of 216 Greek words.
Now, let’s begin unpacking this wondrously huge sentence; look at verse 9: And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding. Most Bible translations begin this verse with the words “for this reason,” which shows the connection to verses 7-8 more clearly. Paul mentions how Epaphras, who had planted the church in Colossae, had recently delivered a report to Paul indicating that the Christians in Colossae were expressing love for each other, as the fruit of the Spirit. Because of this good report, Paul says, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you. He and Timothy, who are in some sense co-writing this letter, repeatedly, consistently, and regularly pray for these Christians. As Pastor Barry mentioned last week, it’s important to remember that Paul has never met these Christians in Colossae. He doesn’t know these folks, yet he prays for them unceasingly! We will come back to this point to reflect on its implications for us. Notice also that it’s not a crisis that provokes him to pray; it’s their good progress. John MacArthur comments, “Paul...knew that the knowledge that others are progressing in the faith should never lead us to stop praying for them. Rather, it should encourage prayer for their greater progress.”
So, what does Paul pray for these Colossian Christians he’s never met? He prays that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding. The language of “fullness” and “being filled” is going to appear several times in Colossians, and many through the years have thought that Paul uses this word because the false teachers he is opposing use this word as a buzzword of sorts. The word conveys the basic idea of completion, most often used with reference to filling a container with a substance. It is this notion of “capacity” that drives Paul’s metaphorical usage of the term here. He is depicting each of the Colossian Christians as like this cup, and he’s praying that God would pour something into this cup, filling it up to the very top.
What fills the cup? Well, it seems that Paul envisions a sort of “mixed drink” that consists of 3 ingredients: the knowledge of his will, all spiritual wisdom, and all spiritual understanding. Ingredient #1 is “knowing God’s will.” What a concept! When we speak of “knowing God’s will” or wanting to know God’s will, we’re usually referring to finding out what decision God wants us to make when faced with a variety of options. “Who should I marry?” “Where should I work?” “Should I eat Chinese or Mexican for dinner?” “Should we move to Africa or Kilgore?” I’m so glad to see some of our young men studying the book Just Do Something by Kevin DeYoung; that book will help you recognize more clearly that, when the Bible speaks of God’s will, it’s not usually (if ever) talking about those kinds of day-to-day decisions. DeYoung writes, concerning this passage, “Being filled with the knowledge of God’s will doesn’t mean getting divine messages about our summer plans and financial investments. It means we bear fruit, grow in our understanding of God, are strengthened with power unto patience, and joyfully give thanks to the Father.”
Reflecting on this passage in connection with the rest of Colossians, commentator David Pao writes, “‘The knowledge of his will’ is the knowledge of what God has done through Jesus Christ. This ‘will’ is not concerned primarily with God’s private plan for individual believers; it is rather his salvific will as he accomplishes his plan of salvation.” The concept of God’s will in Paul’s letters is at once more general and more comprehensive than the way we tend to use that phrase. Knowing God’s will, according to Paul, “involves recognizing how Christ is the fulfillment of God’s redemptive purposes..., how God’s salvation is open to all people, and how God intends for Christians to live in whatever situation they find themselves.” At the end of the letter, in Col. 4:12, Paul will let the Colossians know how Epaphras has also been praying that they would “stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God.”
Two more ingredients make up this “cocktail” Paul is praying would fill the Colossian Christians: wisdom and understanding. The adjectives “all” and “spiritual” probably go with both of these terms. The 2011 edition of the NIV helps us see more clearly that the word usually translated “spiritual” is actually referring to the Holy Spirit in Paul’s Letters. You can see their translation of this phrase on the screen or in your sermon notes: all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives. Paul is praying that God would fill all of the Colossian Christians—and ultimately all Christians everywhere—with the wisdom and understanding provided by the Spirit.
So, what is Paul requesting in this prayer? Like a cup filled with a mixed drink, Paul asks God to enable the Colossian Christians to know God’s will completely, accompanied by the wisdom and understanding that only the Spirit can provide. “Understanding” probably refers to “the ability to discern the truth,” while “wisdom” probably refers to making “good decisions based on that truth.” The metaphor of being filled probably “implies elements of completeness (that a knowledge of God’s will is to shape the whole of life) and of exclusiveness (that only God’s will be allowed to shape life).” After all, once the cup is full, you can’t put anything else in!
Paul goes on in verse 10 to highlight the result he expects from this filling. He prays that God would fill the Colossian Christians, verse 10, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him. “Walking” is frequently used in the Bible as a metaphor for the way a person lives their life on a daily basis; it refers to our day-to-day conduct. The imagery of “walking” is important, as it implies forward motion, rather than simply standing still. Paul refers to “walking worthily” in 2 other places in his letters. They’ll appear on the screen one at a time, and they’re down in your sermon notes. Eph. 4:1 says, I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called. 1 Thess. 2:12 says, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory. Notice that what Paul commands in Ephesians and 1 Thessalonians, he expects as a result of God’s work in answer to prayer in Colossians.
In verse 10 of our passage, he further characterizes what it means to “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord” as being “fully pleasing” to the Lord Jesus. Paul often speaks of pleasing God as a goal of the ordinary Christian life, as well as a goal of his own life and ministry. Whereas “those who are in the flesh cannot please God,” according to Paul in Rom. 8:8, “we make it our ambition to please him,” as he says in 2 Cor. 5:9 (NET). D.A. Carson writes, “In thought, word, and deed, in action and in reaction, I must be asking myself, ‘What would Jesus have me do? What is speech or conduct worthy of him? What sort of speech or conduct in this context should I avoid, simply because it would shame him? What would please him the most?’” Is that the goal you pursue in your relationships and in your endeavors? Let the concern to please Jesus affect every decision you make. Carson adds, “Transparently, we cannot begin to be utterly pleasing to Jesus unless God fills us with the knowledge of his will. Conversely, the knowledge of his will is not an end in itself but has as its goal such Christian maturity that our deepest desire is to please the Lord Christ.”
What does the life “worthy of the Lord” and “fully pleasing to him” look like? In the rest of verse 10 and on through the beginning of verse 12, Paul uses 4 Greek participles to flesh out what this life looks like. The first 2 finish out verse 10; he continues, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. These 2 participles, “bearing fruit” and “increasing,” we’ve already seen in Col. 1:6, where Paul said that the gospel was “bearing fruit and increasing” “in the whole world,” as well as among the Colossian Christians. In contrast to the way the Colossian Christians lived before the gospel “bore fruit” among them, “doing evil deeds” according to verse 21, now they are expected to “bear fruit” “in every good work.” Paul often refers to good works as a vital part of the Christian life. Let’s look at just 3 other examples, though there are several others.
First, see 2 Cor. 9:8 on the screen or in your sermon notes—And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. Paul here highlights God’s grace as always available, in every circumstance, so that the believer can do good deeds. Secondly, look at 2 Tim. 3:16-17—All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. This statement is so important for our understanding of the nature of Scripture as God’s very words that we often miss the main point Paul is making. In 2 Cor. 9:8, God’s grace is the source of the believer’s ability to do “every good work”; here, in 2 Tim. 3:16-17, it is “all Scripture” which he insists provides all that is necessary for the believer to do “every good work.” Finally, look at Eph. 2:10—For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. God has saved us, created us anew, for the purpose of doing good works, and notice the metaphor of “walking” in good works, indicating that our daily lifestyle is to be characterized by doing good works.
So, living life “worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him” involves “bearing fruit in every good work.” And, secondly, it involves “increasing in the knowledge of God.” Paul is praying that God would enable them to know God’s will, so that they will live fully pleasing to him, by knowing God himself better. The phrase “knowledge of God” surely refers to intimacy with God, rather than simply knowing facts about God. Nevertheless, this seems a bit circular, as knowing God’s will implies knowing God, his ways, his plan, and how he expects his children to live. Rather than circular, perhaps Paul’s thinking more in terms of a spiral; as one writer has put it, “Understanding will fuel holiness; holiness will deepen understanding.” You cannot have one without the other. “Head knowledge” should grow hand-in-hand with personal or relational knowledge.
In verse 11, Paul gives us one more characteristic of the life pleasing to God. The ESV begins a new sentence here, but this is another participle parallel to the previous 2 in verse 10. So, the life fully pleasing to Jesus not only bears fruit in every good work and increases in intimacy with God, but also is being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience. We’ll stop there for a minute, and we’ll pick up the phrase “with joy” in just a minute, as it more likely should go with the following word in verse 12. Do you see the three different “power” words in this verse? Paul does this kind of thing on occasion, and here “piling up related words...and adding an all, has the net effect of making the strongest kind of statement about God being adequate to enable believers to walk the new life.”
Translating a bit more literally, we have “by being empowered with all power according to the might of his glory leading to complete endurance and patience.” So, in the midst of these 4 participles that depict the life that is fully pleasing to Jesus, with the 3 others focused on things we do, Paul is compelled to put this overly emphatic statement about God’s empowering. I want you to get the significance of this statement. He uses the present tense here, indicating that this empowering or strengthening is something ongoing. It’s not something that happens occasionally or happened once upon a time. Also, he uses the passive voice, implying that God is the one doing the empowering to the believer. Let me personalize it: God is empowering you to live the life that is fully pleasing to Jesus. When you “bear fruit” in any good work, when you increase in your intimacy with God, it is because God is empowering you.
Now, Paul adds that God’s empowering has a specific twofold goal: his empowering leads to “all” or “complete endurance and patience.” Endurance has to do with our response to suffering; patience has to do with our response to sinful people, including ourselves. Said differently, endurance is how God expects us to respond “to an apparently impossible situation,” and patience is how God expects us to respond “to an apparently impossible person.” Paul is telling us that God’s empowering leads toward or results in these attitudes, these kinds of responses.
Endurance toward circumstances? I must confess my own failure in this area; three days from now, my beloved wife will be having major surgery, a surgery that holds out some measure of hope for physical health that she’s never known. But, it’s also a surgery that will require her to be out of work for a month, and it will cost a lot of money. Why did we only just discover this birth defect—something she’s had all her life, that has probably caused a variety of health issues throughout her life? Why only now? Why has she had to suffer so much? Why is the recovery expected to be so difficult and so long? What if there are complications? What if we can’t afford it? What if it doesn’t actually fix the problems? Oh, how can I have this endurance that is surely fully pleasing to Jesus? Some of you, I suspect, know what this feels like. Ultimately, endurance “is the product of the settled conviction that the Father of Jesus Christ is the sovereign Lord of the world, and that he is able to bring about his purposes in his own time and manner.”
What about patience toward sinful people? The Greek word translated patience here refers to “the prolonged restraint...of anger or agitation.” Several times in the Greek Old Testament the adjectival form of this word is used to describe God as “slow to anger.” Turn with me to Matt. 18. I want to take a brief look at the well-known parable Jesus tells about the unforgiving servant. Like no other passage, perhaps, this one highlights the relationship between God’s patience with us and the patience he expects us to show others. Follow with me as I read verses 21-35. Matt. 18:21-35: (READ FROM BIBLE)
Jesus is clearly highlighting a debt that is unimaginable, truly unpayable. In this parable, the man who owes the king requests patience, and he promises to pay. In his promise to pay, he surely knows that he cannot pay the debt, but he is indicating his (apparent) desire to pay, his desire to give the king what he owes him.
Rather than do what the servant requests, however, the king doesn’t just have patience with him, waiting for him to pay the debt; the king actually forgives the debt completely. The servant is free; he no longer has this debt hanging over his head. He no longer owes the money. And this fact is what makes his treatment of his fellow servant so heinous. He no longer needs the money, yet he demands a paltry sum (in comparison) from his fellow servant. When his fellow servant requests patience from him and promises to pay him the full amount (which this servant will actually be able to do, probably in the course of a few years), he seizes him and begins to choke him, an apparent expression of rage, certainly the opposite of the patience that was requested. When the king hears of this, his patience comes to an end; whereas initially the king was patient, slow to anger, now he acts in anger, imprisoning this wicked servant and rescinding his offer of forgiveness. The servant revealed by his actions that he didn’t value the king’s offer, that he didn’t gratefully receive the forgiveness of the king. So, the wicked servant now must remain imprisoned until he can pay the debt, but the debt is unpayable, so that he will remain imprisoned forever.
Unforgiveness, lack of patience, being quick to anger instead of slow to anger, is dangerous for anyone who professes to be a Christian. Jesus adds a concluding application to this parable, indicating that his Father will act as the king did toward those who don’t forgive “from the heart.” Remember that Jesus is addressing his disciples; Peter had asked the question, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Peter is referring to fellow disciples, other people who claim to be Christians, and he thinks 7 times would be a generous number of times to forgive someone. On another occasion, Jesus had taught, “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him” (Luke 17:3-4). It’s quite possible that Jesus even envisions the situation where a person sins against you seven times in the same way in a single day. In response to Peter’s question in Matt. 18, he qualifies this teaching showing that whether 7 times or 77 times, “forgiveness must be habitual. From the world’s point of view a sevenfold repetition of an offense in one day must cast doubt on the genuineness of the sinner’s repentance. But that is not the believer’s business. His business is forgiveness.”
The way the king treated the servant obligated the servant to treat others in like manner. Because of God’s patience toward us and his forgiveness of our sins, Paul expects God to empower complete patience in his people. After all, it is mentioned among the fruit of the Spirit in Gal. 5:22. However, too often we fail to show patience, we fail to extend forgiveness, and we fail to endure the suffering of our lives. If Paul is so confident that God empowers these things in his people, why don’t we experience these things consistently? We’ve already noted how Paul has said God’s grace is always available to enable us to do good works (2 Cor. 9:8) and God has given us the Scriptures to equip us for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Some would say that our failure is because we’re not letting God’s grace enable us; we’re not letting the Spirit produce his fruit in us; we’re not letting God’s Word penetrate our hearts. While I do think our failure in these areas is sinful and we are responsible for it, I cannot accept the idea that we can prevent God’s Spirit from doing whatever he pleases; I cannot accept the idea that we can hinder the Word of God from changing our hearts.
In recent weeks, I’ve been studying the book of Jeremiah as one of my “side-studies,” separate from any teaching or preaching work I’m currently doing, and Jeremiah has helped me immensely to think better about how to talk about what’s going on when God’s Word seems to fail. Jeremiah portrays God’s Word as incredibly powerful, transformative, life-giving, yet as Jeremiah preached God’s Word to the people of Judah of his day, the people largely opposed it, refused to believe it, disobeyed it. How can this tension hold? Here’s the conclusion I’ve come to accept: God uses his Word to overcome the resistance and opposition I put up to it; God uses his Word to give hearing when I am deaf, to give sight when I am blind, to give life when I am dead. When my resistance seems successful and ongoing, this is NOT “a sign of the thwarting of the divine word, but of God’s self-restraint.” God chooses when and how to empower his people “for all endurance and patience,” even in response to our prayers. His timing and his ways are always perfect.
Back to Paul’s prayer in Colossians. The fourth characteristic he lists of a life fully pleasing to Jesus, is, taking the last phrase of verse 11 with the first phrase of verse 12, with joy giving thanks to the Father. Joyful gratitude. Is that a mark of your life? Paul expects this of believers not just once a year in November but everyday all day. As he says in 1 Thess. 5:18, “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you,” and this again shows an example of how in one place Paul commands believers to do this, while here in Colossians he expects this as a result of God’s empowering in response to his prayers. Paul will spend the rest of chapter 1 focusing on 4 specific reasons the Colossian Christians should joyfully give thanks. The first reason is highlighted in verses 12-14: what God has done for them in his Son. The second reason is highlighted in verses 15-20: who the Son of God really is. The third reason is highlighted in verses 21-23: how Jesus has reconciled them to God. And, the fourth reason is highlighted in verses 24-29: Paul’s ministry to them and to the Gentiles more broadly. We’ll finish out verses 12-14 today.
Verses 12-13 show us whom Paul addressed in prayer; following Jesus’ instructions from the Sermon on the Mount, his prayer is directed to the Father, both for petition and for thanksgiving. When he mentions the Father, though, he can’t help but elaborate on what God has done for his adopted children, mentioning two specific actions. First, in verse 12, the Father has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. By using this word “qualified,” Paul here again emphasizes God’s empowering, equipping, fitting, making adequate or sufficient of all Christians. It refers to a decisive action of God whereby he has transformed us from unworthy to worthy, from unfit to fit, from inappropriate to appropriate, from unacceptable to acceptable, from inadequate to adequate, from illegitimate to legitimate. The word “saints” in the New Testament always refers to God’s holy people.
For what purpose has our Father done this? The ESV has “to share in the inheritance,” but the Greek has a noun here; we could more clearly translate the phrase “for our portion of the saints’ inheritance.” This action of God, then, is probably a reference to our adoption as sons, whereby God has placed us in his family as legitimate heirs. The Greek words translated “share” or “portion” and “inheritance” are used together in the Old Testament quite often, especially in the book of Joshua, referring to the apportioning of land to the tribes of Israel. Different folks understand the connection to Joshua differently, but what is clear is that the inheritance Paul has in mind is way more significant than a tiny plot of land in the Middle East. Rather, Paul says that this inheritance is “in light” or, again more literally, “in the light,” what one writer calls “the believers’ new arena.” Thus, this inheritance is in “the realm of the light of the age to come,” probably meaning roughly the same thing as Col. 1:5, referring to “the hope laid up for you in heaven.” But, someday, this inheritance will come down out of heaven and join with a renewed earth to form the New Creation, where we will live in resurrected bodies forever and ever in the presence of God. John MacArthur spells out an important implication of this hope, “The knowledge that we will inherit the restored earth should free us from the present pursuit of material possessions. Someday we will receive far more than we could ever gain in this life.”
What else does Paul mention that the Father has done for us? Verse 13 says, He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son. So many of the words and phrases from verses 12-14 are used in the Greek Old Testament referring to the Exodus or the return from exile, so that Paul seems to be indicating that the Father has provided yet another exodus to deliver his people. The “domain of darkness” refers to human existence under the tyrannical jurisdiction of Satan, a much worse kind of slavery than Israel experienced in Egypt. The word translated “transferred” was often used to describe “the massive dislocation of a group of one people from one region to another” as the result of a victorious military invasion. God himself, in human skin, invaded the “domain of darkness” and won the decisive battle over Satan, sin, and death; he was crucified as “the King of the Jews,” but he was actually the rightful King of the Universe, which he demonstrated powerfully by rising from the dead. And, he’s the rightful King of my heart and yours.
Compared with Jesus in the Gospels, Paul rarely mentions “the kingdom” in his letters, but it still seems to be an important theme for him. One writer has suggested that the kingdom “is a foundational concept, like an invisible software program running at all times in the background as Paul ministers and from time to time composes his letters.” In fact, this author thinks that the letter to the Colossians could be understood as a commentary on the meaning of life under the reign of Jesus for the Colossian Christians. What is absolutely clear is that the Colossian Christians are in a new location. Pastor Barry mentioned last week how the letter opens with a reference to both their physical location—“in Colossae”—and their new spiritual location—“in Christ.” Christians are no longer part of the domain of darkness; we no longer have to live according to the fallen patterns of this world. We are citizens of the Son’s Kingdom; he is our King, and we are his subjects. If the false teachers in Colossae were trying to lead the Colossian Christian to some other way of life, Paul has here provided ample reasons for them to reject the false teachers. To borrow the words of 2 Pet. 1:3-4, His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.
As Paul mentions the Son of God, he describes our connection to him in verse 14 in a way that reveals how Paul can pray to God as his Father. In God’s Son, we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Verses 13-14 together make up our first memory verse in Colossians, and if you’ll take a look at the bookmark in your bulletin for just a moment, I can show you something important. Notice that the KJV and the NKJV have an extra phrase in verse 14: “through his blood.” A few Greek manuscripts have this phrase, translated “through his blood” in verse 14, but what likely happened is some scribes who were copying Colossians started thinking about the wording of a similar verse in Ephesians, namely Eph. 1:7, which you can see on the screen or in your sermon notes. Eph. 1:7 says, In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace. You can imagine how a scribe might have known the passage from Ephesians better, and, as he was copying Colossians and got to the wording “in whom we have redemption,” he thoughtlessly wrote the phrase “through his blood.” As it turns out, the Greek manuscripts the KJV translators used to translate their Bible have this phrase in Col. 1:14. But no modern Bible translation (except the NKJV) has this phrase in Col. 1:14, and Paul surely did not write that phrase in Col. 1:14.
What does the phrase mean? Redemption is a term used in connection with the Exodus in the Greek Old Testament, and it brings to mind a “transaction by which a slave paid a price to secure his or her release from slavery.” Often, someone else would make the payment to free a slave, and in the Old Testament Yahweh, of course, is the one who redeems his people from slavery. Thus, between verses 13-14, “the metaphor...has changed from the victor who rescues the captive by force of arms...to the philanthropist who releases him by the payment of a ransom.”
The idea of “having” redemption is a little odd, at least if we understand the phrase to mean “possessing” redemption. Redemption is not an object or a substance that can be owned or possessed. The word refers to an event or an action that produces a new status for a person. Thus, I suggest we understand the phrase to mean “we are experiencing redemption,” which would mean that Paul is highlighting that it is in God’s Son alone that human beings can experience freedom from slavery. And, in fact, the Colossian Christians—indeed, all Christians—are presently experiencing that freedom. In verses 12-13, the verbs “qualified,” “delivered,” and “transferred” referred to actions God had taken in the past, decisively changing the status of the Colossian Christians; now, here in verse 14, he uses the present tense to emphasize “the continued results of the redemption wrought in the past.”
The final phrase “the forgiveness of sins” is set right next to the word “redemption,” indicating that Paul is basically equating the 2 ideas. We talked about forgiveness earlier, in connection with patience and Matt. 18, but it’s interesting that Paul doesn’t mention God’s forgiveness very often: only 6 times in his 13 letters, but 3 of those are in Colossians. If we are experiencing redemption, we are also experiencing forgiveness. We are living out our freedom in Christ, free from slavery to sin, and free from the guilt of our sin. This is still the greatest need of every person on the face of the planet who has not yet been delivered from the domain of darkness and transferred into the kingdom of his beloved Son. As D.A. Carson writes, “If God had perceived that our greatest need was economic, he would have sent an economist. If he had perceived that our greatest need was entertainment, he would have sent us a comedian or an artist. If God had perceived that our greatest need was political stability, he would have sent us a politician. If he had perceived that our greatest need was health, he would have sent us a doctor. But he perceived that our greatest need involved our sin, our alienation from him, our profound rebellion, our death; and he sent us a Savior.” Paul can pray to the Father because his sins have been forgiven, because he is experiencing the redemption Jesus the Savior has accomplished.
Well, what do we learn about prayer from this passage? How can we pray like an apostle? First, remember that Paul is here praying for Christians he has never met. Let me exercise a little Jewish reasoning: If Paul prays like this for Christians he’s never met, how much more should we pray like this for Christians that we do know? There was only one specific request in this passage, with lots of expected results listed after; Paul was praying that God would fill the Colossian Christians with the threefold “cocktail” of knowing God’s will, wisdom from the Spirit, and understanding from the Spirit. Nevertheless, I think it would be good to pray for all those things that Paul mentioned as being characteristic of a life that fully pleases Jesus. In fact, if you look in your bulletin there is a chart for you, where I’ve listed and categorized all of Paul’s prayer requests, both for himself and for his readers. If you want to pray like an apostle, pray for those things for yourself and for others.
Second, remember that God loves to provide our needs in response to our prayers. Carson puts it this way, “Prayer is God’s appointed means for appropriating the blessings that are ours in Christ Jesus.” Third, remember how we noticed that Paul prays for things that, in other places, he commands. The godly life, the life fully pleasing to Jesus, is “the good life,” the beautiful life. If you ever can’t think of something to pray, ask God to enable you to obey him. Find commands in the New Testament that you aren’t following well or that you don’t know how to follow, and ask God to help you do them.
Finally, look one more time at verse 11: May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience. Whether you’re facing impossible circumstances, impossible people, or both, become fully convinced that God will provide you with the power to endure. Remember the point of 2 Tim. 3:16-17 and open the Scriptures—the whole Bible—as your divinely given resource, and beg God and expect God to provide your needs. Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! (Matt. 7:7-11)