By Pastor Glenn Pease
Dietrich Bonhoffer was a leader in the church of Germany at the time of Hitler's rise to power. He opposed Hitler and was imprisoned in 1943. He did not cease to influence people, however, even in prison. He inspired others by his courage. The guards were supposed to be his enemies, but they so respected him that they smuggled out his writings that have influenced millions since.
One of the men who was in prison with Bonhoffer was the English officer Payne Best. He survived the war and wrote this account in a book. I want to share it with you because it represents the kind of example of Christ likeness that we see in the Apostle Paul, who wrote the letter of Colossians from his prison cell in Rome. Best wrote- "Bonhoffer-was all humility and sweetness, he always seemed to me to diffuse an atmosphere of happiness, of joy in every smallest event in life--He was one of the very few men I have ever met to whom his God was real and close to him." Then after Best describes a service that Bonhoffer held for the prisoners on Sunday, April 8, 1945 he wrote, "He had hardly finished his last prayer when the door opened and two evil looking men in civilian clothes came in ;and said 'prisoner Bonhoffer, get ready to come with us.' Those words, come with us-for all the prisoners they had come to mean one thing only--the scaffold. We bade him good-bye-he drew me aside-this is the end, he said. For me the beginning of life. Next day, at Flossenburg, he was hanged."
This courageous optimism in the most negative of circumstances is one of the characteristics we see in the Apostle Paul. In his prison epistles we do not hear any whining or complaining, but only words of joy and thanksgiving. Paul had indeed learned to be content in every state of life. He too faced death at any time, yet he wanted to use his time to write and encourage others. His negative experience has led to positive results in the lives of millions through history.
George Jackson, in a tribute to Robertson Nicole, the editor of the British Weekly said, "He flung down a bunch of keys for me, and has set me to opening doors for myself on every side of me." This is what Paul has done for the Colossians and for the whole church of Christ. He has thrown down a bunch of keys that enable us to open doors to God's best on every side. As we focus on v.3, we can see that Paul has given us three keys to a better prayer life. The first key is-
I. THE PARTNERSHIP OF PRAYER.
Notice Paul says, "We always thank God." He does not say I thank God, but he included his partner Timothy. The idea of a prayer partner is very Biblical. Jesus said prayer is more powerful when two agree on what they desire from God. In Matt. 18:19-20 we read, "Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them."
It seems as if God has designed prayer to be a promoter of unity, fellowship and brotherhood. He has promised to answer more effectively those prayers that come from a partnership. This is a key to a better prayer life, but it is often neglected. We have potential power in prayer that we seldom use. Cabeza deVaca tells of how he and his companion explorer went from Florida to the Pacific between 1528-1536. On one occasion they were lost and starving and in a state of despair when they were found by Indians. The Indians felt that since they were white men they should have the power to heal some of their sick. They were miserable themselves and now they were expected to heal others or die. He wrote, "We prayer for strength. We prayed on bended knees and in agony of hunger." Then they blessed the sick Indians, and to their amazement the ailing redmen said they were made well. DeVaca wrote, Being Europeans, we thought we had given away to doctors and priests our ability to heal. But here it was, still in our possession. It was ours after all; we were more than we thought we were."
The fact is, all of us are more than we think we are. If we form partnerships in prayer we will have a key that will open many doors that otherwise might never open. When Jesus taught the disciples to pray, He made it clear he expected them to pray in partnership. He used only plurals. It was our Father, give us this daily bread, forgive us, and lead us not into temptation.
Every believer needs to develop some relationship with another believer where they feel like true partners in prayer. In prayer, the loner is a loser. We may pray much alone, but we need to know that there is someone else who is one with us in our praying. When Lavonne and I began to hold hands each night, and talk over requests, and agree on what we desire to bring before God, it lead to so many answers we stopped keeping track of them. We are convinced any couple would be enriched if they would begin this practice of partnership in prayer. Learn how to enjoy the we of prayer. In verse 9 Paul says again, "We have not ceased to pray for you." A we prayer is a better prayer than an I prayer, and so the more you pray in partnership the better prayer life you will have.
II. THE PERSISTENCE OF PRAYER.
Paul says, "We always give thanks." Always refers to the persistence of Paul's prayer. The modern language Bible puts it, "We constantly give thanks to God." In verse 9 we see this emphasis again, "and from the day we heard of it we have not ceased to pray for you." Paul did not just say prayers, he prayed, and there is a world of difference. I can say a prayer in a matter of seconds, but to pray takes up a part of my consciousness, and becomes a real concern of my life. This kind of prayer does not cease, for it is a persistent factor in ones life. Paul wrote this letter as a part of his prayer concern. Prayer is not only asking God for His guidance, it is the listening and responding to His guidance. Paul's response in writing this letter is a part of the circle of prayer. It is Gods answering his prayer for them through him by writing to them the things they need to hear.
Persistence in prayer means there is some listening and follow-up. It is not just flashing a telegram to God, but a listening for an answer, and putting feet to your prayer by doing what you can to be a part of the answer. This is another partnership in prayer, for it is a partnership with God. God does not want to work alone any more than we do. He wants to work with us and have us work with Him to achieve His purpose in history.
In verse 9 Paul says he has prayed for them to be filled with the knowledge of God's will. He asked God to do this for them, and then he wrote this letter to tell them the will of God and thus, he was an answer to his own prayer. He was a partner with God. Much unanswered prayer is due to our not persisting in prayer until we see how we can be partners with God in answering it. Persistence is a test of our sincerity. Much prayer is a matter of routine and can easily be superficial, but if you persist and thank God always for certain aspects of life you demonstrate a true and deep interest. By his persistent prayers Paul proves he really cares about the Colossian Christians.
Paul makes it clear that he expects them to also pray for him. In 4:2-3 he writes, "Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message....." Paul wants their partnership in prayer too, and we thus can conclude that the number of people caring about a matter enough to persist in seeking God about it makes a difference with God.
Persistence is a principle that is necessary for success in any area of life. The more you use things the more they wear out and become useless, but the more you use the things of the spirit the more they develop and become more useful. Professor Phelps in his "Autobiography with Letters", tells of how he hated his first concert of classical music. He decided to keep on trying to enjoy it and the day came when the symphony became one of his greatest pleasures. The first time he read Browning he was not impressed, but he persisted in reading until he came to almost idolize the man's writings. If we keep at something and persist in seeking its value we can come to love and value what we did not care about at all. This is the point of persistence in prayer. We give up to soon and lose the joy of answered prayer that would make it a greater pleasure rather than a chore. What do you pray for always?
III. THE POSITIVE OF PRAYER
The prominent part of Paul's prayer was thanksgiving. That is the positive aspect of prayer that is so easily neglected. Lack of thanks in our prayer is not a sign that we are not close to God, however, for this is a common lack toward those we care about. We seldom thank our mate or children for their acts of love and service on our behalf. We tend to take them for granted, and so it is with God. His goodness is so common that there is no end to the things we could thank Him for daily. But the commonplace is soon taken for granted and we forget to be grateful for the blessings all around us.
Paul had the amazing ability to be ever grateful for the commonplace. Paul would have made a marvelous husband. Imagine a wife who is thanked and praised every time she does as act of love and service. Thank you dear for making that meal, and for making the bed, and for cleaning the house, and for getting the kids off to school, and thanks for washing my shirt, and on and on it could go. Paul could be giving thanks without ceasing. It was not as if he had no problems to struggle with, for Paul had perpetual battles and needed plenty of help and encouragement, but he never neglected the positive aspect of prayer, which is thanksgiving.
Because prayer was positive for Paul, it was not a bore and a chore. He could hardly wait to thank God again for all His grace. Have you ever felt so grateful to someone you could not wait to see them and express your gratitude? You can't be satisfied until they know how much you appreciate them and their acts of love. Paul felt this way toward God every day, and all day of every day.
Prayer is basically the desire to be in touch with God. That desire is stronger when you want to express your gratitude to Him. There is no bad way to pray for any prayer is better than no prayer, but there is a better way to pray and that is with a positive attitude of thanksgiving. Come to God thanking Him for what He has already done before you plead for Him to do more for you. The best reason God has to answer your prayer is because you are so grateful for His previous answers. Lack of thanks is the best reason to deny further blessings. Thanks is the one thing we can give to God to express how we feel about all He has given to us. God is to gain in this two way communication of prayer too, and the only way He can and be pleased is by our being positive in thanksgiving.
Paul was always a positive thinker and, no doubt, the reason he could be, in spite of all his trials, was because he was always looking for the things he could thank God for in his every day life. If we look for them they are everywhere in our lives too. If you will be positive in how you see God's blessings all around you, you will be positive in your prayer life by being ever thankful, and this in turn will make you more aware of your positive blessings.
The prayer here is all positive. Most of the time we spend in prayer we are praying for problems. It is almost embarrassing not to have a problem for then what are people to pray for in your life? Like the 8 year old boy who was in Sunday School and all the class was sharing prayer requests and as an 8 year old he had to come up with something significant, and so he asked for prayer that his father might give up drinking. He had a can of beer he got from somewhere that sat in the frig for 7 months. The word spread, and finally got back home. Now he had something to pray about. He began to pray he would make it to nine.
This story illustrates the paradox that faces Christians. If your life is too good, you get little attention. You are not on anyone's prayer list. It is problems that get you on the list. The more problems you have and the more struggles with life and sin, the more attention you get. Get it altogether and you are ignored. The Christian who is always sinking in some quicksand who gets all the attention. The wheel that squeals gets the oil.
The longest letters of Paul are to those churches with the most problems, and most sinful behavior. It is a universal principle. It is the sick who get the attention of the doctor. It is those in trouble who get the attention of the lawyer. It is those with car problems who get the attention of the mechanic.
Yet, in spite of this, the goal of the Christian is to press on to perfection and have such a positive life that there is no need to be on the prayer list for many problems. We all need to be on the list for the positive, however, and be lifted up in the way Paul does for the Colossians.