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This is Charles Spurgeon and he is a hero of mine, which is one of the reasons why he sets in my office next to his commentaries. But he is a hero of mine, not because he is undoubtedly the best-known preacher of the 19th century or because he preached in front of huge crowds, during a time when that was rare, but because all of his sermons were Christ centered. Spurgeon, sometimes to a fault would preach a sermon and no matter what that passage said would make a B line to Christ. And that is what I want to do every time I preach is to help you see much of Jesus Christ.
However, another reason why Spurgeon is a hero of mine is because of his devotion to prayer. Once when an American preacher visited Spurgeon and was given a tour of the church building where he ministered, he noticed that there was no heat in the worship center, so he asked, Don’t you have a heating plant? Spurgeon responded by leading him down to a large basement room. In that room, 400 men met before each service to pray for the pastor and the salvation of souls. Spurgeon said, that is our heating plant. Spurgeon responded similarly in 1882 when some American visitors asked what was the secret to his success, and Spurgeon responded my people pray for me. And that is what we are instructed to do in our passage today. Colossians 4 verses 2 through 4.
1. Be Devoted “Devote yourselves to prayer” (v.2)
In our passage today, Paul is going to call us to be devoted, be alert, and to be grateful in prayer, and then he is going to call us to put our prayers into action. In the opening phrase, we see that we are to be devoted. Devoted means with constancy and zealousness. It is the opposite of hit and miss. It implies earnestness and serious pursuit of God, not just casual contact. It implies pressing on and not giving up. Paul does not just suggest that prayer is a good idea, but that prayer should be a standard feature of the Christian life. The point is not that believers should pray with intensity when they pray but that they should pray habitually and with perseverance. We should be utterly devoted to prayer. (Moo, 2008)
Everyone is devoted to something. Most of us are devoted to many things. When you make something a priority, when you will sacrifice for it, when you will give time to it, you know you are devoted to it. God expects Christians to be devoted to prayer. (Whitney, 1991)
And that is exactly what Paul means here when he is calling us to be devoted in prayer. You pray often and you pray regularly. Prayer is not infrequent and prayer is not hit and miss. Being devoted to prayer means that you are not haphazard and you are not forgetful. It means you take steps to see that it is part of your regular life, the same way eating and sleeping are. (Piper, 2000)
a. Be Alert “stay alert in it”
i. What does being watchful mean?
Not only are we to be devoted, but the second thing that Paul calls us to do in this passage is to be alert. Staying alert means that you work against distractions and hindrances. You do what you have to do to stay awake and to stay at the task. Watchful means being vigilant, like a guard on duty outside the camp at night knowing that if you go to sleep in this job, the enemy can overthrow your mission. So Paul urges the church to remember how tremendously serious the battle is. Heaven and hell hang in the balance every week. So be alert, awake, and watchful. (Piper, 1989)
Here Paul is not simply describing the believers’ general stance to the effect that they should be alert and pray at all times. Nor is he simply speaking of attention and engagement in prayer as opposed to a boring and lazy praying. What Paul is calling us to do is to be children of the light being awake and renouncing the sleep of this world of darkness. Christians should lay hold of all opportunities for prayer, and choose the fittest seasons, and keep their minds lively in the duty. (Henry, 1960)
I think of a practical example of this is ambulances and fire trucks. When they pass us on the road or by our house I think we sometimes forget that those sirens means that someone life is in crisis. A good way to be alert and devoted to prayer, would take those sirens to be a reminder to intercede for someone that needs prayer. I am afraid that the familiarity of the sirens in our lives numb us to the crisis that someone might be going through.
ii. Opposite of the disciples in the garden
This language of being alert probably reminds of Jesus praying with his disciples in the garden before he was betrayed by Judas. Jesus asked the disciples to pray, but found them sleeping. So he said to Peter, “Could you not watch one hour? Watch and pray, that you may not enter into temptation” (Mark 14:37). We must be on the watch as we pray—on the watch against a wandering mind, against vain repetitions, against trite and meaningless expressions, against limited, selfish desires. And we should also watch for what is good. We should especially be alert to God’s guidance of our prayers in Scripture. It is God who works in us to will our prayers, but we always experience this divine enablement as our own resolve and decision. (Piper, 1982)
b. Be Grateful “with thanksgiving”
So far in verse 2, Paul has called us to be devoted, to be alert, and now he will call us to be grateful. It is impossible to pray for God to open a door of faith for others without remembering that he did this very thing for you? When we pray for the salvation of others, is not the fervency of our prayer a mirror of how thankful we are for our own salvation? If we do not feel thankful for our own salvation then how can we pray with devotedness and alertness for the salvation of others? I pray that you will be thankful for your own salvation, and you will pray with new zeal for others. (Piper, 1989)
We see here that a devotedness and alertness comes from a grateful heart. And a grateful heart comes from a true appreciation of what Christ did for us. We once were, “dead” to the world and its powers, and through Jesus Christ we have been made “alive” to God in Christ with all of one’s sins forgiven, and destined for glory. A true appreciation will inevitably produce thanksgiving. How could we help from being thankful, when we realize that we were once dead in our sins, deserving God’s wrath, on our way to an eternity in Hell, and then through the power of Jesus Christ we were saved.
Not because of our works, but because God was gracious and merciful towards us. And that is not all of the good news, not only are we forgiven of our past sins, but the bondage of sin has been broken, we are now raised in Christ. Thanksgiving should flow from our prayers when we realize where we were heading and how God saved us, and adopted us into His heavenly family.
And that is the conclusion of the first part of the passage for today. Paul is calling us to be devoted, to be alert, and to be grateful in prayer. John Piper gives us a good analogy on how we should take this passage and apply it to our prayer life.
i. Wartime walkie-talkie, not a domestic intercom
Prayer is much more than us sending up our wish lists to God like God is Santa Clause. John Piper describes prayer as a wartime walkie-talkie, not a domestic intercom in which we are asking to butler to come bring us another pillow for our comfort.
In wartime, prayer takes on a different significance. It becomes a wartime walkie-talkie and no longer a domestic intercom. Jesus said to his disciples, “You did not choose me, but I chose you, and appointed you, that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, in order that whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he may give to you” (John 15:16).
Notice the amazing logic of this verse. He gave them a mission “in order that” the Father would have prayers to answer. This means that prayer is for a mission. It is designed to advance the kingdom. That is why the Lord’s Prayer begins by asking God to see to it that his name be hallowed and that his kingdom come.
James warned about the misuse of prayer as a domestic intercom. He said, “You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures” (James 4:2–3).
Prayer is always kingdom oriented. Even when we pray for healing and for help, it is that the kingdom purposes of God in the world may advance. Otherwise, we have turned a wartime walkie-talkie into a domestic intercom.
Let us pray like the apostle Paul, “that the word of the Lord may spread rapidly and be glorified” (2 Thessalonians 3:1).
2. Prayer for spiritual leaders (v.3)
Now we come to our second part of this passage. In the first part, Paul calls us to be devoted, to be alert, and to be grateful in prayer. So what should we be devoted, alert, and grateful for in our prayers for? In verse three Paul, takes those instructions and wants the people in Colossians to be in devotion in prayer for him, alert for ways that they might intercede for him, and grateful for the ministry that God has given to him.
Despite Paul being an apostle, Paul was by no means too prideful to ask the Colossians to intercede for him and his coworkers in the Gospel. However, more important than the fact that Paul asks for prayer, but look at exactly what he asks for. Paul could have requested prayer for anything, but what he chooses to request for is not personal benefit, but for the preaching of the Gospel. Paul does not ask for them to pray for his release, but for open doors to share the Gospel. Paul does not regard imprisonment as a serious interruption of his missionary work, so he asks not for his release or for his trial, but that the Gospel would have an open door and that he would be able to preach it clearly. (O’Brien, 2000)
If you want to pray for me, this is the same prayer that you need to use. Pray that there will be continued open doors in the schools and the community, and that I will be able to communicate the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ clearly.
a. That we might be able to have open doors to sharing the Gospel.
Notice that Paul does not pray that he or some other minister might have an open door for our message. The emphasis falls on the Word of God. It is the word that must be given entrance because it is the word that has the power to transform human beings. This emphasis echoes the beginning of the letter, where Paul gives the word a similar active role, as the word grows and bears fruit among the Colossians and in all the world. In requesting prayer for the opening of a door for the word, Paul implies that it is God who prepares the way for the message of the Gospel. He provides opportunities; he softens the hearts of listeners by his grace.
The fact that Paul makes this request while imprisoned tells us about Paul’s passion for the gospel. In spite of his imprisonment and difficult circumstances, Paul asks the Colossians to pray that he will have opportunities to share the good news of Jesus Christ. What is our excuse for not taking the Gospel to our neighbors?
b. Why Does Paul Bring up His imprisonment now?
So the question can be asked, why does Paul bring up his imprisonment now? Probably so to illustrate the power of God in opening doors for the gospel even when humans conspire to close them. See especially 2 Timothy 2:9, where Paul says about the gospel: “for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained.” Now that is important words for us today, because if you do not think that there are people in your own community trying to stop the sharing of the Gospel, just ask Jon Johnson or any other Gideon. We need your prayers that doors will be continued to be opened even when it looks like some are being shut because God’s Word cannot be chained. (Moo, 2008)
c. That we might be able to declare the Gospel clearly (v.4)
Here in verse 4 we see that Paul urges us to prayer by pointing out that we cannot speak rightly about God, unless our tongues are directed by the Lord. (Calvin, 1999) In other words not only is there a need for God to open doors, there has to be something clear and powerful to send through the door, namely, the Word of God, the mystery of Christ,… the Gospel. This is a prayer for the preacher, the choir, Sunday School teachers, and any others who take the Word of God on their lips.
BJ and I need your prayers! If Paul could imagine himself speaking the Gospel in a way that was not clear and bold and powerful, how much more can I imagine that for myself. Think of it: the greatest preacher and missionary who ever lived said that the effectiveness of his preaching depended on the prayers of the church. If that is true for Paul, if that is true for Spurgeon, it is true a hundred times over for me. What happens next week as I speak to the youth of this community and what happens next Sunday as BJ preaches to you depends in great measure on how you pray for us. (Piper, 1989)
Being able to proclaim the Gospel was important to Paul because he understood that his mission advances in and through the preached Word, we understand why the fundamental prayer was for opportunities to proclaim the Word. The transforming power of the proclaimed word of the Gospel renders Paul unashamed . The word of the cross is God’s power for those who are being saved.
The message of Christ crucified is considered to be offensive by Jews and foolishness by Gentiles, but it is God’s power and wisdom toward those who have been called. Paul was confident that the Gospel was so powerful that it would certainly bear fruit. Wherever the Gospel is preached, fruit is the inevitable, for the proclaimed word is a performative word, accomplishing what it demands. (Schreiner, 2001)
d. So what do we do now?
So the question before is now is what do we do now? How are our lives and church changed on Monday, because of what we heard today? Here is what I would like for everyone to leave here with today. A strengthened desire to be devoted, be alert, and to be grateful in prayer. And I would also like you all to leave here committed to pray for your pastors.
e. What do you pray for your pastors?
- Pray for our preaching and teaching. Pray that we might have open doors and that we might present the Gospel clearly.
- Pray for our families. One of the most convicting and challenging verses for pastors is 1 Timothy 3:5: If anyone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of God’s church?” We are church members. We must be the prayer intercessors for pastors and their families. Few families face the kinds of pressures and expectations as the families of pastors.
- Pray for our Protection. 1 Timothy 3:2-4 says, “An overseer, therefore, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, self-controlled, sensible, respectable, hospitable, an able teacher, not addicted to wine, not a bully but gentle, not quarrelsome, not greedy, one who manages his own household competently, having his children under control with all dignity.” Just to get past the above reproach part is an accomplishment! The word reproach means to find fault. So to be above reproach means to be above finding fault. While the pastor is not expected to be perfect, he is to have a reputation above most everyone else. When people in the community speak or think about the pastor, the thoughts and words should be positive and encouraging.
- 1 Timothy 3 verse 7 puts it all into perspective: “Futhermore, he must have a good reputation among outsiders, so that he does not fall into disgrace and the devil’s trap.” A trap is something that is set intentionally. It means that the devil has devised a plan to bring the pastor down. He has set a trap. It means that the devil sees the pastor as a threat, and one of his highest priorities is to take him down and take him out. And the text is clear. The nature of this trap will be temptation where the pastor’s reputation will be harmed. The devil is setting traps for pastors, anything he can do to bring harm to the pastor’s reputation. He will stop at nothing-greed, adultery, anger, addiction- to catch the pastor in his trap. The devil is powerful. But God is so much more powerful. And God, in ways we do not always understand fully, works through the prayers of believers.
- Pray for our physical and mental health.
- We need wisdom to know what to preach and teach and how to present God’s Word, and to be physically able to communicate that message.
Remember back to Spurgeon’s story, where he gave credit to his success to his praying people. Now contrast it with this story of T. Dewitt Talmadge. One Sunday evening he was the guest preacher at a church not far from the church he pastored in Brooklyn. In his own pulpit that morning the Lord seemed to bless his message with unusual power. But as he preached the same sermon that night his words seemed to fall to the floor as soon as they were over the pulpit. One of his church leaders who had made the trip with him asked, “How can the same message given by the same man on the same day seem so powerful in one church and so flat in another?
Talmadge responded, poor preaching is God’s curse on a prayerless church. Do you want better preaching? Pray for it! Pray for BJ as prepares each week. A prayerless church will likely get the kind of preaching for which it prays. And I pray that this church will become like the members of Spurgeon’s church, lifting our messages higher, rather than like the church that Talmadge visited. (Whitney, 1996)
So last question, how can you pray devoted, alert, and thankful prayers for your pastor? The best way for me to pray for lengthy periods of time is pray through scripture.
Praying for long periods of time is hard, It is difficult to stay focused on prayer because Satan hates when we pray, so he is going to bring things up that will distract us. He will bring up job stresses, family stresses, and even random things like did I do the laundry today or what am I having for dinner.
I first became aware of my need for a better way to pray on a trip to Nashville at a Passion Conference. During this conference, they had a prayer room where they wanted there to be continuous prayer for the conference for every hour of the day. Therefore, my mentor, Bert Solomon, and I selected a time slot that would stretch us and we picked to pray for a 15-minute time slot at 3AM.
When we knelt to pray, I prayed for everything I could think of and looked up at the clock and realized it only took around 2-minutes. I then suffered through 13 minutes of fighting sleep, aimless prayers, and staring at the clock. I felt defeated in my prayer life. To pray for 15minutes felt like an eternity, and my mind wandered much of that time. “I guess it is me,” I concluded. “I am just a second-rate Christian.” Because my mentor appeared to not had any problem with praying.
However, I learned in seminary how to pray through scripture. So how do you pray through scripture? Let the words of Scripture become the words of your prayers. For example, if you pray through Psalm 23, read, “The Lord is my shepherd,” and thank Him for being your shepherd. Ask Him to shepherd your family that day, to guide, protect, and provide for them. Pray that He will make your family members His sheep; that they will look to Him as their shepherd. Ask Him to shepherd you through the decision you must make about your future. Pray for Him to bless the undershepherd at your church, shepherding him as he shepherds the church, etc. When nothing else comes to mind, go to the next line—“I shall not want”—and continue to pray. Simply go through the passage, line-by-line, praying what you find in the text or what it brings to mind. If nothing comes to mind, or if you do not understand the verse, go to the next. You might choose to linger long on one verse. Conversely, there may be only a handful of matters that prompt prayer as you go through many verses. Nothing says you have to pray over every verse.
And if you want to specifically pray for us pastors then you can take the passages from 1 Timothy that I read earlier and pray through them or you can take the entire pastoral epistles (1 & 2 Timothy, and Titus) and pray through them for us.
So I am going to close by calling for you all to respond. On the back of your insert that has the notes on it, I put a pledge saying that you will pray for us for 5 minutes a day. As church members, we must be willing to pray for the leaders in our church. Without our ongoing intercessory prayer, our churches will not be healthy. Five minutes a day. That is all. Sure you can pray longer if you like. Will you commit to pray five minutes every day for your leaders in your church? And if you will I ask for you to stand. (Rainer, 2013)
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Henry, Matthew. (1960). Matthew Henry’s Commentary (L. F. Church, Trans.). Grand Rapids, MI: Regency Reference Library.
Moo, Douglas J. (2008). The Letters to the Colossians and to Philemon. Nottingham, England: Apollos.
O’Brien, Peter. (2000). WBC Colossians, Philemon (Vol. 44). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.
Piper, John. (1982). Persevere in Prayer. In Taste and See Retrieved May 28, 2013, from Desiring God Web site: http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/taste-see-articles/persevere-in-prayer
Piper, John. (1989, November 12). O Lord, Open a Door for the Word! [Sermon]. Retrieved May 28, 2013, from Desiring God Web site: http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/sermons/o-lord-open-a-door-for-the-world
Piper, John. (2000, January 9). Devote Yourselves to Prayer [Sermon]. Retrieved May 28, 2013, from Desiring God Web site: http://www.desringgod.org/resource-library/sermons/devote-yourselves-to-prayer
Rainer, T. S. (2013). I am Church Member. Nashville, TN: B&H Books.
Schreiner, T. R. (2001). Paul: Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic.
Whitney, D. S. (1996). Spiritual Disciplines within the Church. Chicago: Moody.
Whitney, D.S. (1991). Spiritual Disciplines For The Christian Life. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.