90 Days with Jesus, Day 3: Colossians 1:3: The Prayers we Pray

Day 3 Colossians 1:3 The Prayers we Pray

“We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you…”

Prayer is language used in a personal relation to God. It gives utterance to what we sense or want to respond to before God. God speaks to us; our answers are our prayers. The answers are not always articulate: silence, sighs, groaning—these also constitute responses. The answers are not always positive: anger, skepticism, curses—these are also responses. But always God is involved, whether in darkness or light, whether in faith or despair. This is hard to get used to. Our habit is to talk about God, not to him. We love discussing God. The Psalms resist these discussions. They are not provided to teach us about God but to train us in responding to him. We don’t learn the Psalms until we are praying them.” (Eugene Peterson, Answering God, 12)

In a sense, much of what Paul writes in this first chapter is prayer. He starts a prayer here in verse 3, talks about many of the things he is thankful for, and then, in verse 9 starts praying all over again. Then in verse 10 he offers more prayer and I might go so far as to say that Paul will offer yet another prayer in verse 24. When he gets near the end of his letter (what we call chapter 4) he concludes with this exhortation, “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray…Pray…let your conversation…” So he opens the letter with prayers, and he closes by inviting the congregation he is writing to to join him in his prayers.

The depth of the prayers that Paul offers in the first chapter though is simply astounding. Here we read of a man who is struggling mightily in his prayers for these people. There is a richness to his prayers that language barely expresses. He ‘invents’ words to capture his ideas. There is a vastness to his prayers, not content is he to merely pray about every broken bone and every dying person, Paul opens up the heavens and prays in cosmic, universal language to The firstborn over all creation, the Creator of all things, the Image of the Invisible God. Paul is not praying to some lesser deity about some lesser thing. Paul is praying about the church over which Christ Jesus himself is the Head. Paul is praying about the church and for the church to the one who ‘holds all things together.’ Paul is praying for the church to the one who is the beginning and end of creation. Do you think Paul is concerned for the church? And do you think we should be?

Yet how often are our prayers stifled by a cacophony of ‘organ recitals’? How often are our prayers muted by the overwhelming sickness and disease rampant among our members? How often do we pray in galaxy type language—borders wide, depth unimaginable, expanse limitless; Christ’s Lordship unquestioned? How often are our prayers constrained by time? How often are our prayers determined by the course of world events instead of being catalysts for world events? How often do we pray in the uncertainty of God’s will instead of praying for God’s will to simply be confirmed—regardless of what it is? How often do we pray prayers of thanks for others because we have heard of their faith and love that they have for the saints? You see, our prayers can be too limited and often are restrained and unrefined. Here in Colossians 1 we see an example of the sort of prayers that are refined by the Word of God and honed to a sharp perfection. Here are the prayers of the saints!

But he is also not merely content to pray to God. No, Paul also feels compelled to tell the church what he is praying forthem. And to this end we see the apostle’s agenda, that is, what he thinks it is important to pray for and about on behalf of the Colossian Christians. Don Carson well notes,

“Suppose, for example, that 80 or 90 percent of our petitions as God for good health, recovery from illness, safety on the road, a good job, success in exams, the emotional needs of our children, success in our mortgage application, and much more of the same. How much of Paul’s praying revolves around the equivalent items? If the center of our praying is far removed from the center of Paul’s praying, then even our very praying may serve as a wretched testimony to the remarkable success of the processes of paganization in our life and thought” (DA Carson, A Call to Spiritual Reformation, 96-97).

We will explore in more detail the specifics of the apostle’s prayer later as this series progresses so for now I’ll simply note a couple of the ideas.

He thanks God because of their faith which was, evidently, well known in the world at the time.

He thanks God for the love they have for the saints.

In verse 9, he prays specifically that God will fill them with ‘knowledge of his will’. In fact, he says, ‘we have not stopped praying’ this.

In 10, he prays that they might live a life worthy of the Lord, please him in every way, bearing fruit, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthen with all power so they might endure and be patient and joyful and thankful.

This is the tip of things, but as you can see the apostle’s prayer priorities are far different from the typical prayers that are uttered in prayer meetings or from the pastor on Sunday mornings. DA Carson calls this the ‘paganization’ of our christian prayer life and thought. I say it is the minimizing of our thoughts, or it is prayers to a lesser god. When our prayers are merely the same repetitive, boring pap that the pagan world offers, “Oh, god of wood and stone, let me win the lottery,” then our defeat is complete. But what if our prayers were suffused with the sort of language the apostle uses here: “I pray that you will be filled with the knowledge of God so that you might live a life worthy of God and please him in all things.” What do you suppose would happen if those were the sort of prayers, biblically informed and biblically formed, that we prayed?

What if? What if our prayers were prayed to the God who is the Creator of all things? What if our prayers were prayed for God to rescue people from darkness and bring them into the Kingdom of the Son he loves? What if our prayers were unmasked and unfiltered and unashamed of the glorious authority that is in Christ Jesus, the Head of the Church? What if our prayers were filled with the remarkable content of grace? What if our prayers were concerned more with the Gospel bearing fruit all over the world, and even among us, than with mere churchgrowth? (Don’t you think that if the Word grew and did its job church growth would be a necessary corollary?) What if our prayers were that the people of God be filled with wisdom and knowledge and understanding of God, God’s mystery in Christ, and God’s will? In other words, what I am saying is this: What if our prayers were Christocentric and not man-centric? What if our prayers focused and centered on God in Christ first and only on ourselves as a distant second or third? Do you think this would change the way we act, behave, live, and pray?

And what if we truly considered who it was that we prayed to? Paul is praying these things to the God who rescued the Colossians from the dominion of darkness and brought them into the kingdom of the Son he loves (13-14). Paul is praying to the God who reconciled us by way of the cross (22). Paul is praying to the God who has now made known the mystery of Christ in us (27). Paul is praying to the God who lives in fullness in Jesus Christ (19). Paul is praying to the God who defeated death through the resurrection of Jesus Christ (18). Paul is praying to the God who forgives sins and redeems people (14). I could go on, but the point is clear: This is no pagan deity that Paul is praying to, and the nature of Paul’s prayers indicate that this is no God to trifle with. These are serious prayers. They further indicate that this God is powerful enough to effect the prayers that Paul is praying. There’s no point in praying such things if the God one is praying to is unable to hear them or answer them.

I also notice this. Paul is praying to someone specific: The Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. This goes along partly with what I just wrote, but in a different way. Paul is praying to the God of the Lord Jesus Christ. This means that he is praying to the God who acknowledges the work that Jesus Christ has done. He is praying to the God who acknowledges and confirms that Jesus is Lord. Arthur Patzia writes, “This emphasis upon Christ’s exalted status as Lord certainly would reinforce the idea that Christ is not an inferior deity but one in whom God himself is Found” (NIBC, Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon, 17) James Dunn notes, “God the Father is the one to whom prayer should properly be offered…just as he is the ultimate source (‘Father’) of all creation and all being, including the dignity and authority of Jesus’ Messiahship and Lordship.” (56) In other words, Paul is praying to the One who has acknowledged and established the authority (Lordship) of Jesus Christ. What if we prayed with the acknowledgement that Jesus truly is Lord and that we were praying under the auspices of his Lordship, because of his Lordship, and acknowledging his Lordship? Would this change our prayers?

Finally, there is this little word ‘always.’ There is a constancy about the prayers of Paul. This word ‘all’ (and its cognates) is used constantly in this first chapter and will play an important role in helping us understand the sufficiency and supremacy of Christ who is exposed in this letter. But for now, it is safe to note that Paul’s prayers for the Colossian church are specific in content, specific in direction, and specific in duration. If nothing else, we can say that the apostle was a man of prayer who believed that prayer made some sort of difference in the lives of those he prayed for.

And he wanted them to know it. This is the glory of it all: Paul wanted the Colossian Church to know what he was praying, to whom he was praying, and why he was praying it. I think by extension, he wants us to know as well so that our prayers will become biblically formed and biblically informed; that the language of Scripture will be the language of prayer. He fills his page with words and meaning and direction so that our prayers will not be the vacuous, meaningless devoid of content mumbling and ranting that Jesus warned us against in Matthew 6 when he said, ‘When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites or the pagans.’ Here the apostle is giving shape and content, focus and direction, meaning and purpose to the words that we dare utter back to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Soli Deo Gloria!

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