Come Thankful & Come Often
And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you...
– Colossians 1:9
I’m excited to announce that today I am starting a short three part series looking at the subject of prayer.
What I want to look at in this series is the when, what, and why we pray for each other. I bet most of us reading this, including myself, tend to pray for others when they ask for prayer, pray about what they asked for, and because they want God to meet the request. Now, I don’t believe there is anything at all wrong with that pattern of prayer. However, I want to ask some questions and look at a prayer by Paul for the Colossians that may push us beyond that pattern to a deeper approach to prayer.
As mentioned already, I find it interesting that our patterns of prayer start when a request is made and stop when the request is met. For instance, if someone needs a job or maybe someone is sick, they ask for prayer. So, we start praying that they get a job or that they get better and once those needs are met, we stop. I think at least one of the reasons this is the pattern and life span of our prayers for one another, may be because we tend to see our greatest needs and even our greatest good, in our health, comfort, and prosperity.
When we have physical needs, and even emotional needs, we absolutely need to pray for each other over those needs. But, I want to ask this question, “What is our greatest need and our greatest good as believers?” If we know that, shouldn't it dominate our prayer life for each other?
To try and answer the question of our greatest need and good, I want to present that as Christians it is to be made more like Christ. As Romans 8:28-30 puts it, to be conformed into his image.
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. – Romans 8:28-30
Before we are saved, our greatest need is for Christ’s work of salvation to become a reality in our hearts. We need to repent from our sin and place our faith in Christ! But after God saves us, what then is our greatest need? I would submit that it is being conformed into the image of Christ. To be a brother that bears the family resemblance to Jesus, who bears the perfect image of God. Because if you do not bear any resemblance to the family, you're likely not part of the family.
God created us in his image. Sin has broken and distorted that, and God is in the business of recreating it in those who give their lives to him. (2 Corinthians 3:18) The more we are like Christ, the more we are the people God created us to be. The more we are following God’s will, the more we are living the abundant life God has promised us, and the more we are glorifying him. The more we look like Christ, the more we are showing ourselves as members of God’s family who willingly, lovingly, and joyfully submit to our Father and serve each other.
So, if our deepest need is being conformed into the image of Christ, how often do we pray for that transformation in the hearts of those we love and share life with? How often do we go to the throne of God and ask our Creator to lift and ease each other's trials, while also asking God to accomplish all he desires in us through the trial? (James 1:2-4)
If you are like me, not nearly enough.
So, with all this in mind, I want to take the time to look at a prayer of Paul for the church at Colosse and see how he prayed for the family of God.
3 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you,4 since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, 5 because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, 6 which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, 7 just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf 8 and has made known to us your love in the Spirit.
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, 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God;11 being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. 13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. – Colossians 1:3-14
The first thing we need to see, is that Paul starts his letter to the fellow believers with an attitude of thankfulness.
We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you… – Colossians 1:3
He expresses his thanksgiving to God for their faith and salvation. He also gives all credit to God for the work that has been done among the Colossians and is asking him to do more among them. Our prayers likely jump straight to, “God, help them get better… give them comfort… meet their need…” and so on. How often, if ever, do we just start by thanking God for the salvation of the Christians we share life with?
Going to God with someone’s need and starting by focusing on the joy you have that they are a fellow brother and sister in Christ can change everything about your perspective concerning what you are about to ask of God. You are praying to God on behalf of someone that God himself has saved. Someone that God is 100% totally committed to. (John 10:38) He will not fail that person; he will not go back on any of his promises to that person. (2 Corinthians 1:20) He is at work in that person’s life to transform them into the image of his son. (Romans 6:1-4) God's saving grace to them is not in vain, it will accomplish all it has set out to do. (Philippians 1:6) He is making them complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4) He is working everything in their life for good. (Romans 8:28)
So, rather than approaching God focused only on someone's situation or need, take a moment to gain the perspective that they are a child of God and their heart’s greatest need of salvation has already been met! Paul takes this moment as he talks about how they received the Gospel, and the effect it had on them. (Colossians 1:3-8) Let us follow his example in our prayers for one another.
Next, let's look at how often Paul prayed for the Colossians.
And so, from the day we heard [of your salvation], we have not ceased to pray for you… – Colossians 1:9
How many times have we prayed for someone through a sickness, then never pray for them again until something else comes up? I think this really shows a lack of understanding on our part of the vast and deep needs we all have in our lives beyond a physical ailment or financial crisis, or any other trial. We all share deep-seeded needs of transformation in our lives that only God can accomplish. Paul did not cease to pray for these people, because he knew the needs would not cease to be there. The prayer for ourselves and others to be conformed is a life-long prayer. While we can always grow more into his likeness, it will never be complete until we are face to face with God. So, let us pray for that transformation in each other; without ceasing.
Another note here is that Paul never mentions a specific person. I want us to see that we can pray general or specific. Pray for your best friend, your pastor, your whole church, the church down the road, the Christians in your city, state, country, and the global Church. Pray for your brothers and sisters in Christ. We all share the need to be more like Christ. I pray for you reading this, that you would be in the process of becoming more like Christ!
So, I hope today, you will begin to pray continually with passion to our God for the transformation of our hearts, with an attitude and posture of thankfulness. All to the end that God’s glory would be seen, and his Church would be built up and expanded!
That is all for part one! In parts two and three, we will be looking at some of the specific things Paul prayed for. A change in our minds, and a change in our lives.