Praise in Prayer - Colossians 1:9-14

This is a sermon by Chris Hobbs from the evening service on 5th March 2000.

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A few weeks ago Derek French passed on to me a prayer, I am not sure if it is his own prayer but it goes like this:

Dear Lord...
So far today, I am doing all right.
I have not gossiped, lost my temper, been greedy, grumpy, nasty, selfish, or self indulgent.
I have not whined, complained, cursed, or eaten any chocolate.
I have not charged on my credit card.
However, I am going to get out of bed in a few minutes, and I will need a lot more help after that.
In Jesus name, Amen!

We can learn a lot from the way a person prays. First of all we discover where their spiritual priorities lie, what moves them and makes them tick. To some extent listening in on a prayer is like listening in on any conversation, it provides a glimpse into the nature of the relationship in, this case the relationship which exists between the person and God - is it deep or shallow, personal or formal, vibrant or cold? But in the second place, if the person is praying properly - that is praying as God wants them to pray, then we can learn some lessons ourselves, just how our prayers ought to be shaped. And that is precisely what we have before us tonight with the Apostle Paul in Colossians 1: 9ff. As Paul opens his heart to these young believers we are left in no doubt what motivates and shapes his praying - it is the Gospel. In fact there are four aspects of Paul’s prayer life which flow from the Good news of Jesus Christ - Gospel gratitude, Gospel thinking, Gospel living and Gospel power.

First, Gospel gratitude. Did you notice how Paul’s praying begins with thanksgiving and ends with thanksgiving because of the way God through the message of the Gospel actually saves people? It is there in v 3 ‘We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, because we have heard of your faith in Christ.. ’And then he goes on to relate how all over the world the Gospel is bearing fruit in saving lives including lives in Colossae, hence v 9 ‘For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. ’Now isn’t that impressive? Paul has never met these people, but he knows they are Christians and that is all he needs to know for him to pray that they will make progress in the faith. What the Gospel began, he wants to see continue. But not only is Paul brimming over with thanks to God because of this life transforming experience they have had, but he wants the Colossians to be full of thanks too - v11ff so they are to go on ‘joyfully giving thanks to the Father who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. ’Why? ‘For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption the forgiveness of sins. ’

It was St Augustine who once remarked, ‘Nothing ages more quickly than gratitude’ and sadly that is true. What is it that characterises a new Christian? It is joy, a sense of wonder at what has happened to them, of this remarkable new relationship they now have with God. But by the same token what is it that too often characterises the older Christian? Is it not cynicism? A stoic pressing on which is lifeless and joyless? Now Paul, you see, refuses to let that happen to him and he doesn't want it to happen to these new believers either. And the way deep joy and fresh gratitude will be fed is by a constant reminder of what God has achieved for us through the Gospel. Leave the Gospel behind and you will eventually leave joy behind or you will try and substitute it with some cheap imitation, some froth worked up. You see, if God had perceived that our greatest need was economic, he would have sent an economist. If he had seen our greatest need to be entertained he would have sent an entertainer. If God had thought our greatest need was political stability he would have sent a politician. But God perceived that our greatest need was sin, our estrangement from him, our death and so he sent a Saviour.

So let me tell you about Ben. Ben worked on a cotton plantation in the deep south during the early part of the 19th century. He was born into slavery, he knew nothing else. He had seen his father beaten, his mother raped both by the same man - the white plantation owner. When he grew older he too married, had three beautiful children. But he knew they too would one day be slaves. For Ben it was one long dark night, never day. The darkness became all the more intense when the slave owner decided to sell his wife and children to another plantation owner. And despite the pleas from the broken hearted children and the screams of his wife, he was powerless to do a thing about it as they were dragged away and thrown on to the back of a wagon never to be seen again. But then came the Civil War when the lives of thousands were yielded up in the bloodiest conflict the United States had ever known, with more Americans dying in that war than in all the previous wars added together. Then one day, the declaration was made - he was free with all the other slaves. Free to find his wife and children, free to choose his work, free to walk the streets without molestation - a word he may often have uttered but now he could experience - freedom. Now do you think that Ben would ever be short of praise and gratitude to Abraham Lincoln? Do you think that as he reflected on those dark lonely days as a slave, he would ever want to go back to them and live as if his new found freedom was an illusion? Of course not. Well, similarly, Christians have been set free from a far greater tyranny and deeper darkness and at a far greater cost - a freedom purchased not with the blood of soldiers shed on the battlefield but the blood of God’s own Son shed on a cross. And just as Ben had to learn to adjust and use his new found freedom aright and needed help in that, so new Christians need to learn to adjust to their new freedom and realise what is true of them, so they need praying for don't they? Which brings us to the second aspect of Paul’s praying - Gospel thinking: v9b ‘asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. ’That’s what he prays for.

One of the questions I am most frequently asked is this : What is God’s will for my life? And it is a question which arises out of a right motive, wanting to keep in step with God. And it has to be admitted that some people have the strangest ways of trying to find out the answer. There was one man who was absolutely convinced that God wanted him to go and work as a missionary in South America. So he told this to his Christian friend, who gently enquired why - why South America of all places? Well, he explained that he had been eating a chocolate bar while he was praying, and he suddenly realised it was full of Brazil nuts. His friend’s only thought was ‘Thank goodness it wasn’t a Mars Bar! ’That is not the sort of knowledge of God’s will that Paul is praying for, it is something for more important and down to earth. Actually, the way this verse would be better translated is ‘asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will which consists of all spiritual wisdom and understanding. ’You see, in the Bible spiritual wisdom is that ability to apply what you believe in day to day practice. To have the discernment to do the right thing at the right time. In other words, to engage in right thinking about God, Jesus, the world, and the Christians place in that world - that it leads to right living. Sound belief is to issue in sound behaviour. That is what Paul means and so that is what he prays for.

Now this is very important, because this letter is written against the background of false teachers claiming that they had special knowledge from God which went beyond Jesus and the teaching of the apostles. They claimed an inside track with God, a superspirituality open to a few initiates, some subjective mystical experience - and you, as well as I, know there are people around today making the same sorts of claim. Now, Paul is wanting to counter that by getting these Christians to see that if they have the Gospel and stick with the Gospel they have everything they need for a fully productive Christian life - hence 2: 6 ‘So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught. ’That is the will of God Paul wants these Christians to grasp - what he has revealed through apostolic teaching which now comes to us through the Bible. And this is no mere academic thing, it is a mind set on fire with God’s word, brought alive by a deeper authentic knowledge of God in Christ as we find him in the Scriptures. Here we discover his beauty, his power, his majesty, his humility, his eternal plan for the world and our part in it - there is nothing dull or dry about this knowledge, it is bursting with energy and excitement as you come face to face with the living God in Christ.

And the practical nature of this wisdom - thinking Christianly and so acting Christianly is born out by the third aspect of Paul’s praying - Gospel living - v10 ‘And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way; bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God. ’

Do you see what the goal of Paul’s prayer is as should be ours? It is not that we should have a quiet life, peace, profit and prosperity - that is what the world wants. It is to live a life ‘worthy of Jesus, literally walking worthy of Jesus - pleasing him in every way. - bearing fruit in every good work. ’This is God’s will for your life, that you be different - that's what you and I should be praying for. Did you know that the Christian student should in principle be radically different from the non - Christian student - handing in assignments on time, of good quality, exhibiting a level of honesty and integrity not commonly found amongst others. Why? To please the tutor? Not primarily, but to please Christ - that is what the text says. The Christian father or mother should in principle be significantly different to their non - Christian counterpart. Why? Because they look at things differently now. They now have the wisdom to see what the Bible teaches - that children are not commodities obtained for our pleasure, but bearers of God’s image entrusted to our care. And so it goes on - the Christian doctor, the Christian homemaker, the Christian musician, the Christian shop owner, the Christian shop worker - now live as if God is concerned with every aspect of their lives, how they speak, what they watch, how they work. They simply want the best for their Saviour, they don’t want to bring shame to his name because now the family name means so much to them - the name Christian. May I gently ask: is that true of you?

This is why Christ has saved you if you are a Christian, not just so you can go to heaven when you die but that you might glorify him on earth while you live. And when this happens it is so beautiful that non - Christians just have to sit up and take notice.

There is a lovely Christian woman called Joyce Page. Joyce works as a secretary but every day since 1979 she has left her office, taken her peanut butter sandwich and visited the local prison. ‘Sometimes we have a worship service. ’she says, ’or a time of testimony or singing or an in - depth Bible study and discussion. ’Every day since 1979. When she has finished, she is back in the office working till five. Now I guess for many, meeting with prison inmates every day in the middle of a hectic work schedule would simply be too much of a chore. Joyce sees things differently: ‘For me it is a real answer to prayer, ’she says, ’You see, I don't have time to go after work - I have six children of my own that I’m raising by myself. ’Do you see? Bearing fruit in every good work means sharing Christ’s love even when it is inconvenient and tiring and not suprisingly says Paul this leads on to a growing knowledge of God’ - you get to know God more by conforming more to his will. Don’t complain that you don’t know God if you are ignoring his Word - the two work in tandem.

Now you may say this is a pretty tall order - and so it is. In fact left to ourselves it is plain impossible. That is why Paul goes on to the fourth aspect of his prayer, he prays for Gospel power - v11 : ‘being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you might have great endurance and patience. ’Where is God’s power to be seen today? Great Christian rallies? Impressive miracles? Enthusiastic singing? No, not really. The glorious might of God which provides all power is supremely found in Christians enduring and being patient. That is the miracle - that you become a believer and keep on being a believer come what may. And so difficult is this because of the opposition of the world, the flesh and the devil, that it takes nothing less the whole power of God to sustain you. When Paul speaks of Christians having great endurance and patience he pictures in his minds eye the kind of stamina and fortitude that gets under a great weight, like a log or a stone, and carries it on without dropping it, refusing to give up - patience you see. Now it has to be admitted that these are not the sort of virtues which our culture extols are they?. What is the paradigm drink of the affluent west but champagne - lots of fizz, giving you a pretty good high but having no nutritional value for the long haul. We live in the age of the quick fix not the long haul. We long for the spiritual equivalent of the champagne not the staple soup which seems so dull by comparison.

I have been a Christian long enough now to have seen the difference. I have known those who have been like firerockets, they flare into the sky with an impressive display only to plummet down to earth as a burnt stick. They have sung of their love for Jesus with an intensity which would shame Bryan Adams. But they have not sought or even wanted what Paul prays for here - patience and endurance. For them the means of fortifying such qualities - Bible study, regular church attendance, witnessing, prayer have simply been too much of a drag, unspectacular, and yet this is where the power of God is to be found - says Paul. But those who have taken this seriously have been able to face whatever life has thrown at them - unemployment, sickness, bereavement, divorce and they have done so with a deep joy in the midst the tears - giving thanks to God the Father - v12. Why? because they know they have a faithful saviour who has rescued them at great cost and nothing, nothing will be able to rob them of that inheritance.

Here then is a challenge and inspiration to our praying. Can I ask you. Will you pray for me like this? I need it. You see, I believe, as Paul obviously believed, that without your prayers I am going to find it difficult if not impossible to make it to the end. I have so many temptations, so many set backs as well as the joys that if my brothers and sisters will not pray for me I will fall. I just know so. I need Gospel thinking, Gospel living and gospel power just to get by day to day - its a miracle. I need your prayers and do you know what? you need mine. Shall we start to take this seriously? Let us pray now.


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