A Critical Component of Prayer

2 Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. 3 At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison— 4 that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak. (Colossians 4:2-4)

This morning God has given us a passage from His Word from which we can be encouraged. God has given to us, through Christ, so many opportunities to live for Him in this world. As we live for Him we can either attempt to do so with an attitude of duty alone, or with an attitude of praise. It was Jesus who said in John 10:10, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” Jesus said, from His own mouth, that He came that we may have abundant life. That means a full life, rich life, satisfying life. He didn’t say easy life or always comfortable life, that would be different. I think what He is getting at here is a life of purposeful richness that satisfies. 

Right after that verse, John 10:10, in verse 11 He tells us the cost associated with abundant life. “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” It is because Christ willingly and purposefully laid down His life for us that we can have abundant life, a life of richness with purpose. I think every week, since we have been in this book of Colossians, we have seen, have been given insight by our Lord concerning how to live in this rich life for Christ. He has laid down His life for us so that we can live our lives for Him. 

I was helping one of my sons put together a bicycle recently. I looked at the instructions, read the instructions, and we followed them in putting this bike together. We finished, got it done, and the instructions were very helpful in helping us navigate through the project. I am thankful that the manufacturer included the instructions for us. But you know what? I didn’t walk away feeling any special bond with the author of those instructions. I have no feelings toward whoever wrote them. I’m not anxious to meet that person or to speak to that person at all. The part of my brain that evokes emotion was not penetrated through that project. I don’t think that person cares to know me either.

The Bible is not like those instructions, nor is the author of the Bible like the author of those instructions. I’m afraid that we too often don’t see the differences. What Jesus did for us was very personal for Him. And how we relate to Him is a very personal matter as well. He lived and died so that we can live an abundant life. And that abundant life begins and continues with knowing Him, living for Him. 

If your life consists of simply following what look like rules in the Bible, like you may follow instructions for putting a bike together, I want to encourage you to know Jesus. To read His Word, asking Him to show Himself to you through its pages. Pray that our Lord will draw not just your mind to Him, but your heart, your emotions, all of your being, your will. This will change your life, this will change how you look at life and how you perceive the circumstances that break into your realm of living.

Today, we will see some extraordinary things about how Paul viewed life because He belonged to Jesus. His life was radically changed, and that change began to dictate all that he saw around him. He was not perfect by any means, but his view of life became new. I want us to see some of the ways that his life was changed.

2 Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. 3 At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison— 4 that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak. (Colossians 4:2-4)

First, he urges his listeners to do something steadfastly. Some translate this as “devote yourself to prayer.” We know about devoting ourselves to things, right? This is about persistence. It means to “be courageously persistent and to hold fast and not let go.” This is how Paul speaks of prayer, this is the kind of prayer that he urges on us. His instruction here is consistent with other parts of the Bible…

praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints (Ephesians 6:18)

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

Think about this. We have been talking about a changed life, a life that is more and more focused on Christ. With this new focus, shouldn’t there be an ever increasing desire to know Jesus in all things? Shouldn’t there be a growing desire to acknowledge Him around us as He works? Shouldn’t we consciously include Him wherever we go? When happy, when sad, when stressed, or when content, when tempted with sinful anger, when relating pleasantly to a friend, in all things in prayer to our Lord. 

This does not mean that we walk around with our heads bowed and our eyes closed, praying in that manner, it means that we are always aware of His presence, aware of His ability to help and teach us, aware of His love for us in that He cares to hear our prayers.

Paul goes further to mention specifics of prayer – “being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us.” Praying with an attitude of thanksgiving, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. This is an alertness with thanksgiving. Being aware of the presence of God around us. Recognizing His work. This is what I was saying before. We can go through life and never acknowledge our mighty sovereign God who cares for us, or we can say, “Yes, He is near, He is at work, He is looking out for me! He is carrying me through this life,” and then thank Him for His never ending involvement with us!

Being thankful is so important. In Romans 1, where we see descriptions of those who have turned away from God and turned to fulfill sinful desires, one thing that is mentioned is a lack of thanksgiving. This is an attitude that there is no God who is sustaining me, providing for me, extending grace to me. Here is what it says in Romans 1:21, “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” Thanksgiving is a crucial part of, or should be a crucial part of our prayer life. 

Now, I want you to see what comes next. Paul gets really personal here. He had been speaking in more general terms, but he doesn’t leave it there… 

3 At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison— 4 that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak. (Colossians 4:3-4)

Do you ever ask others how you can pray for them? And when you do, are you sometimes surprised by their response? Maybe you know someone who is having some real troubles in life. Maybe an illness that may not be curable, maybe a friend has lost a job, maybe someone you know is really battling depression. You approach your friend and you think you know how they will ask you to pray for them. It is like, “Yes, pray that my illness goes away, or that I find the perfect job, or pray that I can get past this depression.” But sometimes you may ask, and what the person wants prayer for has nothing to do with what seems to be their most pressing crisis. I think that is sort of what Paul does here. He asks for prayer from prison, likely in the middle of loneliness, without the comforts that most people enjoy. He does not know what his future will be. Will he get out of prison, will he be executed, will he starve to death there, will he be beaten, will he be forgotten by all his friends, will people grow weary of checking on him? He was a guy with a lot of what we surely would say are pressing needs. But while facing such obvious hardship, such uncertainty, physical and emotional challenges, this is what he says: “At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison—that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.”

Now, try and put yourself in the apostle Paul’s place. When I hear him ask his friends to pray for an open door, I know myself well enough to know that the door I would want opened, if I were where he was, the door I would pray to be opened would be the prison door. I’m afraid my focus would have been on, “How am I going to get out of here? God, get me out of this prison.” I would call on my friends to pray to God to get me out of there. Isn’t that what many of our prayers consist of? “God, get me out of this conflict or this hardship. God, deliver me from my problems, get me back to normal, whatever normal is.” The way we pray may indicate what we desire most, where our priorities are. And that is what is amazingly convicting about this passage.

While Paul was suffering hardship, he asks his friends to pray that a door would be opened. Not the prison door, but a door would be opened so that he can speak of Christ, and do it rightly and well. Paul believed that he was where he was, in prison, by divine appointment. It wasn’t a mistake, an oversight on God’s part. It wasn’t punishment from God for his past sins or his present sins. No, God put him there, in an uncomfortable place, for a good purpose: so that He may share the good news of Christ with those who might not hear it otherwise.

In fact, in Ephesians 3:1 he states this explicitly, “For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles.” Also in Philemon 1:1, “Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother.” He was sure of his current position as being from God, He was ready to serve the Lord where God had placed him. Paul was confident that he had work to do, and his work was gospel ministry, sharing truth. Paul emphasizes this more in Philippians 1…

12 I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, 13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. 14 And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. (Philippians 1:12-14)

I wonder if we are not more often so focused on getting out of something, getting out of our current circumstances, that we fail to see opportunities that come to us because of those circumstances to make Jesus known. So anxious to get out of a current job and get to the next one that we fail to share truth with those around us. Praying so diligently for God to heal our bodies that we fail to see ministry opportunities that come uniquely to those who are ill. Where has God put you, what are you dealing with now that opens up doors to make Christ Jesus known?

Paul just wanted God to increase his opportunities for gospel ministry, leaving the circumstances in God’s hand, who is able to deliver just the right open door. Where does God have you? Who is He bringing across your path? What unique opportunities do you have? Are we more concerned with open doors for speaking truth, or open doors leading out of hardships? And what do these things tell about our greatest desires?

Lastly I want to point out one more word that can help us…

3 At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison— 4 that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak. (Colossians 4:3-4)

We live in a day of sound bites. We seem to have shorter and shorter attentions spans. Paul makes a point here of the necessity that we be clear when we declare the mystery of Christ, the mystery of Christ being the content of the gospel. If there is ever a time for precision and clarity, it is when sharing the gospel of Christ. Too many times, in too many places, there seems to be a temptation to give a quick overview of gospel truth. Or a gospel message like what you might see on some church signs – a blurb about the gospel, maybe selling heaven but no mention of the need for repentance. Maybe a decision for Christ with no mention of living a changed life for Christ. Maybe a mention of Jesus with no explanation of who He really is. Paul asked for prayer that he would be clear with his words; this is being careful with the word of truth. We too can pray for this, that we will be clear with God’s Word, careful with God’s Word. Paul’s desire for clarity also came with a certain internal drive. He says how he “ought” to speak. Not only does he desire to speak, but he ought to speak. Remember what he said elsewhere…

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. (Romans 1:16)

For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! (1 Corinthians 9:16)

Paul knew he ought to preach the gospel, but it certainly wasn’t purely a duty. It was a joy.

So pray continuously, be thankful for God’s work in and around you, and in and around others, and pray for open doors for sharing the gospel of Christ. Recognize that your circumstances are God-ordained, don’t be discouraged in them but find the opportunities that they afford. And be clear with God’s Word. My prayer is that we will see Christ in our lives and joyfully make Him known to those around us

2 Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. 3 At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison— 4 that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak. (Colossians 4:2-4)