Let’s think about prayer in general first. When Jesus is in the garden at Gethsemane, he tells Peter to "Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Jesus himself prayed, often. The question could be asked: why did the 2nd person of the Trinity feel the need to pray so often? But, as a number of the Puritans pointed out, that’s the wrong question for us to ask. The right question should be: if the 2nd person of the Trinity felt the need to pray, why don’t we feel that need nearly as often?
Paul’s relationship to the New Testament churches was marked by prayer, and he calls on them to pray as well. James warns his readers to pray with the right desires. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.
And, of course, our prayer ultimately glorifies God. John 14:13-14 say: Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it. We are called to pray because of the simple fact that God is God and we are not. He has offered to work in us, through us, and through our prayer.
Here’s my goal for this prayer time we’re going to have on Sunday evenings.
I want this time to be a time of prayer for three things in particular:
1. The proclamation of the Gospel
2. The transformation of the saints
3. The exaltation of God.
We pray regularly, and I hope that each one of us is taking time to pray daily. There are a lot of needs throughout our church right now.There is a lot of suffering, each person in here has unique trials that they’re going through. And we are called to pray for one another. We have a list of prayer requests in our bulletin, which I think is very helpful and we need to use it in our prayer times. If you need prayer for anything, you can ask for it. And I say all that because I want to explain this prayer time we’re going to have tonight.
When we come together on Sundays, as a family here, we’re taking a rest from the world and the culture we live in, and we’re being refreshed. The preaching, the teaching, the songs we sing, the Scriptures we read, they are refocusing us on Christ, on worshiping God above all. Our prayer time should have the same goal. I want us, as a church, to focus on three things when we have this prayer time on Sunday nights.
First, we’re going to pray for the proclamation of the Gospel as a church. It’s telling that this is something Paul is continually asking churches to do throughout his ministry. I want us to look at 3 examples.
Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. 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.
You can learn a lot about prayer from the little letter Paul wrote to the church at Colossae. Paul has just told the Colossians how a person who has Christ as their life is to actually live, and he tells them to continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it. Our time tonight isn’t the only time any one of us should be praying. 'Steadfast' and 'watchful' are words with meanings like consistent, vigilant, don’t let your guard down, don’t stop or be distracted. We aren’t going to try and pray for everything tonight, but we don’t need to either. Because we should be praying steadfastly. We should be vigilant to see the needs in this world, watchful, and bringing our requests to God.
But then Paul gets specific- he wants prayer. And goodness knows, Paul needed prayer. Few people had the kind of lifestyle Paul did. But what did he want prayer for? He wanted prayer that God would make it possible for the proclamation of the Gospel. It’s possible that Paul literally wanted God to open a door; this may not be figurative language. After all, where was Paul? In prison. But what did he desire? Freedom? Not exactly. He desired an opportunity to proclaim Christ again. Paul’s whole being yearned for one thing- Christ to be made known. How do we measure up to Paul’s desire? He was just a man, he had the same Spirit that we have. But what did Paul need from the church? Prayer.
Let’s look at another example from Paul. Ephesians 6:18
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, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.
This request is a parallel one to what we just read in Colossians, which is no surprise since they were probably written at the same time. Again, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints. If we’re lax in our prayer lives, can we say that we’re alert with all perserverance? But what does Paul want them to pray for him specifically? Catch this- he wants supplication, and he wants it be all about the proclamation of the Gospel. We naturally spend a great time in supplication for sickness, for hard times, for material needs, but Paul is setting another type of example here. The supplication that the Apostle of God wants is probably a pretty good thing to bring before God for anyone else, right?
One last example here. 2 Thessalonians 3:1
Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you
There’s another story about Paul’s missionary journeys that you may not be as familiar with. You may know the part where he gets shipwrecked, he gets thrown in prison, he mentors a young man named Timothy, he commissions another named Titus, he confronts the other Apostle Peter, and on and on. We know these stories if we’ve spent much time in church. But here’s the other story, the one that doesn’t get as much press because it doesn’t have as much excitement, but it’s still there to be read.
The Gospel in the New Testament flew forward into dark areas, into pagan cities on the wings of prayer- the prayer of the churches. We talk about how God uses preachers to bring the Gospel- how can they hear if no one is sent? But we need to talk about how God uses prayer to bring the Gospel. That’s what he did in the New Testament. So, this time on Sunday evenings, we’re going to focus on praying together for the proclamation of the Gospel in various ways. We may spend an evening praying for evangelistic opportunities among church members. We may spend an evening praying for a particular ministry, or missionary, or a particular church.
The second thing we’re going to pray for is the transformation of the saints. To think about this, we’re going to turn from what Paul asks the church to pray for concerning him, and we’re going to look at what Paul himself prayed for the churches.
Back to Colossians 1:9
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, 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. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
Goodness, there’s so much that could be said about this passage and what it teaches us on prayer. Let’s see the highlights and apply this to our situation. First, notice the way that Paul and Timothy pray here- “from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you...” There’s a picture of 'steadfast vigilance', or 'watchful perseverance', however you want to put it! Paul doesn’t stop though, but he actually tells the Colossians what he’s praying for them about.
The first thing he prays is that they would be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding. I won’t labor this point because you can read Colossians for yourself and see this, but Paul clearly tells them later in the letter that all wisdom and knowledge are found in one place- in the person of Jesus Christ, the son of God, the one who made the heavens and earth. His prayer here is that, whatever is going on, the members of the Colossian church would be filled with Christ, and the knowledge of Him. And he has a point for praying that way. “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.”
Here’s where I want to say something gently. I don’t want to be misunderstood with what I’m about to say. I’ve been in a lot of prayer services, I’ve led a lot of prayer services, and I’ve seen many that begin to make you feel like you stumbled into the waiting room of a doctor’s office as everyone lists off the health concerns that they’re facing. I don’t want to belittle those health concerns in any way, because they’re part of this broken world we live in. In fact, the reason that so many prayer services end up that way is because we’re eagerly waiting, the whole earth’s groaning, for the Son to return and we literally feel it in the way that our bodies break down. Our sickness reminds us that we are burdened by sin.
But I do want to point out that at some point in those prayer services, it needs to be recognized that God uses all these sicknesses and health problems for our good. He, in his wisdom, brings trials into our lives. “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds.” And why do we count it joy? Because God brought those trials into our lives for a purpose- transformation. So you may be perfect, James says.
Paul doesn’t pray that God would give all the Colossians good health, but that he would fill them with the knowledge of Christ. He would go on to pray, May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy. If he’s praying for endurance and patience, it must be because he expects they are going to need it! And ultimately, he wants them to give thanks because they’ve been redeemed.
How are we going to apply this to our prayer time together? Well, I want this to be a time where we focus on transformation of the believers. This won’t be a time where we list every health concern. Our focus tonight will be on our spiritual health over our physical health. Again, just to be clear. I’m not saying I don’t want to hear your requests for health problems. I do want to hear those, and we do want those to put in the bulletin, and what’s more, I want everyone to be praying for those things regularly. But in this time on Sunday evenings, our focus is going to be on spiritual health. We naturally tend toward the physical, and so we have to be intentional about focusing on the spiritual. But in truth, which matters more? That so-and-so is healed of cancer, or that they are saved from the eternal fires of hell. When you put it that way....
So we want to use this time to pray for transformation. Sometimes, we’ll bring up situations that are going on in member’s lives where we need to especially pray for God to strengthen for all endurance and patience with joy. If you know of a situation where this kind of transformation is needed, let me know. You can call me up, send me an email, or catch me after the morning service.
The last thing we want to pray for actually ties both proclamation and transformation together- we want to focus on exaltation. The very fact that God is our God, the Lord of the church, we gather to exalt him. We pray because he deserves all the glory and praise. We show that we’re dependent on him. John 14:14- Ask anything in my name, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. We’re not just to ask. We’re not just treating him like a genie, or a vending machine. The whole purpose of this time we’re about to have is exalt God as God. To come before God, totally dependent on him.
Let's be a light to our community by praying! Let's glorifying God through our prayer as a church.