Aaron and Anna did the best they could to raise Andrew. Their marriage was strong and what they didn’t have in material possessions they made up for in wealth of love. One day Anna went on a trip to the store and was in a head on car collision that she did not survive. Aaron and Andrew were struck with grief. Andrew was a teenager going through challenging years and needed both his parents. He turned to his father for answers and guidance. However, the father Aaron turned alcohol. As the years accumulated Aaron’s addiction consumed his life. Andrew grew cold toward his father and left for college with seldom communication.
Andrew’s grades were decent and four years later gained a degree in business. Andrew’s graduation accomplishment led to the desire to see his father. Andrew reached out to Aaron to find his father in a much better place. Aaron had sobered to his grief and changed dramatically. Aaron not only overcame his addiction but had started a successful real estate business where he became wealthy. Above all, he was thankful to regain an opportunity to connect with his son. The son and father spent some time together and Aaron realized his father’s economic status. For his graduation he asked his father for a new car, which the father could easily afford.
Graduation came and the father invited the son to his home. Aaron gave his son a gift that he thought the son would appreciate. He passed the gift wrapped box to his son and Andrew opened it disappointed. Inside the box was a Bible, which Andrew wanted no part. He shoved the box back to his father and yelled in bitter anger at his father. The father called out to the son, “Andrew, don’t you want to read what’s inside the gift I’m giving to you?” Andrew just walked away and out of his father’s life.
… I will complete story later in the message, but today I want to talk about a very special gift God has given His people – the gift of prayer. Today we start a sermon series in the book of Colossians, with the opening chapter and message on the topic of prayer.
EXAMINE Colossians 1:9-14 Big Praying
Colossae was part of a tri-city area with Laodicaea and Hierapolis (see Col 4:13-16). In times past, the city was prosperous with dyed wool goods and part of a lively trade route. The region was a melting pot of diversity with mixed religious and philosophical ideas. While the city had much potential, dynamics changed due to changing transportation routes with the founding of neighboring city Laodicea. Additionally, the cities were hit hard with significant earthquakes in 17AD and again in early 60’sAD. After this, Colossae’s prosperity declined and faded quickly, and it’s uncertain if the city was even rebuilt.
Paul writes to the Colossian church likely before these events. We know Paul did not start the church, but his mission work in Ephesus (100 miles away) influenced a man named Epaphras, who began a gospel work in the city (Ac 19:10; Col 1:7). Paul’s writing is after his third missionary journey and undoubtedly during house arrest awaiting trial. Yet, Paul makes good use of his time writing multiple letters: Colossians, Ephesians, Philippians, Philemon.
> Who’s your Epaphras? Everyone should have an Epaphras. Paul’s gospel friendship with Epaphras resulted in planting a church in an ungodly and unreached city; and eventually a book of the Bible. We may never realize all God does just by sowing a single seed in the life of another person. Another perspective – though God does not have grandchildren (direct faith only), God delights in His children becoming spiritual grandparents!
> When you’re experiencing negative circumstances, do you look for ministry or misery? Paul used jail time to glorify God. I’m not saying we should gloss over grief. I’m merely suggesting there are some life challenges that God calls us to persevere and grow, learning how to glorify God in everything.
Since Epaphras started the Colossian church and not Paul, the letter is Paul’s least personal. He doesn’t single out and saints or specific situation. Yet, the letter is important because it reminds us a few principles
- Centrality of Jesus Christ. In Colossians, Jesus is
- the Lord who gives us hope of heaven (1:3-5)
- rescuer from darkness and transferring us into His kingdom (1:13)
- the redeemer and forgiver of our sins, reconciling us to God (1:14, 20)
- the image of the invisible God, the eternal Creator of all (1:15-18)
- the fullness of God (1:19; 2:9)
- the head of every spiritual power and authority (2:10, 15)
- the one who will return an appear in glory (3:4)
Colossians is a central record of early history testifying to high Christology. Undoubtedly, Jesus is the center of the church and all human history, and like the spokes of a wheel, every other topic radiates from the hub. Our beliefs, our behaviors, our attention, affections, and aims exist for the glory of Jesus and no one else. Our faith informs how we live, whom we love, and where our ultimate hope resides.
- Deception is prowling. Paul’s primary aim in writing to the Colossians is to ensure an accurate understanding of the gospel and truth. He says, “See to it (Βλέπετε – look out!) that no one takes you captive (word indicates being made a victim or prey) by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ” (2:8).
- SPBC Groups studying “why” we believe and about to start “what” we believe. Truth is an anchor in a cultural current heading over a cliff of destruction and death.
- The local church has significance. Paul was in jail and chose to spend his time writing to a small church that met in at least three different homes (Colossians 4:15-16; Philemon 1:2), which were connected across cities; approximately 10 miles apart. Archaeological evidence reveals that most homes could host about 30-50 people, though large villas of the wealthy elite could certainly hold more. So, we’re talking <200 people. The overwhelming majority of churches (90+%) are under 500 and most under 200. While these numerically small churches sometimes feel inferior, Jesus views them as invaluable. In Colossians, the local church is described as “saints” (1:2), qualified for the kingdom (1:12-13), Christ’s body (1:18, 24; 2:19), raised with Christ and preparing to appear with Him in glory (3:1-3); a reconciled people from many diverse backgrounds (3:11); God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved (3:12), brothers and sisters – family (1:2; 4:15).
Colossians is not all theological and is very practical. The opening chapter reflects Paul’s method of being both theological and practical with a behind the scenes look at his prayer life. You see, our beliefs about God will have a decisive impact on our behaviors – and to start with the practice of prayer. The more we learn about God, the more we will love to talk to Him and tell others about Him.
Paul’s opening prayer provides us 2 key practical benefits.
Prayer provides us perspective.
In many of Paul’s letters he lists names and writes notes of affection for his friends. Paul had never met the Colossians, yet he prayed for them and does so frequently. The idea of unceasing prayer is not necessarily minute by minute but day by day praying. It’s not around-the-clock prayer but regular and disciplined praying. Paul’s prayer life was intentional as he prays fervently and faithfully.
> How expansive is our praying? Do our prayers revolve around ourselves, our own families, and our own churches? By all means, we are responsible and encouraged to pray for our own circle. But if our prayers do not broaden for the burdens of others then we become self-absorbed and we will miss opportunities to be used of God to expand His kingdom and see ourselves storing treasure in heaven. Jesus wants His followers to love locally and bless broadly as global Christians.
Paul’s example reminds us there are some things in life that we should never give up praying. Every day we need breath, and daily bread, and generous grace.
Specifically, Paul prays that the Colossians “be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (1:9). Knowledge of God’s will is not just over personal requests – what college should we attend? which job should we take? who should we marry? where should we move or attend church? God does guide His children with wisdom and insight into these and many other decisions. Yet, Scripture speaks of the Lord’s will beyond our own requests.
- Psalm 143:10 “Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground.”
- Romans 12:1-2 “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing, and perfect will.”
- Ephesians 5:15-17 “Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore, do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.”
- 1 Thessalonians 4:3 “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified.”
- 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
- John 6:29 “This is the work/will of God, that you believe in the one he has sent.”
God’s will is not merely reduced to our own desires but concentrated around divine commands. To be filled with the knowledge of His will is to know His word and obey His ways. If knowledge fills the head, wisdom floods the heart and overflows into obedience.
> What do we think will make us happy? When God’s will is reduced to our own desires then God’s word becomes subjective and disposable. Our aim to be happy will be an endless hollow pursuit until we realize joy is a byproduct of obedience to God.
Paul explains the wedding of the will of God and spiritual wisdom as “walking in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him” (1:10). Living fully pleasing to God is described with four characteristics:
- bearing fruit in every good work: Fruit starts with roots in the gospel, which if rightly planted will grow fruit. Our life of faith should exhibit good works as salt and light in our world to help others see God (cf Eph 2:10; James 2; Mt 5:16). The good works abound through Colossians that the gospel advanced to Laodicea and Hierapolis (cf. Col 4:13).
- increasing in the knowledge of God: If we are going to obey God’s will, then we must know it. Jesus said, “If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own” (Jn 7:17). In other words, we must spend time reading the Word and reflecting on the life of Jesus.
- being strengthened according to His power: Our strength begins when we admit our weakness (cf. 2Cor 12:9-10).
- giving thanks to God the Father: To not give thanks to God is cosmic plagiarism. We must always give glory and celebrate credit to God for His work in and around our life. An ongoing gratitude is the grace of God, “who qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light, and delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of His Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col 1:13-14).
Prayer provides us perspective. When we view life from God’s point of view then we are reminded which is bigger. Prayer helps us to magnify God and not our problems.
- If not already, consider the practice of journaling. Journaling helps us to be intentional praying for ourselves and others, and for focusing on the Lord’s will more than our own. Writing out reflections and requests helps us not to be self-absorbed.
- Develop the practice of identifying and praying/praising the names of God for every problem you have.
Prayer provides us power.
It is worth repeating that prayer provides us power and perseverance. When we pray, we receive God’s strength to endure (word communicates being under a burden but ability to remain and keep going) whatever we are facing. Additionally, prayer provides a power to trust the Lord rather than take matters in our own hands. Our natural response is impatience – to react, to control, to take revenge, even to doubt God and turn our backs on Him.
But, when we pray and plead for God’s strength, we experience a peace that passes all understanding. Outside of ice cream or chocolate, the cure for impatience is planting yourself in the grace of God. Exhibiting patience is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. Genuine fruit is not made in a factory; neither is there a formula for having patience. Fruit grows in the depths of soil, and so does the ability to have patience. The only thing that can help us sustain the struggles and storms of life is having a power that is not our own.
Like Paul says, “we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way but not crushed; perplexed but not driven to despair; persecuted but not forsaken; struck down but not destroyed” (2 Cor 4:6-9)
There’s a story about a husband and wife who were driving along a highway. The couple noticed a late-model Cadillac with its hood up, parked along the side of the road. Its driver appeared troubled and agitated. The couple pulled over to see if they could assist the stranded driver. The troubled driver was embarrassed as he described his circumstances. He stated he knew when he left home that he was low on fuel, but he had an important meeting that he was trying to hurry and attend, so he didn’t take the time to fill up on gas and he ran empty. The Cadillac need nothing more than refueling.
Ironically, the helpful couple had a spare gallon of fuel in the trunk of their car that they were generous to share. As they poured the gas into the Cadillac, the husband instructed the driver about a nearby gas station a few miles down the road that he could stop and fill-up the rest to get to his desired destination. The driver thanked them profusely and then sped off.
The couple took their time continuing their journey. They chose to stop at the gas station, not just for their own vehicle but their empty can and to get some snacks inside the store. After completing their stop, they drove down the highway about 15 miles and noticed the same Cadillac with its hood up again and the stranded driver even more agitated this time. The amused couple stopped again and asked the driver if he saw the fueling station. Unfortunately, the man grumbled on and on about how late he was and how important his meeting was, and how frustrated he was that he was stopped again. He skipped refueling with the hollow hope that the one gallon he received would somehow be enough for his full journey.
It is hard to believe anyone would be so naïve, until we reflect on our own frenetic and fast-paced lifestyle. In our work, our family, and our play, we rush to perform and accomplish so much that we miss out to pause for refreshment, refueling, and refocusing. We seldom take time to be still; to think; to meditate; to evaluate; to wonder and dream; and to simply speak to our Heavenly Father in prayer. We miss the resources available to us through Christ because of our pride to operate in our own power.
- Power is received when we receive the Holy Spirit. Don’t try to live life or survive struggles alone. Invite Jesus into your life and receive His presence. #PentecostSunday
Graduation came and the father invited the son to his home. Aaron gave his son a gift that he thought the son would appreciate. He passed the gift wrapped box to his son and Andrew opened it disappointed. Inside the box was a Bible, which Andrew wanted no part. He shoved the box back to his father and yelled in bitter anger at his father. The father called out to the son, “Andrew, don’t you want to read what’s inside the gift I’m giving to you?” Andrew just walked away and out of his father’s life. Their relationship was once again torn apart.
Years passed and Andrew was married but didn’t invite the father to the wedding. They had their first child and without contact to the father. A second child came and as the years grew perspective was gained. Aaron felt again the need to perhaps reconcile with his father. Aaron called and the father and son talked over the phone. Aaron told his son that he was sick and not doing well but would appreciate seeing his son and family. They made plans to meet in a few weeks.
The day came when Andrew arrived back to his father’s home only to find that Aaron had a heart attack the day before and died. Andrew missed his moment to reconcile with his father.
Nonetheless, the father’s entire inheritance was passed on to his son. Andrew was in his father’s home to sort through the possessions when he found a familiar gift wrapped box. It was the box with the Bible that Aaron had given his son so many years previously. Andrew opened the Bible to read the inscription and it read, “My son, I’ve missed so much of your life but I have always loved you. Congratulations on your graduation. Matthew 7:11.” Andrew was curious about the Scripture reference to which read, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him.” Also at that page was a car key. The son took the car key to his father’s garage that discovered the very car that he had requested of his father.
- Reconciliation with God is not like a quarrelsome professor that you can’t out-debate, but more like an honest conversation with a gracious father. God the Father is firm – will condemn and call out sin, but He forgives when we confess sin; confession is not just regret but repentance – agreement with God about who He is and who we are in need of mercy to not get what we deserve and empowering grace to turn and take steps to do what is right. Don’t put off being reconciled to Father God.
 Dunn, J. D. G. (1996). The Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon: a commentary on the Greek text (p. 285). Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle: William B. Eerdmans Publishing; Paternoster Press.
 I heard the term “cosmic plagiarism” from Tim Keller https://twitter.com/timkellernyc/status/1263900687446020096?lang=en
 Here’s a good list: https://growinggodlygenerations.files.wordpress.com/2010/02/god-has-a-name.pdf
 Adapted from D.A. Carson, A Call To Spiritual Reformation: Priorities From Paul And His Prayers, p.111.