Colossians 1:3-14

Introduction: I have a confession to make: I get frustrated with the way I pray. I care deeply about someone and want God’s very best for them but the words don’t seem to come. I am not at all interested in trying to impress God. I just want to help my friends. We often find ourselves saying a lot of words but seem to really not connect with God. Children are sometimes the best models for prayer but not always. Catherine Jones writes about her son’s seeming accuracy in prayer yet his motive was not so pure. She said, "My four-year-old likes to say the blessing at mealtimes, usually repeating the same short prayer: ‘Thank you, God, for this gracious food. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.’ One evening, however, he thanked the Lord for the birds, the trees, each of his friends, and asked God to watch over his family and help them to be good. I was thrilled that he was finally praying from the heart. But after the ‘Amen,’ he took a spoonful of stew, gasped, then dropped his spoon into the bowl. ‘I should have said a longer prayer,’ he said. ‘My food is still too hot.’" (Christian Reader, "Kids of the Kingdom"). I know that just as a little child can’t draw a bad picture, a Christian can’t pray a bad prayer, yet I’m not sure if the words I’m saying are really getting at the point.

I have a feeling I am not alone in this. You may be one of those people: You have someone you love. You care about what is going on in their life but you can’t seem to get beyond, "Lord, bless them…Lord, help them…" If that’s you, then I want you to understand today that you are doing the best thing for them that you can do. We have said before that God’s power is released when we pray. As you pray God’s power is being activated through you in their behalf. So it is not the power we doubt it’s the words we say. We also know that God is not bound by or dependent on our words that we pray. Remember Rom.8:26, "And in the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words..." Yet, like me, you still may feel the need for a greater sense of effectiveness.

This morning I want us to hear from someone who practiced effective praying in the most difficult of situations: Jail! The book of Colossians was written by Paul while he was imprisoned in Rome (Col.4:18). I want you to remember that we have no record of Paul ever going to Colossae. It seems also that the only person he knew from there was another Christian named Epaphras. Yet, in spite of Paul’s circumstances, he prayed effectively for a church and a people he loved sight unseen. If Paul can give himself so fervently to pray for someone he did not know can we not pray even more effectively for someone close to us? Paul knew what I want us to remember and that is: When someone I love needs help the best I can do is pray. How do you pray effectively for someone you love? I believe there are four ideas we can find in Paul’s example of praying for the Colossian Christians.

I. The first idea is this: When I pray for someone I love I take seriously the commitment I’m making. (v. 3, 9)

"Praying always…" "We have not ceased to pray and to ask…" This doesn’t mean that is all he did. It means that continually he brought the Colossian Christians to God in prayer. It also means that he used every aspect of prayer. He said "to pray and to ask…" I doubt if anyone other than Jesus himself has ever understood the price it costs to pray other than Paul. Paul recalls in II Corinthians 11 a list of his burdens and persecutions. He says in II Cor.11:28, "Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure upon me of concern for all the churches." There was never a real moment when the care of all those needing ministry was out of his mind. Here he tells Colossians that they were part of that continually: "Praying always"…", "not ceased." It costs to care to pray. When you say you will pray, do you realize what it costs?

A friend of Lynette Kittle was babysitting her three-year-old grandson, Sean, for the weekend. The first night at dinner my friend said, "Let’s thank God for our food." Not used to this practice at home, Sean said, "No! I don’t want to!" My friend remained calm. "Well, at Grandma’s house, we do say thank you before we eat." "You can’t make me," protested Sean. Determined to win this battle, his grandmother said more emphatically, "If we don’t pray, we don’t eat." "Well," the youngster replied, "I would say it if you had made mashed potatoes." (Lynette Kittle, Orange, California. Christian Reader, "Kids of the Kingdom." Maybe we would pray more if we knew it didn’t cost so much.

Now, who is it you love? Do you love them enough to truly commit to costly prayer? Prayer like this bonds you to someone else. It means that you may need to give up some other concern to care for this person’s needs in prayer. Yet what you give up is nothing compared to what they need. Their life makes our sacrifice seen insignificant. Praying for someone you love is going to cost. Take it seriously.

II. Praying for someone you love is not only a serious commitment, but also it’s an opportunity to give thanks specifically for what they do best. (v. 3-8)

In verses 3-8 Paul tells the Colossians about the things he has been thanking God for in their lives. In verse 3 and in verse 12 he thanks God for them so strongly. He does this in one way to show how sincerely glad he is about their spiritual maturity. He does this also because later he is going to admonish them pretty severely using some stronger words. What specifically did he thank God for?

Do you see what Paul did? Even though he did not know these believers personally he knew enough to focus on their accomplishments rather than on their weaknesses. That made all the difference in the world as to his point of view. While there were some areas that needed improvement he saw them in a different way. His affirmation of the positive was to motivate them to remove the negative from their life later.

Two of our temptations in life and in prayer are to have an "all or nothing" attitude by which we discount or disqualify the positive in our life or someone else’s life. When we see someone with an "all or nothing" attitude then our praying for them only sees the need or the negative. In other words they have to be nearly perfect or we count them out! We struggle as we pray for someone we love only focusing on the need or the negative, never fully appreciating what might be the most positive things about them. Why should we remember the best about them? It changes our perspective. It destroys the feeling of superiority and invites humility! Tell God more than their problem. Thank him for what they do best!

III. We have seen that when we pray for someone we love it’s a serious commitment and an opportunity to show specific gratitude but it is also the reminder that when we pray for someone we love we ask continually for what they need most (v. 9-11).

In verse 9 Paul shifts his focus from thanking God for them to telling them what he has asked God to do for them. Three things: (1) to know His will fully, (v.9) ("may be filled…in all…) (2) to live pleasing Him daily (v. 10), (3) to grow stronger in Him mightily (v. 11). These three areas of need he brought continually before God!

Those three things are three areas people normally need the most help in:

  1. They need to know what God wants them to do.
  2. They need to know how to live.
  3. They need to have strength in the pressure.

People need to know what God wants them to do in order to be faithful to Him. Jesus said, " Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you." (Matt. 7:7) They may be tired of asking, seeking and knocking and your prayer may be the strength to help them to find the answer.

People need to know how to live in a world hostile to our faith. Paul said to the Philippian Christians, "that you may prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world…"(Philip. 2:15). Maybe their light is getting dim and your prayer can ignite the flame in them once again.

People need to have strength as the pressures of their life bear down on them. The words "strengthened with all power" in verse 11 are a combination of two words that together mean the force needed to perform a task and the power to rule and control. He wants them to do it with the capacity not to quit and the emotional control to handle the pressure.

Remember the Titans, a movie based on the true story of a 1971 Alexandria, Virginia, football team, offers a message of racial reconciliation as well as endurance under. Early in the movie, Coach Herman Boone (played by Denzel Washington) takes his race-divided high school team to a two-week football camp. He works the boys hard, both emotionally and physically, trying desperately to build a sense of team. By the last practice, the boys begin to come together. During this practice, the football team, rigged in full pads and white practice uniforms, line up row by row. They vigorously run in place, focused on their conditioning.

Coach Boone yells, "What are you?"

The team shouts back, "Mobile! Agile! Hostile!"

Boone shouts, "And what is pain?"

"French bread!" the young men reply.

Boone hollers, "What is fatigue?"

They bellow, "Army clothes!"

With all his might, Coach Boone yells, "Will…you…ever…quit?"

The Titans roar, "No, we want some mo’! We want some mo’! We want some mo’!" (Remember the Titans) (Disney, 2002)

Can you pray for someone so passionately that they are so infused with God’s might and power they almost seem to say, "We want some mo’!"? That is what happens when we pray for what the one the one we love needs the most.

IV. When I pray for someone I love, I take it seriously; give thanks specifically, ask for their greatest need continually but, finally, I remember gladly all we share in common. (v. 11c-14)

Paul has been praying for them, "You…" (9-10). Now he shifts to inclusive terms "us" three times, "we" (once). There are things they share in common that he is grateful for and glad about: "qualified," "delivered," "transferred," ‘redemption," and "forgiveness." Those five words describe beautifully all that God has done for us in Christ. Regardless of the differences they are together in the same family.

Last week I was watching a program on Discovery about the origins of human migration to the North American continent. The scientists discovered that by using DNA of modern people they were able to go back in time and trace the migration of their ancestors. For example they took the DNA from a woman whose family had immigrated to the US from Greece in the 1800’s and the DNA from a Native American from Montana and discovered that they were tied genetically to the same family tree from thousands of years ago.

If we as humans can share so much in common then isn’t it even more amazing of what we share spiritually! You may have no similarities at all with the circumstances and needs of the person you love but you share together what is most important: your roots are found at Calvary’s cross! We stand together there and we know we are one in Christ!

Conclusion: In his book Legacy of Sovereign Joy, John Piper writes: "At the age of 16 in the year 371, Augustine sneaked away from his mother in Carthage. During the night he sailed away to Rome, leaving her alone to her tears and her prayers. How were these prayers answered? Not the way Monica [Augustine’s mother] hoped at the time. Only later could she see that praying is the deepest path to joy.

"Augustine himself wrote, ‘And what did she beg of you, my God, with all those tears, if not that you would prevent me from sailing? But you did not do as she asked you. Instead, in the depth of your wisdom, you granted the wish that was closest to her heart.

"‘For she saw that you had granted her far more than she used to ask in her tearful prayers. You converted me to yourself, so that I no longer placed any hope in this world, but stood firmly upon the rule of faith. And you turned her sadness into rejoicing, into joy far fuller than her dearest wish, far sweeter and more chaste than any she had hoped to find.’" (John Piper, The Legacy of Sovereign Joy)

What if you are praying and it seems that even though you are doing it with a serious commitment, specifically thanking God for what’s best in them, seeking for their greatest need and knowing you have the shared experience of the cross. Yet the need seems to go unmet. Does it mean that God is not listening or caring? No! It may mean he’s answering in a way we may not expect. What are you doing for that one you love? Are you praying? You can do nothing better than pray but you may need to do more. You may need to write a letter!

Sunday, September 1, 2002

Dr. Bruce Tippit, Pastor

First Baptist Church

Jonesboro, Arkansas