Pray to Persevere and Proclaim
“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.” – Colossians 4:2-4
Do you remember where you were in 2002? Or who you were? I do. I was an 18-year-old High School senior. I was in the words of the Apostle Paul, an “outsider” to the Christian faith. I was actually a very proud atheist and hated anything Christian. To say that I was steeped in the man-centered philosophies of the world would be an understatement. To me life was some cruel cosmic joke with no meaning, I believed that we as people created our own meaning. I was angry and found comfort in the worldview of atheistic men like Fredrick Nietzsche. Nietzsche actually wrote one of my favorite quotes from when I was an atheist. It read, “To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering.” I lived in this tension that the world was broken and meaningless and yet I desperately desired healing and purpose.
However, in 2001 my High School English teacher began praying for me to come to know Jesus. She and I met during my junior year when I received after-school detention. I very quickly came to learn that she was one of those "Christians" and she wasted no time in talking to me about Jesus. To be honest, I thought she was dumb for believing in this mythical God-man.
However, there was something about how she carried herself, how she spoke with me, how her life reflected her beliefs, that was very compelling. So much so, that I began visiting her every day after school and every day she would receive with joy. I knew that she genuinely cared about me. However, what I didn’t know was how much she was praying for me to come to know Jesus. How much she was asking others to pray that God would continue to open doors for her to share the message of Jesus to me. How hard she had to strive to walk and talk in wisdom as a teacher in a public school, evangelizing to a student. Or how many nights she toiled in prayer because my hardened heart would push back on her and she wanted to give up but nonetheless resolved to remain steadfast in prayer and trust God. And you know what? IN 2007, God in His sovereign grace adopted me into His family. Today, my life is dedicated to proclaiming Jesus as MY LORD and MY SAVIOR. Looking back on those years I see now that her wisdom with me in both word and deed was birthed and sustained by her prayers and the prayers of others.
We must never forget that it is exactly because outsiders are opposed to their need of Christ that we must pray to persevere in prayer if we are to proclaim the Gospel.
Point #1: We Must Pray to Persevere (v.2)
“Continue steadfastly in prayer”
The first thing that we need to notice before we even begin to unpack what praying to persevere looks like is the word “continue.” That word “continue” means that the believers in Colossae had been praying. Paul wasn’t saying that they should pray BUT when they pray.
He assumed that prayer was just a given in their day-to-day life. So, when he wrote “continue” it was a word of encouragement to keep doing it, not to start doing it.
Then Paul says to be steadfast. Steadfast means literally to attach oneself to something. To do something with intense effort. To be strong in it. Paul is saying that prayer for the Colossians and for us today should be an unwavering, immovable pillar. Brothers, prayer is something that we must be resolved to pursue no matter what is happening in or around us. Being steadfast in prayer means that praying isn’t simply a checklist or something to be done before meals but that it’s a lifestyle. And it will require effort and discipline. Every strong and meaningful relationship we have requires effort and discipline, not because you have to but because you want to. People put forth effort and discipline to spend time with those that they love. Think about how often Jesus went to pray. I looked through the Gospels and found 26 different instances. If our Lord Jesus was that steadfast in prayer, should we not be as well?
“being watchful in it”
The Colossians were living in an age when false teaching was trying to creep its way into the church and distort the Gospel. Where their neighbors believed in Judaism sprinkled with mysticism, pagan folk religion, Greek philosophy, and found the idea of Jesus as the only way as offensive, arrogant, and judgmental. In an environment like that if one is not careful the culture will begin to plant seeds in your heart you will begin to doubt, and it will affect how you see God and the world. So, Paul tells them to be watchful in prayer. To be focused. To be on guard. To be mentally alert. It’s interesting because most of us do not consider prayer a place that we need to have our guard up. But how we pray tells a lot about what we believe about God and us. Prayer reveals who we really are. If you read Paul’s prayers in the New Testament, he doesn't pray for a change in his circumstances, or for life to be easier, or to be able to retire and have a nice waterfront property. Paul prays to be drawn into a closer relationship with God no matter the cost and to be used by God for the spreading of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Watchful prayer is prayer that is aware of what is happening in the circumstances of life around you, especially those that will affect your holding fast to Christ and the spreading of the Gospel.
How does a man who is under house arrest, unsure of what will happen to him, write that our prayers must be woven with thankfulness? It’s because when God saves a person their entire perspective on life changes. They begin to see every trial and tribulation, every joy and celebration, as an opportunity to make much of Jesus and share the good news. This doesn’t mean that we don’t fall on hard times and have heavy hearts. But it does mean that in those hard times we will lift up our hearts in prayer remembering all we have in Christ! In this letter alone Paul gives us reasons for thanksgiving:
Colossians 1:13-14 - 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.
Colossians 2:13-14 - And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.
Colossians 3:15 - And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.
We need to have thankfulness burned on our hearts because we so easily forget who we are and what we have in Christ. Prayer does not come easy to me. I wish I could stand up here and tell you that I’m some prayer warrior, but I’m not. In my effort to live a life of steadfast, watchful, thankful prayer, I fail more often than I’d like. And that’s why I am so grateful that because of Jesus, God’s love for me does not depend on how strong my prayer life is.
I’m free to passionately pursue prayer without fear of not measuring up. I’m perfectly loved whether I pray five times a month or five times a day. And that freedom compels me to pursue God in prayer. Actually, one of the amazing truths of Jesus’ death for us is that we were saved to pray. It says in Hebrews 4:16, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
Point #2: We Must Pray to Proclaim (v.3-4)
It’s amazing that Paul under house arrest is asking the Colossian believers to pray that he will be given opportunities to share the Gospel. He is asking them to pray that he will be given more opportunities to continue doing what got him arrested in the first place.
Friends, is that how we pray? Have any of us ever stepped out on faith, spoken up in regard to the Gospel, and it was received badly? Maybe you lost some friends, or your social circle at got smaller, or a family member distanced themselves from you, or you were laughed and ridiculed.
Whatever it may have been was your thought process, I need to pray and have people pray for me to be put in more situations like that OR did your heart say, “I’m never doing that again.” Paul could have easily prayed for release from prison, for his chains to be removed. He didn’t. He knew that God had placed him where he was at for a purpose and that purpose was to proclaim the mystery of Christ, which is the Gospel, even behind prison doors. And we know by looking at the book of Philippians that Paul’s prayers were answered. It says in Philippians 1:12-13, “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ.” and toward the end of Philippians Paul wrote, “All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar's household.” His sharing the Gospel during his imprisonment led to the salvation of many outsiders. Brothers never forget that God works powerfully through our prayers.
“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”
Praying for an open door means praying with eyes wide open. Praying that God will both provide and show you an opportunity to enter into someone’s life to share the good news. Again, Paul was under house arrest and somehow through his prayers and the prayers of the Colossians he found opportunities to share the Christ. Likewise, we must be praying and praying for others for eyes to see the opportunities that God has placed before us. Paul isn’t simply praying and asking for prayer for an open door to make new friends. Or for an open door to simply live out his faith quietly among the unsaved. Paul is asking and praying with purpose. To share the mystery of Christ, which is the Gospel. The reason that Paul says that the Gospel is a mystery is not that it is some riddle that only a select few can figure out. It's a mystery because no one would ever know it, think of it, or believe it unless God had made it plain to them. Think about this mystery:
God the Son becomes a man.
The Creator and king of heaven and earth willingly lives of life of poverty and struggle.
He loves His Father in heaven perfectly.
He never once commits a sin in thought or deed.
He dies in the place of sinners and bears their sin and judgment though he was sinless.
Three days later, he rises from the dead bodily, and reigns in power and glory in heaven today.
He purchases the forgiveness of sin for all who will place their faith in what He has done.
For those who have trusted in Christ as their righteousness, their Lord, their Savior, he dwells in their hearts and will guide them into glory.
Do you see why we must be praying for the Gospel to be explained? It’s too wonderful to imagine, no one will ever guess this mystery. We must be praying for opportunities to explain the Gospel because simply living a godly life alone will save no one. So like Paul and the Colossians let us pray to that end.
“that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.”
Being able to clearly explain the Gospel for the Apostle Paul was a real concern. He realized that without the power of the Holy Spirit directing his speech he would confuse more than clarify the mystery of Christ. When I first came to faith, I was telling everyone about Jesus and what he had done for me. However, as I learned more and grew in my knowledge of Scripture, I noticed a change in how I was telling everyone about Jesus. I lost sight of the powerful and profound simplicity of the Gospel. All of sudden I was trying to explain how the righteousness of God the Son was imputed to us through His penal substitutionary death and how this death had served as a propitiation for God the Father. And you know what I did, I confused people, I did more harm than good. I was relying on what I knew to save people, and not on the power of God. I stopped praying and asking for prayer, for how I ought to speak, for how to clearly explain the Gospel. I thought I had it all figured out. Paul, the Apostle who wrote 2/3 of the New Testament was humble and recognized his need for prayer to clearly share this powerful message. And so, he asks that the Colossians pray for him. Are we being humble and asking others to pray for us before we open our mouths?