GREAT GOALS FOR PRAYER
Dear Friends in Christ,
The letter to the Christians at Colossae is one of Paul’s prison epistles. Four of the thirteen letters found in the Bible were written from prison in Rome. The letters to the churches in Ephesus, Philippi, and Colossae. The fourth was written to a man by the name of Philemon. Of the thirteen letters Paul wrote, two were written to churches that he did not establish – Romans and Colossians.
Allow me to give you some background to Colossians. How did the church in Colossae start? God used a man by the name of Epaphras. Paul spent three years in Ephesus. Epaphras met Paul in Ephesus, but Epaphras took the message of Jesus to Colossae about 125 miles due east of Ephesus. By the grace of a church was established in Colossae. Kind of amazing, don’t you think?
The Christians in Colossae must have felt honored to receive a letter from the renowned missionary and apostle, Paul of Tarsus. Paul wanted them to know that they were on his mind and in his prayers. As he prayed for them, Paul teaches us a lesson on “Great Goals for All Prayers. He gives a lesson in 1) What needs to pray for; 2) Where the answer comes from.
In some respects this a kind of radical prayer. Why do I say that? What drives you to your knees? Perhaps confession of sin? Perhaps prayers of thanksgiving? Perhaps when we face challenging stretches personally or someone else does. In many respects many of the prayers we pray are reactive. Don’t get me wrong, those are times when we need to pray. But as we look at this prayer of Paul, the prayer is more of a preventive maintenance type prayer. He prayed that their spiritual health.
Remember that Paul didn’t establish this church. We can assume there were a lot of people he simply didn’t know. He didn’t mention anything about any cases of malaria, or brain cancer or financial challenges. But he did pray for what everyone needs. “For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives.” This verse lists three things: the knowledge of his will, wisdom and spiritual understanding.
First, the knowledge of his will. What is knowledge of God’s will? God wants us to keep the Ten Commandments. Many look at the commandment as a bunch of does and don’ts. Actually, the commandments are God’s law of love. Obedience to them is a way of showing love for God and for all who live around us. After all that is God’s will that we love him and one another.
While the Commandments are good and right, they cause me to shake in my boots. They ought to do to do the same for you. We have failed miserably in loving. We are not even in the ball park. If our holy God showed up visibly in all of flaming glory right now, we would confess what Isaiah confessed, “Woe is me for I am ruined. I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips.” We would be diving under our chairs because we would be afraid. We would see how we fail to match up with our holy God.
But there is more to knowing God’s will than loving obedience to our holy God that we have failed so miserably to do. He is our God “who is not willing that any should perish but that all would come to repentance.” His will is that we not make excuses or rationalize our failures. He doesn’t want us comparing ourselves to others whose lives might actually be more violent and sin-filled than ours. His will is that we confess that our sins are real, countless and damnable. His will is also that we know that God’s love is greater than our sin. “When our hearts condemn us,” the Bible says, “God is greater than our hearts and knows all things.” What does he know? He knows what he planned – a way to save us! He knows what he did – to send his Son to save us. He loved the world so much that he gave his one and only son to die for the world. He gave his Son as the atoning and saving sacrifice the world needs. When we are arrogant and boastful, mean and hateful, the love of God is bigger. We are declared forgiven because of Jesus. Jesus payment is bigger than our debt. His righteousness more than covers all people. That’s what Paul is praying for – to know God’s will. A goal for us in our prayers for ourselves and others.
He prayed for wisdom. Knowledge is the ability to recollect facts; wisdom applies them. Today many Lutherans are celebrating Reformation. We will do so next Sunday. Martin Luther whom God used to bring about the Reformation was knowledgeable and wise by the grace of God.
There is a story about Luther when he was in his study in the WartburgCastle in Germany. He was translating the Bible, something Satan didn’t want him to be doing. The fewer people who understood the Bible was Satan’s strategy. Frankly the church of Luther’s day went right along with it. The story goes that Luther was sitting at his desk translating the Bible. The Devil wanted to disturb the important work of getting a readable translation into the hands of people. When Satan tried to hinder him, Luther grabbed the ink pot and threw it at the Devil’s head. Many think that is a legend. But Luther knew how important that ink on the pages of Scripture is to relate to us the promises of God’s forgiving love.
There is still another story about how the devil tried to discourage Luther. He wanted to make Luther feel guilty and listed sins that Luther had done. When the devil had finished, Luther was to have said, “Think harder: you must have forgotten some.” And the devil did think, and he listed more sins. When he was done enumerating the sins, Luther said, “Now, with a red pen write over that list, “The blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses us from all sin.” “The devil had nothing to say.” That’s the ability to apply knowledge. That’s wisdom. Dear God, give us wisdom to apply the Holy Word to our lives and to others.
There are tangible results that come from “knowledge, wisdom and spiritual understanding.” Paul’s prayer continues, “so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God. While Judy and I were on vacation, Judy saw a church sign that read, “Are you a believer, an unbeliever or a make believer.”Christianity is practical; it’s real; it shows. Paul prayed that the people of Colossae “walk worthily of the Lord into all that is pleasing.” Christianity does not stagnate. It shows and grows. C. F. W. Walther, founding father of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, wrote, “Faith cannot be shut in. It is like the sea that can be tapped: it rushes irresistibly through any opening that has been made for it.” It bears fruit. It grows. That’s what Paul prayed for; that’s a goal for our prayers too.
Paul makes the point that we can’t produce this on our own. That’s why we need to pray. We need the Lord’s help. We need the Lord’s power. We need the Holy Spirit. Paul asks God (notice he is asking God because on their own the Colossians can’t produce it) be “strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience.” The Bible says that our lives are like the mist - gone in such a short time. Yet when we are living life there are challenges by the bucket. It is interesting that while the Bible says life is short, it never compares life to a sprint but a marathon. It requires spiritual strength and endurance. Paul asks the good Lord, “Help them! Help me…follow you.”
When people say, “I was saved when I was twenty five years old,” I like to reply that I was saved when Jesus died on the cross and rose from the grave on the third day.” Faith makes what Jesus did our own. A lack of faith pushes it away. It is not the faith that saves by itself, but what the faith is in…Jesus Christ that saves. As the hymn writer says, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.”
I certainly get the feeling that some like to point to the overwhelming feeling and emotion that swept over them as the proof of their salvation. The proof is in Jesus, Jesus and only Jesus. That’s what Luther came to know after he was taught so incorrectly for years that someway and somehow he had to contribute.
Even our ability to respond in love is a gift from God. All of that is said so clearly in the Bible. Isaiah writes, “We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.” Paul says, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” In another letter he says, “It is God who works in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” God’s grace doesn’t end when Jesus rose on the third day, and the rest is ours to figure out and accept. By God’s grace we come to faith. By God’s grace we grow in the faith. By God’s grace we live in the faith.
The last words of this prayer really explain so clearly who is behind our salvation from beginning to end. Paul gives “joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light.” Let’s study this verse closely. Give thanks to God “who qualified you.” Many question that we have a qualified candidate for president this election season. One thing I can say for sure is that no one on their own is qualified for heaven. No one is perfect. No one is holy. But our dear Lord qualified us. First of all, he declares us to be righteous by bestowing on us the righteousness of Jesus; secondly, Jesus became the sin bearer for our sin and all other’s sin. Jesus erased all the points that disqualified us.
Now we “share in the inheritance of his holy people.” I find it amazing there is such a thing as death tax. The government felt it was in their right to tax your right to transfer property to heirs upon your death. Depending how much you have, it could mean that they could take 65% of what you have. I guess they know you won’t protest since you are dead anyway. If you don’t want to pay taxes, go on living. Thank God his inheritance is free where there is holy people saved the same way we are. There is no outer darkness, no weeping and gnashing of teeth. And there is no IRS.
How is this possible? The one who made it possible, the one to whom Paul is praying, the one to whom we pray, as proved “redemption and the forgiveness of sin.” We have been redeemed. We have been bought and paid for. The transaction was done by the only one who could…the one whose blood was precious enough to save.
We have the forgiveness of sins. That word “forgiveness” is an interesting word. It means to “take away,” “to remove it from sight.” It goes back to the Great Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) when the second of two goats was brought before the assembly. The high priest took its horns and symbolically transferred the sins of all the people to the goat. The goat was taken off into the wilderness to be left there and probably die and the claws of some predator. There was a picture of how sins were taken away. The picture was what Jesus would do. Sin has been removed; they are out of sight, even out of God’s sight who says “he remembers our sins no more.” That’s the one who empowers you. That’s the one who saves you.
For the last twenty minutes, not once did you hear Paul pray for someone who was sick of a cure for cancer. Again, it is not wrong. He is not forbidding it. I am not suggesting it. He prayed for the knowledge and life of salvation. He was praying for things eternal. They need to be goals in our prayers too.