July 20, 2014

Devoting Ourselves to Prayer

Colossians 4:2 Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving;

Do you think we need a message on prayer? Do we need to be reminded to pray? I sure think so. Peter also said that believers need this reminder:
2 Peter 1:12 Therefore, I shall always be ready to remind you of these things, even though you already know them, and have been established in the truth which is present with you.
Just like staying in shape physically requires that we do things like exercise, get enough rest, and watch our diet, so also there are requirements for our spiritual health that we need to do. Bible study, prayer, and fellowship are all needed in order to be strong spiritually.
Col 4:2 starts the concluding remarks of Paul to the Colossians so they are not addressed to any particular group of believers. And remember that Paul had just given a number of commands for the family: commands that went against the Roman culture of the first century. So it would be very difficult for them to be able to live out these commands. They would be depending on God for the strength and ability to keep these commands, and so a life devoted to prayer is essential for that to happen. Paul says “Devote yourselves to prayer.”
God knows our needs before we ask, but he still desires that we pray. So we should think about what prayer really is.
Lots of people pray. Even non-Christians pray. During 9-11, perhaps the majority of people in the US were praying. They know something about prayer, but they don’t really know if it works, or if anything good will come of it. Most religions have some form of prayer. In the Old Testament, there were people who prayed to idols and to Baal, and to other false gods.
As a parent, we experience our children asking things from us. Sometimes we say no, and other times we give our children what they ask for. But suppose some child you don’t know comes along and asks you for $10 so they can go buy some candy at the store? Our response would be different, right? We’re most likely to say, “I don’t know you, go ask your own parents.”
I can’t think of any passage in the Bible where God listened to prayers of people who are not His children. We can look at it this way, those who don’t belong to God belong to a different family. Jesus said to the Pharisees that their father was the devil. Of course, they weren’t real pleased to hear that, but it was true. There are only 2 kingdoms in this world. One is the kingdom of God, and the other is the kingdom of the devil.
Prayer is limited to those who are God’s adopted children. This means that of all the people who pray, the only ones who have the right and privilege to pray are those who are members of His family. We know that God hears and sees everything, so He hears unbelievers’ as well. He also heard the prophets of Baal; But He does not hear with the intention of responding to unbelievers’ prayers.

Only Christians truly know about the power of God, and the importance of prayer. And you would think that knowing what we know, we would be praying and seeking God much more than we do. But, the reality is we don’t pray as much as we should.
So when you ask believers “What is prayer?” most might reply that prayer is asking God for things. I think that believers often see God as a kind fatherly being that is there to do our bidding. That does not describe prayer at all. We do ask our heavenly Father for things, but we also go to Him with confession of sin, with thanksgiving, and with praise.
During my days as a Presbyterian, we studied the Westminster Confession and catechism. And I like what the Westminster Catechism says about prayer in Q.178. “Prayer is an offering up of our desires to God, in the name of Christ, by the help of His Spirit, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of His mercies.”
The main point in prayer is “an offering up of our desires to God.” So when we do that, does that mean we are being selfish? When we ask God for things, aren’t we focused on our own desires? No, not at all. If our desire is for others to know the Lord, and for others to grow in grace and knowledge, then our desires please God. Remember how the apostle Paul prayed? It was always for others, not himself.
In Col 1:9-12 Paul says: “We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, 10 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, 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, 12 and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light.”
Paul’s prayers were for the benefit of the church. True prayer acknowledges who God is, who we are, and expresses our dependence upon Him and our desire to be more like Jesus. He has the ability and desire to provide what we need for spiritual growth in our lives.
Thanksgiving should be a huge part of our prayers.
In 1 Thess 1:2 Paul says “We give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention of you in our prayers;”
It is God’s will that we ask Him for things. In fact, He delights in it.
Proverbs 15:8 (NASB) The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD, But the prayer of the upright is His delight.
Prayer is not some trivial thing. It is not some thing where we are told to do it when we have time, or when we think of it. Prayer gives honor and glory to God as the giver of all things.
All through the Bible we find God’s people praying to Him. Abraham, Joseph, David, and Daniel are just some of those believers bringing their needs and praises before the Lord. They did it without wavering, even if it was dangerous for them, such as in the case of Daniel. Prayer was not just something they added to their schedule, but it was so important that they would arrange their life around their prayer time, rather than fitting their prayer time into their life.
Paul tells the Colossian believers to “Devote yourselves to prayer.” This word “devote” in the Greek literally means “to consistently show strength which prevails (in spite of difficulties).” The present tense of the word further emphasizes the idea of persistence of prayer. Keep on doing it.
This Greek word (translated “devote”) occurs six times in the New Testament in relation to prayer.
Acts 1:14 These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer, along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.
There were about 120 people, and they prayed together for about ten days. That’s just unheard of today. And after Peter’s sermon and the 3,000 people that were converted at Pentecost, Luke says:
Acts 2:42 And they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
Acts 6:4, Romans 12:12, and Ephesians 6:18 all use this word as well. So what does this mean for us? It means we are to pray often and we are to pray regularly. Prayer should not be something we do if we happen to think about it. Being devoted to prayer means we ensure that prayer is part of our normal activity, just like eating, and sleeping.
Prayer is something that requires time and energy to develop. Jesus spend a lot of time in prayer. Lk 6:12 says “One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God.” Jesus also told the disciples how to pray, when He gave them what we call the Lord’s prayer.
Matthew 6:9-13
9 “This, then, is how you should pray: “‘Our Father in heaven, holy is your name, 10 your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us today our daily bread. 12 And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’
Paul goes on to say, “Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it” This word translated “Keeping alert” in the Greek means: “to keep awake, or to be vigilant.” I think that keeping alert could mean that you don’t let things distract you from praying… but I think it is more likely that Paul, who is in prison for the gospel, is telling them as followers of Jesus who are living in a world full of darkness: be alert to what is happening around you. Know who needs prayer, know what their needs are, and know how to pray for them. Be alert to put to death whatever belongs to your earthly nature. Be alert as God’s chosen people, to clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Be alert to let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts. Be alert to keep praying so that you would be strengthened to do all that God requires of you. Guard against anything that may weaken your effectiveness in prayer.
If our prayer life suffers, then so does our relationship with God. Think about this… can you have a close relationship with your earthly father without speaking to him? Of course not. And it is the same with prayer. Resolve to spend more time speaking to God in prayer.
Paul ends this verse by saying, “with an attitude of thanksgiving.” Paul tells us that believers are a thankful people. Paul mentions thanksgiving in Colossians 6 times. (1:3,12; 2:7; 3:15,17; 4:2).
In Phil 4:6, Paul says that the attitude we have in prayer is, “thanksgiving.”
Philippians 4:6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
“With thanksgiving” – is the way most versions of the Bible translate this verse. But in the Greek, the literal translation says “after thanksgiving.” So this verse should reads “by prayer and supplication, after thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God.” As much as possible, I think our thanksgiving, our gratitude, needs to be in all our prayers, before, during, and after.
In times of great tragedy, the world turns to God in prayer, hoping that they will be heard, if indeed God is there. But God’s own children know He is there. They know that He answers prayer. They know that their heavenly Father loves them, and is anxious to hear their prayers. And they come to Him when things are going well, and when things are not going well. They come to Him in distress, in trials, and in tribulation, as well as in times of prosperity. And they give thanks to Him.
Why don’t we pray more?
We could ask “why don’t believers pray more?” We could ask also why are believers fighting among themselves,so much? Or why aren’t believers more like their heavenly Father? And we could say that it is the devil making it rough for us. Or the world and its temptations are greater than ever. But the real answer is that sin is still working in us. And it is our responsibility to work on that. We still need the transforming power of the gospel to continue changing and molding us into the image of Jesus Christ.
But how do we grow more and more into the image of God’s Son? One of the ways God designed for us, is to pray to Him. It wouldn’t hurt for us to dedicate specific times each day to pray to Him. That’s what Daniel did. In fact Paul tells us to pray without ceasing. We need to come to our Father in prayer, bringing our confession of sin, our dependence upon Him, our thanksgiving, and our requests.
Some might think that setting apart a certain time for prayer is legalistic. It isn’t. Rather, it is being obedient to what God wants. Paul tells us “Devote yourselves to prayer.”
And who do we pray for? I would suggest that we start with ourselves. Is there anyone here who really does not need prayer? There’s an old song, I believe it is titled “Standing in the Need of Prayer,” with a line that goes “Its me, its me, its me O Lord, Standing in the need of prayer.”
I would also suggest we take our prayer list and pray for each person on it. And as a body of believers, we should be praying for one another. We need to be praying for our missionaries, the Fehls, in Ethiopia. We should be praying for world leaders, and our leaders in the united States, Tennessee, and Green County.
Do you know that when we don’t pray, we are declaring our independence from God? We think we can get along just fine without Him, and without Jesus.
John 15:5 “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing.
We need to keep in mind that prayer is an opportunity for us to talk to God personally. The one who created all things, planned our salvation, called us as His own, and who sustains our every breath, desires that we talk to Him. Prayer is an incredible privilege. The fact that we, as fallen human beings, have the privilege to come into the very presence of God with boldness, as the Book of Hebrews says, and speak to God about whatever is on our minds, is beyond our ability to comprehend. And when we have such a great privilege, how can we not take advantage of it? Knowing all these things, the question is “why aren’t we spending more time in prayer?” What a privilege it is to carry everything to God in prayer!