How easy is it to know GOD’S WILL for your life? Is it God’s will for you to live in Blacktown or Balmoral? Is it God’s will for you to be a teacher or a tradesman? To drive a pushbike or a Porsche? Is it God’s will to marry MARY or MARTHA? To have TWO kids or TEN? To buy a BOAT for the HOLIDAYS, or BRACES for the KIDS?
Or what about God’s will for us AS A CHURCH? We were just talking about a number of decisions at Leadership Team this week. How many home groups to have, and who’d lead them. Whether to approve certain people to help look after the children. And what sorts of challenges we could run with as part of our challenge to “Get Up and Grow!” What is God’s will in all of those decisions?
I went to another meeting last week where interested people were looking at the options for Scripture teaching in Evans High. And we wanted to know what God’s WILL was in THAT situation.
And it’s only that we’d PRAY as we make those decisions. Which we certainly did. Pray that God would show us his WILL. Guide us to do the RIGHT thing. The BEST thing.
I’m sure there have been times when YOU’VE prayed to know what God’s will. Perhaps even for some of these decisions.
And Paul ALSO prays that people would know what God’s WILL is. Here in Colossians 1. But perhaps not in the way you might be expecting. What we’ll discover / is that God’s more interested in the SORT OF LIFE YOU’RE LIVING than the car you drive, or the suburb you live in, or the career you choose.
His will is more to do with HOW you drive, rather than what CAR you drive. How HARD you work and how HONEST you are / rather than what the particular job IS. And his will is more about what sort of things you DO TO GROW HIS KINGDOM in your suburb, rather than what suburb it is.
You see, TO KNOW GOD’S WILL is something we especially need in Australian Christianity today. We need insight and wisdom into God’s will because we’re swamped with choices about how to live. Our churches and Christian bookshops are filled with new books and programs and techniques. Gimics and the latest fads. Each promising to be the answer to success and power and revival and growth. For individuals, or for churches.
So many claims, so many promises, so many opinions. But what does GOD want for his people? We need to pray that we would know God’s will.
Let’s turn to HIS word, and in particular to THIS PRAYER, and let it shape us. Shape our prayers. And our desires and goals. Shape our LIVES.
1. Paul prays for those he has never met
But before we look at the prayer itself, I want you to notice a of things. The first is that Paul even prays for those he’s never met. Look there in v3.
3 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4 because we have HEARD of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints-
You see, Paul had never actually BEEN to Colossae. Never met the people there. The church had been planted by Epaphras. That’s down there in v7.
7 You LEARNED (THE GOSPEL) FROM EPAPHRAS, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, 8 and WHO ALSO TOLD US OF YOUR LOVE in the Spirit.
Paul had only HEARD about the Colossian church, but he still PRAYED for it.
Let me ask YOU / how much of YOUR praying is just concerned with your own immediate circle? YOUR family, YOUR church, YOUR work? The URGENT concerns of TODAY? How wide is your vision when it comes to prayer? Does it stretch to the other side of Sydney, the other side of the world? Does it stretch beyond the urgent and immediate to the IMPORTANT? The BIG things?
At last year’s “Improving Your Serve”, Gordon ran a prayer seminar, and one of the s for prayer he talked about was to imagine your life as a series of concentric circles.
The INSIDE circle represents YOU. Personal issues, interactions you have, people you’re meeting – both requests and thanks for answered prayer. You start off praying there. The NEXT circle out represents your FAMILY. Then you move out to your CHURCH, then your community or your city. Then finally you pray for your WORLD. For Christians on other countries, for missionaries. Even for people you’ve never MET.
And so, as you work your way out, you’re able to pray for a whole RANGE of concerns. Close and distant. Small things and large. Immediate and more long-term.
But it takes a bit of organisation to be INFORMED about concerns outside your immediate circle.
Perhaps it takes a church MISSIONS group who can regularly provide information on missionaries around the world. Perhaps organise activities to raise money for them. Keep us up to date with prayer points. Things to PRAISE God for as well as requests. I reckon that would be GREAT for a of people to take on. See me if you’re interested.
Individually, you can be subscribing to magazines, reading books. Or even checking websites regularly that inform you of God’s concerns across the world.
One excellent resource is a book called “Operation World”. It gives you information on the state of the Christian church in every country in the world. Specific needs as well as things to be thanking God for.
Learn from the example of Paul. Be praying for people you HAVEN’T met/ as well as those you HAVE.
- Paul links thanksgiving to petition
A second lesson we can learn is that PAUL LINKS THANKSGIVING TO PETITION. In other words, Paul hears that the Colossian church is doing WELL, so he THANKS God. But he doesn’t stop there. He doesn’t move on to other churches that are WORSE OFF. Straight away he moves on to asking God to show MORE of his work in their lives.
Have a look at what I mean. Verses 3-8. “We always THANK God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ when we pray for you”. And then he goes on to list the things he’s thankful for. Their FAITH and LOVE and HOPE. How they’ve responded to the gospel.
And then, v9, he says,
9 FOR THIS REASON, since the day we heard about you, WE HAVE NOT STOPPED PRAYING FOR YOU
Why does Paul pray? Because things are going WELL. Because God is DOING things in and through the Colossians, Paul prays that he would do MORE. Paul prays for GOING CONCERNS.
Don’t just pray when there’s a desperate need. That’s what we’re tempted to do, isn’t it? But let PETITION flow out of THANKS.
- Do you pray more when the church is about to split, or when there’ve been several conversions?
- Do you pray more when your kids are growing in grace, or when they’re in danger from bad influences?
- Do you pray more when you’re getting on WELL with your friends and friendships are deepening? Or when everyone’s turning on each other, and things are a mess?
Let your requests flow out of your thanks. It’s a way for our prayers to be God-focussed, rather than focussed on ourselves. Work hard at looking for how God IS working in the situations around you. Then give THANKS. And then pray for him to do MORE of it.
3. Paul prays for
- Knowledge of God’s will
Which is what Paul goes on to do. In v9. Let’s turn to the prayer itself. It’s really only a prayer for ONE THING. Have a look at it.
9 For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and ASKING GOD TO FILL YOU WITH THE KNOWLEDGE OF HIS WILL THROUGH ALL SPIRITUAL WISDOM AND UNDERSTANDING.
Is this just a prayer that the Colossians would know what job to do, or who to marry? It’s not a bad thing to limit God’s will to those sorts of guidance questions. And it’s wonderful when God DOES guide in those ways. But it’s not the main way the Bible speaks about God’s WILL.
Like in Ps 40:8
8 I desire to do your WILL, O my God; your LAW is within my heart.”
God’s WILL is his REVEALED will. His LAW. His decrees. We already HAVE his blueprint for how he wants us to live our life. All that we need to follow God’s WILL/ is there in the Bible.
Paul’s prayer is that these people would be so filled with God’s WORD, that it would be bubbling out in the way they speak and think and act. That the pattern of God’s actions and attitudes down through history would be stamped onto their lives. Whatever they did. And wherever they were.
Whatever we do when we meet together, we should NEVER outgrow spending serious time and energy and attention/ studying and reading and applying God’s word together.
It’s how we learn God’s WILL.
But perhaps you’re saying “That’s all too general! I want some GUIDANCE! You’re saying “Just be GOOD. Do what the Bible says” Give me some SPECIFICS about God’s will!”
Alright, try these on for size. What is God’s will for a Christian being TEMPTED TO LIVE THE WAY THE WORLD DOES? 1 Thess 4:3-5
3 It is God’s WILL that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid ual immorality; 4 that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable,
What is God’s will for a COMPLAINING Christian?
1 Thess 5:16-18 Be joyful always; 17 pray continually; 18 give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
What is God’s will for a Christian who’s being ridiculed and slandered?
1 Peter 2:15 For it is God’s will that by DOING GOOD you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.
God’s will is that you’re NICE to them!
Or another example. If you thought the last one was different, this one will spin you out. What is God’s will for a Christian who’s being persecuted? Surely it’s that the persecution would stop! But not according to 1 Peter 4:19
19 So then, those who SUFFER ACCORDING TO GOD’S WILL should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and CONTINUE TO DO GOOD.
It may actually be God’s will for you to SUFFER for his sake. In which case, his will for you is to TRUST him. And keep doing GOOD, without retaliating.
Is THAT practical and specific enough for you! And that’s just a few verses that SPECIFICALLY MENTION God’s WILL. The WHOLE BIBLE is full of specific and practical commands for how to live.
And so, Paul’s prayer is that God would FILL THE COLOSSIANS WITH THE KNOWLEDGE OF HIS WILL with all spiritual wisdom and understanding.
It’s a prayer WE need to pray. Not only that we would KNOW our Bibles – that’s the THEORETICAL. But also that God would give us a glimpse into his DESIRES – A glimpse into his character that lies BEHIND his commands. A HEART knowledge.
It’s a prayer that we would know something of The LOVE that drives God to want to see the gospel spread. The HOLINESS that mourns our sin and weakness and rebellion. A glimpse into his PATIENCE that wants to keep giving people another chance, long after OUR patience wears out. A peek at the JOY he feels when his people lovingly and faithfully follow his ways.
But to pray that God would fill us with the knowledge of his will with all spiritual wisdom and understanding isn’t just about HEAD knowledge. And it isn’t just about HEART knowledge. It’s a prayer that God would show us how to APPLY that truth in the hundreds of specific situations we all face each week – that’s a PRACTICAL knowledge.
- So that you live worthy of the Lord, and please him,
Situations that take WISDOM so we can respond in ways that bring HONOUR to God. You can see that’s the POINT of Paul’s prayer because of how he goes on to describe what this will LEAD to. The GOAL he has in mind. Look there in v10.
10 And we pray this (that they’d know the will of God) in order that you may LIVE A LIFE WORTHY OF THE LORD and may PLEASE HIM IN EVERY WAY: etc
We need to know God’s will not so much so we can steer the right path through life. But so we can live a life that MEASURES UP and PLEASES him WHEREVER THE PATH TAKES US.
To drive LEGALLY and WITH PATIENCE in whatever car we choose to buy. To work HARD and HONESTLY in whatever job we’re in. To get on with our neighbours in whatever suburb we live in.
To live a life that’s WORTHY of the Lord. I don’t think we grasp the WEIGHT of that – the weight of living under an EXPECTATION.
It’s something Prince Harry and Prince William have had to live with. Living a life that’s WORTHY of a WINDSOR – worthy of ROYALTY. And occasionally, ly, they haven’t been able to measure up. And they’ve been caught doing what OTHER NORMAL age boys do. Go to nightclubs, get drunk and get up to mischief.
But it’s not the sort of life that WORTHY OF ROYALTY.
Does it weigh heavily on YOU that you live a life that’s WORTHY of the Lord. That’s FITTING. Are you conscious that your thoughts and actions and words needs to be measuring up? So that they might be PLEASING to God?
Paul goes on to describe what that sort of worthy and pleasing life LOOKS LIKE. Four characteristics.
- bearing fruit in every good work,
Have a look there in v10. First, a life that’s WORTHY of the Lord BEARS FRUIT in the form of GOOD WORKS. Christians do good works.
Let me be clear. A CHRISTIAN can PLEASE God by doing good works. But you can’t BECOME a Christian by doing good works.
If God has forgiven your sin because of Jesus, then he looks with PLEASURE on your efforts to please him. But if you’re NOT a Christian, then it doesn’t matter HOW many good works you do, God will never look with pleasure on them. Because they’re done from a state of REBELLION.
Jesus put it this way (Jn 15:5)
5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he WILL BEAR MUCH FRUIT; APART FROM ME you can do NOTHING. … 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, SHOWING YOURSELVES to be my disciples.
Good works are the EVIDENCE of a Christian, not the means of becoming one. They are the FRUIT of being with Christ, not the ROOT.
It’s a confusion LOTS of people fall for. Probably most Australians. But I don’t think it’s a mistake WE often make. The Pressie church has been well-taught that our salvation is by GRACE, rather than what we do.
But there’s still a danger for us. We’re more likely to go the OTHER way. To think we can’t please God AT ALL. That we’re nothing but filthy sinners. But here’s the startling truth. We CAN ACTUALLY PLEASE God.
As we faithfully and energetically work at the good works God has prepared for us, then it is actually possible to be PLEASING to God. Even though we sometimes stumble.
- growing in the knowledge of God
The next aspect of a life that’s pleasing to God is there at the end of v11. That we would be growing in the knowledge of God.
It seems like there’s a cycle going on here. Paul prays that they’d grow in the knowledge of God’s will so they can live a worthy life and bear fruit, which means they’ll be growing in the knowledge of God.
Paul’s saying that the Christian knows A LITTLE of God’s will, then obeys it. As he obeys it, he sees that it’s GOOD. That it WORKS – brings JOY. And so he’s able to know it BETTER. To know it from the INSIDE. By EXPERIENCE.
Romans 12:1-2 talks about TESTING and APPROVING what God’s will is.
It’s like an engineer product-testing a new car. Before the test drive, he knows the car – he’s read the reports, looked at the designs, seen the computer simulations. But it’s not until he DRIVES it, EXPERIENCES it – that he can test and approve what the car is like. He knows it a lot better.
- Being strengthened with all power so that you may have great endurance and patience
The third aspect of a pleasing life is there in v11.
strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience,
Knowing God’s will leads to having POWER. But it’s not the power to defeat armies. Claim mighty victories. Win gold medals. A pleasing life is one that is strengthened by God’s power to ENDURE with PATIENCE. That looks with HOPE to the reward God’s promised. As you stick it out in the tough times.
Do you pray that for yourself? Do you pray it for OTHERS?
- Joyfully giving thanks
Paul’s fourth descriptor seems to clash a bit with number three. Have a look at it there in v12. I’ll read v 11 as well. See if you can work out the clash.
11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have GREAT ENDURANCE AND PATIENCE, and JOYFULLY 12 GIVING THANKS TO THE FATHER,
How does joyful thanks go with great endurance and patience? How can you ENDURE a TRYING SITUATION at the same time as being joyful and thankful?
The only way you can do it is if you’re trusting in a God who’s SOVEREIGN. Who IS in control. Who’s dealt with your PAST, who’s got your PRESENT in his hand, and who’s PROMISED you a secure future.
You can see that’s what Paul’s got in mind as he goes on
joyfully 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light (That’s our FUTURE). 13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness (that’s our PAST) and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (that’s our PRESENT).
It’s that perspective that we need. That insight into God’s WILL for us. We need it to live with PURPOSE – the purpose of pleasing God in good works. We need it to live with POWER – the power to endure faithfully with patience. And we need it to live with ATTITUDE. An attitude of JOYFUL THANKS to the God who has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Amen.