We’ve been looking at SIX STEPS TO ENCOURAGEMENT. Today we come to the SIXTH step. PRAYER. Which should really be THE FIRST step – at least when it comes to the PROCESS of encouraging. Because it’s only GOD who can change people through us. It’s vital we connect with HIM. That we ask for HIS help, HIS wisdom. For HIS PURPOSES to be worked out in us.
Prayer is both the SIMPLEST thing in the world, and also the MOST DIFFICULT. I know that’s true FOR ME. It’s often the LAST thing we turn to, rather than the FIRST.
But if Jesus found it necessary to pray, then who are we to think we don’t need it?
We’re going to look at an example of Paul’s prayers this morning. Colossians ch 1. It’s great because it helps us see the big picture. It helps us see things from God’s perspective. Helps us see how the few simple sentences we mumble to another person can have eternal and heavenly consequences.
We might wonder whether the VOTE of one person can do much. But this passage teaches us that the ENCOURAGING WORDS of one person can have a GREAT impact as God answers our prayers!
Look for, and give thanks for, the work of God’s words in people’s lives.
First thing this passage teaches us is to LOOK for, and GIVE THANKS for the work of God’s words in people’s lives. There from 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- 5 the faith and love that spring from the HOPE that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel 6 that has come to you. All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth.
He’s thanking God – because God’s DOING something in the Colossians. Epaphras (in v7) might have been the PERSON who preached the gospel to them – but it’s GOD who’s producing the FRUIT in their lives. So he doesn’t thank Epaphras.
The Colossians HEARD it, they UNDERSTOOD it. And God gave them FAITH to TRUST it. He gave them LOVE to share with people around them. He gave them HOPE to fuel their perseverance and their witness.
Paul looking for the work of God in people’s lives, so he can be thankful to God. It would have taken a lot more effort for Paul to find out information than it does FOR US. But he chases up Epaphras, his mate who founded the church to find out SPECIFICS.
Paul hadn’t even MET these Christians. See there in v4 – he’s only HEARD about their faith. But he prays for them ALWAYS. Not constantly. But EVERY TIME he prays. You’ve got to be ORGANISED to do that.
How well do YOU know specific things about people to pray for? To give THANKS for? We don’t need to know everyone’s intimate secrets. But church should be an open, honest place where we’ve got a rough idea about how people are going. About what their struggles are. Where God’s doing good work. Where we can THANK him.
But some of us don’t even know EACH OTHER’S NAMES. It shouldn’t BE like that.
Home groups are designed so you can get to know each other better. And provide a more comfortable setting to share some of those details.
If you’re NOT in one, JOIN one. It’s GOOD for you. It’s good for US ALL.
Ian’s starting up a new one next term. See him.
But if you’re already in one, don’t sit back, resting on your laurels. When it comes time to SHARE in those groups – be prepared to SHARE. Share some SPECIFIC details. Make yourself vulnerable. Specific GOOD things to THANK God for. Specific CHALLENGES you want God to WORK IN.
That’s when Home Groups will start working the way they’re SUPPOSED to. When they move from being simply a BIBLE study group. When people openly share their lives with each other. That’s when the SUPPORT and the GROWTH and the ACCOUNTABILITY begin.
But that’s only the FIRST step – the people you know HERE AT CHURCH. How well are you doing at seeking out information, and praying for people OUTSIDE your immediate circle? YOUR family, YOUR church, YOUR work?
How wide is your vision when it comes to prayer? Does it stretch to the other side of Sydney, other denominations, the other side of the world? Does it stretch beyond the urgent and immediate to the IMPORTANT? The BIG things?
A couple of years ago Gordon ran a prayer seminar, and one of the models 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.
If you only stick to the first or the second circle. Your view of the world is unbalanced. Your view of God’s WORK is unbalanced. The world ISN’T centred on you. And God’s on about much bigger concerns than just your close circles.
Recognising that actually gives us GREATER confidence in praying for our close circles. Because we can see God working on a much bigger scale. We catch a better glimpse of his power and his love. That’s what Paul reminds the Colossians there in v6. The gospel’s not just at work in THEM. ALL OVER THE WORLD the gospel’s bearing fruit!
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 couple 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.
Learn from the example of Paul. Look for, and give thanks for, the work of God’s words in people’s lives. And look BROADLY. So your view of GOD can be just as big.
2. Pray for people to be filled with a knowledge of God’s will
Point Two. When you’ve recognised what God IS doing in people, your prayer for him to do it MORE will be more CONFIDENT. Look at how Paul turns from thanks to petition in v9. 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.
In other words, that they’d be speaking WORDS OF ENCOURAGEMENT to each other.
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. And it’s how we can learn what God’s words are that we can speak to each other in encouragement.
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. For OURSELVES, just as much as for OTHERS. Not only that we would KNOW our Bibles – that’s the THEORETICAL.
And that we’d know how to SPEAK it to each other. By listening first, and then speaking with wisdom and courage. Like we learned last week.
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.
To be filled with the knowledge of God’s will is to 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, naturally, they haven’t been able to measure up. And they’ve been caught doing what OTHER NORMAL people do. Go to nightclubs, get drunk and get up to mischief.
But it’s not the sort of life that’s 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. Attitudes and actions of love for all the saints – that’s up in v4. Or v6, all over the world the GOSPEL is bearing fruit and growing. That’s the good work of SHARING JESUS with the people you meet.
growing in the knowledge of God
The second way we please 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.
God’s WILL for you is to know HIM better. Not just through his WORD, but through obeying him, you learn BY EXPERIENCE about his goodness, and his faithfulness, and his love and his mercy.
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.
It takes a STRONG man to endure ridicule and suffering without retaliating. A REAL man.
It takes a STRONG woman to deal with negative comments and criticism and suffering without complaining or becoming bitter or taking sides.
God’s will is for you to be STRENGTHENED so you might have great patience and endurance.
Do you pray that for yourself? Do you pray it for OTHERS?
Joyfully giving thanks
Paul’s fourth descriptor is there in v12. Joyfully giving thanks.
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).
That’s God’s WILL for us. We need to be filled with a knowledge of that will. That’s the perspective we need. That insight into God’s plans. We need it to speak God’s words of encouragement to each other. So we need to be PRAYING it for each other.
Mercedes Ruehl is a great stage and screen actress. She’s one of the few actresses to win a Tony Award for the stage, and an Oscar Award for the screen in the same year (for Lost in Yonkers and The Fisher King).
She tells the story of how she was first captivated by acting. She was in primary school in the 1950’s, and her family was in New York visiting relatives. As they drove through Times Square, on the spur of the moment her parents decided to see if they could get tickets to The Unsinkable Molly Brown.
“I remember waiting in the car,” says Ruehl, “while my mother ran up to the box office. The only tickets left were for box seats. Box seats! Right beside the stage.
“As we watched the play, I couldn’t take my eyes off its star, Tammy Grimes. She must have felt my adoration, because at one point she looked up and held my eyes. It was probably for no more than one second, but it seemed like ten seconds. I always felt that was my OFFICIAL INVITATION TO BE AN ACTRESS. With her gaze I WAS TOUCHED LIKE A KNIGHT ON BOTH SHOULDERS WITH A SWORD.”
God’s gaze is on us. His purpose for us, his WILL for us, is to live a life worthy of his calling. To bear fruit. To be strengthened. To joyfully give thanks. To share in our inheritance in the kingdom of lights.
And he’s given us HIS official invitation to JOIN him in working towards that purpose in OTHERS. As we PRAY for people to KNOW that will, and as we speak his words to BRING it ABOUT.