Colossians 4:2-4 Sermon – Cultivating a Lifestyle of Prayer

Passage Intro:

Are you satisfied with your prayer life? One survey of 860 church pastors said the following: just 16 percent are very satisfied with their personal prayer lives. Forty-seven percent are somewhat satisfied, 30 percent somewhat dissatisfied and 7 percent very dissatisfied.

If you are very satisfied with your prayer life, praise the Lord.

I suspect that many of us are not. I personally am not satisfied with my prayer life. It falls short in many areas. I am often distracted while I am praying. I do not always keep my planned schedule for praying. I know I don’t pray enough for other people. If you are like me and you are not satisfied with your prayer life, then this message is primarily for us.

The passage today is not a complicated one. It is simple to understand. You probably will not learn much new doctrine. In the first part of Colossians, Paul teaches some fundamental doctrines. In the second half, he encourages believers in faithful Christian living.

Today’s passage is all application. The basics of the Christian life come down to several key disciplines.

 The Wheel Illustration - The Obedient Christian in action

One of those is prayer. And that is what the passage today is about.

We will look at four aspects of prayer. Each one is simple to understand. But if you practice these four aspects, you are well on your way to a fulfilling prayer life that will draw you into a close and personal relationship with the Lord.

Colossians 4:2-4 – 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.

I. Pray Steadfastly

Steadfast means – Resolutely or dutifully firm and unwavering.

Synonyms include: committed, devoted, dedicated, reliable.

The Greek word means to “attend constantly.” It means to persist in, to persevere in.

In other passages, Paul says to “pray without ceasing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16).

What does this mean in our lives? Paul encourages believers to have a lifestyle of prayer. A lifestyle of prayer is composed of two parts. One part is quality time alone with God dedicated to prayer. We see Jesus doing this regularly.

Luke 5:16 – But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness to pray.

The other part is spontaneous prayer. That is regular prayer interspersed throughout the day as we face different temptations, decisions, or challenges. These are the prayer one-liners like, “God, give me wisdom.” “Keep me safe.” Or one of my simple all-time favorites, “Jesus, help me.”

Both types of communication are important in a relationship. You need those times of opening up and communicating on a deep and personal level. Those times build deep roots in the relationship. But you also need regular communication and interaction about everyday things. That is the companion aspect.

When you have that intimate time with God on a regular basis the spontaneous prayers are more powerful because they match your lifestyle. Nehemiah is one of the great examples of this. He heard that Jerusalem, his home city, was in shambles and he spent about eight months in prayer for this. The king finally asked him why he was sad and right there Nehemiah made a spontaneous prayer to God for wisdom in answering. That spontaneous prayer was especially powerful because of the eight months of dedicated prayer which preceded it.

Paul encourages believers to be “steadfast” in prayer because he knew it is not easy. There are many distractions the world throws at us to keep us from praying.

Quite often when I ask friends “how are you?” they will answer, “Busy!” There are so many distractions in life, forces which pull our attention in many different directions. It is even harder to focus on prayer than it was in the past. In addition to family, chores, and career, media is a constant presence. Smart phones are often the last thing people look at before they sleep (not their spouse), and the first thing people look at when they wake up.

How much do people in your country spend on screen time on average each day?

India. 7.18 hours. France. 5.3 hours. Mexico 8.55 hours. Brazil, Philippines, and South Africa are all over 10 hours. Depending on which country you are in, about half of that is on mobile phone.

What does that mean? It means that there are a lot of distractions!

This is the age of instant gratification. China is amazing. We can order almost anything we want at the touch of a button and have it delivered to our door in a day or two. Want Avacodos from Mexico? No problem. Want Swiss cheese? No problem.

We have short attention spans. And they are getting shorter. A Google study tells us that 53% of users abandon a page if it takes longer than 3 seconds to load. Think about that. It used to take 30 minutes to go the library. And now 4 seconds is too long.

It is no wonder, that in a world like this it is increasingly difficult to find the time and focus to calm down, put aside distractions, and spend time meditating on God’s character and talking to Him. Prayer has always been difficult. It is not easy to maintain a lifestyle of prayer. Distractions and temptations bombard us from every side. It can be hard to concentrate.

One important part of the battle is knowing that it is a battle. You are in a battle not against flesh and blood, but against the spiritual forces in the heavenly places. Satan and his demons want to keep you from prayer. One of their favorite methods is distraction.

C.S. Lewis wrote a very interesting book called Screwtape Letters. In this book, an “uncle” demon is mentoring his nephew. He is teaching him the best ways to tempt people. One section is about how he tempted his “patient.” The man was in the London Museum and he started to think about the question, “Is this all that man has accomplished in thousands of years?” The demon was worried that this line of thinking would cause the man to go deeper in thought about the meaning of life and where we came from. So he tempted him, not with any great philosophical thought. Just with a bacon sandwich. A picture of a bacon sandwich entered into the man’s mind. And he thought about lunch. Lunch would be tasty. There was a nice restaurant not far away. He could go and have lunch and think about these things later. Always later. That is the goal.

The enemy wants us to pray later. Have lunch first. Have a rest. Communicating later is not a good way to keep a close relationship with anyone.

That is why Paul says to be “watchful in it.” We need to be alert. The enemy wants to distract you. We need to be mindful of the landmines.

I think we have all at times been distracted from praying. Perhaps you close your eyes to pray. You begin going through your prayer list. Soon, you realize you aren’t praying at all. But you are thinking of something else, perhaps something you need to do later in the day, a problem at work, or something else you are stressed about.

We need to be watchful. Don’t let your mind wander. Instead, control it. Train it. Part of this is habit. Once a bad habit forms it is hard to break it. I am not a scientist, but I have heard about neural pathways. When they are exercised, they become stronger. The brain makes synaptic connections based on how you think. So if you start thinking about a stress at work each time when you start praying, you are training your mind to go there and it becomes a habit.

We need to be watchful of our own thought patterns and habits when we pray. It is not hopeless to control our minds. We are told to do just that in Philippians 4:8.

Philippians 4:8 – Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

You get to choose what you think about. Don’t let your mind control you. You control it.

When you evaluate your prayer life, don’t become too discouraged. You don’t need to compare yourself to others who pray more than you. We all fall short. We are all in different stages of the same journey. Some have learned through discipline to pray for hours. Others are just learning what prayer is. Wherever you on this journey, ask God to help you take the next step in your prayer life.

He is always available. He is always a friend. He wants to have a relationship with you. He wants you to share the deepest thoughts of your heart with Him. He wants you to learn to depend on Him, to go to Him for wisdom, for help, for comfort, for forgiveness, for guidance.

He is gentle and kind. He is not seeking to condemn you for a lack of prayer, but to graciously encourage you to come ever closer to Him.

Application

What keeps you from praying? Do you find it hard to concentrate?

During the small group time you can discuss what challenges you face in prayer and how to address them.

II. Pray with Thanksgiving

This aspect of prayer is very simple, but can be quite difficult. Do you think it is easier to complain or to be thankful?

According to a study I read this week, the average person complains 15-30 times per day. While some think that complaining helps them to get their feelings out and feel better, the study showed that it does the opposite. Unsurprisingly, it decreases our joy, worsens our mood, and also negatively influences the mood of those around us. And it harms the brain and is bad for health.

One study concluded that optimists tend to live longer than pessimists. “Optimists were found to have a 55% lower risk of death across all causes and were 23% less likely to die of heart disease.” Complaining can actually physically damage the brain as it shrinks the hippocampus.

When you frequently complain, your brain develops those neural pathways and it becomes easier and easier to complain and harder to be thankful.

Modern science is supporting what God has said in the Bible all along.

It’s a natural tendency of our sinful flesh to complain.

But God both tells us not to complain and to give thanks:

Philippians 2:14 – Do all things without grumbling.

1 Thessalonians 5:18 – Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

Notice the wording. First, we are told to never complain. Do “all things” without grumbling. Second, we are told to “give thanks in all circumstances.” Every possible loophole was closed. These verses address every potential situation you will ever face. You may ask, “Does God really want me to give thanks in the midst of this health situation?” “Does God really want me to give thanks for my marriage?” “Does God really want me to give thanks even in the face of inconvenient Covid restrictions?”

The answer is YES!

Does that mean you should give thanks when something bad happens to you? To be honest, I don’t know. I am not sure if this means I need to say, “God, thank you that I have food poisoning.” I think what it does mean is that in every situation there is something to give thanks for. We know God causes everything to work together for good if we love Him. So even when I have food poisoning there is something positive that God wants to accomplish in my life. I can try to find that and thank Him for it.

We can thank Him for the doctors that treat us, for the medicine we received, for our spouse to take care of us while we are sick, for our general health and well-being, for the opportunity to pray to Him during sickness, for a comfortable bed to lay in, for the finances to be able to take off of work, for the character He is instilling in us, for the hope of a glorified body in heaven one day, for the joy He gives even in the midst of difficulties, etc.

One important aspect of a healthy prayer life is thanksgiving. When we present our petitions to God, we should stop to say, “thank you” for what He has already done. Let us not be entitled in our relationship with God, thinking He is just there to serve our needs.

Being thankful in prayer will result in a more joyful, contented, fulfilled life. And most importantly, God commanded it!

Application – One practical way to develop a thankful heart is to keep track of your prayer requests. When God answers, write them down. Immediately thank Him for that answer. You can save your journal and go back over it from time to time as a memorial of God’s work in your past.

George Mueller was a man of prayer. He wrote down over 50,000 specific answers to prayer in His journal. 30,000 of these were recorded the same day. I don’t think he is a statistical anomaly either. God answers many prayers. It just so happens that Mueller prayed a lot and recorded the answers.

We should learn to be thankful in the small and the big things. This week Christy could not find her cell phone. All 6 of us spent around one hour looking for it. Finally, we did what we should have done earlier on. We came together and we prayed that we could find the phone. Within 2 minutes after the prayer, it was found! So we took a moment and we thanked God.

Everything is worthy of prayer, small or big. And no matter how small a thing is, we can express our gratitude to God.

III. Pray for Others (Especially Christian workers)

Colossians 4:3 – 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.

We know we are supposed to pray steadfastly, being alert, and with thanksgiving. Who do we pray for?

Paul asked the Colossians to pray for him. They are not to only pray for themselves, but also to pray for others. Generally, we don’t need to be reminded to pray for ourselves. It comes more naturally. But sometimes we do need to be reminded to pray for others.

So let’s remind each other. Turn to your neighbor and remind him to pray for others.

A lot of the principles in the Bible are simple. You don’t need a preacher to tell you what this means. Praying for others is a simple concept. I think we all know we should do this already. But sometimes a reminder is helpful.

So who should we pray for?

• Government and political leaders (2 Timothy 2)
• Your spouse (someone once asked how you can say you love your spouse if you don’t pray for them?)
• Your children.
• Spiritual leaders.
• Enemies (Matthew 5:44-45).
• And in this passage, specifically pray for kingdom workers (Paul says to pray for us. They were working in God’s kingdom).
o Missionaries
o Pastors
o Sunday School teachers
o Church planters
o Bible translators’
We should also pray for the persecuted. Colossians 4:3 – On account of which I am in prison.

Application – Very complicated. Pray for others! Find a practical way to remind yourself and develop this lifestyle. Either a prayer journal or notebook, or a partner to pray with sometimes. Or use a prayer App to help remind you to pray for the persecuted like Open Doors or Voice of the Martyrs.

What should we pray for?

III. Pray for Advancement of the Gospel

Colossians 4:3 – That God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ.

A healthy prayer life includes a variety of prayers about many different things. What does your prayer pie chart look like?

Is it balanced? Do you pray all types of prayers for many different people? Or are your prayers focused on the “give me my daily bread” part?

We are creatures of this world. It is so easy for us to get focused on our own busy lives and the struggles that we face. We tend to pray for our job, our health, our family, and our exams. And when we pray for others, we tend to pray for the physical things we can see, their job, their health, their family, and their exams.

We absolutely should pray for these things. They are not small. They are not insignificant. They are important. We need to rely on God in all of these areas. That is part of having a healthy relationship with Him. And for some the application today is to start praying for these things. Start depending on the Lord in all of these areas.

At the same time, Jesus taught us what a balanced prayer is. We are to praise God. We are to ask for forgiveness. We are to ask for wisdom and guidance. We are to ask for help. And we are to pray for the advancement of the gospel. (Matthew 6:9-13)

John 4:35 – Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest.

One important aspect of prayer is to lift up our eyes. To look beyond our own circle and our own problems, and to pray for the growth of God’s kingdom.

The fields are white with harvest. God is doing a great work in the world. It is an amazing privilege that we can part of this worldwide movement through prayer.

Lift up your eyes

• Did you know that the church is growing faster in Iran than anywhere else in the world? In 1979 there were likely only around 500 Muslim background believers in Iran. That number is now estimated at over 1 million. Despite having no buildings, it is the fastest growing evangelical movement in the world. One eye-opening book that details the miraculous ways God is moving in the Muslim world is called Dreams and Visions. Get it on Amazon Kindle and have a read.

When you lift up your eyes, you will find a lot of important things to pray for.

They were also to pray that Paul could communicate the gospel clearly. He said “that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.” In addition to knowing how to pray, we can also make an inference from this about how to share the good news with others.

Our job when sharing the gospel is simple. It is not to persuade someone to believe (you can’t.) It isn’t to solve all of the problems they might have. It is to share the gospel clearly.

Application – All of us, at whatever stage you are can be a part of the work that God is doing across the world by praying for an open door for the gospel.

Conclusion

The passage today is not deep doctrine. It is not something only for pastors or long-time believers. Though they also need to be reminded of it.

It is a simple message with a simple application. And that application is this; pray!

There are many types of prayers. Confession. Thanksgiving. Praise. Silence listening to God. Meditation on His Word. Prayers for others. Prayers for yourself. Prayers for character growth. Prayers for physical needs. Prayers for the persecuted. Prayers for the lost. Prayers for the kingdom to grow. What should you do? Pray! If you are already praying for all of these, continue. If you need a reminder, take the reminder.

There are many postures for prayer. Your eyes can be closed or open. Both are OK. You can kneel or stand. You can pray at home or outside. What is important is simple. Pray!

You have a Heavenly Father who loves you. He wants to have a relationship with you. He wants to hear from you. He will not rebuke you for poor prayers.

I would encourage you to make one specific goal about prayer today. It could be to download a prayer app and use it regularly. It could be to start a prayer notebook. It could be to have a scheduled time to pray today. As I close in prayer, pray and ask God how He would have you apply the message today. During the small group time, there will be a chance to write it down.

Discussion or Reflection Questions

1. What are some challenges you face in your prayer life?

2. What methods, verses, or experiences have helped you grow in your prayer life?

3. What is one goal you have to grow in a lifestyle of prayer this week? (If needed, take some time first to pray and ask God to give you direction).

4. Those in lighthouses are encouraged to split into small groups and pray for each other.

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