Monday, 11 November 2013

Thoughts on Prayer (1) - For a Congregation

Several prayers by Paul are included in his letters. They give us insight into the kind of prayers that church leaders should make when interceding for others. Of course, these aspects should be seen in all who pray to God.

He mentions his prayer life in Colossians 2. The first point to note is that Paul had to make a great effort when praying (Col. 2:1). He calls it a struggle. Why is prayer often a struggle? One reason is difficulty in persevering with a request; another difficulty is distractions; a further difficult is spiritual opposition. No doubt there are many more hindrances. Nevertheless, the fact is, it is not easy to engage in meaningful prayer. Anyone who says that it is simple does not know what he is talking about.

Since Paul wanted those he was praying for to know that he was struggling, his words indicate that another aspect of genuine intercession is honesty with people. How often have we said that we would pray for someone, and then have forgotten to do so? Did we admit our failure or give the impression that we had kept our promise? We will not persevere in prayer if we pretend that we are. It is far better to admit our failures and start again.

Paul also extended his intercessions to include those he had never seen. As far as is known, he had never visited the geographical area in which Colosse and Laodicea were located, which means he had not met most of those for whom he was praying in that area. No doubt, it is easier to pray for those we know, and praying for unknown persons can be a struggle. In any case, Paul’s example here shows that it is very appropriate to pray for congregations we don’t know much about. It would be to our spiritual benefit to select a couple of Free Church congregations that we know little of and begin to pray for them. If we do so, it will not be long before God sends information which we can use in prayer.

For what did Paul pray? He prayed that others would have spiritual growth in order to grow in their knowledge of Christ. The signs of congregational growth are shared encouragement and communal unity (Col. 2:2). These two features are the bases on which people can stand in order ‘to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ’ (v. 2). Paul did not want individuals to grow spiritually in isolation from others, and did not pray that they would. Jesus reveals himself to those who join with others to seek him. This is why church attendance is so important.

In Jesus ‘are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge’ (v. 3). Since all are hidden in him, it means that he is sufficient for spiritual provision. Yet since these blessings are hidden, we have to go to where they will be shown, and the most likely place for that to occur is church meetings. Indeed, the role of a teacher is to lead others to understand who Jesus is and what he has to give.

Paul willingly told the Colossians why he prayed for them in this manner (v. 4). He knew that some of them were in spiritual danger from clever speakers. He could have prayed for them without telling them why, but that was not his method. Instead he prayed about the danger and told the Colossians about their peril.

Paul also told them what the answer was that he asked from God. The apostle wanted to rejoice in their church gatherings (this is what he means by ‘good order’) and in ‘the firmness of your faith in Christ’, in other words, a stable, steady delight in and dependence on Jesus. It is appropriate in our prayers to God to state the answer that we would like, as long as we acknowledge his sovereignty.

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