Pastor David B. Curtis

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Devote Yourselves to Prayer

Colossians 4:2

09/12/2004

When I first began preparing this message I was going to cover verses 2-6. After working on it for a while, I decided to just do verses 2-4 that deal with prayer, then finally I decided that we would just look at verse 2 and just focus on the very important subject of prayer. Do we really need to hear another message on prayer? Would you say that you are devoted to prayer? Then let me ask you again, "Do we need another message on prayer?" Yes, we do! We need to be reminded of our need to pray, even though we already know it. Peter said that believers needed to be reminded:

2 Peter 1:12 (NASB) 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.

If you want to be physically strong, physically in shape, what does it require? Exercise, proper diet, rest. These are all essential. Just like there are physical disciplines that are needed to keep us in shape there are spiritual disciplines that are needed also. If you want to be strong spiritually, what does it require? Bible study, prayer, fellowship. Are these really necessary to spiritual strength? Absolutely! Are you doing them? If your spiritual life is not what is should be, maybe you should look at these areas.

As we look at our text this morning let's keep it in context. This is not said particularly to masters, as some would indicate, but to all the members of the church in general. Paul has just given a series of commands to the believers regarding their family life. Wives are to submit to their husbands; Husbands are to love their wives; Children are to obey their parents; Parents are to not exasperate their children; Slaves are to obey their masters, and master are to treat their slaves fairly. The only way we'll be able to live these out is to be depending on God to give us the strength and ability to do so, and that dependence is manifest by a devoted prayer life. So Paul says:

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

One thing is crystal clear from this verse: it is God's will that we pray. Sometimes we struggle to know the will of God for our lives. But there are some things that you do not have to struggle to know. One of them is that God's will is that you pray.

What is prayer?

Everyone may not be able to give a definition of prayer, but I believe that everybody knows what prayer is, because I think that everybody prays. I think that even atheists pray when things get really bad. Whenever you're in trouble, or in a crisis, whenever all hell is breaking loose around you, even an atheist probably throws up a prayer just in case he or she is wrong. Everybody prays.

Non-believers pray many times out of desperation, with a hope that something might happen as a result. They're not really sure that anything is going to happen, but just in case, they probably ought to pray. So they pray whenever they're in a bind. They pray whenever they're facing a challenge, whenever they're facing a hard situation at home or at work, or whenever they're having a personal crisis. They want help. And if God is willing to help them, they're willing to receive that help.

So everyone knows something about prayer. In fact, a Gallup survey revealed that a majority of the people in this country say they pray on a regular basis. That includes people who don't even profess to be Christians.

Most religions have some type of prayer in which the devotee recognizes something of his helplessness and the power of another who might grant his desires. From this we find men praying to the moon and praying to statues carved from wood. Like the prophets of Baal in ancient Israel, they call upon their god with pitiful cries; yet, those gods do not hear nor answer.

Many people pray, but prayer is limited to Christians. Only those who have trusted Jesus Christ have God as their Father and thus have the privilege of prayer. Many of the misconceptions and misunderstandings about prayer today are because people do not understand that basic concept. As a father, my children ask me for many things. If you are a parent, you also experience the privilege of being able to give your children the things they ask of you. But if an unknown kid from the neighborhood walks up and says, "Hey, I'm going to the store. How about giving me a couple dollars." my response is different. I think, "The nerve of that kid to ask me for money. Did he not have any home training? Doesn't he know that you just don't go up and ask people for money? He needs to ask his own parents."

Many people are continually making that mistake in prayer. God is not their Father, but they think they can just barge in, tell Him what they want and leave. They think He should be there to respond to them at the snap of a finger. They think God is there for their convenience. If they have a problem, they want to blame it on Him. He had better work it out! If they have a need, God ought to be there to respond to it. They have no concept of the fact that God is not their Father.

There are probably many children in your neighborhood who have various problems and needs. You do not necessarily respond to all those needs. But when your children have problems and needs, you respond to them, because they are your responsibility. You have an obligation because of your family relationship. So it is in prayer. Prayer is limited to those who enjoy a family relationship with God. This means that of all the people who pray, the only ones who have the right to pray are those who are members of His family. Of course God hears and sees everything, so He hears the unbelievers' prayers. He heard the prophets of Baal; He saw what they were doing. But the point is that He does not hear with the intention of responding to unbelievers' prayers.

It is important to understand that Scripture limits the privilege of prayer to the members of God's family. It is amazing how so many people can go through the routines of prayer and never stop to think whether they are being heard or not. They can be very sincere in their prayers. The prophets of Baal were so sincere and earnest that they were willing to mutilate their bodies in order to get Baal's attention. But all of the sincerity and mutilation did not change the fact that there was no Baal - there was no god to hear them. The privilege of prayer is limited to those in God's family.

John 1:12 (NASB) But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name,

The right to be the children of God is limited to those who believe in Jesus Christ. His name refers to who He is. Those who believe in Jesus Christ are the ones who have the right to be the children of God. That narrows it down very clearly. The children of God are those who believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God who died on a cross to pay the penalty for their sins. What about those who don't believe that Jesus Christ is God? What about Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, and everybody else who rejects Christ? This verse says that the right to be the children of God belongs to those who believe in Jesus Christ. Salvation comes only through Jesus Christ. And prayer is only for the family of God - those who are saved.

Only Christians really know about prayer. We know the power of God. We know Jesus Christ. We know the provision of God. We know what the Bible says about the importance of prayer. And you would think knowing what we know about the power of prayer, the efficacy of prayer, and the power of Christ, that we would be praying and seeking God much more than we do. But, the sad reality of the fact is, we don't. I know I often find myself disappointed over my prayer life.

So to believers, those in the family of God, I ask, "What is prayer?" The bottom line is: prayer is asking God for things. I know that we should come to God with more than asking. We should come with confession, thanksgiving and praise. In a broad sense, prayer includes all that. But, speaking precisely, prayer is asking God for something.

There is a story about D. L. Moody making a visit to Scotland in the 1800's and opening one of his talks at a local grade school with the rhetorical question, What is prayer? To his amazement, hundreds of children's hands went up. So he decided to call on a boy near the front, who promptly stood up and said, "Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, in the name of Christ, by the help of His Spirit, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of His mercies." Anyone know where the boy came up with that answer? This is the answer to question #178 in the Westminster Catechism. To this Moody responded by saying, "Be thankful, son, that you were born in Scotland."

Be sure to notice the main thing: "Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God." That is the main meaning of prayer. "With confession of sins" and with "thankful acknowledgment of His mercies" - these go along with the expressed desires. But the essence of prayer is the expression of our dependence on God through requests.

Now think about this for a moment. God's will is that we, his creatures, ask Him for things. And it is not just His will, it is His delight:

Proverbs 15:8 (NASB) The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD, But the prayer of the upright is His delight.

If prayer is asking God for things, and He delights in our prayer, then God loves to be asked for things. Would you agree with that?

Isaiah tells us that God is eager to hear our prayers and respond to them:

Isaiah 65:24 (NASB) "It will also come to pass that before they call, I will answer; and while they are still speaking, I will hear.

In fact, He takes special steps to see to it that He is constantly beseeched:

Isaiah 62:6-7 (NASB) On your walls, O Jerusalem, I have appointed watchmen; All day and all night they will never keep silent. You who remind the LORD, take no rest for yourselves; 7 And give Him no rest until He establishes And makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth.

So God loves being asked for things so much that He appoints people to "give him no rest" but to "remind the Lord" and "never keep silent." Remind Him of what? Remind Him of his promises. Remind Him of his goodness. Remind Him of his mercy. Remind Him of His love for His people. Why do I need to remind God of all of that? Surely He doesn't need to be reminded by me. No, He doesn't. But what you're doing is not just reminding the Lord, you're reminding yourself. You're remembering who God is when you pray by recounting His promises. You're reminding yourself of who God is. You're quoting His promises back to Him because it builds your faith in God. It shows you that God wants to do something.

This tells us that God, the Creator of the Universe, who holds our life in his hands and rules the world, is the kind of God who loves to be asked for things. Why does God not only will that we ask Him for things, but delight in it and take steps to see that it happens? What's behind this delight in our asking Him for things? What attribute of God causes Him to delight in our asking Him for things? Love! What does love do? It gives!

John 3:16 (NASB) "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.

God so loved - that He gave. It is God's nature to be a giver.

Romans 11:35-36 (NASB) Or WHO HAS FIRST GIVEN TO HIM THAT IT MIGHT BE PAID BACK TO HIM AGAIN? 36 For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.

God is self-sufficient. And He is the Source of all things. "For of Him... are all things."That is, they originated from Him. This all-sufficient God, who is the source of all things, delights to give.

Acts 17:25 (NASB) neither is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all life and breath and all things;

God is love and love gives. So God loves to give. And the last phrase of Romans 11:36 says why: "To Him be glory for ever." God is glorified as the source of all things. So God ordains prayer, because He wants us to see Him as the gloriously self-sufficient source of all things and ourselves as totally needy.

Psalms 50:15 (NASB) And call upon Me in the day of trouble; I shall rescue you, and you will honor Me."

God answers our call for help so that we get the rescue, and He gets the honor.

John 14:13 (NASB) "And whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.

Ask for things in My name! Why? So that the Father may be glorified.

God wills that you pray. He wills that you ask Him for things. And not just wills it, but really delights in it, because it comes from the very nature of who God is. He is love - He is a giver. Why is he a Giver? Because He is utterly self-sufficient and delights to overflow and show us His glorious fullness and strength and wisdom, and that He will give us whatever we need. God loves to show the fullness of His grace in meeting the needs of humble, dependent that is, praying people, because it magnifies His riches.

So prayer is not some small thing. It is not some marginal thing. It is not some incidental thing in the Christian life. Prayer gives honor and glory to God as the giver of all things.

From Genesis to Revelation, we find believers praying to the Lord. Abraham, Joseph, David, and Daniel offer wonderful examples of believers bringing needs and praises before the Lord. They did so consistently, even if it meant personal peril. Prayer was a priority for them. We can surmise that one of the critical reasons for their deep spirituality was that prayer had a place of priority in their lives.

The same is true in the New Testament. We see that our Lord gave priority to prayer. We follow through the book of Acts and see the early believers praying privately and corporately. Paul's epistles are filled with examples of his own prayers, demonstrating that he gave priority to this spiritual discipline.

So Paul tells the Colossian believers to "Devote yourselves to prayer." This word "devote" is the Greek word proskartereo. It first meant: "to be strong towards, to endure in, persevere in." It came to mean: "adhere to, persist in, to continue to do something with intense effort," with the possible implication of despite difficulty. The present tense of "devote" further emphasizes the idea of persistence of prayer.
Paul's instructions, then, go beyond the simple idea of praying when circumstances are conducive to doing so and point towards a continuance. This Greek word occurs six times in the New Testament in relation to prayer. Luke notes that, following Jesus' departure into Heaven, the group of believers:

Acts 1:14 (NASB) 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 in all, and they prayed together for about ten days. After Peter's sermon at Pentecost and the conversion of 3,000 people, Luke describes their life together like this:

Acts 2:42 (NASB) And they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
Acts 6:4 (NASB) "But we will devote ourselves to prayer, and to the ministry of the word."
Romans 12:12 (NASB) rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer,
Ephesians 6:18 (NASB) With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints,

What does this mean? It means you are to pray often and you pray regularly. Prayer is not to be infrequent, and prayer is not to be hit and miss. Being "devoted to" prayer means that you are not haphazard, and you are not forgetful. It means you take steps to see that it is part of your regular life, the same way eating and sleeping are.

Prayer is vital to a believer's spiritual health. Prayer is a life priority. It connects me with God and it connects me with God's provision for my life. The great preacher, Robert Murray McCheyne, once wrote, "What a man is on his knees before God, that he is, and nothing more." That is a very powerful statement.

Prayer is a discipline of life that requires our taking the time and energy to develop. I believe that it helps us to see that Jesus Christ was devoted to prayer in his earthly life. The gospel writers record that Jesus "went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God" (Luke 6:12). We also find our Lord rising in early morning, before day, to go to a solitary place for the purpose of prayer (Mark 1:35). If Jesus Christ needed to pray and found time in the busy demands of His life for prayer, how much more should we seek to be persistent in prayer? Martin Luther expressed it like this: "As it is the business of tailors to make clothes and of cobblers to mend shoes, so it is the business of Christians to pray."

Paul goes on to say, "keeping alert in it." "Keeping alert" is the Greek word gregoreuo, which means: "to keep awake, i.e. watch (lit. or fig.), be vigilant" Keeping alert means that you work against distractions and hindrances. You do what you have to do to stay awake and to stay at the task. But if it means to do what you have to do to stay awake and alert in praying, it also implies: "do what you have to do to see that you pray." "Keeping alert" is in the present tense, placing added emphasis upon the need to continue in a state of alertness.

It may be that Paul had in mind the story about the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus told the disciples to "watch and pray," but they fell asleep instead. It means that we are to keep our spiritual senses keen so that we are alert to a consciousness of prayer.

We need to guard against anything that might weaken our effectiveness in prayer. Apathy, negligence, or unbelief can detract from our prayer life.

Paul ends this verse by saying, "with an attitude of thanksgiving." Thanksgiving is a recurring theme in this epistle (1:3,12; 2:7;3:15,17; 4:2).

Paul tells the Philippians that the attitude of prayer is, "with thanksgiving."

Philippians 4:6 (NASB) Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

"With thanksgiving" - in the Greek this is "meta eucharistia." We could translate: "after gratitude." Now listen carefully, meta and the genitive means: "with," but this is metaand the accusative, which never means: "with," it means: "after." "AFTER GRATITUDE, MAKE YOUR REQUEST KNOWN." What Paul is saying here is, "Instead of crying out to God in your difficulty; with doubt, questioning, dissatisfaction, discontentment, or blaming God; cry out to God after thanksgiving." Why? If you have a grateful heart, your prayers will be right.

Why don't you pray more?

Sometime we allow our theological convictions to become excuses for not praying. That is an unfortunate mistake. J.I. Packer explains that there is no conflict between God's sovereign foreordination and the effectiveness of prayer in the believer's life. "God foreordains the means as well as the end, and our prayer is foreordained as the means whereby He brings His sovereign will to pass" [Concise Theology, 189]. Along this same vein, R.L. Dabney has written: "God does not command it because He needs to be informed of our wants, or to be made willing to help. He commands it because He has seen fit to ordain it as the appointed means for reception of His blessing" [Systematic Theology, 717].

How many of you understand binary numbers and how they are used to make a computer work? How many of you use a computer? You mean to tell me that you use a computer even though you don't understand how it works?

How many of you understand how prayer can work when God is sovereign? How many of you pray? We can't change God's purposes, and if our prayers could shape God's policy, then the Most High would be subordinate to the will of man, and that is a terrifying thought. We know that we are commanded to pray, but because we don't understand how prayer can work when God is sovereign, we disobey His command to pray.

We don't have to know how a computer works to use it. And we don't have to understand how prayer works to pray. All we need to know is that God commands us to pray. How many of you have ever had an answer to prayer? Do you believe that God answers prayer? Sure you do. Since we believe that God answers prayer, why don't we pray more?

Another reason that we don't pray more is that we're busy people. We don't have time to pray. But are we busier than Jesus at the height of his ministry, ministering to thousands of people every single day? Yet He found time to pray. Jesus had the desire and need to pray, and He prayed a lot, sometimes spending the entire night in prayer. How many entire nights have you spent in prayer? If Jesus needed to pray that much, doesn't it tell us that we need to pray even more?

I'd have to say that prayer is the hardest discipline of the Christian life. Wouldn't you agree? Do you find it difficult to pray? Seeing that prayer is important is one thing. Being devoted to prayer is another. If we are going to be devoted to prayer, we need to establish a time each day for prayer. While we are to "pray without ceasing," so that prayer is to be an attitude of our hearts throughout the day; in order to do this, we really need to have a daily time for prayer. Prayer gets pushed aside quicker than anything, because it requires so much discipline. You may not be able to devote several hours to prayer like Luther, Wesley, or Brainerd; but do what you can do. It is better to start small and work up than to never start at all in a discipline of prayer.

If you don't have a regular time of daily prayer, then I want to exhort you to make a commitment to do this. Take action right now by determining how and when you will spend time in prayer. Each of us can take time to pray. It is a matter of budgeting our time and sticking to a schedule for prayer. If prayer is left to chance, there is the strong chance it will not happen. Make this a priority for your daily routine.

Someone is bound to ask, "Isn't this legalism - having a scheduled time to pray?" No, it's obedience! God has commanded that we pray. God says, "Devote yourselves to prayer." Christians are not, as the Jews were, bound to certain stated hours of prayer so many times in a day. Yet, could a person who is devoted to prayer let a day pass without prayer to God?

Let me suggest that as we set a time for prayer each day that we establish some kind of pattern in our praying. This will help to keep us disciplined for the purpose of prayer. One way to do this is to pray in concentric circles, beginning with ourselves. We alone know our own needs best, so we can offer these before the Lord, seeking to make sure that our own hearts are passionate for the Lord. Then we should move to the next concentric circle of our families, offering up specific prayers for their needs. From there we might move to the circle of our church leadership and the ministries God has entrusted to us. From this point, our concentric circles move out into the congregation, praying for our fellow church members, then on to our fellow believers in other churches and places. Then, we certainly should move to another circle of praying for those who are unbelieving and need the gospel. We can add yet another circle in praying for our governmental leaders and world leaders in general.

Throughout this epistle, Paul's emphasis has been on the believer's union with Christ and the complete adequacy that that union produces. The Christian who does not pray is demonstrating independence from God. We could put it this way: Prayerlessness is a declaration of independence. Do you really want to be independent of Christ?

John 15:5 (NASB) "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.

Have you spent time in prayer talking to God today? Have you prayed that as we gathered this morning that God would use you as a minister of grace in the lives of your brothers and sisters? Have you prayed that God would teach you through His Word?

Believer, think about it - prayer is an opportunity for us, God's children, to talk to Him personally. That is mind-boggling when you think about it. Prayer is perhaps the greatest privilege we can experience. That we, fallen human beings, should be redeemed and privileged to walk 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. We can lay on Him the desires and burdens of our hearts and have Him listen with the desire to respond and give us the desires of our heart. That is amazing! Sometimes when I think about this, I am dumbfounded that I do not spend much more time in prayer. What a privilege!

Is prayer a personal priority for you? Would you say that you are "devoted" to prayer? I trust that each of us will reflect upon this exhortation to pray, not with a sense of guilt that produces no action, but with a determination to obey the Lord as He has enabled us.

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