Devotion to Prayer
Study #27 Colossians 4:2-4
by Bob Burridge ©2023
Sometimes many profound ideas are found in very short sentences. Colossians 4:2 is that kind of sentence. Various English translations differ slightly. The ESV says, “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.” The NASB says, “Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving;” In Greek the original word order puts prayer first showing its priority. It’s not good English, but it’s very literally translated this way: “In prayer you shall devote yourselves, be alert in the same in thanksgiving”
The main subject is prayer. There are two verbs here that show us our duties: We are to be devoted and alert in prayer. Then he gives the motive: we pray thankfully out of gratitude toward God.
In the context of this last section of the Epistle the Apostle begins to sum things up into a final lesson.
The Colossians were being challenged by false teachers. The gospel was becoming confused with philosophies that put man in the center where God should be. God’s law was was being confused as if it was a means for earning salvation.
Instead, Paul showed that God’s law is a loving revelation with three specific purposes:
1. The law shows us how we fall far short of living to please God in all things.
2. It points us to the Messiah, Jesus Christ, who paid the penalty for his people’s sins against God’s law.
3. It shows us how we can show our gratitude by living to please God.
Then Paul applied this to where we all live our daily lives in Colossians 3:18-4:1. He gave us basic principles to improve our marriages, our parenting, and even how to behave in the work place day after day while we earn our living.
We can’t do these things ourselves. God doesn’t send us out into the world to be successful on our own. To accomplish it, we need to be devoted to and alert in thankful prayer.
First he tells us to be devoted to prayer
We live in a world that surrounds us with bad advice and immoral influences. Our fallen nature is very willing to be taken in by worldly justifications for sin. If we are going to succeed in replacing bad habits with holy ones, we need help! We need to be constantly in communication with our living God.
The Westminster Shorter Catechism question 98 summarizes how the Bible defines prayer. It says, “Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies.”
This definition gives us 5 elements of prayer:
1. “Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God”
Most people would have no problem agreeing with this. Even the heathen pray to their false gods. That’s what the Baal worshipers did on Mt. Carmel. But as the prophet Elijah showed, prayer is only effective when offered to the true God. Those who come to him by the way he explains in his word, ought to be confident that he hears their desires and will bless them in the very best way. Psalm 62:8, “Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us. Selah ”
2. Prayer should be made “for things agreeable to his will”
In Matthew 6:9-10 Jesus taught us how to pray. He said, “Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” In Romans 8:27, Paul said, “… the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”
Our prayers should be limited to things God’s revealed and promised. Deuteronomy 29:29, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” He doesn’t tell us how all things fit together in his wise and holy decrees. We need to condition our prayers by submitting to whatever is the secret plan of God.
God tells us in his word what we should pray for. We should pray that God would grant peace and comfort to his children when they suffer. This is part of his covenant promise to his people. How he accomplishes it is left to him. We can pray for God to heal a particular person in a particular case if it be his will. We pray that his enemies would be overcome, and that his people would be protected.
Specific prayers for God’s wrath to fall would require a special revelation, which he hasn’t given us. What particular things we think should be done may not be what God intends in his perfect plan. To pray that the Creator should change his eternal and perfect decrees would be demeaning the true God as if he was our servant. We can be thankfully confident that what God has decreed can’t be changed by anyone.
This doesn’t mean that our prayers don’t play an integral part in the unfolding of God’s plan. God doesn’t only decree the final outcome of all things. He also determines all the means by which he makes things come to pass. One of those means is our prayers.
The prayers of believers are one of the wonderful tools he uses in carrying out his will. They don’t change the plan. They’re part of the plan. God commands us to pray, and he tells us that it matters. We should confidently rejoice that our prayers are an obedient part of the rise and fall of nations, of the victories of the gospel as it makes dramatic changes in otherwise hopeless lives, and of the wonders performed by surgeons, teachers, pastors, and parents.
We often use things even though we don’t know how they work. There are those who start their cars without knowing how the ignition system works, or how the gasoline we pump into the gas tank makes our cars able to take us places. Many use computers and phones to surf the internet with no clue about how the connections are made, or how the electrical signals coming in are converted into words, pictures, sounds and programs. But we all use those kinds of things every day.
Prayer may be a mystery as to how it’s used by our infinite Creator in the unfolding of his eternal decrees. But the prayers of the saints are important! The Lord doesn’t only use the prayers of the ancient Apostles and Prophets, or of Pastors, Elders and Deacons. He uses the prayers of all his children, even young toddlers who asks through Christ for things God approves.
In Romans 15:30, here in Colossians 4:3-4, and in other places, Paul asked the Christians he addressed his letters to pray for him to fulfill God’s plan in his ministry.
3. Prayer should be offered “in the name of Christ”
Jesus said to his disciples in John 16:23, “In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.”
Praying in the name of Jesus Christ doesn’t mean we should simply tag his name onto our prayers. As we pray we identify with him who died in our place, and rose again showing what he secured for us. We pray as those redeemed by his righteousness, not based on our own merits. Paul said in 1 Timothy 2:5 that the Lord Jesus Christ is only mediator between God and man.
The Bible promises that the prayers of someone righteous and redeemed in Christ, are effectual. James 5:16 says, “… The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” There is no promise that the prayers of the unregenerate are used by God as means in accomplishing his holy decrees.
In John 14:6 Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Colossians 3:17, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
4. Prayer should be made “with confession of our sins”
We need to pray as sinners, not as those who by themselves earn the right to be heard. This is the foundation of the prayers of the great examples given to us in the Bible: Daniel 9:4-5, “I prayed to the LORD my God and made confession, saying, “O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules.”
Abraham, Moses, David, Paul, James, and the others all followed this same principle. We should too. Our access to the throne of God is secured by the atonement of our Savior, by nothing else. If we fail to pray as redeemed sinners, we exclude ourselves from those whose prayers God has promised to answer.
5. Prayer should be motivated by a “thankful acknowledgment of God’s mercies”
Thankfulness is that motive Paul attaches to our devotion and alertness in prayer. In Philippians 4:6 Paul writes, “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”
As Christians pray, they do so as the undeserving objects of grace. We pray remembering all that God has done and promised us. He redeemed us and set us free from the bondage of sin. He promises us strength as the Spirit’s fruit is seen in us. He gives us our daily bread by giving us opportunity and skill to work to earn our food. He alone sends the rain and sun to make our crops grow. He steers the storms we try so hard to predict and track and prepare for. He’s there to bear us up through tragedies, and often spares us of them.
When we pray with humble gratitude to God, submissive to his holy will, our motive is pure and holy, and our prayers are effectual.
But prayer ought not be an occasional exercise, or one called up only in emergencies.
The second verb in our main text shows that: we must keep alert in prayer.
Keeping alert can at times be a problem for our wandering minds and hearts. There are many distractions that can lure us to forget or to procrastinate our prayers. They can get our minds so much on the problem that we forget God’s promises.
When we see disruptions in our homes or face tensions in the work place, or confront false teachings and lies about God, we need to remember to call upon God for strength in prayer.
We can’t be Christ-like on our own. We can only be successful as God gives us strength. God has ordained prayer as a means by which we grow stronger. This awesome and powerful exercise should be done diligently and vigilantly with thankful hearts. We need to train our souls to rest in Christ steadfastly.
Next Paul asks the believers in Colossae to pray for God’s ministers,
Colossians 4:3-4, “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.”
We should pray that God will provide an opportunity for the gospel to be clearly explained. We should pray for our Pastors and Elders, for our missionaries and teachers. We should pray for ourselves, and for our brothers and sisters in the Lord as we represent Christ daily living here in God’s world.
Prayer is a true means of grace by which God’s work is done and we are strengthened.
By the regular and diligent exercise of prayer to God we express our wonder at his revealed nature and glory, we seek his help, provision, strength, and blessing, and bring the needs of others to him, we show our full trust in him as the source of every good thing.
We should pray to God inwardly in our thoughts throughout the day. We should pray with our families and friends, as we gather as a church in times of fellowship or worship.
By prayer, the gospel is declared and we overcome our temptations. The greatest benefit when we obediently, humbly, and regularly engage in prayer, is that we please God showing ourselves to be his means in the unfolding of his eternal plan.
What a wonderful discovery, when good things happen, to know that God had eternally included our humble prayers in his plan, to make us his agents in doing his amazing works of grace and mercy.
Note: Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.