Every one of you has, at one time or another, heard a message that exhorted you to pray. And, I would contend that even if you only had heard one message on prayer you probably felt guilty about not praying correctly or frequently enough. If that is the case, you stand with a majority of believers.
We have all heard the story of great saints of old who boldly took hold of the throne of grace through their praying. We know the story of the people who got up early every day and spent hours before the Lord in prayer. And we don’t doubt that these people were powerfully used by God. We may even wish that this was OUR regular experience. But it’s not.
William Barclay writes, “Even for the best of us, there come times when prayer seems to be unavailing and to penetrate no farther than the walls of the room in which we pray.”
We know several things about prayer
- prayer makes a difference . . . we don’t know how . . . we just know it does.
- prayer brings wisdom
- prayer provides strength for difficult time
- prayer convicts us of areas in our life that need changing
- prayer brings us assurance of our position in the Father
We know these things, so why don’t we pray?
OBSTACLES TO PRAYER
I find that if I can identify a problem I am halfway towards solving the problem. So to that end I want to suggest some reasons why we may have trouble praying.
- We may not have a true relationship with God . . . we may be trying to have a conversation with someone who we don’t know or is different from what we think. Lots of people pray much like they do whistle. It is a basically mindless activity that makes them feel better. People who have no relationship with God will tell you that they pray. Their prayers feel like they are going no where because they aren’t going anywhere!
- We may have a faulty view of prayer. It’s possible that we have this picture of prayer that involves us always having our eyes closed and our hands folded. This is the only prayer we know. But Quaker Thomas Kelly in his Testament of Devotion writes:
“There is a way of ordering our mental life on more than one level at once. On one level we can be thinking, discussing, seeing, calculating, meeting all the demands of external affairs. But deep within, behind the scenes, at a profounder level, we may also be in prayer and adoration, song and worship, and a gentle receptiveness to divine breathing.”
It may be that we are pushing ourselves to spend more time in some dark room someplace when what God wants is a more free exchange that comes from a constant “God consciousness”. I don’t mean to suggest that quiet prayer is not necessary . . . it certainly is. I only mean to point out that we may be missing out on some of the elements of true praying by our stereotypes.
- We may be under spiritual attack. In Daniel 10, the prophet is told by an angel . . .
“Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them. But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the King of Persia.”
This is a bizarre passage that reports that this angel faced demonic opposition in his attempt to answer Daniel’s prayer. Satan wants nothing more than to sever the lines of communication with the Father. We are in a spiritual battle and prayer is one of our chief weapons. So, if you are finding it difficult to pray it may be because there is a fierce battle going on around you.
- We may be focusing on “getting stuff” rather than finding God’s will for our lives. In other words, we may be too worldly. James tells us that we “do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” (James 4:2,3). How often are we guilty of seeking to persuade God that He should give us what we want instead of begging Him to teach us what He wants?
A Pastor went to visit a parishioner in the hospital. The man said, “Oh Brother Jones, pray for my healing. If God will only heal me I’ll straighten up my life. I’ll quit drinking and smoking and I’ll get back to church every Sunday. I’ll start tithing and quit running around on my wife… etc. etc. etc…”
At the conclusion of this patient’s promises, Rev. Jones said nothing, took he man’s hand, kneeled at his bedside as was his custom and prayed: Lord you’ve heard Brother Brown’s promises of what he’ll do if you heal him. If he means it, cure him. If he doesn’t, kill him. Amen.” And Brother Jones got up and walked out of the room without uttering another word! I wonder if God said, “Amen.”
- We are too proud. The fact is, we don’t want help! We want to do things on our own. We want to be self-sufficient rather than God dependent. Even though we claim to be trusting God . . . we continue to seek to “make things happen” on our own. Prayer is empty when you don’t want what you are asking for! Martin Luther said, “God hears not the words of one that prays, unless he that prays first hears them himself.” [“TABLETALK” on prayer] Sometimes we are guilty of saying, “Lord, I come to you because I know I’m supposed to, but, You and I know I don’t need your help.”
- We may view prayer as a chore rather than a means to joy. Do you remember as a child the difference that there was between having to go talk to “cheek pincher” Aunt So-and-So and going out to see that special someone? The one was a duty, the other sprang from the delight that comes from love. I think we sometimes view prayer as a duty. We feel God is looking us over to see that we are “doing it right” rather than simply talking with the Father who loves us and who can do all things that are good for us.
- Things are going well for us. We tend to view prayer much like we do the life preserver at the swimming pool . . . it is only to be used for emergencies. But that is an erroneous view of prayer. Prayer is conversation with God. The Lord delights to rejoice with us as much as he is willing to comfort us. I know the feeling . . . . often I don’t see people except in a crisis situation. I consider those crisis times privileges . . . it is a special thing to be allowed into someone’s life in vulnerable times. However, it is also a joy to hear of the good things that are going on in your life too . . . . unless of course, things are not going well for me.
Do you fit into any of these categories? I suspect we all do at different times. Keep these things in mind so you can more quickly find the problem in your prayer life.
PAUL COMMANDS US TO BE DEVOTED TO PRAYER
Now to our text. Paul writes, “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful”. What does it mean to “be devoted” to something? The Greek words means to “adhere firmly to,” “to persist in”, to remain devoted to.
Now, let’s take this idea and apply it to some things in our lives. What does it mean to be devoted to a husband or wife? It means you persist with them through the good times and the bad. It means you continue to work at building a relationship with them. Wouldn’t the same be true if we talked about how devoted we were to our children or our parents? We don’t give up on the relationship no matter how difficult it becomes.
And what about when a person is a devoted fan of a certain sports team? It means they continue to root for that team when they are winning and when they are losing. The “fair weather” fans are the ones that root for the team when they are doing well. The devoted fan hangs in there through thick and thin.I have a Die-Hard Cub Fan certificate that I used to have up in my office. A die hard Cub fan is a devoted fan. It is someone who keeps rooting for the team even when it is difficult.
If you take this understanding and apply it to prayer, Paul is really saying something quite simple: keep praying! Don’t give up on prayer! There may be dry times, there may be times you don’t know what to say, you may feel we aren’t doing a very good job . . . but keep praying. You know how valuable and important prayer is. Stick with it!
Paul doesn’t leave us with just this simple exhortation. He also gives us some tips on how to remain devoted in our praying.
First, Paul says we should be “watchful”.
The word for “watchful” means to “be awake.” When our mind is active and involved we are awake. Do you know what keeps us awake in our praying? Prayer is intensified by Need. Sometimes I think we don’t pray because we are not aware of any need to pray.
Let me give you another illustration. Consider the difference between two military sentries. One is guard the barracks of a stateside unit. The other is guarding a platoon on the front in battle. Which one is more diligent? Which one is more attentive? The one who realizes that they are in a battle.
We are in a battle. You will see this if you look around. If you pay attention you will be motivated to pray. Notice,
- The moral decay of society
- the needs of your family for protection, wisdom, shelter from worldly influences
- Look at the lives of your friends and see the burdens they are carrying
- Notice the spiritual battle going on around you
- Notice how often your old self sneaks out into your new life. You see the temper flare. You are in a conversation and you realize that you are gossiping. You are sharing a story and realize that you are embellishing the truth to enhance yourself. Notice how hard it is to really change.
- Notice the various signs that may suggest that the end of this earth is drawing near.
If you do this, you will realize that you are in the midst of a battle field and you will want to keep in touch with the Commander-in-Chief.
We must also be watchful for reminders to pray. Joe Bayly wrote,
My greatest help [in praying for others] has come from realizing that God can bring to my mind those people and situations for which I ought to pray. He can stir my memory through associations – something I see, something I hear, something I read. If I forget to pray for someone, He can remind me.
A flight attendant on my flight reminds me of a woman whose husband has died. I pray for that woman and her children. The pilot reminds me to pray for a friend who is a pilot and for others I know who are also traveling.
Driving the car, I see a street name, a billboard advertisement, a real estate sign, a church: each leads to an association that results in prayer.
A friend mentioned something E. Stanley Jones wrote in connection with prayer; this has been a help to me: If your mind wanders to something else when you’re praying, Dr. Jones suggested, pray for that something else.
The watchful believer is the one that is ready to pray at any prompting. He does not wait until some future time . . . He prays when he is aware of the need. And he is always on the lookout for needs.
WE ARE TO BE THANKFUL
Paul also tells us to be thankful. Gratitude is a stimulus to prayer. When we see answers to our prayers we will pray more. When we understand what a privilege is ours in prayer, we will be encouraged to pray. The more we understand of the nature of our salvation, the more we will pray.
It’s important that we keep track of our prayers. Watch and see what God does in response to your praying. You will be surprised.
Take time to consider and think about what God has done for you. Dare to ponder the events he orchestrated to bring us to faith. Think about the people He led our way. Consider what He is doing in places unknown that will lead to our benefit and growth. Imagine the tragedies the Lord shielded you from. Who knows how many times he healed our bodies and we weren’t aware?
Think about the reality of our inheritance; we don’t even fully understand the nature of eternal life. We have no concept of what it will be like to gaze on the majesty and glory of the Lord. We can’t begin to understand the horrors of eternal punishment that we have been spared only by His grace. But as we begin to think on these things we find gratitude beginning to well up inside of us.
There are lots of things we can thank God for:
- For His Presence … He promises to never leave us.
- For His Provision …He provides for our needs
- For His Pardon . . .He has forgiven our sin and made our hard heart soft.
- For His Promises . . . He promises us life beyond the grave, eternal joy and much more
- For His Purpose (Romans 8:28) . . . God has a plan, and you are a part of it.
When we take the time to remain conscious of the gifts God has given us . . . we will be drawn to prayer like a lover is drawn to her mate.
How to Pray For Others
Paul does not stop with these words. He continues by asking the Colossians to pray for him. He writes, “And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim it clearly, as I should”. (V. 3,4) It’s interesting isn’t it, that Paul does not ask that they pray for his release from prison. He doesn’t ask them to pray that his provisions hold out. He doesn’t ask for prayer that he be able to deal with loneliness. Paul sees a bigger picture. To Paul there is only one pressing issue: that he be a faithful witness to his Lord Jesus Christ.
Friends, are you convicted by how much you and I miss the main issue? Do you see that we pleading for pebbles when there are mountains to move? We focus on the material when all of eternity is at stake. Paul asks for two specific things:
The first things Paul desires is the opportunity to present the gospel. He desires the chance to talk with the guards, the civil officials, the other inmates. He wants to be able to get the word out to whoever will listen.
Do you pray for God to open doors? Are you praying that God will give you opportunities to reach others? Do you pray for our church that we might be granted a hearing by the people of this community? Do you pray that God would open doors that our radio ministry might get into homes of darkness and be heard by those who need to see the light of Christ? Are you praying for our young people that the doors might open to share with their friends?
Do you pray that doors would open in the entertainment industry, in government, in our schools, in the workplace? Do you pray for Phil and Sharyn Waters and Youth for Christ and other missionaries that we support that they might be granted a hearing by those they seek to reach? Do you pray for open doors in your own family and neighborhood?
Paul is so practical. He understands that God needs to be at work in every area of life if it is going to transform anyone. Paul does not even trust his own ability to communicate the truth clearly. He asks that the Colossians pray that he is clear in presenting the truth.
Anyone can talk . . . . few people communicate. Our goal is not only to talk to others about Jesus! We want to convey to them the power, love, forgiveness, and beauty of the Savior. That will take words that God must give us. Words that are appropriate and clear for the audience we speak to. It takes different words to be clear to a child, to an older person, to a teenager, to a family member, to a co-worker, to a best friend.
This is why “canned” approaches to sharing our faith is often unsuccessful . . . they are true words, but they aren’t clear words. We must pray that God use us and use us well. We must pray (and be alert for) open doors. And we must be careful to speak carefully and with the guidance of His spirit.
My intention this morning has not been to make you feel guilty. I want to spur you on. And I want to spur myself on. Do you understand that all the talented people and creative programs we can muster cannot make the impact that God’s people can make as a result of their prayers?
The Lord is the one who changes hearts and lives. He alone can strengthen us in the times of darkness. It is only the Lord who can give us guidance and wash us with peace. It is not political clout, but the Spirit of the Lord that can alone turn our country around. He’s the one who restores relationships, and gives us hope in the storm. We need His help.
Friend, it’s time to get off the treadmill. It’s time to stop looking for nifty words to construct nice sounding prayers. It’s time to open our hearts to the Father. Let the defenses come down. Dare to be honest about how helpless you really are. Devote yourself to the one who is Devoted to you.