Here’s a question I’ve struggled with through my Christian life: What’s the relationship between God’s sovereignty and my responsibility? If God’s in control of everything, why does he need me to go out and tell people about Him? Can’t he just make it happen? What part do I play? How do I fit into God’s work of saving people?
Did you know that MBM grew from 6 people to 1500. One by one as people came to hear about Jesus. God’s been saving lives! He’s the one at work right!? He did all that. So how do we fit in? What’s our role in God’s work of saving people?
This passage we’re looking at today has the answer.
Colossians is a letter written by Paul to a Church, about how to do life well, in light of the fact that life is all about Jesus Christ. This little section comes at the end of the letter as a final word to the Church. Paul’s point here is - God has chosen to include us in His work of saving people. It’s not Him OR us but it’s Him AND us together. And so, as we work together with God to save people, Paul says, our role is to pray for God to help us do His work. I repeat, Our role is to pray - for God - to help us - do His work!
He spells out, How we should pray (verse 2), what we should pray (verses 3-4), and how we should act after we’ve prayed (verses 5-6).
Firstly HOW… what should our attitude be to prayer. Look at Colossians 4:2
Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. (NIV)
What things do you devote yourself to? And why? We generally devote ourselves to things we think we’ll benefit from, things we think will give us the biggest pay off for life. Exercise = Healthy, Study = Job, work = Money, Latest Netflix series = ?? Not sure why we do that. So many things, but for some reason, we struggle to be devoted to prayer?
Why is it that we struggle so much to be committed to prayer? Why’s it normally the last thing we do when we face difficult situations? Why can't we only stay focused for barely 2 minutes when we’re talking to the God of the universe!? It’s not like there’s not enough to pray for.
I’m sure we all know the experience when you finally get to praying: You close your eyes... “Lord you hold everything in your hands...” Then, your mind wanders, reminds you that you had to message that person back, or get dinner going or all these other important things we had to do… oh! I was praying!!
It so often seems easier to be devoted to Facebook, or work emails or what’s right in front of us, than it does being devoted to prayer. Why is it? There can be a range of reasons, practical things like not setting aside the time, actually being too busy, not knowing enough about what’s going on around you in people’s lives to know what to pray for. If we’re caught up in a sin, sexual/relational, we can feel too guilty to pray or just the bad habit of the first thing we do with a spare moment... Phones out! But I think the biggest one is that in our hearts we often doubt that God can or will do anything about our situation, and we rely on ourselves too much!
We doubt God, and we don’t doubt ourselves enough. We think we can get along in life fine without God’s help. We over-emphasise our role in God’s work, and think we can just get stuff done without him. Or, sometimes we even convince ourselves that he doesn’t even really care and he’s just left us to do all this stuff without him.
That kind of attitude misses so much about God. And I’m so guilty of falling into that mindset. It misses the fact that firstly, it’s His work we’re doing. It totally misses who it is we’re actually praying to. He’s the God who loves us, who loves to hear from us, who tells us to pray and ask for help and who loves to help us!
When we doubt God’s power and character our hearts always drift from God-dependence to self-dependence, or others dependence, and that’s when our prayer life begins to dwindle. When I see it in myself I call it sin-dependence! Trying to be independent is really just sinful.
It’s only when we truly recognise who God is towards us and how He works, that we’ll be truly devoted to Him in prayer and dependence! He’s the God who spoke the universe into being, he’s beyond powerful! He’s the God who knows us inside-out, knows our deepest darkest thoughts, yet still loves us so much he gave us His only Son, He’s the God who wants to help us do His work of saving people, and He’s the God who tells us to be devoted to Him in prayer because it’s more worthwhile than catching the next episode of whatever we’re watching on Netflix at the moment! Or whatever else we’re putting in the way.
While we’re devoted to God in prayer, Paul says ‘remember to be: thankful!’ See Colossians 4:2
Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. (NIV)
This is part of that big relational aspect, knowing who God is, that everything we see and know depends upon him and what he’s done for us to come into relationship with Him, of course, our attitude should be one of utter thankfulness!
I think it’s the difference between seeing God as a drive-thru window, or as a good friend who invites you over to dinner. At the drive-thru, it doesn’t matter who’s there, it’s just about getting the stuff! We just order what we want, pay the money, then move to the next window to receive it, then we’re out of there, back on the road to wherever we are going. But when a friend invites you over for dinner, it’s a different story, you show them thankfulness, you appreciate all they’ve done for you and you spend time with them, it’s quality time!
Imagine you invited someone over for dinner and put on a big spread, and he just walked in, didn’t say hi to anyone, didn’t notice the food you’d prepared, but just started demanding what he wanted for dinner! OK, I’ll have a burger, extra cheese, tomato sauce and don’t give me any of that cole-slaw stuff! What would you think of him! maybe some of your kids do that to you! Isn’t that what we so often do to God
We so easily forget that everything we have comes from God as a gift. All the good things we enjoy, our friends, our family, all our belongings, the jobs we have, the air we breathe, our brains, the muscles some of us have - Everything! So when we speak to God, it’s so important to thank Him for all those things. I think this is one of the most helpful questions to ask ourselves, to see if we’ve been thanking God enough.
If you woke up this morning, with only the things you thanked God for yesterday, what would you have right now?
Isn’t God good that he still shows us love even when we’re ungrateful. While we’re devoted to God in prayer, remember to be thankful!
OK, So that’s HOW we should be praying, our attitude in prayer, now he tells us what to pray. Now, this isn’t the exhaustive list. Verses 3-4
And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. (NIV)
What’s the focus? The main thing? It’s in the message going out.
Paul’s travelling around with a bunch of Christians, working hard to spread the gospel into new areas, not too different to us at MBM trying to plant Churches around Western Sydney to reach more people. And he asks for prayer that God would help them proclaim the message clearly. Now notice here how God’s work and ours are linked together so beautifully.
We Pray for God to open doors for our message. He’s in control, but he’s chosen, in his sovereignty, to save people through us sharing his message. As you look around this room, doesn’t God answer prayer!?
Paul doesn’t question God’s role here against his own, he says, pray for God to do his bit so we can do our bit, and what is our bit?
Middle of verse 3 says, that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ. What is this mystery of Christ? It’s a term that Paul uses in a few of his letters. When Paul uses the word mystery or secret, he doesn’t mean something that we can’t know, but something that was mysterious that has now been made known! And that is, that Jesus has made a way for all people to be forgiven, to overcome sin and death and to live with God in heaven for eternity.
After the fall of man, God promised that He was going to send someone to deal with humanity’s greatest problem, sin and death! And that someone was Jesus.
The message we share, this mystery revealed isn’t just about living a certain lifestyle, or following a set of rules, or a nice idea for life based on empty myths and traditions, it’s not just for a specific group of people living in a certain area, it’s a message about the answer to our world’s biggest problem! Death! and it’s not just a problem for some of us, is it?
When Jesus came, he gave us the reason for our death and he gave us a solution. We die because we’ve rejected the one who gave us life! - God. We don’t love or respect him the way he deserves for giving us life. Instead, we treat him as if he doesn’t exist, and we use and abuse the life he gave us. We make ourselves the rulers of our lives.
So God says, if we want to shut Him out of our lives in this life, he’ll shut us out of His in the next, that’s what we deserve. It’s what we wanted anyway.
But Jesus came to show us that God loves us more than we deserve! He sacrificed himself, so we could have a place in Heaven! He died a death He didn’t deserve, so we could have an eternal life we don’t deserve. That’s the message we pray for God to help us proclaim! That message is for me, it’s for you, it’s for everyone you know, it’s for our whole world, for every generation to come!
Jesus rose from the dead, He’s been crowned Lord of all, and he’s offering me and you forgiveness and eternal life. Have you accepted it?
The mystery of life has been revealed, Jesus is the ruler of our universe and he wants a relationship with you! The question is will you let him rule your life? He knows how to, far better than we do!
That’s the message Paul was calling on the church to pray for, and by God, 2000 years later we sit here today because that message reached us! God answers prayer! And now it’s that same message that we’re to be devoted in prayer for.
Verses 5-6 are about how we’re to act, so that when opportunities do arise, we do our part well!
Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. (NIV)
In your head, finish this sentence: "the biggest barrier that stops people believing in Jesus, is..." It's hypocritical Christians. Christians saying one thing and acting another.
When I was a new believer I was at work, chatting with the other techs about church/community. I shared a crude joke when my boss called me in and said "Didn’t I just hear you saying you were at bible study last night, that you go to church, what’s this?!" I was a complete hypocrite, not wise at all! And a terrible example.
God wants our actions to be consistent with our words. If we say we love Jesus and live for Him, our lives should demonstrate that to others.
We all have opportunities in our weeks to witness to people around us, whether at work, or at home, or buying groceries and the way we act has the power tell them whether God is worth living for or not. Ask yourself, what does your life tell others about how worthwhile it is to be a Christian?
Making the most of every opportunity is asking the question in every interaction with our friends or family, "will this action of mine draw them closer to Jesus or push them further away?" It’s hard to know at times but is a helpful question. A big part of this is in the way we speak, so Paul says in verse 6.
Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, (NIV)
What is gracious speech like? It's like giving a person a gift, in the form of speech. Conversation that’s full of grace is speaking in a way that’s beneficial for those you’re talking to, helpful! It’s easy to hear what you’re saying. You’ve heard the phrase - Money is power! Words also have power and worth! Most of us think about what we spend money on, and I haven’t met anyone who likes wasting money. We use a lot of words every day and we waste a lot, imagine if we thought as much about the words we use, as we did the money we spend.
What about 'seasoned with salt'? I made myself a big breakfast the other week, I had all the bits and when I was finished I said, ‘oh thank you lord for making such tasty foods and enabling us to bring them all together to have such a tasty meal.’ Then I thought, actually, I think it’s just the salty taste I like. Salt makes food so good. Imagine hot chips without salt.
Jesus tells those who follow him, you are the salt of the earth. He’s saying, you’re the tasty part. Especially, the words we have to speak. Our words can be life and light in a dead and dark world.
After speaking with a Christian, a person should come away saying, ‘I really enjoy being around that person.’ People should leave us feeling like they just ate a big yummy salty meal.
Notice here that being wise in action and speech isn’t just for when the opportunity arises, he says ‘so that you may know how to answer everyone’ See it’s not like putting on a show for people when the time comes. It’s a consistently practiced thing, so that when those opportunities do come, and they will, we’re not fumbling around flicking pepper on people instead of salt.
Statistics say, the biggest thing that causes people to want to become Christian, is seeing Christians who genuinely live out what they say they believe, especially in difficult circumstances.
Our God is transforming lives through Jesus Christ. And He’s chosen to include us in that work. Knowing that God can do all things, and he wants to help us share his message, we’re to be people devoted to prayer!
As we pray, we can expect God to give us opportunities, that’s why they say, be careful what you pray for! God answers and when he does, let us also do our part!
So, let me ask you - What needs to change for you to be more devoted to God in prayer? How might your prayers be different this week? Gospel? Do you need to add thanksgiving? Are there certain actions you need to change in the way you deal with people? How might you bless someone with your speech this week?