One of the most helpful things you can do to strengthen your prayer life is to study the prayers of the apostle Paul as recorded in the New Testament. Most of Paul’s letters begin with a thanksgiving and prayer for “the saints” (believers) to whom he writes. Paul does not simply tell the saints that he is praying for them. Moved by the Spirit, Paul reports the content of his prayers. These prayer reports are lessons in how to pray.
One of those exemplary prayers of Paul appears in Colossians 1:9–14. The apostle has already told the church that he regularly prays for them (v. 3). Now he tells them exactly what he prays on their behalf. But this is more than a glimpse into the private prayer life of the great apostle. It is the God-breathed Scripture that is profitable for teaching and training us in prayer.
Paul’s prayer for the Colossians is a model of intercession. It shows us how spiritual leaders should pray for those under their care. At the same time, it shows us members of the church how we should pray for our leaders and for one another, as brothers and sisters in Christ. It also shows us how to bring our own needs and concerns and burdens to the Lord in prayer.
In this chapter, I want to focus on the main prayer requests Paul makes for the Colossians. But there is a lesson in Paul’s example of prayer before you get to his petitions. First of all, it is noteworthy that we find Paul in prayer. The epistle to the Colossians is one of the Prison Epistles of Paul. He did not write this letter while on sabbatical or in a secluded pastor’s study. Paul was under house arrest in Rome, where he was awaiting trial. He did not know whether he would be convicted and executed or vindicated and released. In the meantime, there he was, imprisoned, chained to Roman soldiers.
Yet Paul was not in prison blaming God or pitying himself or complaining to others. Paul prayed.
What about you? When you face troubles, pressures, and uncertainties, how do you respond? Do you worry? Do you complain? Or do you pray? For the sake of argument, let’s assume you pray. But if you were in Paul’s predicament, what would you pray? Most of us would pray for the obvious. We would pray for God to get us out of jail. Or for a good lawyer. Or for protection from the various dangers of imprisonment. But as you read through this prayer, you’ll see that Paul’s requests were not preoccupied with the difficult situation he found himself in. He prayed for the Colossians. Paul prayed for others, not just himself.
H. B. Charles Jr., It Happens after Prayer: Biblical Motivation for Believing Prayer (Chicago, IL: Lift Every Voice, 2013).
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