Can prayer change people – even though they are cynical or outright hostile towards matters of faith?

In Colossians 4:2-4 Paul the Apostle writes: Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with thanksgiving. At the same time pray for us as well that God will open to us a door for the word,…

Paul was in prison when he penned this letter. Significantly he doesn’t ask that God open the doors of his prison. Rather he asks that the doors of gospel opportunity might be opened.

Four themes stand out: Consistent prayer; Thanksgiving; ‘Open doors’; and Clarity.

Consistent prayerDevote yourselves to prayer,… It is easy for us to be so busy with other things that we overlook the importance of prayer. The Acts of the Apostles reveals that the first followers of Jesus Christ were committed to prayer. Indeed, Luke 11:1 tells us that the disciples, observing Jesus’ own practice of prayer, asked him to teach them to pray. He taught them the prayer we know as ‘The Lord’s Prayer’.

It’s important to remember this, especially when our prayer life is dry. Significantly, the first word Jesus tells us to use is, “Father”. True prayer expresses a privileged relationship with the one God who is Lord of heaven and earth. Furthermore, Father implies that God delights to hear from us. He has done everything necessary for us to enjoy a special relationship with him, for he loves us far more than we ever dreamed. And this tells us something else: when we pray, our confidence is not in the act of praying. Rather our confidence is in the One to whom we pray.

That said, the need for Paul’s injunction may have arisen because the Colossians had become apathetic about prayer. They didn’t see its urgency or, like Jesus’ disciples on the eve of his crucifixion, they had gone to sleep instead of praying. Paul urges us not to give up praying. We may not feel that our prayers are being answered, but we mustn’t give up.’ The Bible consistently tells us that God promises to hear and to answer our prayers.

Thanksgiving. Furthermore, Paul twins prayer and thanksgiving. His words, keep alert in it (prayer) with thanksgiving suggest that to reflect on the way God answers our prayers will evoke within us praise and thanksgiving. Paul exemplifies this in chapter 1 of his Letter where he thanks God for the Colossian Christians. As someone has commented, true prayer can’t exist without praise any more than praise can exist without prayer. The one feeds and fuels the other.

Open Doors. Furthermore, Paul requests prayer for God to open to us a door for the word. People don’t become believers by simply mixing with Christians. It is not something we catch – like the flu! Rather, because it involves a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, we need to be introduced to him and this, Paul says, involves the prayer and testimony of others.

So we need to plead for God’s mercy, that he will send his Spirit to open deaf ears and blind eyes, and soften hard hearts. In his conversation with Nicodemus Jesus taught that no-one can enter God’s kingdom unless they are born from above through the work of God’s Spirit (John 3:3).

It’s a prayer we can expect God to answer. Yet, do we ask for God’s mercy towards our family and friends, our city and our nation? We need to remember James’ warning: You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and you do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions (James 4:2-3).

Clarity. Paul also asks for prayer that we may declare Christ’s mystery… and reveal it clearly, as I should. Western Christianity has been challenged by postmodernism and its outcomes – the movements dominated by self-interest, political correctness and anti-intellectualism. We should pray that the Lord will open doors of opportunity for us and enable us to speak his truth into our world with clarity.

Will God work our prayers into his plans? In an article, The Efficacy of Prayer, CS Lewis quotes the French philosopher, Blaise Pascal: ‘God instituted prayer in order to allow his creatures the dignity of causality’ The movement of thought in Colossians 4:3-4 assures us that God expects us to talk with him about others. He does include our prayers in his plans. It’s a part of the privileged partnership we enjoy with him. He seems often to wait for our prayers. We then see him act when we pray.

Prayer is a powerful tool, a potent force. Paul urged the Colossians to be steadfast in prayer. He understood that effective outreach begins with persevering prayer. Both Paul and Epaphras, the man who took God’s gospel to Colossae, prayed. Shouldn’t also we?

© John G. Mason – www.anglicanconnection.com