Text Without Ceasing

 

The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Colossian churches begins and ends with references to Epaphras and to prayer.

In the opening of his letter Paul gives thanks in prayer to God for “the word of truth” which is “producing fruit and growing” in the world and is now doing so among the Christians in Colossae.  Paul reminds them that the gospel had been brought to their “doorstep” (1: 6) by Epaphras. And, that their enabling to flourish was produced in them by constant prayer:

“That’s how you learned [the gospel] from Epaphras our beloved fellow slave. He’s a loyal and faithful servant of the king on your behalf. He it was who gave us the news about your love in the spirit.

“For this reason, from the day we heard [of your faith], we haven’t stopped praying for you. We’re asking God to fill you with the knowledge of what he wants in all wisdom and spiritual understanding. Colossians 1: 7-9

 

What struck me even more about Paul’s opening words is the faithful witness of Epaphras and the “we haven’t stopped praying for you” mature Christian’s devotion to prayer. Both commitments, it seems to me, are required of us: planting the Kingdom of God mustard seed and nurturing that seedling to full maturity (Matt. 13:31).

 

The Apostle Paul ends his circular letter to the house churches in and around Colossae with greetings from those supporting him and the work of the Gospel. Among those is “fellow slave” Epaphras. And though Paul sends on Epaphras’ warm regards, the message is no greeting card sentiment.  Paul was no sentimentalist. Paul was in prison because he spoke “the word of truth”. Paul prayed that the Colossian Christians would mature and also speak “the word of truth”. Paul was aware that, like himself, the Colossian Christians also may end up in jail for doing so. But, he pressed them to remain faithful to that “word”.

In the closing Paul relates how Epaphras is asking God that the Colossians remain resolute and unyielding in their commitment to the “word of truth” they had received:

 

“Epaphras, one of your own folk and also one of King Jesus’s slaves, sends you his greetings. He’s always struggling in prayer on your behalf, praying that you will stand firm and mature, and have your minds fully settled on everything that God wants you to do.”  Colossians 4:12

 

The tongue-in-cheek title of this post is meant to be a prod for Christians to mature and to pray without ceasing. The Apostle Paul, the former Saul, who met Jesus on the Damascus road thought that prayer maintained that revelation:

 

“Never stop praying”

1 Thessalonians 5:17

 

“Devote yourselves to prayer; keep alert in it, with thanksgiving.”

Colossians 4:2

 

Don’t worry about anything. Rather, in every area of life let God know what you want, as you pray and make requests, and give thanks as well.

Philippians 4:6

 

Pray on every occasion in the spirit, with every type of prayer and intercession.

Ephesians 6:18

 

To be sure, prayer is a mystery. We understand asking and confessing in prayer. Those are direct interactions. But interceding in prayer? It sounds right, but how does that work, especially when the objects of our prayers have a free will? Paul’s prayer for “God to fill you with the knowledge of what he wants in all wisdom and spiritual understanding,” would seem to imply that change in another’s life comes about through the effects of prayer.

Also, to be sure, those who call Jesus “Lord’ are invited into the mysteries of the Godhead. The Godhood’s desired relationship with you includes the mystery of prayer. (I don’t know about you, but I like mysteries. If I knew everything, life would be boring and romance less.)

 

From one Member of the Godhead we learn that prayer is required for life. When Jesus taught his disciples to pray he said we should ask the Father for our daily bread.

Also, from Jesus we learn that prayer is required for peace. Jesus told us to pray for our enemies and for those who persecute us.

From Paul we learn that we are helpless in prayer but not left to our own devices. We are told in Scripture that when we pray the spirit intercedes for us when we do not know how to pray.

See prayer as essential to all of life. Then, pray for your spouse and for those in your church to become mature in Christ and to gain spiritual wisdom and understanding. I look around and I do not see mature Christians. I see hobbling Hobbits.

 

Pray and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him. Psalm 34:8 (adapted)

 

~~~

Garden Praying:

 

There are times when the press of life so weighs on me that I find it difficult to pray. It is then that I go to my secret garden of prayer… 

 

In my mind’s eye I see myself standing and looking out the kitchen window. Behind me are the world of concerns which reside in my life. Out the window I see a lush garden bathed in sunlight. I feel a pull to go outside. I step out the back door and down the stairs. I walk the stone path to an arbor with two benches. The arch is covered in vines. There is a scent of Hyacinths in the breeze.

Jesus is sitting on the bench. He’s been waiting for me. I sit across from him. I want to look into his eyes. We sit in the silence of nature. Then He speaks.

“I have greatly desired this time with you.”

I begin to worship him. I confess my sins. I ask for his forgiveness. I tell him my concerns. I release control of my life. I release my control of other’s lives. I return to silence. I look into the Lord of Creation’s eyes. I see mercy and goodness and help and strength. Those eyes, those times, beckon my trust.

 

Pray the Jesus Prayer:

Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy upon me a sinner.

Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy upon me a sinner.

Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy upon me a sinner.

 

‘If there’s trouble, you should pray’

 

Hannah’s story of coming to faith and surviving a labour camp in North Korea

She prayed every day, often in the living room, quite openly. My father and I had to watch out for our neighbors. If anyone came close, we’d cough and she’d stop praying. Even on her deathbed—in the mid-nineties—she told us to always be thankful and to always pray. “Life is trouble,” she told us. “If there’s trouble, you should pray.” But she didn’t do one thing: she never explained to us how to pray.

All we could make out was, “Hanonim! Hanonim! Lord! Lord! Help.” And then we couldn’t understand the phrases that followed because she spoke so fast. Sometimes my father was annoyed with her and didn’t want her praying in the living room. So she went outside, even when it snowed. One time—when I was older—I sent my 9-year-old daughter after her to cover her up with a blanket.

Praying was so important for my mother that she even washed her hair and put on her nicest clothes. “We approach God with the deepest reverence,” she said. We had no idea who this ‘Hanonim’ was. My daughter even asked her one day why she wouldn’t simply visit this guy if he was that important to her. My mother replied, “One day I will.”

Because of my mother’s prayers, I was never as indoctrinated by the Juche ideology as other North Korean people. Especially after she confessed to me how I was born. My father and mother were married during the Japanese occupation. My father had been married before, but he was unable to have any children with his first wife. And my mother was also unable to conceive. But someone told her that if she prayed to Jesus she would have a baby. So she prayed. For almost eight years she prayed. And then, not long after the Second World War, I was born.

As I said, my mother never explained the full gospel to me, but when I got married in my early twenties, she shared this story with me. And I knew I was a gift of faith.

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