Continue in Prayer
May 4, 2003 / No. 3148
Dear radio friends,
Our message today is on prayer. It is taken from the Word of God in Colossians 4:2: “Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving.”
This verse is found in the very beautiful epistle of Paul to the Colossians. It is found in the last part. The apostle Paul has been, in this last part, exhorting us to live a godly life. In the beginning of chapter 3 of the epistle we are told that we must daily put off and mortify (that is, put to death) the old man of sin with all of its wickedness and abominations, and we must put on (quicken, that is, put to life) the new man that we have received of grace in Jesus Christ in order that we might live in godliness. Beginning in verse 16 of the third chapter, the apostle begins to tell us specifically how we are to live as new men and women in Christ Jesus in our homes; as husbands and wives; in our families as parents and children; and in our sphere of work as employer and employees. We must put to practice the resurrection life of Christ granted to us freely of grace. We must put that to practice in our homes, in our marriages, and in our work.
Then in our text he is exhorting us to pray. And then, not only to pray, but “continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving.” There is a reason. For the apostle Paul, or, better, the Holy Spirit, is convinced that we can live a godly life only through prayer. Only when we continue in prayer and watch in the same, only then can we live a godly life. Without the regular, personal, and sincere practice of prayer you will not live a godly life.
It is very important to hear that, for I fear that there is a widespread failure on our part to heed this instruction to continue in prayer. From my own life and from my observations as a minister of the Word of God, the practice of personal and daily prayer is slipping sadly in the church of Jesus Christ. There are, of course, many excuses that we give. But the point is that we do not take this Word of God to heart as we ought. The result is that we do not attain to the level of godliness that we should. This is true not only for children and for young people, but I fear that it is generally true of all. Therefore, let us consider this verse together today and be not only hearers of the Word but doers of the Word.
“Continue in prayer.”
Prayer is a marvelous thing. Most of us have been taught to pray from our childhood. So we have grown up learning to pray, accustomed to it. But, like every wonder of God, when we become accustomed to it we fail to realize how marvelous this gift is. Prayer is talking with God, and God responding to us, in that God, through prayer, gives us something from heaven. That something is grace. Hebrews 4, “Let us come boldly to the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy (grace) to help in time of need.” God speaks to us in His Word, the holy Scriptures. And the Spirit, working in our hearts, causes us to respond. We come to talk to Him in prayer, to worship Him, to enter into His heavenly courts, to ask Him for our needs. What a wonder that is. We can speak with God.
Consider who He is. He is God. He is the Almighty. He is the Ruler over all. He is the Creator. He is, in Himself, glorious in holiness. He is exalted in praises. He is the God who is infinitely exalted above all. He is self-sufficient in Himself. He is rich and lovely. He is the living and true God.
Now in prayer, we have the opportunity, through Jesus Christ, at any time and at any place, to bring our burdens to Him, the almighty God. Stop and think about that. Do you think you have the right, do you think that you have access to approach someone of far less importance? Do you think that you could have an audience or interview with the president of the United States on five-minutes’ notice? Or another great one in this world? I doubt that you could get within shouting distance of him. And, besides, who are the great ones of this world? They are but men. But at any time and at any place, you can come to God with all the concerns of your soul and heart. And He will hear you and give you full attention.
This marvel of prayer is something that Jesus Christ has earned for us. We teach children to conclude their prayers with the words, “For Jesus’ sake, Amen.” What are we saying? We are telling our children that only in Jesus do we have this blessed right of prayer, of coming to God. For it was Jesus who said in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” That teaches us that not every one has the privilege of prayer. Not all may pray. Those who confess a false god do not pray to God. Those who live godless lives, those who know not Jesus Christ, those who do not come to God through Jesus Christ the risen and exalted Savior, they cannot pray. And God does not hear their prayers either. That is, yes, His ear hears what is said, but their prayers are not accepted of Him. The prayer of the wicked, Proverbs 16:8, is an abomination to the Lord.
One can pray only through the name of Jesus Christ, the living Savior. Prayer is something that is given to us in Him. It is something so precious that we cannot earn it, we do not deserve it. We cannot come to God on the basis of the fact that we are men and women, or that we have good intentions. We can come to God only through the cross of Jesus Christ. That, according to the book of Hebrews, is the new and the living way whereby we may come into the holy place of prayer. Why did Jesus die on the cross? In order that we might go to heaven? Yes. So that our sins may be forgiven? Yes. But Jesus died on the cross also so that we might pray, so that we may go to our Father. And now, in the name of Jesus we might receive grace from our heavenly Father. Through prayer we do receive something from heaven. Not an earthly gift, but we receive grace from God.
Now, the Word says, “Continue in prayer.” To continue means that you give constant attention to something, so that you keep at it no matter the obstacles or the distractions. It means that there will be constant obstacles. There will be distractions. There will be times that you will be tempted to say, “I’m too busy. It doesn’t help to pray. Heavens are as brass over my head. I don’t feel like it and so I really shouldn’t pray.” God says, “Continue, pray.” Jesus said in Luke 18, “Men ought always to pray and not to faint.” And James says in chapter 5 that if we cannot pray we must call the elders to pray for us. No matter how difficult, no matter the distractions, no matter how busy you are, you must give yourself, says God, to prayer. Talk with God. Go to your heavenly Father.
There are so many examples of this from the Bible. Think of Daniel, who, as a captive in the land of Babylon and when his enemies had made the law that no one could pray except to the king, prayed as he had before, three times, lifting up his eyes unto God, pointing his face toward Jerusalem.
David said, “At evening and at morning and at noon will I pray and cry aloud and God shall hear my voice.”
And think of Jesus. You think you lead a busy life? You think that you are overwhelmed with responsibilities? You feel a need to get away? What did Jesus do? Well, He did not turn to mere entertainment or vacations or to sports. But He would turn to prayer. He would pray to His Father all night.
Understand that we must come to God with true prayer, which is worship. Therefore, prayer is not something of thoughtless words. We must be careful in our prayers. Do your children know your prayers so well that if you were to pause they could pick up and not lose a beat because you say the same words without thought?
We must pray from our heart. That means that you must not worry, first of all, about how your prayer sounds to others. Do not pray to others. Pray to God. Pour out your heart to Him — regularly — at least three times a day as a family. The Bible puts that down as a minimum — three times. Are you? Does your family pray three times a day? What about you, young people, do you personally?
Then when we are overwhelmed, when we are stressed, when we do not know where to go, when we can hardly get ourselves up out of bed, do not click on the TV. Do not turn to browse through a magazine. Pray to your Father in heaven.
As I said, I believe we are guilty of a widespread failure to do exactly what we are commanded here: Continue in prayer. Instead of giving top priority to prayer, we give our priority to many things — legitimate things perhaps, but they become first in our lives. We go head over heels into the earthly things. We go overboard on them. We get all wound up in them and we end up exhausted, chasing the dust of this world six days a week. And we give little time for prayer.
What is the answer? There is only one answer: Repent. No, the answer is not found hidden away in some Christian book in a Christian bookstore. The answer is not some magical thing that someone can tell you: here is the answer. It comes right from God: Repent! Are you and I too big in our own eyes that we cannot be told by God, “Repent, stop that, don’t do that, my child. Don’t be prayerless. Repent, pray. Continue in prayer. You can! Pray.”
You know what it means to continue? Stick with it. Do not miss it. Do not miss out each day in coming to your heavenly Father. You know what that means? You say, “What do you mean, don’t miss it?” Well, we say that all the time, do we not? Do you not say, “I can’t miss that — that Friday night TV show, that set entertainment. I’m not going to miss that! I am going to be sure that I attend it. I’m going to be sure that I don’t miss out.” All right. Continue in prayer. Do not miss out!
If we do not pray, it brings our own spiritual hurt. It brings worldliness into our homes and into our families. Sometimes we try to excuse this. We say, “Well, you know the times in which we live. It is so busy and there is so much affluence. In a former day they had more time, you know, for prayer and for Bible reading. But we just don’t have the time.” Really? In a former day they had more time? Really? So we lived then? We know what it was like to live in a former day? Really? We do? Oh no. That is not true. According to the flesh every age has had to struggle with this same problem: no time for prayer. Time for many things, but no time for prayer. God says, Continue in prayer.
And watch in the same.
The apostle is calling us to another spiritual duty that is inseparably connected with prayer. We must watch, that is, we must look around us, we must be alert spiritually. We must watch because the power of darkness never ceases in its attempt to lead us to destruction. The devil is constantly trying to destroy the work of Jesus Christ in our hearts, in our homes, in our marriages, in our parent/child relationships, in our work. He wants the world to invade our homes and to erode the truths of God’s Word in our hearts and to destroy the bond of covenant fellowship that we have with God. He wants to destroy the church. He wants us to be led astray so that we are so lost in the way of sin and we are so confused that we cannot find our way back to God. He wants us to be lax and to say, “Oh, well, spiritually things aren’t the way things should be, they’re not the best — but they’re not so bad, you know.” God says, “Watch! Be alert. Don’t be lackadaisical.”
We must watch because we are so weak. We do not have strength to ward off the devil. We have critical weaknesses in ourselves. We are vulnerable. Therefore, we must watch lest we be led astray.
We must watch in the same, says the apostle. That is, watch in prayer. That means that only by continuing in prayer can we be watchful Christians. And only if you are a watchful Christian can you continue in prayer. That is why I said that watching and prayer, in the Scripture are together, they are inseparable. Watch in prayer. You must see your weaknesses spiritually. You must see your inabilities in order to pray. Sometimes you can see the devil coming. Sometimes we can see sin coming. Oh, yes, we can. That sin, that anger, that anxiety, that pet evil that we have fallen into so many times — we have learned to detect the symptoms. We can see it coming down the road. It is even waving a flag.
But if you do not pray at that moment you will stand in your own strength and that pet sin will win again. It is not enough to see it. You need to watch and pray. Then, the more you pray, the more you will watch. Maybe you do not see anything coming against you. Maybe you think everything is well. You say, “Oh, what’s all the fuss about in the Christian life? What is there to be so concerned about?” If you talk that way, then I know one thing about you: you are not praying. And do not deny it.
You do not see anything coming your way spiritually against you because you are blind. And you are blind because you are not praying — because prayer is the way whereby God opens the eyes. “In thy light,” says the psalmist, “we shall see light.”
Pray at all times that God open your heart and your eyes to see. The more we watch, the more we pray. The more we pray, the more we watch. They go together.
Then the apostle says, “Do all of this with thanksgiving.” Pray with thanksgiving. That is, look up to God and ask God that your eyes may be open to see the wonder of all that He is, first of all, and then all that He has given in His grace in Christ. Think of the glorious God who has become your friend in Christ Jesus, and think of the marvelous faithfulness, the mercies and the lovingkindnesses of God, the mighty power of God’s hand to work all things for your eternal well-being. Are you thankful? Do you pray? Do you come to God with mumbling and doubting and complaining and questioning about this and that? Or do you come to God with thanksgiving? Do you thank Him?
No, God is not asking us to pay Him back. We cannot do that. But God says that prayer is the way whereby we express our thanksgiving to God and, therefore, we must continue in prayer and watch in the same with thanksgiving. Let me ask you a question. Do you have something today to thank God about? That thing that you have to thank God about, will one brief, little prayer quickly said once a day cover it? Will that be satisfactory to cover your debt of thanks? Or, perhaps, can your debt of thanks be paid just once a week in a brief prayer? Can your debt of thanks for what God has done for you be expressed enough with a few thoughtless words that do not come from your hearts?
Has what God done for you so filled your heart with thanksgiving that you must pray often to thank Him? Or is it perhaps true that you are not really all that concerned about thanking God at all? You do not have much to pray about. You do not have much to pray about today. You are not regular in prayer because your heart has very little to say to God.
Continue in thanksgiving. For what? Well, to begin with, the greatest of all wonders, the forgiveness of sins. What did Jesus say in Luke 7: Those who are forgiven little thank little, and those who are forgiven much cannot stop thanking. Take inventory of your life today. Take inventory of your soul. The eternal God has loved us graciously, sovereignly, unconditionally in Jesus Christ. He has chosen us, not we Him. He has given His own Son to take our place and to pardon our sins. He has pardoned us, all of our sins. He cares for us in covenant faithfulness. He binds Himself to us in a never-failing oath to preserve us and to glorify us in Christ. Now, out of thanksgiving, go to God, go to God in prayer, go continually. Go to Him for your needs. Go to your heavenly Father in prayer. Go to Him as a needy and a wretched sinner knowing the need of pardon. Do not go to God as someone who thinks that you have it all together and that God ought to reward you for how good you are. Go to God with your need and talk with Him. Spread it all before Him. Thank Him and worship Him. Continue in prayer.
Then you and I, our marriages and our families, our churches, will find power to live in godliness, to the honor of His name, and to the furtherance of His gospel. God grant it.
Let us pray.
Father in heaven, the debt of thanks can never be paid by us in this life. But we desire to begin in prayer to thank Thee. Teach us to continue in prayer. Give us that grace to be regular, that we may set it in our hearts that we shall arise and go to our Father and to ask of Thee for the treasure of grace. In Jesus’ name, Amen.