You wake up at 3:00am with the name of an old friend stuck in your head. You feel prompted to pray for them. But since you haven’t seen or heard from them in three years, you don’t know how to pray.
Do you rely on prayer #14, “God bless them”? Then again, Ephesians 1 says that God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ (Ephesians 1:3). So that prayer seems a bit redundant. Perhaps you could use prayer #32, “God be with them.” But you remember God already promised to always be with us (Matthew 28:20), so that seems redundant as well.
What do you do when you haven’t got a prayer up your sleeve? How do you pray for someone when you don’t know their needs?
The apostle Paul gives us a model to follow in Colossians 1:9-14 where he prays for a group of believers he never met personally. Paul prays that they will understand what God desires and that they will live their faith.
9 And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. 11 May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. 13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (ESV)
In verse 9, Paul prays the Colossian believers will be filled with a knowledge of God’s will. He wants them to understand what God’s desire is for them. Several years ago, a book was published with the title, All I really need to know I learned in kindergarten. The sad thing is that it summarizes many people’s knowledge of Scripture. Many believers are immature and have never grown beyond, “Jesus loves me this I know.”
Paul prays the Colossians will be filled with a knowledge of God’s will. The word, “filled,” pictures a ship laden with cargo ready to leave port on an ocean voyage. It is filled to completion. The word also carries the idea of control (Ephesians 5:18). When we are filled with anger, we are controlled by anger. When we are filled with alcohol, we are controlled by that substance. When we are filled with a knowledge of God’s will, it should transform our lives. That leads to Paul’s second request in verses 10-14, that the Colossians would live their faith.
In Scripture, knowledge always has an ethical dimension. What we believe should impact how we behave. Knowledge of God and his will should change our lifestyle. Paul goes on to describe four characteristics of a lifestyle that pleases God—fruitful service, growing knowledge, patient endurance, and a thankful heart. Paul closes his prayer by giving three reasons for giving thanks—we share in Christ’s inheritance, we were rescued from danger, and we are forgiven.
The next time you feel prompted to pray for a friend, family member, coworker, or acquaintance, pray that they will know and understand God’s will for their life, and that the knowledge will help them to live in a way that gives glory and honor to God. Pray their lives will be characterized by fruitful service, growing knowledge of God and Scripture, patience with people and circumstances, and that they will give thanks for what God has done for them.
(This sermon was preached at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA on 10/28/12. To download a copy of my sermon outline, click on the link.)