Paul begins to conclude his letter with final instructions to the Colossians in how a magnificent surrender to Jesus as Lord—living in him—must work out in daily life and mission. In chapter 3, he taught how the inward practices of heavenly-minded Christians are to live a life of love with one another. He now turns to how the outward practices of prayer-devoted Christians are to live a life of witness with non-Christians. This is a missional spirituality. His final appeal is for devotion to prayer that also opens the way for clear proclamation, “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should” (Col 4:2–4).
We say we believe in prayer, that God answers prayer, and that we need to pray more. We attend prayer meetings, read books on prayer, and “say our prayers.” We open and close our meetings with prayer, we ask for “prayer requests,” and we say to people: “I’ll pray for you.” We pray to God at prayer meetings, church services, meal times, during “personal devotions,” and in times of trial and trauma. Nevertheless, Richard Foster declares, “All who have walked with God have viewed prayer as the main business of their lives.” When I look at my life and the life of most churches, I wonder if we truly believe that prayer is the main business of our lives. What I see is endless technocratic brain-numbing study, information, talking, planning, meetings, analysis, and strategies. We tend to rely on man-made methods and models to build and “grow” a church. We learn evangelism techniques and invite people to attend church services and events. These are not all wrong. But perhaps, like the Colossians, we perpetuate a theological problem—we don’t deeply believe that Jesus is Lord—supreme and sufficient. We assume that better leadership and programs will break through the barriers of culture to reach people for Christ.
Paul’s appeal to devote ourselves to prayer is the same as that described of the early church, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42). The term devote means, “Be earnest toward, persist, be constantly diligent, adhere closely.” To whom or to what are you devoted? I’m not sure I can honestly say that I have constant diligence in prayer. I do work at it as a daily discipline more than as a duty. However, a challenge for me is to trust Jesus Christ and not my own competence where he says, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). As an experienced and educated Christian leader, I can recline on the assumption that I’ll “get it done.” That is, until I slam into stubborn walls of resistance or closed doors of access into people’s lives. John Wesley preached, “God will do nothing but in answer to prayer.” All significant progress of the Christian movement in the Book of Acts and in church history emerged from earnest devotion to prayer.
Like oxygen, prayer is our primary lifeline to God. Nevertheless, our lives become filled with clutter and clatter. We are busy and preoccupied. Things are noisy. We are tired. We have strenuous jobs. Our children challenge us to the max. We struggle to make ends meet. We wrestle with loneliness and insecurity. We know we should pray, but we find it hard to pray. We stay up late and then sleep in. We feel overwhelmed with all the unfinished jobs around the house and then a parent or a family friend dies. We long for tranquility. Like vertigo, we swirl in a center overrun with intrusive disappointments and losses. We plan to pray someday, when we finally “get it together.” But, Dom Chapman suggests: “Pray as you can, and don’t try to pray as you can’t” and “the less you pray, the worse it gets.” In fact J. C. Ryle remarks, “I ask whether you pray, because neglect of prayer is one great cause of backsliding.”