This week we are wrapping up what it means to be a Christ follower. We’ve spent the past 4 weeks examining what we are no longer to be, what we are to strive to become. We’ve examined that we are a people who are forgiven, and we are thus to forgive. We are to expect Christ to move in our midst, and we are to love without end.
We are to live among one another with grace and compassion. We’re to love, serve and be patient with our spouse, and model for our children who God is, and how their worth is not wrapped up it how well they perform.
As we conclude Colossians, we see this incredible vision for the Kingdom of God. In a world that is pushing against religion, faith and Christianity, it makes one wonder how they could reject what is being offered.
But that question leads us to another question, and then to another.
First, are they really rejecting Christ? Or are they rejecting us?
If they are indeed rejecting us, then that probably means we aren’t representing Christ as we should. Which leads us to question number two: What are we doing wrong?
Let’s begin by reading our passage for the day, Colossians 4:2-6
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. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.
What’s going on here?
Paul has made is point. He’s painted his picture, and he has given the Church in Colossae something that they can point their ship towards. He’s given them Christ. He’s given them True North.
He has rebuked the false teaching the church has been under, and he has made his case for who Christ is, and what they can believe when it comes to his life, death, resurrection and his deity.
He shows them what they can hope and expect from a life committed to Christ. He has shown him beauty.
But he understands that, under our own power, we’ll never accomplish what he’s talking about. We will never be able to make the cut, and never be able to see to completion what Christ calls us to do.
We are still people in need of help.
Paul’s final instructions
And so he gives the Church in Colossae a final set of instructions, or a guide for how to bring about the life he’s been teaching them exists.
Let’s take a look at what he tells them.
Pray without ceasing
Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.
It all begins here. Christ has all the power, all the authority. He has called us and he wants to use us to bring about his kingdom, but we have to live lives connected to him, connected to his power and engage him.
While Grace cannot be earned, it also costs us everything.
So Paul implores the church to pray. He implores them to pray without ceasing, about life, about their concerns, about those around them, and about what they want, hope and desire for God to do.
To pray in the kingdom way, to pray as a child of God, it’s more than just a few verbal phrases. It’s a life lived out for Christ, in connection to him, and with a great expectation for God to now only hear, but to act on what we are asking.
Paul talks about this sort of prayer in two specific ways
Paul teaches us that prayer moves and stirs the world around us. When we pray, if we are seeking God, and come to him with a request, we are taught that our Father in Heaven hears us and will answer.
The Christ-follower might ask for many things. They might pray for a sick family member or friend to be healed. They might ask for financial provision, or for emotional endurance. They might ask for grace and patience to deal with a difficult person or situation. They might ask for an open door to talk about Faith and about God.
God wants us to approach him with the needs, worries and requests of our heart. So often we’re warned about using or expecting God to become a sort of vending machine. But if we are living out the Kingdom life, if we are pursuing God, and surrendering to his control over our life, then it will be a natural and beautiful part of your relationship to share your worries, concerns and needs.
God wants to know these things. So tell him!
What Paul is talking about here is how a Christian behaves after making a request. Instead of praying and forgetting…or praying and becoming distracted, Paul is telling the people to pray, petition and request that God’s Kingdom move. But, he implores them to remember to stay watchful. Look for the ways, big and small, in which God moves.
Look for that conversation that is divinely appointed.
Look for that small gesture you can give to show love to someone else.
I don’t know this for sure, but I would imagine that it has to be maddening for God at times. Someone comes to God, with genuine desire to be his representative on Earth. They come to him, asking him to use them to speak truth to others. And so God directs them into the path of a person who needs to hear from God.
The only problem is that they aren’t paying attention, and the moment is missed.
Yes, we need to pray. We need to remember that prayer is our power source, but we must also remember to remember. It’s vitally important that we remain watchful for the small workings of God in our lives, and in the lives of others.
The Second way Paul reminds the church in Colossae to pray is with thankful hearts. The word used for thanksgiving is Eucharistia. That’s the same word that we get the word Eucharist from…or, what many of you might know it better as Communion.
The reason we take communion is to remember. We’re charged to remember what Christ did for us on the Cross. When we take the bread, and when we take the cup, we remember that Christ’s body was broken for us, and that he spilled his blood for our forgiveness.
It’s the act of communion that brings us to a place of gratitude. It’s the reminder of how much Christ gave that we feel overwhelmed by that love.
Paul is charging the church to, when they pray, remember. Remember the ways in which God has provided for you. As you petition God, and as you watch for his movements, do that with a heart of gratitude for the ways he’s provided before. We are to remember how much he’s given and how little we actually deserved.
When we approach God with a heart of thanksgiving, it eliminates our need for God to do things “our way.” So often we get frustrated because God’s reply is not arriving as quickly as we would prefer, or get upset when his answer is a “No” or “Wait” instead of a hearty “Yes.”
When our self-centeredness seeps into our prayers, we forget that the act of prayer isn’t about us. We pray to bring glory to God. We pray to experience his presence. We pray to receive his strength.
Mother Theresa said it perfectly when she said,
“Prayer is not asking. Prayer is putting oneself in the hands of God, at His disposition, and listening to His voice in the depth of our hearts.”
In your prayers, always remember what God has done, and from that attitude of gratefulness, remember that he will perfectly supply every need, and every concern.
Paul’s final teaching
Before he goes, Paul offers a final teaching for the church.
Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.
Here, Paul is basically doing a similar practice to what we do at the end of each Service. While he still will spend a few moments sending his final greetings, what we just read is the conclusion, and his benediction, or Good word, for the church. He is sending them to God and live out what they’ve just been taught.
They are to go, live in the power of the resurrected Christ, live in the power he gives, and live while constantly communing with him; expecting his interaction with the world, and remembering all he has done.
Ultimately, he is telling the church to go and preach the Gospel. He is telling them to share with others what Jesus has done for them, and what He can do for others. He is sending them to tell their story.
But Paul is reminding the church, and us, that evangelism isn’t in word alone.
Paul begins with the way that most of the world experiences Christ. It’s not by what we say that we are most often heard, rather it’s by what we do.
St. Francis of Assisi once said that all believers should “Preach often, and when necessary use words.”
Our actions, our responses to others, how we handle ourselves under stress or in an argument, all scream to others who we are, and what we believe.
Have you ever been around someone who claimed to be one thing, but as you spent time with them, you saw them for who they really were? A fraud?
The crazy church in Kansas, Westboro Baptist Church, has anyone heard them preach? No. But we all know what they believe, right? Their actions are their message.
Paul is reminding us that this is a universal truth. Before people ever hear us, before people listen to us, they’ll be watching us. So do everything that you do to the best of your ability. Do you best to represent Christ in your dealings with others. Live with honest and integrity. Choose to walk away from situations where it might be easier to stick around and spread those fantastic stories about a co-worker that might or might not be true.
Perfection isn’t the goal. Nobody expects you to do it right every time. But we should still try. We should still strive to represent our King in the best way possible.
One simple way to do this?
Have you ever noticed that nobody smiles anymore? I mean, most people walk around with their head down and seemingly doing their best to not be noticed.
I worked in Customer Service jobs of one kind or another for most of my High School, college and early post-college years. You know what I was struck by early on in my work experience?
People don’t smile. And do you know the ones who had the greatest impact on my days? The ones who smiled and spent time talking with me. It was never a serious conversation, and I’m sure those people had no idea they did anything special.
But they did. And Paul is sending the church to go and preach the Gospel, preach the Good News, and do it through their actions first.
One part of the quote I just gave that causes me some stress is the fact that so many use it to justify their silence about their faith. They might think that living a good life is enough to point people to Christ.
But that isn’t the case. Living a good life for God silently only looks like you’re living a good life.
In 1 Peter, we read:
But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.
Yes, it’s great to live out your faith by your actions. It’s great to live as Christ would live. But it’s important to remember, and be prepared to offer the reason you live the way you live. It’s important to tell others that you are a follower of Christ, and that is the source of your love, kindness, gentleness, and compassion.
It’s all about balance
Like so many parts of our life, we need balance in the way in which we represent Jesus. If it’s all words, but no deeds, our words will be hollow. Nobody will want what we’re talking about.
But if we only act, and never explain the meaning and purpose behind those actions, we’ll just be considered good people, and nobody will give it another thought.
The church needs more word and action
We are in an age where the church needs to continue to strive for this balance. The world in which we live has tired of our words. They tune us out when we start to speak.
People stop talking to me when they find im a pastor.
But just doing more stuff isn’t the answer alone…after all, sure we serve the poor every month, but so do a whole host of secular businesses and community groups.
We need to continue to wrestle with what it looks like to live out both word and deed.
And I promise that this is going to be a work in progress until the day we die.
When we think we’ve found the answer, our culture will change, and we’ll be left searching in the dark once more.
And so, our words matter, and our actions matter…but ultimately it all comes back to prayer. Are we praying expectantly?
Are we watching for ways in which we can represent Christ?
Are we remaining thankful and grateful through it all?