What do you have to say for yourself?
For the last few weeks, we’ve spent these moments on Monday eavesdropping on the Apostle Paul’s intimate communiqués to people for whom he cared deeply. His letters always addressed crucial issues regarding their faith: both foundational truths and the practical implication.
The Christian believers in Colossae – a moderately influential Roman city located in Asia Minor (now Turkey) – were encountering challenges akin to modern American life. Concepts heretical to the Christian faith were making inroads in the church. Forms of Gnosticism (a mish-mash of incompatible beliefs from multiple religious sources), Asceticism (rigorous self-denial and abstinence in an attempt to create self-righteousness) and Sophistry (relativism that denied the existence of objective truth) were attempting to draw the believers away from the purity of the Gospel.
How in the world can the “average” Christian hold up against that kind of onslaught? “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” (Colossians 4:2-6).
Here’s Paul’s coaching for the starting line in the marathon that leads to success as a follower of Jesus: get on your knees (figurative, but it doesn’t hurt…)
According to a recent Pew Research survey, 55% of Americans say they pray every day; another 21% say they do so weekly. LifeWay’s separate survey found that 80% of the pray-ers do most of their praying alone – silently; another 13% verbalized their prayers – alone; just 2% did their praying in public, with others. Daily or weekly; alone – silently, or audibly – the majority of Americans are talking to God. What’s being said?
LifeWay managed to listen-in – with permission – on 15,000 Evangelical Christians as they prayed. They had no preconceptions, but their discovery was astonishing: the word most used in appeals made by the sons and daughters of God when talking to their Heavenly Father: just.
Just: simply; only; no more than.
More than one of every three words spoken in prayer is setting a governor on the requests made by confused people of a sovereign God. In effect, the conversation is brief and bounded: “This is all I want; nothing more, nothing less…”
Paul’s prayer requests – and, counsel – had no such limits. When you have God’s attention, why go for the minimums? What was he asking them to ask of God, on his behalf?
In the marketplace, Paul was in the tent business. But, on behalf of the Kingdom, he was in the messaging business. The Gospel was his product, and it had universal efficacy with everyone. Because of that, he asked them for prayers seeking four things for himself, from God: 1) Opportunity: “…that God may open a door.” 2) Priority: “that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ.” 3) Leverage: “…for which I am in chains.” 4) Clarity: “…that I might proclaim it clearly.”
There’s no “just” in Paul’s request for prayers, nor did that word find its way into his counsel to them. Every Christian shares the same assignment accepted by Paul: we’re ambassadors, representing the King who is returning soon. He gave them a seminar in a sentence: be wise with outsiders; don’t miss any opportunities; be gracious when you open your mouth… and be ready with answers.
I know you’re praying; let me echo Paul’s coaching. Focus on what you’re doing – for heaven’s sake – and drop the “just” from your verbiage. Swing for the fences of faith; ask for big things!