Devote Yourselves to Prayer
As Paul comes to the closing of his letter to the Christians in Colossae, he encourages them to pray, both for themselves and for the spread of the gospel. I don't think the placement of this prayer in a coincidence. Nor is it an afterthought. After hundreds of words spent explaining to these Christians how their lives had changed because of Christ, and how much more God had for them in spiritual growth and Christ-likeness, in one little line (verse 2), Paul reminds them that they are not alone in this. “Devote yourselves to prayer.” How else can you be the person God wants to be except with his help?
Throughout Scripture, and in particular here in Colossians, are commands to put off the old ways of living that marked our pre-Christ life and put on the new ways that honor and glorify God. We are to change in every area of our life, but we are not called to change ourselves. We are called to let Christ change us.
Let me recap the message of Colossians 1-3, which is very much the story of people changed by the gospel. When we believe in Christ, we are justified (forgiven and made right with God), regenerated (“born again” or changed from the inside out), and put on a path to sanctification (the process of becoming more like Jesus). The overarching message is that Christ is all we need now and forever. When we enter the kingdom, we are glorified (made completely new) and the process Christ began here will reach its perfect conclusion.
Paul spends a lot of time talking about sanctification, that process of becoming like Christ, from a practical perspective. Put to death these things because you have been renewed in Christ (Col.3:5-11). Put on these attributes in your personal life and in your dealings with others (Col3:12-17). In the closest relationships of your life, model Christ to others (Col. 3:18-25). Before that he goes into some detail about Christ’s sufficiency for us (Col. 2:9-5) and our need to walk in Him and avoid falling for the empty promises of false philosophies and human traditions (Col. 2:4-8).
As Christ-followers, we are all of us somewhere in this process. We are accepted because of Christ, and now we are trying to get stronger with his help. About a year ago, I stood in a rehab center watching the daughter of one of Calvary’s pastors learning to walk again after a life-threatening illness. As she worked to put one foot in front of the other, there were others in the rehab room practicing to stand or sweating through exercises to simply lift their head. I looked around, tears in my eyes, and thought, This is what the church should be. All of us accepted, and no one judging, criticizing, or comparing. We are all struggling at different places on the road to becoming more like Christ. We are accepted, but not one of us should be content. We want to be stronger, happier, and more free in Christ. Every imperative Paul delivers in Colossians is meant to move us in that direction.
But, wow, that is so much more than we could ever do alone. Just thinking about it, I find myself repeating the famous prayer of Augustine, “Lord, command what you will, and give what you command.” Some of the things Jesus calls us to are difficult! Be submissive to your boss? Not always easy. Love your wife sacrificially? So much easier to sit in my chair and read. Forgive someone who hurt me? Not fun. (As C. S. Lewis once quipped, “Everyone says that forgiveness is a lovely idea until he has something to forgive.”) Be pure in a world where lust is everywhere? Tough.
We are not alone in this! Christ is working in us. And that is Paul’s message: devote yourselves to prayer. Tap into Christ; rely on him. You are not expected to do this alone.