As I mentioned this morning, we’re going to continue our study tonight in the fourth chapter of Colossians, and look particularly at some very, very interesting verses, which include the discussion of at least one feature of prayer that I’d like to emphasize. The overall title that I’ve given to this section is “The Speech of the New Man.” When I, earlier in the week, was studying this particular portion of Scripture, I was having a difficult time trying to figure out if there was any one thing that would tie it all together. Very often at the end of Paul’s letters, he starts rambling a little bit, and he shoots over to this thing, and over to that thing, and over to the other thing, and it’s difficult sometimes to follow him.
But as I begin to read again and again and again from verses 2 to 6, and just kept mulling it over in my mind, I decided that the main emphasis that he’s making here has to do with speech. It has to do with the mouth of the believer. And I thought, “Well, that ties in very good with what he’s been saying, because he’s been talking all through the third chapter here about the characteristics of the new man. And so he just continues it a little bit into chapter four, and talks about the mouth of the new man. A Christian talks differently than other folks. Now, in Matthew, chapter 12, verse 34, the Bible says that out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.
And what our Lord meant by that is a simple thing. What He meant is that what we are on the inside will come out of our mouths, and that really is the key to the passage. The apostle Paul is saying that if you’re a new man in Christ, if you have been given resurrection life, as the first four verses of chapter 3 discuss, if you have risen with Christ, there is going to be an affect made upon your mouth, the things you say. Now, this is Paul’s overall thrust as he concludes the book of Colossians, that the new man is different. Remember, in chapter 3, verses 5 to 9, how we discussed the fact that the new man puts off the patterns of the old life? And then we saw, in verse 9 through verse 14, that the new man puts on the patterns of the new life.
And then we saw how, in verse 15, the new man lets the peace of Christ rule. Verse 16, the new man lets the Word of Christ dwell in him. Verse 17, the new man is guided by the name of the Lord; that is, he seeks to do everything that will honor God. And so he’s been giving us some of the patterns of the lifestyle of the new man. Now, I noticed as I was looking those over, that through verse 17, from 5 to 17, he discusses the personal life of the new man, just independent of anyone else. The new man has to take care of certain things in his own life. And then, secondly, beginning at verse 18 – and you’ll remember this from our last study two weeks ago – beginning at verse 18 and going down through chapter 4, verse 1, the new man then has some things that are changed in terms of relationships to people in his own family.
So first of all, it’s the new man in a personal portrait. And then it’s the new man in relation to the people in his family. And now, as we come to chapter 4, verse 2, the third dimension of the new man, it’s the new man in relationship to people around him outside his family. In fact, the primary object here is to unbelieving people. Notice verse 5: “Walk in wisdom toward them that are outside.” So we’ve seen the new man personally looked at, the new man in terms of his relations in the family – wives and husbands and children and fathers and servants and masters, and now we see the new man particularly in the area of how he talks, and at least there is a great thrust in these verses relative to how he talks in front of the watching world that is looking, and listening, and evaluating Christianity on the basis of what they hear from this supposed new man.
So that’s kind of the emphasis here. He says, “Let your speech” – in verse 6 – “be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer every man.” And again the same idea – that it’s the new man as he lives in the face of the people around him; particularly relative to how he speaks. You might say that in these verses the new man has a new mouth. And you know, one of the things – I know you’ve experienced this, many of you. One of the things that happens when you become a Christian is it’s amazing how the Lord sort of changes the things you talk about, isn’t it? Many people have confessed to me, “You know, since I became a Christian, I don’t swear anymore. And since I became a Christian, it’s amazing, I talk different.”
Sometimes a family member will recognize that about another family member who has come to Jesus Christ – “Well, they talk so differently.” Well, that’s true, because out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks, and if you’ve had a renewed heart, then you’re going to have a renewed mouth. Now, in Ephesians, chapter 4, to give you a parallel, Paul there basically discusses the very same principle. Look at Ephesians 4:24. And in Ephesians 4:24 we’re going to see the same concept. We’ve told you all along that Ephesians and Colossians are great parallels. Ephesians 4:24: “That you put on the new man, which after God has created in righteousness and true holiness.”
Now, he’s talking again about the same thought, the new man. Put on the new man. You are a new man; act like it. How? Now watch, he gets right into the mouth. “Put away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbor.” Verse 26: “Don’t be angry.” Verse 29: “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good for the purpose of edifying, that it may serve and minister grace to the hearers.” Now, you’ll notice that immediately after verse 24, where he discusses the new man, he goes into a rather lengthily message relative to the mouth. Christianity should have a profound effect on the mouth. A person’s speech should be greatly altered by the fact that he has been saved, that he has been redeemed.
Now, the Bible really makes a tremendous emphasis at this point. The mouth is vital. It isn’t easy to control the mouth, and so it’s the one thing the Bible seems to emphasize above every other human organism or human faculty. One of the seven ancient wise men of Greece was a man named a man named Bias. And the reason he was considered to be one of the most wise men in all Greece was the fact that one person on one occasion had sent him an animal as a gift, with the instruction that he was to sacrifice the animal, but that before he had sacrificed the animal, he was to cut out the best and the worst part and send it back to the donor. He sent back the tongue. And as a result of that, he was considered to be one of the wisest of men.
The tongue is the best and the worst of you. It is the best and the worst of me, in so many, many ways. Look at James, chapter 3, continuing to talk about the tongue a little bit; James, chapter 3. You know, I’ve often looked at teenagers and thought, “You know, if Mom and Dad took as much care in straightening out their conversation as they do in straightening out their teeth, they’d probably have a long-range better outcome.” Have you ever thought about that? You see so many kids with braces who talk so badly. Anyway, you know, straighten out your kid’s mouth while you’re working on his teeth is the idea. James 3:3 – that’s not in my sermon, I just thought of that.
It says, “Behold, we put bits in the horses’ mouths, that they may obey us’ and we turn about their whole body. Behold also the ships, which though they are so great, and driven by fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, wherever the pilot willst.” In other words, he’s emphasizing the fact that a very small thing can have a very large effect. “Even so the tongue is a little member” – very small – “but it boasts great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindles! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and is set on fire of hell.”
Boy, that’s strong language. Hell gets a hold of somebody’s tongue, and starts a fire that can set the whole of nature on fire. “Every kind of beast, and bird, and serpent, and thing in the sea, is tamed, and has been tamed by mankind.” You can go to the zoo, and you can go to Sea World, and you can go to Animal Park, and you can everywhere and see them all. “But the tongue can no man tame; it’s an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we bless God, even the Father; and with the same tongue we curse men, who are made in the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceeds blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be. Does the fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter?
“Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? So can no fountain yield both salt water and fresh.” In other words, James is simply pointing out the power of the tongue, the damage the tongue does, and the inconsistency of the tongue. The same tongue that blesses a moment later curses. And I would have to say – and I think you would agree with me; certainly the Bible does – that the mouth is probably the truest indicator of the spiritual condition of a person, without a question. This is what the Bible says essentially. You see, the unredeemed mouth is the gate through which depravity exits.
Isaiah, for example, when he was defining sinfulness in relation to his people, he said simply this in Isaiah 6:5: “Woe is me! for I am undone; for I am a man of” – what – “unclean lips, and I live amongst a people of unclean lips.” And he was simply saying that depravity is proven by conversation, by what comes out of the mouth. In Matthew, chapter 12, verse 37, Jesus said, “A man will be condemned on the basis of his mouth.” You see, the mouth is the gate by which depravity makes its exit. Now, the Bible has a lot to say about what the depraved mouth is like. I’m going to give you a little bit of theology, and I’m going to tell you this is a biblical description of the unredeemed mouth. Here’s what it speaks.
You listen around to an unredeemed mouth this is what you’ll hear. First of all, evil. It speaks evil. Proverbs 15:28 says, “The mouth of the wicked pours out evil.” Secondly, lust. Proverbs 5:3 says, “For the lips of an adulteress woman drip honey, and smoother than oil is her speech” – seduction, lust. If you listen to an unredeemed mouth you’ll hear deceit. Jeremiah 9:8 says; “Their tongue is a deadly arrow; it speaks deceit: with his mouth one speaks peace to his neighbor, but inwardly he sets an ambush for him.” The unredeemed mouth speaks curses. Psalm 10:7; “His mouth is full of curses.” It speaks oppression. Psalm 10 also says, “His mouth is full of oppression.” It speaks lies. Proverbs 12:22: “Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord.”
An unredeemed tongue twists and perverts things. Proverbs 6:12: “A wicked man is one who speaks with a false” – or twisted – “mouth.” The unredeemed mouth speaks destruction. Proverbs 11:11, a very interesting verse: “By the blessing of the upright, a city is exalted.” Now, listen: “But by the mouth of the wicked it is torn down.” A mouth can literally destroy a city, creating political havoc, creating war, whatever. Another thing you hear out of an unredeemed mouth is vanity. Second Peter 2:18; “For speaking out arrogant words of vanity, they entice,” says Peter. Another thing about an unredeemed mouth is it speaks flattery. Proverb 26:28 says, “A flattering mouth works ruin.” Buttering up somebody to get what you want.
Another thing that an unredeemed mouth speaks is foolishness. “The mouth of the fool spouts folly,” Proverbs 15:2. Ecclesiastes 10:12 and 13 says; “The lips of a fool consume him, and the end of it is madness.” An unredeemed mouth speaks madness. One translation is an unredeemed mouth babbles. And you know something else I’ve noticed about unredeemed mouths? So very often they talk too much. Ecclesiastes 10:14 says, “The fool multiplies words.” Ecclesiastes 10:14 said that. Matthew 12:36 tells us that the unredeemed mouth speaks idly. “Every idle word that men may speak, they shall render account for in the day of judgment.” Titus 1:11 says an unredeemed mouth speaks false doctrine: “Empty talkers teaching things they should not teach, for filthy lucre’s sake,” - to make money.
Psalm 37:12 says that an unredeemed mouth speaks evil plots: “The wicked plots against the righteous, and gnashes at him with his teeth.” Many times in the Bible we see the wicked using their mouths to plot against the righteous. Proverbs 14:3 says an unredeemed mouth speaks boastfully. It says; “In the mouth of the foolish is a rod of pride.” Psalm 109:3 says that that same mouth speaks hatred. “They have surrounded me with words of hatred.” Matthew 5 describes another error of the unredeemed mouth, swearing. Jesus said, “Swear not at all: let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes,’ and ‘No, no,’ and anything beyond that is of the evil one.” Ephesians, chapter 4, as we read earlier, tells us another thing about an unredeemed mouth; it speaks filthy communication.
Paul says; “Let no rotten word proceed from your mouth,” Ephesians 4:29. And another thing that’s emphasized over and over in the Bible about an unregenerated mouth is that it speaks gossip. Romans 1:29, describing the pagans, says; “They are gossips and slanderers.” Proverbs 26 says, “The words of a whisperer are like dainty morsels, and they go down to the innermost parts of the body.” So summing it all up, when you have an unregenerate person, you’re going to have a vocabulary to match. And in Romans 3:13, it describes the unregenerate in these terms: “Their throat is an open sepulcher; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: And their mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.”
What’s most interesting about that description is he starts way down the throat, and he comes all the way out to the lips, and shows how corrupt the whole process is. And, of course, if you study Proverbs, you’ll read there of many cases where Solomon says that the tongue, or the mouth, of the evil man is the very thing by which the same evil man is going to be entrapped and enslaved – by his own tongue. It’s interesting to make a comparison, and you might want to study this on your own sometime, but if we don’t have our mouths transformed, if we don’t have our mouths transformed, we are going to hear from Christ’s mouth. In Revelation 19, it says; “Out of His mouth goes” – what – “a sharp sword, and He comes in judgment.”
And so the Bible has a tremendous volume of information to say about a mouth, and about what kind of mouth is characteristic of the unredeemed person. None of those things that I mentioned to you should ever be true of a Christian; none of them. You say, “Well, what should a redeemed mouth say?” Well, I’ll just give you some general things, and then we’ll look at our passage, but I’ll give you some suggestions. First of all, the Bible says to confess sin. Read Psalm 32. David says, “When I didn’t do that - when I shut my mouth and I kept silence, my bones were roaring all the day long. And I never got any peace until I opened my mouth and confessed my sin.” Romans 10:9 and 10 says, “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth Jesus as Lord.”
Ephesians says that we are to speak with the mouth that which is edifying. Exodus 13:9 says we are to speak with the mouth the law of God. And Deuteronomy 6 says we are to speak about it when we stand up, sit down, lie down, and walk by the way. So our mouth is to confess sin, to confess Christ, to speak good, to speak God’s law. Another one, Luke 1:64 says that our mouth is to praise God. “His tongue was loosed,” it says, “and he praised God.” Our tongue is to teach truth. God said in Exodus 4:15; “1 will be with your mouth, and teach you what you shall do and say.” Our mouth is to bless. First Peter 3:9: “Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing; but on the contrary, blessing, knowing that you are called to this.” In other words, our mouth is to be used to bless.
Psalm 77:12 says our mouth is to speak of God. “I will talk of Thy doings,” the psalmist said. Our mouth is to speak wisdom and kindness. Proverbs 31:26: “She opens her mouth with wisdom, and in her tongue is the law of kindness.” Our mouth is to be that which conciliates and brings peace: “A soft answer turns away” – what – “wrath,” Proverbs 15:1. So the Bible has a lot to say about what the mouth is supposed to say, and what it isn’t supposed to say. As new creatures, then, we must be committed to the fact that a new man should have a new mouth, and a new mouth should have a new speech. Now we come, with that kind of introduction, to our text. And, that’s just a whole theology of the mouth, short-circuited and given to you in quick fashion. But I want you to see how important it is.
Now, in our text, Paul picks out four areas of the mouth, or related to it. Four kinds of speech, here they come: the speech of prayer, the speech of proclamation, the speech of performance, and the speech of perfection. Four distinct elements related to the mouth for the Christian lifestyle: the speech of prayer, the speech of proclamation, the speech of performance, and the speech of perfection, and we’ll take them one at a time. First, the speech of prayer; a new lifestyle with a new man will mean a new mouth filled with a new kind of conversation. Look at verse 2, Colossians 4:2; “Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving.”
Now, in talking about prayer, I realize that we have probably hit on one of the most common chords in the life of any Christian. We’re all very much aware of this. We’ve all pretty well organized our theology, so we’ve got a little idea of prayer, and pretty well worked it out as to how we pray. But let me see if I can broaden your horizons a little bit. Prayer is the most important speech that your mouth will ever utter. Prayer is the most important conversation that you will ever hold, the most important expression of the new life. You see, prayer is the divinely appointed weapon’ against the sinister attack of the devil and his angels. Prayer is the vehicle for confession of sin.
Prayer is the means by which the grateful soul pours out its spontaneous praise before the throne of God. Prayer is the voice of the weeping soul calling on the sympathetic high priest in the time of need. Prayer is the intercession of the concerned Christian, who calls on divine resources in behalf of another’s trouble. Prayer is the simple conversation of the beloved child with the caring Father, as they talk of love. What more can be said of prayer? What can I say that I haven’t said in eight years? We’ve taught you all that we could teach you, it seems. Prayer is toward God. Prayer is to be in line with the Holy Spirit.
We are to pray in the Spirit, consistent with His mind and His will. We are to pray always according to the will of God. We’ve been through all of that. We talked about what it means to pray in the name of Christ, consistent with Him. But I want to catch what Paul is saying here at a little different angle, and expand it into a dimension that’s rarely been touched. Notice the first part of verse 2: “Continue in prayer.” I think that if there’s anywhere that I fail, and there’s anywhere that you fail, it’s going to be in the area that he hits right there. He doesn’t say, “Pray,” he says, “Stay at it. Continue in it.” Now, the thrust here is perseverance. And, of course, immediately you think of Ephesians 6:18, “praying always.”
Where he says, “Pray without” – what – “ceasing,” in 1 Thessalonians 5. So whether it’s praying always, Ephesians 6, or pray without ceasing, 1 Thessalonians 5, or if you like Luke 21:36, Jesus said, “Pray always.” Or the early apostles, who, in Acts 6, gave themselves continually to prayer, or Cornelius, who prayed always to God. Or Romans 12:12, where it says continue diligently in prayer. Or Philippians 4: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by” – what – “prayer and supplication.” But the idea in all of those is the same –
continue, stay at it. What does it mean? We’re comfortable with the truism, that it basically means have a God consciousness.
You can’t be going around praying all the time, you know. It would be a little strange to have a conversation with you. It doesn’t mean carry your prayer book and do it all the time, it doesn’t mean run around with beads and make your prayers all the time. It doesn’t mean be praying verbalizing all the time, but basically what it’s saying here – and we’ve gone through this – is to have a general God consciousness, so that you see everything that happens in reference to God. You see, the accident that happened to our young man in the high school department, somebody came by, no doubt, and drove by and said, “Poor kid, he probably ought to be careful on a motorcycle.” Or, “Boy, it’s too bad”.
But somebody came by, and got out and went over because he was a Christian, and knelt down and prayed, and he saw it all different than anybody else saw it. Because he had a God consciousness, and anything and everything became cause for communion with God. God-consciousness means that if I see something bad, I pray for those involved. If I see something good, I praise for Him who has brought it about. You see, it’s that conscious flow of God-consciousness. But you know, as I thought about it, “That’s great, and I understand that, but that can be a cop-out for really bailing out of the whole idea of continuing in prayer, and just saying, ‘Well, it’s obvious you just can’t keep praying forever, and God isn’t deaf, and God doesn’t forget things.”
You just tell Him, and go about your business. And, you know, I think most of us kind of operate on that basis – “Well, God, here’s the need. I’d like to remind you of the need. In fact we’ve got them right here on this paper here from Wednesday night, God, here. Got that on your cosmic Xerox?” And we don’t feel – we feel, “Well, you know, God’s got the info, and God’s sovereign, and God’s going to call the shots, so we’ll just bail out from that one and go on to something else.” And so the idea of this sort of God-conscious explanation to continuance in prayer can become a cop-out. It isn’t wrong, but you see what happens is it’s going a little too heavy on one side, and it’s not allowing for a little tension on the other side.
And I want to talk about the other side that’s going to create a little tension for you tonight, and I got into this and found some interesting things. I started chasing around that word “continue” in prayer, and the root word here, one word, kartereō. It’s a very interesting word. It basically comes from a noun that means “strong” – strong. The verb means to be steadfast, to endure, to hang in there. That’s kartereō, but the word used here is proskartereō. And anytime – and I’ve told you this before – you add a preposition to the front of a verb in Greek, you intensify the Greek verb. So he’s saying if the word kartereō means to be strong and steadfast, this means to be super strong, and super steadfast, and really hang in there. It’s the idea of perseverance.
In Hebrews 11:27, the word is used, and it is used of Moses. “By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing Him who is invisible” – for he hung in there, for he stuck with it. It’s a strong commitment to something, where you are steadfast, and you endure, and you don’t bail out, and you don’t give up, and you don’t quit. You can see illustrations of that same term and that same concept throughout the book of Acts. Cornelius prayed continually. That’s what it means. In Acts, chapter 1, you have it, in the upper room, they all continued with one accord in prayer. And here you had, remember, those disciples gathered, the 120 in the upper room, and they continued.
I mean they didn’t come and go, and it wasn’t a general God-consciousness. They were actually involved in constant supplication, for many hours and many days, until the Spirit of God came. You find it in chapter 2, verse 42, the same term, “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayer.” And here again, it doesn’t necessarily mean a general God-consciousness, but it means a constancy in prayer, over and over and over and over beseeching God relative to their needs. So you see, when you get into the term, the idea that you find here is not an easy-going God-consciousness, but it’s a strong, it’s a steadfast, it’s an enduring, it’s a persevering struggling with deeply felt issues.
McClaren says the word implies not just continuity but earnestness. Kittel, who probably has the classic work on definition of Greek words, says that kartereō means to be strong and to be courageous, and proskartereō means to be courageously persistent; “to hold fast,” he says, “not to let go.” Now that’s an exciting dimension of prayer. Well, let me give you some illustrations. You say, “MacArthur, I don’t know whether this fits in my theology.” Well, let me do that for you, I’ll slide it right in there. Luke 18 - Luke 18, this is the great joy the Bible teacher has, is just the freedom not to get locked in a box, because the Bible isn’t.
You just get everything organized in one little corner, and all of a sudden something explodes at the very opposite end, and you’ve got to release a little bit there. “He spoke a parable unto them to this end” – Well, what was Your purpose, Lord? Why this parable? “That men ought always to pray and not faint.” The whole purpose of the parable, people, is to do exactly what Paul said. It’s so that you’ll keep praying and not fall asleep, and not quit, and not just hold your list up before God. He said, “There was in a city a judge, and he feared not God, nor man. And there was a widow in the city; and she came to him, saying, ‘Avenge me of mine adversary.’” Somebody did something wrong to me, I want to bring it into court and get a just disposition of this, and I want it to be avenged for the wrong.
“And he wouldn’t for a while.” The judge wouldn’t do it. “But afterward he said within himself, ‘Though I fear not God, nor regard man; yet because this widow troubles me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she wears me out.’” Okay, okay – I’ve had it. Now, you say, “Wait a minute, wait a minute, you mean that has a divine application?” Sure, verse 6: “The Lord said, ‘Hear what the unjust said’” – you listen. “Shall not God avenge His own elect, who cry day and night unto Him, though He bear long with them? I tell you, He will avenge them speedily.” God is going to do things to make things right, to gain His own honor, and to give you the place of blessing, when you cry out to Him day and night.
Listen to the apostle Paul: “I have not ceased to pray for you day and night with tears for the space of three years,” Acts 20; day and night for three years. People say, “Oh, how did God so bless his ministry?” One thing was he didn’t sleep nearly as much as he prayed. Three years night and day with tears. You say, “Well, God knew what his requests were. God knew before he even asked.” That never changed Paul’s attitude of prayer. He really poured out his heart. Luke 11:5, another story illustrating the same truth, and this is what he said: “Which of you shall have a friend, and shall go to him at midnight, and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves?’” I’m hungry, friend. Stores are closed.
And I’ve got a friend who’s coming over and I’d like to give him something too. A friend of mine is in a journey to come to me, and I have nothing to set before him. “And he from within” – there’s the guy in his house and you’re yelling in his window – there’s no glass in those days, so they heard him. And he says, “Go away, quit bugging me. The door is shut and the children are with me in bed.” That’s, of course, the way they always slept in those days; no heaters, the whole family in one bed. “I’m not going to get up, I can’t even rise.” I know the feeling. I’ve had three kids in bed with me, there’s no way to get out from under them. “I can’t rise,” he says.
“And I say to you, though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him as much as he needed.” You know what importunity is? The guy just kept yelling at him, until finally he got out of bed, because he didn’t have any choice if he wanted to get any sleep. He kept banging and banging, and he says, “Ask and it shall be given, seek and you shall find, and knock and it shall be opened.” In other words, God is saying, “Be persistent.” Bang away, don’t give up. I don’t know if you think about it like that, but you know sometimes, sometimes when you believe something will honor God, and you believe it can be to the glory of Jesus Christ, you got to kind of storm the gates of heaven. I mean you’ve got to kind of put yourself up there a little bit and struggle.
Virginia Stem Owens wrote a most interesting article in a recent issue of Christianity Today, in which she said this – and I want to read you part of it because I think it’s so related to this. She said: “This is not a cosmic teddy-bear we are cuddling up to,” speaking of God. “As one of the children describes Him in C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, ‘He’s not a tame lion.’” Jacques Ellul is convinced, he says, “that prayer for persons living in the technological age must be combat. And not just combat with the evil one, with one’s society, or even one’s divided self, though it is all of these, but his combat with God. We must struggle with Him just like Jacob did at Peniel, where he earned his name Israel; and Israel means ‘he who strives with God.’ We too must be prepared to say, ‘I will not let you go till You bless me.’”
Consider Moses, again and again intervening between the Israelites and God’s wrath, and pouring out his heart. Hear Abraham praying for Sodom, going down all the line – “If I can find this many, well, what about this many, well, what about this many, well, what about this many?” Finally, God says, “Okay, okay. If you can find that many, I’ll spare it.” And, of course, he couldn’t. The widow, demanding justice to the unjust judge. “Now, in this combat,” says Owens, “with God, Jacques Ellul cautions that we must be ready to bear the consequences. Jacob’s thigh was put out of joint, and he went away lame. Whoever wrestles with God in prayer puts his whole life at stake.”
She says, “How tempting to up the stakes, and make prayer merely another consumer product. How embarrassing to admit not only that prayer may get you into prison, as it did Jeremiah, but also, while you’re moldering away in a miry pit, you may have a long list of lamentations and unanswered questions to present to your Lord. How are we going to tell them they may end up lame and vagrant if they grab hold of God? But anything else is false advertising.” End quote. I like that. You say, “Well, what is all that trying to say?” All that is trying to say something that’s true: prayer is a matter of struggling and grappling with God. Prayer is a matter of proving to God the deepest concern of your heart.
Prayer is a matter of pouring out to God what you believe is that which would honor Him. You hear David in the Psalms, and you hear him right from the very deepest part of his inner being, pouring out his heart, over and over and over and over, and crying to God to do something, to answer. Prayer is to be a persistent, courageous struggle. Now, you may come out limping a little bit. Somebody told me this week, “You know, I get so much trouble in my life, just trouble all the time.” And they said, “You know, I pray and I say, ‘God, all I want is Your will, and I just want to be what You want me to be. 0, Lord, make me what You want me to be.’ And all I ever get is trouble.”
I said, “Yeah, that’s a dangerous prayer. You say, ‘God, make me what You want me to be,’ and He says, ‘Okay - and it will be My way, and you may come away limping.’” There’s a tension, I know, between claiming and persisting on God’s power, and God’s grace, and at the same time, waiting on His will. But listen to this, it is resolved not by holding your persistence; it is resolved by accepting His answer. That’s important. Well, I kind of got wound up on that; I knew I would. It’s a lot for continuing prayer, but that’s what he is saying; back to Colossians 4:2. Well, further, look what he says, and I want to pinpoint a couple of thoughts here, and then we’ll quit. Probably never get pass verse 2.
“Continue in prayer” – and I like this – “watch in the same.” You know, one thing you can’t do is pray without watching. Now, you know what this simply means? Just I mean the basic thing that it means? Stay awake. You can’t pray in your sleep; very difficult. Matthew 26, there’s a good illustration of that. The disciples fell asleep in prayer meeting. Matthew 26 - it tells the story. Jesus came into the garden, took with Him Peter, two sons of Zebedee, James and John, and they were there. Jesus was praying. Verse 40: “He came unto the disciples and He found them asleep. And He said, ‘Peter, you couldn’t stay awake for one hour?’” The word “watch” here means stay awake. “You couldn’t stay awake one hour?
“Stay awake and pray. Stay awake and pray that you enter not into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Don’t go to sleep during prayer. You know, it’s very easy to do that? I’ve done that a lot. Oh yeah, it’s very embarrassing, especially when you have an early morning prayer meeting and you’re praying in a circle. And all of a sudden you hear [snores]. You look around, some guy’s out. I can remember when I was in college, prayer meetings that ended about midnight that started at 10:30, because we fell asleep at 10:45, and nobody woke up for about an hour and a half. Stay awake. You know it’s one good reason for a Christian to get some rest; pray when you’re awake, pray when you’re alert.
But the thought here is broader than that. It isn’t just that; that’s very obvious. But when he says, “Watch in the same,” I think he’s carrying over to what Peter said, in 1 Peter, chapter 4, and verse 7: “But the end of all things is at hand: be sober minded, and watch unto prayer.” And what Peter means there is basically sober minded is the idea of knowing the priorities, and when he says, “watch unto prayer,” he means look for the things that you ought to be praying about. And I’m guilty of this, we all are. Guilty of praying those sort of useless generalities all the time. Lord, bless the church and bless the missionaries, bless this, you know. I told you before how our little girl, Marcy, use to pray – “God bless the whole wide world.”
That was every night. And you know that for her - I suppose she meant something by it, I don’t know; it might have been a filler while you think of something else to say, you know. It’s just a generality. But what he’s saying here is, “Watch. If you’re going to be consistent, and if you’re going to pour out your heart, and you’re going to really pray for something, then you ought to know something to pray for. I hadn’t been at Grace Church very long when a man came up to me and he said, “I’d like to pray for you.” And I said, “Well, wonderful; I sure would appreciate that.” He said, “Yes.” He took out a notebook, and he just opened it up, and he said, “Let’s see, why don’t you give me four things to pray for?”
And I said, “Okay.” “Oh, just a minute [mumbles] - he wrote them all down. He had this page divided in the middle, and he had all these request things on there, and he wrote it all down. And then he walked away, and I thought, “A little strange.” You know, that’s very uncommon. So about two weeks later, I met him in the patio again; we were in the other building, there was another patio. And he walked up to me, and he said, “Say,” he said, “by the way,” he said, “I’ve got these four requests, and I’ve been praying for two weeks. Could you tell me what happened on those?” And I said, “Yeah,” and he said, “Well, just a minute, uh-huh - what day was that? Oh yes, uh-huh, the 12th of February.”
He wrote the whole thing down on the right hand column. And there was this big spiral notebook. You know I had an occasion later on to be in his home, and I looked at his bookcase. You want to hear something interesting? There were 13 other books on the bookshelf all filled; this was number 14. That’s what I call watching to see what you’re praying about. You know, if you said to him, “Say there, Frank, do you believe God answers prayer?” “Yeah, what kind would you like to know? Uh-huh, we got - you know - I’ve got 485 of those, 796 of these” - see, that’s watching unto prayer. You’ll never be persistent with God about something you’re not concerned about, and you’ll never get concerned about something until you know what something needs to be concerned about. And we’ve got to watch.
Well, he adds a last thought. “Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving.” Now, that’s important. You know, here’s the right attitude. You know, when you are wrestling with God, you’re thankful that He’s going to do what’s best. And, you know, this is the fifth time in the book of Colossians that gratitude has been mentioned. It’s great for us this season of the year. Look at 1:12; “Giving thanks unto the Father, who hath made us fit to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: Who’s delivered us from the power of darkness.” He’s saying there, be thankful for salvation – be thankful for salvation.
Look at chapter 2, verse 6; “As you have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in Him, rooted and built up in Him, and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding with thanksgiving.” Be thankful for your salvation; be thankful for your growth. Well, chapter 3, verse 15; “Let the peace of Christ rule in your heart, to which also you are called in one body and be thankful.” Be thankful for your fellowship with Christ, and with the body of Christ. Be thankful for your salvation, be thankful for your growth, be thankful for your fellowship with Christ and His body.
Verse 17: “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by Him.” Be thankful that you have the privilege to serve Him. That whatever you do could be done in His name. Be thankful for your salvation, be thankful for your growth, be thankful for your fellowship, be thankful for your service. And here he says, in verse 2, of chapter 4, “Be thankful.” Be thankful that when you pray, you have the guarantee that God is going to answer in accord with what’s best for you. Be thankful. You know, no matter what happens in a prayer, you can be thankful. When you’re praying - you know, I was trying to think, “Now, what am I thankful for when I pray?”
Number one, the first thing I’m thankful for as I pray is God’s presence, because if it wasn’t there, it wouldn’t do me any good to pray. So I thought, “No matter what He says or does - yes, no, maybe, wait, whatever - I’m thankful that He’s listening. I’m thankful for His presence.” The psalmist understood that. Psalm 75:1: “Unto Thee, 0 God, do we give thanks.” Why? “That Thy name is near.” I’m just thankful You’re there. Whatever Your answer is, it’s just great to talk to You.
Second thing I thought of, I’m thankful not only for God’s presence, but I’m thankful for God’s provision. You know there is no such thing as a prayer that doesn’t get answered? He always provides an answer, always, always, always. And I’m thankful for that. He always provides my bread; He always provides a place to stay. He always provides the needs of life, and that’s His promise, and I’m always thankful. And maybe I’m asking for things beyond the needs, and I can be at the same time thankful that the needs I know are going to be met. And as I pray, I’m not only thankful for His presence and His provision, but I’m thankful for His pardon. Romans 6:17: “Thanks be unto God, that whereas we use to be the servants of sin, we’ve become the servants of righteousness.” I’m thankful that He saved me.
And then I thought of a thing that kind of sums it all up. I’m thankful for all those things, and all the things I showed you in Colossians, but I think the thing that’s just really exciting is I’m thankful for His promise. I just - it excites me when I read 1 Corinthians 15:57. “Thanks be to God, who always gives us” – what – “the victory.” Man, that’s exciting. I can pray, and no matter what the answer, no matter how God works, no matter whether I come away like Jacob, limping, no matter whether it costs me my life, or the life of somebody around me, I can come away and say, “The victory is mine,” always; because “All things are working together for” – what – “good.” That’s God’s purpose for me.
Second Corinthians 2:14: “Thanks be unto God, who always causes us to triumph.” You can’t lose in prayer. You may not get what you ask for, but you won’t lose, because God knows that what He got you was better than what you asked for. So no matter what happens, we’re thankful. That never changes. So Paul is telling us something very important about prayer. He’s saying, “Look, pray. And when I mean pray, I mean pray. Get in there and wrestle with it. Get in there and persist at it. And keep banging until he gives you the bread. Hold on till you’re blessed.”
If an ungenerous, selfish, heartless neighbor, for whom a little fleshly repose outweighs a friend’s need for bread, could be induced to grant a sorely needed favor by sheer persistence, if a defenseless widow’s persistent appeal can wring from a hard-hearted, unscrupulous judge her heart’s desire, how much more will our petitions, if likewise faithful and persistent, secure the thing we ask from God, who in character is the very opposite of the indifferent neighbor, and the opposite of the godless judge? The plain teaching of the parable is that the difficulty will be resolved because God hears His faithful servant.
The new man has a new mouth, and the new mouth of the new man has a new speech. And the new speech is the language of prayer. Let’s pray. Father, we come to Your presence tonight with great boldness, not because of ourselves. We come by the blood of Jesus Christ who said, “You have access.” And so we come tonight, Father, and the prayer of our hearts is, first of all, that we would be seeing our lives conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. And, Father, whatever that takes, whatever the price to pay, do it. If we come away lame, if we come away broken, if we come away having lost something dear to us, and we come away conformed to Jesus Christ, it’s worth it all.
Father, we pray that You would again teach us to be persistent in our prayers. Teach us what Paul was trying to help us to see, that there’s got to be a total commitment to pray, to persistently pray, to pour out our hearts, hour after hour, day after day; to beseech for others, and mostly for Your glory. Father, we realize, I realize, that the reason I don’t persist in prayer is because I guess I really don’t care that much that Your glory be everything, or that my neighbor’s need be met. Save me from the tokenism of prayer, and teach me how to really care, to really pray, that I might see You display Yourself, in all Your majesty, in all Your glory, as a gracious, loving, merciful God, who listens to the cry of His children.
Father, teach us to watch, to see the needs in the lives of the people around us, to see the needs around the world, to see the needs right here at Grace Church, to see the needs of brothers and sisters in other churches in our community and our country and our world, and to care, and to pray. We have so much information in the Scripture, and yet we feel, like the disciples, on the ground floor; we ought to say, “Teach us to pray” all over, Lord. Somehow we’ve gotten it lost in the complacency of an overindulged, over-luxuriated society. Teach us to do without that we may seek You. Thank You, Father, for giving us a new mouth that we might have a new speech, communion with You. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.