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2. Spirit–Led Prayer (Colossians 1:9-14)

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“For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:9–14).

Do you ever struggle with how to pray? Do you ever struggle with what words to say or knowing if you’re praying exactly what God’s will is?

In this text, we see Paul praying God’s will for the church. We can be sure that it’s God’s will and Spirit–led because God chose to include this prayer in the Holy Scripture as an example for us.

Paul had never seen or met with this church before (cf. Col. 2:1). At the time of this writing, Paul is in prison, and it was one of his disciples, Epaphras, who previously founded this church.

Shortly after Epaphras founded the church of Colosse, a group of false teachers entered the church and caused division. From the clues in the letter, it seems that this group was influenced by Gnostic teaching. The word gnostic comes from the Greek word gnosko, “to know.” They said in order for a person to be saved or in order for them to be sanctified, they had to experience supernatural knowledge. They needed new revelation.

This is very much like many of the cults and liberal Christian groups today. They teach that the revelation of Scripture is not enough. They say the Bible is either not true or we need human reason to test the writings of Scripture to see what is true. They declare the revelation of Scripture is not enough and that there is a new authoritative revelation that all must hear.

This Gnostic teaching, just like Satan in the Garden, attacked the very foundation of our faith, which is the Word of God. Because the Colossian church was experiencing this teaching, it was in great trouble. The ground of their faith had been shaken as Satan, through false teaching, attacked the gospel message and Christ specifically.

But as we look at this prayer, we learn a lot about how we should pray for God’s church, which is always being attacked from without and within. This prayer shows us how we can intercede for the body of Christ throughout the world, for believers we know and those we don’t know. The characteristics of prayer in this text will strengthen our own prayer life. Let’s look at the text and see what we can learn.

Big Question: What are characteristics of Spirit–led prayer that we can discern from this passage, and how can we put them into practice?

Spirit–Led Prayer Is Informed

“For this reason, since the day we heard about you we have not stopped praying for you” (Col. 1:9).

Paul says, “For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you.” Paul was not just sitting in his room, and the Holy Spirit brought the exact prayer prompts to his mind without outside information. No, his prayer was informed.

It seems that Epaphras had informed Paul about the needs of the church and the attack of the cult. It was this information that led Paul into deep prayer. Part of the reason many of us struggle with our prayer life is because we are not informed. We don’t know how to pray or what to pray for.

We don’t know the problems of our friends, our church, our company, or our nation. Some of us do not want to know what everybody else struggles with. Listen to what Solomon said: “The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure” (Eccl. 7:4).

“The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning.” The wise want to be where there is hurting and pain, but the fool wants nothing to do with it. The fool thinks his happiness and pleasure is all that matters in life, so he goes off seeking solely those things. For the fool, “Ignorance is truly bliss.”

But this is not true for the wise. They know “joy” can be found even in the midst of suffering. The wise know this and choose to be informed, even if that means being at the hospital with someone sick or dying, or inquiring and asking questions about issues and problems in the church. That’s what the wise will do. The wise are not living for themselves but to serve God and others.

We get a glimpse of this in the example of Nehemiah. Let’s look at the beginning of his story.

The words of Nehemiah son of Hacaliah: In the month of Kislev in the twentieth year, while I was in the citadel of Susa, Hanani, one of my brothers, came from Judah with some other men, and I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem. They said to me, ‘Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.’ When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven (Neh. 1:1–4).

Nehemiah was the cupbearer of the king of Persia. He had no worries and no needs. He lived in the palace. However, this was no excuse for him to be blind to the pains of the world and especially to those of the people of God. When his brother visited the kingdom, he asked him about the Jews left in Israel and about the city of Jerusalem.

Upon hearing the seriousness of the situation, he went into deep fasting and mourning. He took on their pain and wept for them, and then he felt compelled to return to Israel and help. Nehemiah was informed and that prompted his prayer life, and therefore, his mission.

We must be informed as well. I think Paul is telling us to be informed in Colossians 4:2 when he says to be “watchful” so we can pray. “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.”

We must be watchful so we can be informed and know how to pray. How do we become informed so that we can pray properly?

Application Question: What must we do to be better informed so that we can pray more effectively?

1. To Be Informed We Must Be Sensitive To The Needs Of Others.

Sometimes people may choose not to share what is wrong or burdening them and the intercessor is left to his discernment. This is not as difficult as it sounds. Communication is over 70 percent nonverbal. Many times you can tell something is wrong with a person by what their body is saying or by what their mouth is not saying.

A person who is sensitive, who desires to know the needs and concerns of others, many times identifies cues others miss. We need to look at our friend’s body language, our wife’s body language, and discern what they might not be saying.

In fact, we see this with King Artaxerxes and Nehemiah in Chapter 2. Look at the story:

In the month of Nisan in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was brought for him, I took the wine and gave it to the king. I had not been sad in his presence before; so the king asked me, Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of heart.’ I was very much afraid (Neh. 2:1–2).

See, the king picked up on the sadness in Nehemiah’s heart, which prompted him to ask a question. We must be sensitive and discerning as well. This leads us to the second way we can be informed.

2. To Be Informed We Must Be Willing To Ask The Right Questions.

What are the right questions? It is not, “What do you think about the weather?” or “How about those Chicago Bulls?” It means asking questions that tell us something about their heart and their relationship with God.

Nehemiah asked his brother about how things were going with the remnant of Israel, and this prompted him to prayer. Asking the right questions may include things like:

  • How is your relationship with God?
  • Have you been reading the Word of God?
  • How are you and your boyfriend doing with staying pure?
  • How are you handling temptation on the Internet?

We must learn to ask the right questions. This is essentially one of the greatest skills a counselor must develop to help people. This is also true for someone who is an intercessor. The right question can be as simple as, “How can I be praying for you at this time?”

3. To Be Informed We Must Be Aware Of What Is Happening In Society And The World.

When Nehemiah asked his brother about Israel, this was a world event—world news. The news was about the Jews who returned after the Babylonian exile.

In the same way, one of the ways we can be informed is by something as simple as watching the news or reading news online. We should do this not just to accumulate knowledge but also to be drawn to prayer.

If we hear about difficulties in Egypt, Syria, Iraq, or North Korea, then it should prompt us to prayer. Prayer is not getting our will done on earth, but God’s will done. God cares about the nations, the people who are hungry, suffering, and at war. Informed Christians should be drawn to prayer over world events.

4. To Be Informed We Must Be Sensitive To The Promptings Of The Spirit Of God.

Sometimes the Spirit of God prompts us to pray specifically for a situation or a person. We see this in Acts 13. The disciples fasted and prayed in Antioch, and the Spirit of the Lord told them to set apart Barnabas and Paul for the mission work he had called them to. Acts 13:1–3 says this:

In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them. So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.

After this prompting, the leaders of the Antioch church laid hands on Paul and Barnabas and sent them out to do missions in the Gentile world. In some sense, we are here as Gentiles because of that mission and because they were sensitive to the Holy Spirit.

In the same way, we should be sensitive to the Holy Spirit in our prayers. I often practice asking the Holy Spirit how he would have me pray. I do this especially when I’m struggling with what to say or pray about. Scripture says one of the Holy Spirit’s jobs is to help us with our prayers. Romans 8:26 says, “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.”

How else can we be informed like Paul so that we can pray?

5. To Be Informed We Must Know The Word Of God.

The Word of God often clearly tells us how God wants Christians to pray. For instance 1 Timothy 2:1–3 says this:

I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior.

When we pray for our pastors, teachers, government leaders, presidents, etc., we can be sure we are praying as the Spirit desires. This is exactly what Scripture calls Christians to pray for. We pray for these things especially in the places where we live so we can live peaceful and godly lives. These types of prayers help keep our government from corruption, ungodly laws, and decrees.

We also see commands to pray for all Christians—the entire church—in Scripture. Look at what Paul says in Ephesians 6:18: “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.”

When we lift up local churches and the universal church throughout the world, we can be sure we are being directed by the Spirit. Often, Christians have a tendency to think only of their local church and forget that the body of Christ is larger than their congregation or local association. Informed prayer includes things that God has called us to pray for in Scripture.

To be Spirit–led in prayer we must be informed just as Paul received updates from Epaphras. Let us seek to be informed Christians so we can be Spirit–led intercessors.

Application Question: In what ways do you practice being informed in your prayer life? How is God calling you to be more strategic in being informed?

Spirit–Led Prayer Means To Pray Without Ceasing

“For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you” (Col. 1:9).

Another characteristic of Spirit–led prayer is to pray without ceasing. Paul says, “We have not stopped praying for you.” After Epaphras informed Paul about the situation in Colosse, he did not simply pray once and forget the topic. He faithfully continued to pray for this church. This is something that Scripture commands of us. Listen to what Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:16–17: “Be joyful always; pray continually.”

Application Question: How do we practice a lifestyle of praying without ceasing?

1. To Pray Without Ceasing, We Must Develop A God–Consciousness.

John MacArthur has tremendous insights on how to do this practically. Look what he said:

Such unceasing or recurring prayer (1 Thess. 5:17) demands first of all an attitude of God–consciousness. That does not mean to be constantly in the act of verbal prayer, but to view everything in life in relation to God. For example, if we meet someone, we immediately consider where they stand with God. If we hear of something bad happening, we react by praying for God to act in the situation because we know He cares. If we hear of something good that has happened, we respond with immediate praise to God for it because we know He is glorified. When Paul looked around his world, everything he saw prompted him to prayer in some way. When he thought of or heard about one of his beloved churches, it moved him toward communion with God.1

If we are going to develop constancy in prayer, we also must develop a God–consciousness where we view every person and situation from the standpoint of God. Listen to what Paul said: “So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer” (2 Cor. 5:16).

Paul could not look at people the way he once did. We look at people as “Dr. So-and-so” or “the wife of James,” but Paul always viewed them as souls for whom Christ died. He saw them in relation to God and his plan for their lives. Therefore, he was always moved to prayer.

The secular viewpoint regards the world without God, and therefore sees no need for him or prayer. But to view life from God’s view is to see the weakness and corruption of man and the world system and its need for God. This prompted Paul to live in prayer, and it should do the same to us.

It should be noted that being God–conscious makes a person automatically self–conscious and others-conscious. We see this with Isaiah when he saw God in heaven in Isaiah 6:5. Listen to what he said: ‘“Woe to me!’ I cried. ‘I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.”‘

Isaiah saw God and it automatically affected how he saw himself and others. It prompted him to prayer. He began to lament before God because of his sinful state and that of his people.

Similarly, when one lives in a state of consciousness toward God, he will find that watching the news or other events may be a very difficult chore. He will find himself at times prompted to lament and lift up individuals, the church, and society. This is a good thing.

We must develop this type of mindset to pray without ceasing as Paul did.

Application Question: What are some other biblical or practical examples of implementing this lifestyle of constant prayer?

Nehemiah is a good example of someone who lived in prayer. In his book, we see him pray eleven times. One great example of this is in Nehemiah 2:4–5. Nehemiah has just told the king about the desperate circumstances of his nation, and then the king said, “What is it you want?” Look at how Scripture describes his reply: “Then I prayed to the God of heaven, and I answered the king” (Neh. 2:5).

It says he prayed to the God of heaven and then answered the king. Now did Nehemiah stop and get on his knees, talk to God, and then reply to the king? Probably not. Often people call this an arrow prayer. He was talking to the king and while doing this he shot up a prayer to God. See, Nehemiah was God–conscious even while talking to the king. He knew his weakness and he probably feared for his life. To be sad in front of the king could actually call for his execution. In view of this, he prays to the God of heaven while having a conversation.

We can do this throughout the day as well. We don’t need to walk around with our hands folded while praying. We can lift up prayers to the God of heaven throughout the day. Listen to this other practical illustration of praying constantly about a woman named Aunt Vertie.

Aunt Vertie, one of the godliest women I have ever heard about, was once asked the meaning of ‘praying without ceasing.’ She replied: ‘Well, it means what it says:

“When I put on my clothes in the morning, I thank God for clothing me in the righteousness of Christ.

When I wash in the morning, I ask God to cleanse me from my sin.

When I eat breakfast, I thank Christ for being the bread of life.

When I clean house, I ask God to be merciful and cleanse the houses of the world from sin.

When I talk with people throughout the day, I ask God to save and grow them in Christ and to meet their particular needs.

When I see strangers or crowds of people on the streets, I pray for the salvation of the people of the world.”‘2

Amen! We can live a lifestyle of constant prayer as we see God in everything. We can see him in our eating, drinking, and our studying, and this can prompt us to constant prayer. This is the desire of the Spirit of God in our lives.

Application Question: What are some other tips to help us be more constant in prayer like Paul? What tactics do you use?

Spirit–Led Prayer Asks For God–Sized Requests

Another thing we must notice about Paul’s prayers is that they were God–sized. His requests were not stingy. Consider some of the superlatives he used:

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience (Col. 1:9–11).

Do you see all the superlatives Paul uses? He asks for “all spiritual wisdom and understanding” to “please him in every way, bearing fruit in every good work” to be “strengthened with all power” for them to “have great endurance and patience.”

When you listen to most people’s prayers, you would think they are talking to a very small God. But, when the Spirit of God is guiding our prayers, he knows and calls upon the tremendous resources that we have access to in God.

A perfect example of this is Christ. Scripture shows us the type of prayers he prayed. Look at what God commands him to pray in Psalm 2:8, a messianic Psalm. It says, “Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession.”

Again, we see that God is calling him to pray a big prayer. The Holy Spirit is prompting him to ask for the nations. Similarly, God often calls us to pray big prayers in order to bring glory to him.

Certainly, we see this when we look at Moses in Exodus 33:18. It says, “Then Moses said, ‘Now show me your glory.”‘ Moses’s request was so grand God had to dial it down a bit. He declared to Moses, in the preceding verses, he could not show his face, but that Moses would see the glory of his arms and back. Spirit–led prayers ask for God–sized requests.

We have seen this in the history of the church by those whom God has used greatly. John Knox, a man used greatly for Christ in Scotland, prayed this prayer: “Give me Scotland or I die.” Mary the Queen of the Scotts said that she was more afraid of John Knox’s prayers than an army of ten thousand.

George Whitefield, an evangelist in the 18th-century who was used to start a revival in England that later spilled over into America, once prayed: “Lord give me souls or take my soul.” It was said that when he preached, hundreds of people would fall down under the conviction of sin.

Both of these men were used greatly by God. We also see this in the story of Dawson Trotman, founder of the Navigators. The Navigators is a ministry that is happening all over the world, and it was started by a man who was willing to ask God for great things. Let’s look at this small selection from an article written about him:

The Word of God was foremost in his thinking, and he saturated himself with it . . . memorizing a verse a day, studying it, reading it, praying over it. He found promises like Jeremiah 33:3 and Ephesians 3:20 and wondered at their depthless possibilities. ‘Call unto Me, and I will answer thee, and show thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not.’ ‘Now unto Him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us . . . ‘

If these were God’s promises, they were meant to be claimed. Dawson asked a friend if he would join him in asking God for some of these great things. The friend agreed, and following the example of the Lord Jesus in rising early, they met in the hills at five o’clock every morning of the week. They prayed until seven, and were at work by the scheduled eight o’clock. Dawson as a truck driver and the other man as a plumber.

The two determined to continue until they were sure God would show them some of the great and mighty things He had promised. They prayed at first for the boys in the Bible clubs by name and for the towns nearby from which requests had come for help with their boys. Then they prayed for cities up and down the California coast. As they prayed, God enlarged their vision, and they began to ask that God would use them and other young fellows in each of the 48 States.

During the sixth week God put it into their hearts to pray for the world. With a map before them they put their fingers on Okinawa, Formosa, Germany, France, Turkey, Greece . . . praying that God would use them in the lives of men in those places. After 42 days the burden lifted. There was nothing left to ask, and they knew their purpose had been accomplished. 3

Dawson had a burden that led to forty-two days of praying. The fruit of this praying is a ministry that is affecting people all over the world. It started by praying for great things.

Is this not why James encourages us to pray for the healing of the sick? He says the prayers of a righteous man are powerful. Consider what he says:

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops (James 5:16–18).

In what ways is the Spirit of God calling you to pray big prayers?

I’ll be honest. Even as I talk about this, I have a fear praying these types of prayers. Do I really want to be used by God in a great way? Also, am I selfless enough to be willing to pray for others’ ministries that God would use them greatly? Am I willing to pray that he would give them all knowledge, all power? These are great things to pray for, and I believe that is how the Holy Spirit desires us to pray.

Listen to how Paul ends his prayers for the Ephesians. He says:

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen (Eph. 3:20–21).

God is able. Let Paul’s prayers encourage us to pray for the members of our church to be strengthened with all power, to be filled with all the knowledge of God’s will. Let this prayer encourage us to pray greatly for churches throughout the world that God would open doors to reach the youth, to be strategic in breaking trafficking and ministering to orphans, to reach a nation with the gospel, or to bring revival in their own nation. Let us pray for open doors for ministers in the church to love and care for the lost.

Let us even consider praying scary prayers for ourselves. Pray that God would use us greatly. Let us pray like Moses that we would see his glory. Let us pray like Paul in Ephesians 3:19, that we may be filled with the “fullness of God.” Let our prayers demonstrate how great God is.

Application Question: In what ways is God stretching your faith and prayer life by calling you to pray God–sized prayers? What are some hindrances to praying these types of prayers?

Conclusion

What are characteristics of Spirit–led prayer?

1. Spirit–Led Prayer Is Informed.

Paul’s conversation with Epaphras about the Colossians’ struggle prompted him to prayer. In the same way, those who practice Spirit–led prayer are also informed. They ask people how they are doing. They are willing to care. They are informed about events happening in the nations of the world because they know God cares about them.

2. Spirit–Led Prayer Is Constant.

Paul could not stop praying for this church. In the same way, when we are in tune with the Spirit of God we will live in constant prayer as well. First Thessalonians 5:17 says to “pray without ceasing.” In order to do this, we must begin to see everything in the world from the viewpoint of God. This God–consciousness will draw us into constant prayer. We will see every man as a soul whom God died for and cares for. We will see every situation as something God wants to redeem.

3. Spirit–Led Prayer Asks For God–Sized Requests.

All of Paul’s requests are large. This reflected his theology of God and his faith in him. He knew God is a generous God who desires to bless his people—a God who is rich in mercy and who is the God of all comfort. Paul prays that they may be filled with “all” spiritual wisdom, strengthened with “all power,” that they may bear fruit in “every good work.” His prayers stayed in the superlatives.

What great things are you praying for? What does your prayer request say about your theology? How is the Holy Spirit prompting you to pray great things for your life and others?

Copyright © 2015 Gregory Brown


1 J. F. MacArthur Jr., MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Colossians. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), 25.

2 Teacher’s Outline and Study Bible – Commentary – Teacher’s Outline and Study Bible – Colossians: The Teacher’s Outline and Study Bible.

3 Lorne C. Sanny, The Pathfinder: A Condensed Life Story of Dawson E. Trotman

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