(Preached at FBC Pauls Valley, OK, Sunday evening 7-13-14)
On April 17th, 1862, private William Scott was pardoned by President Abraham Lincoln for sleeping on guard duty. That may not sound like a big deal, but the private had been sentenced to death by firing squad for his neglect. Lincoln decided to pardon him, because of his previous service, and the heartfelt entreaties that were made on his behalf, but he noted in his pardon: “The duty of a sentinel is of such a nature, that its neglect by sleeping upon, or deserting his post, may endanger the safety of a command, or even of the whole army, and all nations affix to the offence the penalty of death.”
All armies take the duty of the sentinel seriously: they are watching out for the safety and well-being of their army by their duties. We need to understand that we have a similarly serious duty, in our responsibility to pray. Colossians 4:2 gives us our “orders”:
“Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving.”
I. Perseverance in Prayer
He commands us: “Devote yourselves to prayer”.
The word rendered “devote” here is “proskartereo”, which Thayer’s lexicon translates, “persevere”, “give constant attention to”, “continue” in. “Continue” means to keep doing something you are already doing. This seems to indicate that the Colossians were already praying, but that they should guard themselves against the danger of being distracted from it.
To me it is like when I have been at a track meet, or watching a road race, and the runners were out running, and we would cheer them on from the sideline. We would say things like, “Keep it up!” or “You’re doing good; don’t stop!” We didn’t tell them, “Get out there and run” — they were already out there running. They were doing what they were supposed to be doing; we just didn’t want them to stop.
That is what this verse is telling us to do in prayer. It could be written to some of us:
— some of us really need to begin praying for people on a regular basis, because you are not doing it.
— but perhaps there are more of us of whom it could be said, like the Colossians, that we ARE praying, but that we need to “CONTINUE” in prayer; we need to PERSEVERE in prayer.
There are several things which can keep us from continuing to pray:
A. — lack of discipline: this is one of the most basic reasons for not praying. I mean, we all KNOW we are supposed to pray! This isn’t a revelation for anyone, is it? Nothing we haven’t heard before. So why don’t we do it? Because we don’t discipline ourselves to do it. It is just like with our physical bodies. Who doesn’t know the “secrets” to a healthier lifestyle? Eat right and exercise. “Everybody” knows that! But rare is the person who actually DOES it — not 1 in 100, because it is hard to do, and requires work and discipline.
So the problem with our prayer life is similar. Everyone knows to do it; that we should keep it up and not quit. But we do, because we are not disciplining ourselves to pray. We need to ask God to help us have the discipline to pray; to use the same discipline that we use to get up to work everyday, or go to school everyday, or brush our teeth everyday — because we know we need to — and realize how important it is, and use that same discipline to keep ourselves consistent in prayer every day.
B. — lack of answers/results.
I think this is one of the more common reasons for not persevering in our prayers: when we don’t get answers to our prayers for a length of time. It is easy to pray, and keep on praying, when you are getting answers right and left. But when you DON’T get answers, it gets more discouraging, and it is easy to quit — because it doesn’t seem like you are doing any good anyway.
That’s exactly why the Bible encourages us so many times to persevere in prayer. In Luke 18:1 it specifically says that Jesus taught the parable on the woman and the judge so that His disciples would not pray and lose heart! He KNEW that was a common problem for us, so He taught us that parable about being persistent in prayer, just like that woman who kept going to that judge who didn’t want to listen to her. She wasn’t getting an answer, but she kept on coming. And Jesus said that is how we are to be in prayer too. Don’t stop praying just because you don’t get an answer.
One of my favorite stories about that is George Muller, who prayed for the salvation of several of his friends. He prayed for them for years, and over time a couple of them came to faith in Christ, but he never saw another couple of them saved. Finally, the other two were saved — but not until his funeral! But Muller never stopped his prayers for them.
This should be an encouragement for us: do NOT stop praying!
C. — thinking you have prayed enough — numerous times already.
Not long ago, I got up in the morning, and began my prayer time, and as I was praying for some of the requests, I thought, “Well, it wouldn’t be that big a deal if I didn’t pray for them today; I have prayed for them SO often …”. But that is not true. We need to KEEP lifting our requests up and doing spiritual warfare.
Daniel 10 tells the story of how Daniel saw a vision, and sought to know what it meant, and prayed and fasted for 3 weeks until the angel came to him with the answer. He said that he had to struggle with the Prince of Persia — evidently one of Satan’s angels — for 3 weeks, until the angel Michael came to help him, and he fought through and got the message to him.
This is just a good reminder to us to KEEP ON praying. It may be that a spiritual battle is being fought over the people or church or request we are praying for. What if Daniel had stopped praying halfway through? Ephesians 6 says “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood” but against spiritual forces. We need to be committed to keep on doing spiritual warfare, and not give up praying.
I have read where some Bible teachers have said that you don’t need to keep praying for something, that you should pray once, and really believe that God will do it, and then you don’t need to pray for it again. But this is not what we see taught in scripture. Paul says here “continue” in prayer. Jesus said in Matthew 7: “Keep on asking … keep on seeking … keep on knocking …” — and that is what we should do, until God gives us an answer. CONTINUE in prayer.
D. — Because prayer is spiritual warfare, we also need to know that it must be the strategy of the enemy to keep us from praying. Ephesians 6 talks about spiritual warfare, and it reaches its zenith in prayer. If that is so, then you must know that the enemy will do whatever he can to keep you from praying: try to make you sleep in, try to tell you it doesn’t matter, try to tell you that you’ve prayed enough … whatever he can.
I think he does that with churches. Churches are SO busy today, that there is hardly any time to just PRAY. We have SO many meetings and things going on. But how much time do we really devote to prayer — which is where the real power is in our churches. Acts says when the early church prayed, the place where they were was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak the word of God with boldness, and thousands more came to Christ. If I were Satan, I know what I’d do — I’d do everything I could to keep that church from praying!
And don’t you know it is the same with our personal lives too? I love C.S. Lewis’ little book, The Screwtape Letters. In it, he writes a fictitious story about a demon, Wormwood, who is assigned to a particular man, to tempt him, and keep him away from the things of the Lord. If you have never read it, you should. It has a lot of insights to really make you think. At one point, Wormwood’s uncle, Screwtape, tells of how he was assigned to a man who was not yet a believer, and this man was in the library, and his thoughts began to turn towards God. The demon said he thought he would attack the man at the place where he had the greatest grasp, and suggested, “Isn’t it about time you had some lunch?” and distracted him from those thoughts about God. He wrote: “He is now safe in our father’s house.”
You know if there is one thing that demons are trying to do in our lives today, it is to keep us from praying. “Better have some breakfast first.” “Better exercise first.” “Better check the weather first” — anything he can do. Don’t give in to his diversions! CONTINUE in prayer!
II. Watching in Prayer
There is a second instruction here regarding prayer: “keeping alert in it”. This means “being watchful”. It is the idea of the “watchman” or sentinel for the army camp, who kept watch out for the enemy. This is a good description of what we do in prayer: watching for ourselves, others, our church. It is a duty we need to be faithful to. Jesus in John 17, “while I was with them I was keeping them in Your name, and I guarded them …”. Jesus said He was faithful to “guard” His disciples in prayer — and here Paul commands us to do the same thing.
Verse 3 challenges us more regarding that: “praying also for us.” The word “for” there is “peri”, a Greek word which means “concerning.” It is literally “around” — “peri” is the word we get “perimeter” from, like the perimeter of a camp; and “periscope” — which turns all around in a circle. So the picture here is an interesting one: of “praying around” the ones we are praying for — really goes with the picture of “guarding” them in prayer from :2 above!
One morning last week I was reading in II Kings, in the story of how the Aramean army came up and surrounded the city where Elisha and his servant were staying. Elisha’s servant cried out that they were surrounded, and Elisha assured him, “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” And he asked God to open his eyes, and he saw the chariots and horses of flaming fire which surrounded them, and which were protecting them from the Arameans.
That is a good picture of God’s circle of protection around His people. And evidently, you & I have a role in that, through prayer. Jesus said He “kept” His disciples in prayer. Paul commanded the Colossians here to pray “around” them — “keeping’ them in prayer.
This may be a good picture for you to encourage you to pray. Pray “around” the people you love. Pray for God’s protection around them, and “around” every area of their life that needs prayer. Pray “perimeter” prayers all “around” them, and “keep” them like Jesus did His disciples.
— pray around your church
— pray around your family
— pray around your marriage
— pray around people you want to see saved
— pray around our country
This is a duty and a responsibility that we should not take lightly. We must keep up our “perimeter guard” about those we care about. Do not merely pray for people who are in a crisis — perhaps you can help avoid a crisis if will keep a “guard” over your loved ones in prayer!
It is like the old Fram oil filter commercials, where they had the auto mechanic holding the old filter in his hand, saying, “You can pay me now, or your can pay me later.” In other words, you can do the inexpensive, regular maintenance of your engine by having the oil changed on a regular basis — or you can neglect it, but if you do, you are going to pay him even more later when the engine has broken down and you need to replace it.
I think the same thing is true regarding prayer. We have a responsibility to “keep up a guard” around our marriages, our families, our ministers, our church, and our country. We need to pray for them regularly, without fail. But if we don’t pray for them regularly, we are going to “pay for it later” — we will be praying to get them out a crisis, that perhaps could have been avoided, had we kept up our regular watch in prayer.
In Ezekiel, God said of Israel, I looked for a man among them, who would build up the wall, and stand in the gap before Me before the land, but I found no one. Evidently, no one in Israel at that time was “standing in the gap.” No one was “on watch” around the perimeter. No one was “devoted” to prayer, like Paul commanded here. Let that not be said of your nation, your church, or your family. “Devote yourself to prayer, keeping alert in it” for those you love. Let’s be found faithful in our “guard duty” to watch and pray!