Yesterday I preached for the first time since last February. My speaking engagements had been cancelled or postponed due to COVID, but an opportunity came up for me to substitute at a small church that has carefully followed COVID precautions. I felt a little rusty, but below is my sermon manuscript and a link to the audio is HERE. The photo shows the two “prayer pie charts” I held up for the congregation to see. (They look a little wrinkled because I shoved them in my bag quickly after the service.) It was a 17 minute sermon, and about 2,000 words – longer than your typical blog post.
*AND THANKS to another wordpress blogger who gave me the pie chart idea. Link to her article below.*
This morning, for my message, we will briefly look at the Lord’s Prayer, and then consider one of the prayers of the apostle Paul found in Colossians chapter 1.
We all know the Lord’s Prayer. I read an article by a woman who decided to make the Lord’s Prayer into a pie chart – and she found the visual representation of the prayer that Jesus taught us to be helpful and challenging.
The Lord’s prayer has 8 phrases, and she noted that:
The first 4 phrases are fully focused on God and His kingdom.
(That is the green.)
The final 3 phrases are focused on our need for spiritual forgiveness and protection. (That is the purple.)
In between is ONE phrase that addresses our material needs. (That is the yellow slice.)
The yellow slice stands out, partly because it is yellow, but partly because it is such a narrow slice in the pie. Only 1 of the 8 thoughts in the Lord’s Prayer has anything to do with physical needs for this earthly life.
The author of this article decided to make a pie chart of her typical prayers – her prayer concerns – and her prayer pie chart looked very different than the Lord’s Prayer. (Show it. Bob said it looks like pac-man. haha.)
The yellow slice predominated her chart. If you are like me, your pie chart probably looks more like hers. And the point here is NOT that we should avoid praying for physical needs. Of course not.
But the scriptural pattern is that more of prayer is focused on the spiritual or eternal, and less of prayer is focused on physical concerns.
The point is that we have reversed the pattern, and more of our prayers are about physical needs for this earthly life.
Remember that Jesus said:
“seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” – and then all these other things will be given to you as well.
C.S. Lewis worded it this way:
“Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in,
aim at earth and you will get neither.”
In a moment, I’d like us to look at a prayer of the apostle Paul found in Colossians 1: 9-14.
Paul had a difficult and challenging life as he served the Lord Jesus, as he planted new churches and encouraged young churches in the faith. Paul was… beaten, pelted with stones, run out of town, falsely accused, shipwrecked, and arrested. A number of our books in the New Testament are called the prison epistles because Paul wrote these letters from prison. And you’ll notice some patterns in the prayers found in Paul’s letters from prison:
— His prayers are focused on others, not himself. Isn’t that convicting? If I was in jail for the gospel I think I’d be requesting prayer for my needs, my court case, that I get released from prison, and so forth.
— His prayers are centered on spiritual and eternal concerns, more like the Lord’s Prayer.
Finally, let’s read this prayer in Colossians 1:9-14. As you listen or follow along in your Bible, note that Paul prayed for 3 general things:
spiritual intelligence, practical obedience, and spiritual strength.
( Read passage: see HERE )
First, spiritual intelligence.
Knowledge is mentioned twice in this prayer, and besides knowledge, two related words – wisdom and understanding.
Vs 9 referred to be being filled with the knowledge of God’s will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives. And verse 10 refers to growing in the knowledge of God.
Note growing in the knowledge of God. There is always more to know about God. This should keep us humble. No Christian should think they have ever “arrived” and have nothing or little more to learn about God. Over in Romans chapter 11, Paul proclaims:
“Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!”
Also note that it mentions the knowledge of God’s will. We understand the will of God through the Word of God – the Bible – and the Spirit helps us.
Sometimes we can be too focused on the specific will of God – meaning personal decisions in our daily life. But I think we should be more focused on the general will of God. We can sometimes be uncertain about what God specifically wants us to do in a given situation, but the general will of God for us is given clearly in the Bible.
Verse 10 moves us into this, with the phrase “so that.”
The knowledge, wisdom, and understanding is for a purpose.
It is so that we may “live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God.” – And that is the general will of God for all believers.
Our purpose is to please the Lord and live a life worthy of our calling as a follower of Jesus.
The better we know God’s general will, the easier it will be to determine his specific guidance for us in daily life. And I wanted share something that one of my seminary professors, Dr. James Allman, said in class, and I wrote it down in the front of one of my Bibles:
“God’s purpose is to make you like Christ. The will of God is for you to be like Christ. Not a certain place or ministry. If where you are you are becoming like Christ, you are in the right place.”
– Isn’t that good?
The apostle Paul was less concerned with the physical circumstances he found himself in, and was more concerned with spiritual and eternal realities, and that his life was pointing people to the Lord Jesus Christ.
And note that verse 10 also seems to connect bearing fruit in every good work, with growing in the knowledge of God. Isn’t that interesting?
I think there is a reciprocal relationship between knowing and doing, between learning and living, between spiritual intelligence and practical obedience.
The Bible is paramount in helping us grow in our knowledge of God. But too often we want to bypass or quickly move through doctrine, and get to the practical. But if our beliefs are wrong, then how we live will end up wrong, in one way or another.
A pattern in Paul’s letters is that he begins with doctrine or core beliefs, and then moves into life application. How we live should flow from what we believe.
But that said, how we live also flows back and helps us grow in our knowledge of God. This is emphasized in the book of John several times. For example, in John 3:21 Jesus said that “whoever practices the truth comes into the light.”
Or in John 7:17 Jesus said “Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.”
I think that acting on our beliefs, being obedient, can bring clarity and confirmation about our beliefs, helping us know God on a deeper level.
— So far we have looked at spiritual intelligence and practical obedience, and now we move forward in the prayer to verse 11. The Christian life can’t be lived by mere human energy. It requires supernatural strength. Paul desires the believers to know the power of the risen Son of God. That’s our power source.
In verse 10 we had that “so that” statement, and here in verse 11 we have another “so that” statement. Some versions, instead of “so that” word it “for the attaining of” or “for the display of.”
So why did Paul want the Christians to have this power? Was it so that they might go out and perform miracles, heal the sick, and display great deeds of daring? NO.
The emphasis here is on Christian character.
The power is needed so that we may attain or display great endurance and patience, and give joyful thanks to the Father. I appreciated the way Eugene Peterson worded this in The Message:
“We pray that you’ll have the strength to stick it out over the long haul—not the grim strength of gritting your teeth but the glory-strength God gives. It is strength that endures the unendurable and spills over into joy, thanking the Father.”
This part of the prayer deserves careful attention by us. Because we live in an age of Christianity where there can be a focus on success, big accomplishments, having a popular ministry, and if we encounter hardship or if our ministry remains small or obscure, it means we have failed some way in our Christian life. We lacked vision. We didn’t think big enough. Maybe our faith was not strong enough.
– That is nonsense by the way.
Consider that Paul had strong faith and was greatly utilized by our Lord, but he suffered all kinds of difficulty. And consider that the early first century churches were small groups that met in homes, and Christians were a persecuted minority. By the expectations of some Christians today, the early church was a complete failure.
This prayer in Colossians points us to a much greater success than worldly success: It is a Christian suffering patiently, and having joy and gratitude to God even in the midst of adversity.
The apostle Paul is such an example. In his letter to the Philippians, he is also in prison, and he says in chapter 1:
“Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.”
Paul saw prison as an opportunity, not as a setback.
His all-consuming concern was for the advancement of the gospel.
Similar to the statement I read from my professor. Wherever we find ourselves, if we are able to point people to Christ, we are in the right place.
This prayer in Colossians chapter 1 comes to a close by focusing on Christ. No matter what circumstances we find ourselves in, we should remember all that God has done for us through our Lord Jesus Christ, and give thanks for it. Christians should overflow with thanksgiving.
We’ve been forgiven of our sin, we’ve been redeemed, we’ve been rescued from the dominion of darkness and brought into the kingdom of light. -Those verses could be another sermon in itself.
2020 has been a challenging year. I’ve seen people looking to 2021 with the hope that things will get better. But our hope is not in a new year. We don’t know what the New Year holds. I think we still have some tough months ahead of us.
Our hope is in Christ. As believers, we need an eternal perspective.
We need spiritual wisdom and strength so that we aren’t overwhelmed by the circumstances of life. Satan can use tough circumstances to tempt us to sin, and to draw us away from the Lord.
We need more prayers that look like THIS pie chart.
(show the Lord’s Prayer pie chart)
– I’d encourage you to actually pray the prayer in Colossians 1:9-14.
Pray it for yourself and your family, pray it for your church family,
pray it for believers around the nation and world.
We need spiritual strength to endure, and to point people to the hope found only in our Lord Jesus Christ.