Cornerstone EPC Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734 January 27, 2019
“Persist Ye in Prayer”
We continue this Lord’s Day morning in the ethical section of Colossians—where we read of the putting off of the old man (or woman) and the putting on of the new. The Holy Spirit, through Paul, after teaching us certain relative duties, now teaches us concerning prayer. Let us hear now what the Lord says in this portion of His written Word, Colossians 4:2-4.
(HERE READ THE TEXT)
We have, in these three verses, a strong exhortation to prayer. The English Standard Version begins verse two with, “Continue steadfastly in prayer….” This captures the sense of the Greek well; my wooden translation of this text begins, “Persist ye in prayer….” The Greek word that I rendered persist (proskartereo [proskarterew]) carries three implications with it. First, we are to pray with intensity. We are not to offer inattentive, half-hearted, doubting prayers before the Lord. We are, as I have said in prayer meeting over the years, to get after in prayer—with vigor and with effort. Second, we are to do this especially amid difficulties that present themselves in prayer, such as spiritual warfare, satanic opposition, and the like—but we also include things like wandering mind and coldness of heart here. Third, we pray this on the basis of close, continuous relationship with the Lord. We have no distant, aloof Father. He, by grants us the Spirit of sonship, whereby we cry, “Abba, Father” (Galatians 4:6).
Those were the things implied in the first part of verse two. Now let’s move to the things explicit in the back half of verse two. First, we are to pray with alertness—with attention, with vigilant watching, and with neither inattention nor drowsiness. The same Greek word here rendered being watchful is the same word rendered Stay awake at the end of Mark’s account of Jesus’ Olivet Discourse (Mark 13:37). Second, we are to pray with thanksgiving. Paul tells the Thessalonians, “In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus,” (1 Thessalonians 5:18) and he tells the Philippians, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6). Hence, let thanksgiving be part of every prayer we utter to God. All of this concerning prayer, whether explicit or implicit, we accomplish only by the empowering grace of God. Let us ask Him for such grace in prayer, and let us trust Him Who desires to give it far above our desire to ask for it.
Now, having noting the manner of prayer, we look at proper matter for prayer. Generally we may ask for anything and everything agreeable to the will and Word of God—as noted in the Philippians verse quoted earlier. Sometimes, models and examples help us to form and to frame our prayers. We are free (yea, enjoined) to offer the praises and petitions contained in the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13, Luke 11:2-4). Often, during our Sunday morning pastoral prayer, I use the ACTS (adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication [i.e., requests for others and for self]) model for prayer. Another model that others have used with profit is the ASSiSt (adoration, supplication, sin, and struggle) model. Others use prayers composed by others, such as those found in Arthur Bennett, ed., The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions. Use any scheme helpful to you that is itself Scripture or agreeable to it.
Particularly today, as we see in verses three and four, we are to pray for those who proclaim God’s Word. Paul, led by the Spirit, here includes four specific requests for his ministry of proclamation—and we have the glorious command to do the same for those who proclaim among us today. First, we pray that God may open the providential door for the proclamation of His Word. Only God grants opportunities for preaching. Only God opens hearts of hearers and makes them able and willing to respond properly to the preached Word. May He indeed do this in our time.
Second, we pray that God may provide insight into His Word for preacher and hearer. May He indeed provide insight to the preacher first, and then to the hearers. Indeed, He must do this—for no mere mastery of public speaking techniques, social setting of churches and cultures, and the like will substitute for the powerful work of the Spirit in the preaching event. May God indeed provide this Spirit-given insight into His Word.
Third, we pray that God may enable His preachers to bear well the providential difficulties incumbent upon declaring His Word. There is hostility, ridicule, and persecution associated with preaching, to be sure—but there is also inattention and deadness of hearers’ hearts that vex the genuine preacher also. May God grant His proclaimers endurance in this—and may He turn these sad conditions into glorious embrace of Himself as He is offered in the Gospel.
Fourth, we pray that God may bring clarity from the lips of His preachers. Paul asks the Corinthians, “If the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle?” (1 Corinthians 14:8). This is one of my prayers for my own preaching, among others—that God would make His message clear through my imperfect lips and mind. Let us pray that God’s preaching goes forth clearly, resounds clearly in the hearts of hearers, bears the fruit ordained for it (Isaiah 55:11), and redounds to God’s glory.
All of this we do with a view to God’s glory, in the face of Christ, in the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit. We also pray thus with a view both to the good of those who proclaim His Word and to the good of those who hear His Word proclaimed—in order that the saved may hear and be strengthened in Christ, and in order that the unsaved may be given ears to hear—and, thus, that they shall be saved as well. May we, then, by God’s amazing grace, persist in prayer—and let us trust Him to bring forth His glorious fruit in His good time.
 Bennett, Arthur, ed., The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1998).
 This is the central claim of my doctoral thesis-project: The Ministry of the Holy Spirit in the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons: As Evidenced by Four Representative Southern Presbyterian Exemplars (unpublished D. Min. thesis-project, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, South Hamilton, Massachusetts, 2008).