Colossians 1

Read Colossians 1

Whenever I read Paul’s descriptions of his prayers, I am struck by how different they are than the way I often pray and the way that I’ve heard most other Christians pray.

Frankly, most of our prayer requests and prayers for each other are about physical illnesses and injuries or other basic life problems. While there is nothing wrong at all with praying for these things—and we should pray for them—think about them in contrast to how Paul prayed for the Colossians here in Colossians 1.

First of all, he and his associates “have not stopped praying for you” (v. 9a) which is something I can’t always honestly say.

Second, notice what they asked God for: “We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you 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, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light” (vv. 9b-12).

In other words, his prayers were for their spiritual growth in specific areas. He wanted them to know God and be stronger in their Christian lives.

Do we honestly ever pray that way for other believers? How can you change that going forward?

2 Corinthians 1

Read 2 Corinthians 1.

In 2 Corinthians 1 Paul began, after his usual opening in verses 1-2, to praise God for the comfort He gave to Paul during his times of trouble (vv. 3-11). Paul then wrote at some length about trouble in general (vv. 4-7), then specified that he had faced some very difficult problems in Asia—modern day Turkey (vv. 8-10).

Paul’s conclusion was that God had delivered him and his co-workers and would do so again (v. 10a). Verse 10 concluded with Paul’s faith that God would continue delivering them from trouble, but then he added in verse 11, “as you help us by your prayers.” That phrase reminded the Corinthians, and reminds us, of the importance of intercession—praying for God’s work on behalf of others.

It is so easy to focus so much on our own needs, troubles, desires, fears, pain, illness, and more that we pray mostly for ourselves and little for others. The biblical instructions about prayer, while not denying us the privilege of talking to God about our problems, remind us again and again to remember others in our prayers, especially those who are serving God in the gospel, even risking their lives so that Christ will be known.

Paul described the result of these prayers in verse 11b: “Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.” Why does God answer prayer? In part, to give us something to thank him for. Answered prayer is the kindling for our worship; it reminds us of God’s real power, his real promises, and it stimulates praise in us and others. But, this is only available to us when we pray. If your spiritual life is lacking fire, are you praying for others—especially those who are spreading the gospel?

1 Thessalonians 1

Today let’s read 1 Thessalonians 1.

We paused our reading in Acts at Acts 18 yesterday because it seems clear that Paul wrote this first letter to the Thessalonians while he was in Corinth during the time period covered by Acts 18 (see Acts 18:11). So we’re going to read that letter and 2 Thessalonians for the next few days before we return to Acts.

This passage overflows with thanksgiving for the Thessalonian believers because the evidence of their faith in God was so abundantly clear to Paul. Because he was thankful for them, Paul prayed for these believers.

And what was it that Paul prayed about when he prayed for them? Verse 3 says it was “…your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” In other words, it was their walk with God that he prayed for. He thanked God for how their faith showed itself in real life ways and he prayed that God would continue to nurture and strengthen that faith.

I think that one reason why we find it hard to pray for other Christians is that we are not in tune with their spiritual lives. We pray for health and happiness when we do pray, but do we thank God for ways in which we see each other growing and ask God to keep that growth going?

As your devotional time comes to a close this morning, take some time to think of another believer, maybe someone you brought to Christ or whose faith you’ve contributed to as a discipler, teacher, or friend. Take a few minutes to think about what evidences of growth you’ve seen in that person’s life and what areas he or she may be challenged in now. Then pray–thanking God for what he’s done in his / her life and asking Him to keep doing that work.

Matthew 9

Read Matthew 9.

The opening paragraph of this chapter told us about five men. One of them was paralyzed; the other four carried him to Jesus (v. 2). We’re not told if the men said anything to Jesus but it was obvious to anyone that they wanted Jesus to heal the man.

Instead of immediately healing the man as he had done with so many others, Jesus instead assured him that his sins were forgiven based on their faith (v. 2).

You know from our reading that Jesus did heal the man shortly after forgiving him (v. 6). His purpose in giving him assurance first and then healing him was to prove his authority to forgive sins (v. 6a).

But I think we should give some thought to what Jesus did. Most of us–most people, that is–would care most about being healed of paralysis. “Get me walking first, Lord, and then we can talk about my spiritual needs.”

But by forgiving his sins first, Jesus demonstrated what was important to him. Although he did care about the man’s infirmity (see Matt 8:17), Jesus cared first and most importantly about his spiritual life.

But what matters most to us when we request prayer for someone else?

I can’t tell you how often people ask me to pray for someone’s medical problems and, when I asked if that person knows the Lord, the answer I get is, “I don’t know.”

There is everything right with praying for other people’s problems–their diseases, needs, and cares. But even if they get healing now, eventually they will die and meet God. It is far more important to intercede with God for the salvation of others than it is to ask for them to be healed in their bodies.

Wouldn’t it be better–both more glorifying to God and better for the sick or injured person–if we used the occasion of their human problem to talk with someone about their spiritual need?

In other words, we could say, “I will ask God to heal you. But, do you know God? Have you come to believe in Jesus Christ to have your sins forgiven?”

Is there anyone in your life that you could pray for and witness to today?

Deuteronomy 9, Isaiah 37, Psalm 150

Today’s readings are Deuteronomy 9, Isaiah 37, and Psalm 150.

Today’s devotional is about Deuteronomy 9.

In this section of Moses’s sermon, he assured the Israelites that it was not their righteousness that caused God to favor them. Rather, it was simply a matter of God’s grace (vv. 1-4). The people they would displace in the promised land were receiving God’s wrath through Israel because of their sins (vv. 5-6) but Israel, too, was made up of sinners. As verse 6b said, “you are a stiff-necked people,” so God was not impressed by their moral quality either.

Moses then went on to recount some of Israel’s greatest moral failures. They made and worshiped a golden calf (vv. 7-21), angered the Lord “at Taberah, at Massah and at Kibroth Hattaavah” (v. 22), and rebelled when God commanded them to take the land the first time (vv. 23-24). Moses concluded his evaluation of Israel’s morals with these words, “You have been rebellious against the Lord ever since I have known you.”

Remember that the people who sinned in these stories were actually the parents of the people Moses was speaking to now. Except for Caleb and Joshua, every one of the people Moses talked about in this chapter died in the desert due to their unbelief.

In verses 18-20 and again in verses 25-29 Moses described how he prayed for Israel when the people sinned in these incidents. On two occasions, Moses fasted and prayed for 40 days and nights, asking God to spare these people from the justice they deserved. God partially answered Moses’s prayers. There were some casualties in these instances and, after Kadesh-Barnea (vv. 23-24), God sentenced everyone but Joshua and Caleb to die in the desert. But God was merciful in answer to the prayers of Moses; he did not kill everyone and he allowed most of the people after Kadesh-Barnea to live out the rest of their natural lives, so God answered Moses’s prayers in a real way.

Is there anyone in your life that you are interceding for? Someone who has never trusted Christ or someone who has professed Christ but is living in sin? If so, then you are acting much like Moses did in this chapter. In order to pray more like Moses, notice these characteristics of his intercessory prayer:

  • He reminded God of his promises–his covenant love–for these people: v. 26b: “…your people, your own inheritance that you redeemed…”).
  • He did not minimize or make excuses for their sin (v. 27b).
  • He spoke of the reputational damage that would result if God punished them now (v. 28).
  • He returned again to the special relationship God had chosen to promise these people (v. 29).

These characteristics focus on God not on the people. God was honored by Moses’s prayers because Moses prayed for mercy in terms of what God had promised and done. We, too, when we intercede for people would be wise to focus on God’s promises, even quoting his word back to him, when we pray.

God is pleased when we intercede for others. It gives us the opportunity to ask for and see God glorify himself when he answers our prayers and shows mercy to other sinners like us. Who are you praying for? Are you asking for God’s mercy in terms of who God is and what he has promised?