Paul’s prayers—like his letters in general—overflow with a richness that makes you feel like you’re working to catch every drop as it pours out. This makes studying the Bible exciting, knowing that there’s always more to be found each time we return.
Paul’s prayer for the church at Colossae (1:9-14) is one of those jam-packed prayers that not only benefit us but also teaches us about prayer. Comparing Paul’s way of praying with our prayer patterns can help us to notice where our default prayers might change for the better. Here are a few summary observations, neatly framed in a “PS” (Pray S____) format so as to be easy to remember and to calm my conscience that finds relief in alliteration.
How much of your prayer life is self-absorbed, concerned with yourself and your wants? (Deep gulp.) If honest, many of our prayers sound more like “my kingdom come, my will be done” than “thy kingdom come, thy will be done.”
What we immediately notice about Paul is that his prayers are not only God-centered rather than man-centered, but they’re also for other people. He prays for the people at Colossae—even though he’s never meant them—because his heart for God’s Church matches up with Christ’s heart for His Church. It’s simple, but we need the reminder that our prayers should not only seek God’s glory and kingdom above our own but that we should pray with others in mind much more often than we likely do.
Paul doesn’t just pray for others on rare instances, but he is steadfast, resilient, and committed in his praying. He lives out his exhortation to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17). “We always we thank God…when we pray for you” (Col. 1:3). “We have not ceased to pray for you” (Col. 1:9). I know that my prayers for others are not only offered with less frequency than they should be, but they tend to be reactive and defensive. When a problem or pain comes up in the life of someone I know, then I pray in response. Paul, however, gets on the offense and prays for people in every season.
By pray “spiritually” I don’t mean pray for solely for religious things. What I do mean is that our prayers are not only by the Spirit but that they focus on the things of God or the things the Spirit would lead us to pray. We often primarily pray for material, physical, earthly, and clearly tangible things that are part of our daily life. We want health when sick, wealth when finances are thin, blessing at home and work, and answers to pending decisions. How do we better align our prayers to correspond to “the things of the Spirit” (1 Cor. 2:14), things central to the heart, promises, and purposes of God. Paul prays for the Colossian church to know God so they might reflect him (1:9-10), and for God’s strength so they might endure with joy (1:11-12). Paul, as a whole, prayed for things of the heart whereas we pray for things on the surface. Paul prayed for things of the Spirit whereas we often pray according to our fleshly desires and wants. Paul prayed for God’s kingdom whereas we pray for our kingdom. May we learn from Paul and shift our prayer life accordingly.
Part of why we often pray for the wrong things or in the wrong way is because we don’t know what to pray. Prayer is the overflow of the heart and mind. We pray for the things we think about most and use the language familiar to us. Because of that, one of the most transforming things you can do for your prayer life is to pray the Bible. This can include praying specific prayers of the Bible (like Col. 1:9-14) or just praying over any section of the Bible (like Col. 1:15-23). When we pray the Scriptures it helps us pray according to God’s will rather than my own because I’m directly praying God’s Word, the very things God has declared, promised and committed to doing. It also moves us away from self-centered prayers and into God-centered and others-focused prayers. Praying the Scriptures always gives us clear and new things to pray, helping us avoid a vague and monotonous prayer life.
Two suggestions. First, pray specific and detailed prayers rather than general, ambiguous, shallow prayers. What do we mean when we ask God to bless someone or to be with them or to help them? Each of those is a good thing to pray, but when we narrow in on how God could do that our prayers can have greater clarity and power. Second, be specific when we pray for people by telling them how or what we are praying for them. In his letters, Paul doesn’t just say, “Hey Church, I’m praying for you,” but he tells them specifically what he’s praying. When you tell someone what you’re been praying for them, it not only convinces them you are praying, but it instills confidence and gives encouragement by knowing the specificity of that prayer.
Pray on the Spot
Finally, while we don’t directly see this in Colossians 1:9-14, one way to grow in praying for others is to pray for requests on the spot. When someone shares with me a burden, struggle, need, or trial, almost always it would be better if I paused and prayed at that moment rather than only promising to pray in the future. I not only miss the chance to deepen our relationship and refresh our hearts by praying together—which is a big loss—but I might forget to pray for them altogether. When a spouse or family member, a coworker or neighbor, someone in your small group, or a fellow church member in a Sunday morning conversation shares something that needs prayer, then why not pray then and there with them?
The best way to learn how to pray is to pray with other believers.