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Christian Prayer & Witness

Colossians  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  34:16
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Turn to Col. 4
Over the last few weeks we’ve learned about how the new creation lifestyle of love, peace and focus on Christ’s word deepens our fellowship with other believers in the church, and makes an impact in our homes and workplaces. This week, we’re going to see how that new creation lifestyle is meant to lead us to prayer for the effective spread of the gospel and wisdom for how to interact with unbelievers.
So let’s read our text and see what the Scripture has to say about a how Christian’s should pray and how we should live as we interact with unbelievers.
Colossians 4:2–6 CSB
2 Devote yourselves to prayer; stay alert in it with thanksgiving. 3 At the same time, pray also for us that God may open a door to us for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains, 4 so that I may make it known as I should. 5 Act wisely toward outsiders, making the most of the time. 6 Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer each person.
pray
My aim today is for us to unpack the two main imperative verbs in this text. They come at the beginning over verse 2 where Paul says - to devote yourselves to prayer, and at the beginning of verse 5 where he says to walk in wisdom toward outsiders. And I want us to extrapolate from what Paul says to the Colossians - four elements of effective prayer and two elements of an effective witness. So first, let’s look at

Four Elements of Effective Prayer

When we consider all that the Bible has to say about prayer, there are certainly more than these four elements. However these ingredients come to the forefront of Paul’s closing words to the Colossian believers - I hope you’ll be able to see them clearly in our text today. He says that first of all, prayer should have an element of

1) Persistence

Colossians 4:2 CSB
2 Devote yourselves to prayer; stay alert in it with thanksgiving.
The word that the CSB translates “Devote” means to busy oneself with, be busily engaged in, be devoted to something.
Think of Jesus’ parable of the widow and the unrighteous judge.
Luke 18:1–7 ESV
1 And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. 2 He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. 3 And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ 4 For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’ ” 6 And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. 7 And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them?
Paul reminds the Colossian Christians that those who are effective in prayer continue steadfastly in it. They are persistent like the widow in the parable. And we should be as well.
The second element of effective prayer we learn from Colossians 4:2 is

2) Watchfulness

Colossians 4:2 CSB
2 Devote yourselves to prayer; stay alert in it with thanksgiving.
Paul tells the Colossians “stay alert” when you pray.
It reminds us of Jesus in the Garden with his disciples
Mark 14:38 ESV
38 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
Indeed, watchful prayer enables us to see what God is doing and to discern what sinister forces might be seeking to undo.
1 Peter 5:8 CSB
8 Be sober-minded, be alert. Your adversary the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour.
Christians must be aware that as we pray we are engaging in spiritual warfare and the enemy would love to see us grow lazy in our persistence or our alertness to what is going on around us.
There is a book in our Library called “E.M. Bounds on Prayer.” Bounds once said:
“The prime need of the church is not men of money nor men of brains, but men of prayer.” - E. M. Bounds
What Leonardtown Baptist Church needs more than anything is for the people of God to keep watch and persistently engage in prayer.
But notice also that Paul adds another element to what makes for effective prayer, and by now it shouldn’t surprise us. He says prayer should take place with

3) Thanksgiving

You may remember that Paul began the body of the letter with thankful prayer:
Colossians 1:3 CSB
3 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you,
and how fitting now that as the body of the letter is being brought to a close, he cycles back around to thankful prayer.
We’ve learned throughout this book that gratitude is a distinguishing mark on the Christian life. Its tentacles reach into how we sing, how we learn and grow, and yes… how we ought to pray.
As I reflect on this passage, I know that it’s true in my own life that there are times I find myself heavy on the side of asking God for things like other peoples’ health, provisions, needs, and desires. But Paul teaches us that prayer ought to include thanksgiving in it.
He would agree with the Psalmist:
Psalm 92:1 NET
1 It is fitting to thank the Lord, and to sing praises to your name, O sovereign One!
So verse two included the first three elements of effective prayer. Now we look to verse three and four for the last element.
Colossians 4:3–4 CSB
3 At the same time, pray also for us that God may open a door to us for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains, 4 so that I may make it known as I should.
Paul says to the Colossians: "When you pray, entreat God to act - ask him to open a door, and to give me boldness!”
So we say that the fourth element of effective prayer is

4) Petition

A key foundation to prayer is an understanding that we are dependent upon God to move and to act. Jesus taught us to ask our heavenly father to provide our daily bread, and to forgive us. He also taught us to entreat God for his Kingdom to come and his will to be done.
That rings true through Paul’s request of the Colossian believers. He wants them to pray that God’s kingdom would expand on earth by providing him opportunities to proclaim Christ to others. So when you pray, ask God

i) for unique opportunities to proclaim Christ

Paul says - pray that God would open a door for us.
When you pray, do you ask God to give you opportunities to share the gospel? Here at LBC we like to ask, “who’s your one?” Who is one person you’re praying for to come to faith in Christ? But in addition to praying for one individual to come to faith, Paul teaches us here that we can pray for God to present us with opportunities to share our faith all the time!
But how often do we find ourselves with a golden opportunity to share our faith, or take a conversation into a spiritual direction, but we shrink back from it? That is why Paul also tells the Colossians to pray

ii) for appropriate boldness to proclaim Christ

Don’t you find it extraordinarily encouraging that even the apostle Paul needed prayers to be made on his behalf for boldness? He says in Ephesians:
Ephesians 6:20 CSB
20 For this I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I might be bold enough to speak about it as I should.
Part of our regular prayer habit ought to be that not only would God give us opportunities to share our faith, but the boldness to do it. That is the kind of prayer that God will honor! Because as we proclaim the mystery of Christ, he receives glory by our witness.
This leads us to the next imperative in this section of Colossians. It is the imperative to act wisely toward outsiders. We know that our Christian walk... as seen by outsiders... is an element of our witness. So let’s look at

Two Elements of Effective Witness

As an effective evangelist who made it his ambition not to preach the gospel where Christ was already known, Paul was in a good position to counsel the Colossians about how best to relate with unbelievers, so we should listen carefully. He says that the first element of an effective witness is our

1) Behavior

A very wooden, literal, translation of the command Paul gives in verse 5 is to “Walk” with wisdom toward outsiders. The sense of that word though has to do with a person’s behavior or conduct. That is why the CSB translates it “ACT wisely.” They way a person lives is in view.
The world is watching Christians and they are particularly watching the way that we live our lives. This is why Paul says we are to demonstrate behavior...

i) that is wise

You gotta be smart about how you live your life around others if you want to have an effective witness with them. You can’t be careless with your words or your actions, but intentional and wise.
In addition, your behavior will be resourceful with the time you have.

ii) that is resourceful

Verse five says that we should make the most of the time. That word literally means to buy back the time. The sense of the term means to make the most of perilous times by taking advantage of every opportunity that comes your way.
This phrase has an interesting parallel to an Old Testament passage in Daniel 2
You may recall that there was a mystery that King Nebuchadnezzar wanted revealed. He had a dream he couldn’t interpret. So he called in his magicians and wise men. And when they started shuffling their feet and not being able to answer, he accused them of (here’s our word) - BUYING BACK TIME to avoid trying to answer.
Daniel 2:8 ESV
8 The king answered and said, “I know with certainty that you are trying to gain time, because you see that the word from me is firm—
Well, if you remember the story, there was a person with wisdom who knew how to behave well toward outsiders. He also knew how to tailor fit his conversation with tactical brilliance to make the most of every opportunity. His name was… Daniel.
Daniel 2:14–16 ESV
14 Then Daniel replied with prudence and discretion to Arioch, the captain of the king’s guard, who had gone out to kill the wise men of Babylon. 15 He declared to Arioch, the king’s captain, “Why is the decree of the king so urgent?” Then Arioch made the matter known to Daniel. 16 And Daniel went in and requested the king to appoint him a time, that he might show the interpretation to the king.
So Daniel, went and prayed and asked God for wisdom to interpret the mystery that had been hidden.
Daniel 2:19–22 ESV
19 Then the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision of the night. Then Daniel blessed the God of heaven. 20 Daniel answered and said: “Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, to whom belong wisdom and might. 21 He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding; 22 he reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells with him.
You see, the Colossians are not to buy time the way the magicians did but in the way the prophet Daniel did in order to speak the mystery and make it known with boldness to outsiders.
So we have to be wise and prudent with tiem in how we behave toward others, but we must also engage in

2) Conversation

i) that is winsome

look back at verse 6
Colossians 4:6 CSB
6 Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer each person.
Paul says that your conversations should always be gracious toward others. Would your co-workers and neighbors say that about you? Would they say that every time they’re talking with you they feel as though your conversation with them is full of grace? What a powerful witness it is when we do fill our conversations with grace.
Then Paul uses the metaphor of seasoning with salt. R. Kent Hughes says that this type of conversation is never insipid or boring. In fact, it is salty, savory, and scintillating—not the dull, sanctimonious conversations that seems to be demanded in some church circles. It is thoughtful speech, words with content. It is joyful, and even witty, for this is what salty speech meant in classical Greek. And this doesn’t just mean about spiritual things only. Christians should be able to make so-called “small talk” with others and not be dull and uninteresting. It’s important to be able to engage in everyday conversations with people that are interesting, informative, and life giving.
I think of my friend Brian when I think about this verse. He is a renaissance man of sorts. I suppose the one area where he doesn’t know much about is sports, but that’s where he goes deep on the self-deprecating humor side of things to make up for his woeful lack of knowledge on the subject! BUT ASIDE FROM SPORTS..... He knows a little about everything, and whenever he speaks he contributes meaningfully to the conversation with a little bit of wit and humor to boot.
We should be like that too.
But another thing that my friend Brian does well, and that Paul enjoins here in this text is that you engage in conversation...

ii) that is personalized

I mention Brian here again because a long time ago he got me interested in listening to an apologist named Greg Koukl. Now some of you may remember that name because you got the book from the Elder Book Nook called “Tactics.”
I highly recommend that book to everyone, and with the remainder of the time today I want to share in broad strokes what that book teaches about how to have intentional, personalized conversations with unbelievers.
The main point of the book is built off of Colossians 4:5-6. Koukl wants Christians to engage others in meaningful conversation and follow some basic principles in doing so.
He summarizes these verses with three simple statements:
Be smart;
Be nice; and
Be tactical.
He goes on to explain that when we think of evangelism, we are often focused on harvesting, but before the harvest there has always got to be a season of what he calls “gardening.”
Koukl shares his testimony about how he became a Christian as a 23-year-old college student, but that he didn’t become a Christian in an instant. He had a long time of gardening that was happening in his life before he was ready to be harvested on that day.
The point is that you don’t have to necessarily be the person that harvests a soul for the Lord, but that every conversation is to do a little bit of gardening for the Lord.
To change metaphors, Koukl gives another way of thinking about these salty conversations. They are an opportunity to put a stone in somebody’s shoe. You know to annoy an unbeliever in a good way. You don’t have to overwhelm people, or manipulate them, and you certainly don’t want to get into a fight with someone.
The rule of thumb for conversations, according to Koukl, is that if anybody gets mad I lose. If I get mad, and they don’t get mad, I lose. If they get mad, then I lose. So we don’t want anybody to get mad because people who are angry are not listening. Plus, that shouldn’t happen if our speech is filled with grace, right?
So at the heart of Tactics is an approach to conversations that puts you in the driver’s seat. It’s a way to always be ready to give a defense for the reason for the hope you have. And it focuses on giving specific answers to specific people because you have a method for approaching every unique conversation. he calls it the Columbo method - based off the TV detective Columbo. You remember that Columbo was very good at asking questions. And he would just continue to pepper people with questions to try to not only keep the conversation going but to gather information along the way.
This is how believers can go on the offensive in an inoffensive way in the midst of everyday conversations. We can use carefully selected questions to advance the conversation.
So the first thing we’d say about individualizing your conversation, is to use questions to gather information. We should make it our goal to gather information about the people we’re talking with. Why come out of the gate with some sort of pre-packaged evangelistic strategy. You can tailor fit your conversation to the person you’re sharing with if you just start by asking questions first.
Here’s a question you can ask: “What do you mean by that?” This question gets someone to define their terms and give fuller explanations to simple statements or even symbols they wear as jewelry or tattoos. Have you ever thought about how much something must mean to a person for them to have it permanently inked on their skin? Ask a person - what does that tattoo mean? What is its significance? These are all questions that will help you get to know an individual.
Or when you’re dealing with someone you know and they make a statement that you might bristle at, instead of just sparring right back in the conversation, get to know more about where they’re coming from by asking further questions.
This gets the other person gets to talk, which means there’s no pressure on you. When you ask a question, there’s no pressure. They’re doing the talking while you’re getting an education by finding out what a person’s about and what they believe in.
The second step to personalizing the conversation with an unbeliever is to reverse the burden of proof.
“The burden of proof,” is the responsibility a person has to give reasons.
A lot of times we get out ahead of ourselves trying to defend claims that we make as believers instead of asking questions that put the burden of proof on the unbeliever to defend their own worldview or their own beliefs.
Don’t give someone a free ride while you are the only one defending what you believe. In the immortal words of Ricky Ricardo, “They got a lot of ‘splainin to do.” We want unbelievers to do some ‘splainin in the conversation. And the way to get them to explain their worldview is with a second question. Ask a person: “Now, how did you come to that conclusion?” What are your reasons for that? Why do you think that’s the way it is?
This second type of question gets a person to start thinking more deeply about things that perhaps they haven’t ever fully considered in their own worldview. Or maybe they have, but they try and suppress the inconsistencies in it...
I remember a sad day when a friend of mine and I sat across the table from another friend who was once a deacon at the church we were at. He had since that time renounced his faith and claimed to be an atheist. In the middle of our conversation, I remember very clearly us asking this person to explain his worldview. When he did we then tried to gently point out the inconsistencies in it. To his credit he acknowledged that his worldview had gaps in it where ours fit together. He said he just tried to live with the dissonance, but you could almost see the pain on his face as he had to verbalize those inconsistencies to us. And the reason he was having to verbalize them was because we persisted in unraveling his point of view with questions.
Instead of doing all the heavy lifting, we asked questions that had him defending his story rather than us trying refute it outright.
That is something I’m confident that all of you can do. Ask questions to be able to gather information and reverse the burden of proof. That will keep conversation moving along because you’ll have the other person doing most of the talking, and then when the timing is right and as the Lord gives you wisdom for how to reveal the mystery - make Christ known to your unbelieving friend in a way that meets them right where they are.
That is the way to have a witness with unbelievers that is wise, resourceful, winsome and personal. But remember, that all of that has to be undergirded with persistent, watchful and thankful prayer that God would give you opportunities and make you bold enough to engage in those meaningful conversations with unbelievers.
And if we are truly watchful in our prayers, we understand how grave and dire the circumstances are when we engage in these conversations. The Lord may not tarry long - and as we are alert to the reality of the coming day of the Lord, we ought to be all the more mindful to buy back the time and make the most of every single opportunity we get.
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