Praying for a Change
With solemn vows of good behavior, little Stevie finally persuades his mother to let him sit with a group of friends at church. "But remember,” mom warns, “I'm sitting 2 rows behind you, and I will be keeping an eye on you." Despite his good intentions, Steve is soon giggling and squirming with his buddies. Finally Stevie's mom has stood all she can stand. She walks forward, takes her son by the hand, and escorts him to the back of the sanctuary. Halfway down the aisle, Steve turns to the congregation and cries out, "Everybody please pray for me!"[i]
“Pray for me.”
When you hear that request, somebody’s usually at the end of their rope. They’ve tried everything they know to do, but nothing is working. The patient is not getting any better. The pain is not going away. The money is not coming in. The prodigal is not coming back.
“Pray for me.”
And often we do pray, because we’ve been told over and over that “prayer changes things.” But somebody else says, “Prayer doesn’t change a thing. Prayer changes people, and people change things.”
It is strange that, while praying, we seldom ask for change of character, but always a change in circumstance. [ii]
Our best praying is not just asking God to change situations, but asking God to change hearts, because whether you realize it or not, what’s going on inside you is much more important than what happens to you.
That’s why the apostle Paul prayed the way he prayed. Read his prayers in the Bible, and you discover He almost never prays for everybody to be safe, for everybody to be well, for God to smooth out all of the rough waters. Instead Paul almost always prays for a change—that God will use whatever happens to help a person grow closer to God, to grow stronger in their faith, and to grow more thankful for what God has done. He doesn’t pray just for peace—he prays for progress, a change for the better. Tonight I want to look at one example of this sort of praying found in Col. 1:9-14. As we do I want you to ask yourself two questions: how should you pray for change in others? How should you pray for change in your own life?
Even though Paul’s never been to the church at Colossae, he tells them he’s been praying for them ever since he heard of their faith in Christ. He’s been praying not for their safety, but for their sanctification; not for their health but for their holiness; not for their peace but for God’s power to keep changing their life. His prayer shows us 3 changes to pray for:
I. PRAY: WHAT YOU KNOW WILL CHANGE HOW YOU LIVE (v. 9-10).
A grown son once sat across from his father (who was a minister) and asked Dad, what do you know about God? The father replied, Mighty little, son. But what I do know about God has changed my life!
Knowing Christ changes your life. The more you know Christ, the more your life will be changed for the better. This prayer for progress involves growing in knowing and enlarging your living.
First Paul prays they’ll be growing in their knowing in vs. 9b…that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; Paul asks God to give the Colossian Christians a clear and complete knowledge of what He wants, (the knowledge of His will) along with the practical life- skills to see how what God wants should be worked out in their life (in all wisdom). He prays that they see life from a spiritual perspective (in all…spiritual understanding.) He asks God to show them His will, and then show them how they can live out His will in day-to-day life, all the time keeping God’s perspective on everything.
Secondly, Paul prays in vs. 10 this growing in their knowing will result in the enlarging of their living: …that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; The more they understand God’s will, the more they will live to honor Christ (walk worthy of the Lord), the more they will strive to please Him in everything( fully pleasing Him) and the more they will produce the fruit of good works---all of which comes around to help them grow closer to God (increasing in the knowledge of God.) The change Paul prays for here is not just in what the Colossians know, but in how they live. He prays what they know will change how they live.
This is a good prayer to pray---for yourself or anybody else: Lord, let what I know change how I live. What we know doesn’t always match up with how we live. How many years have you been reading the Bible? Most of us here have been reading the Bible ever since we could read. We’ve heard the Bible preached and taught and hammered into our heads until we know it almost before the preacher preaches it. But measure all that knowledge you have of the Bible with how much of what you know you’ve put into practice. For most of us, we know what God’s will is, but sadly, what we know hasn’t changed how we live.
It ain't those parts of the Bible that I can't understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand. - Mark Twain
Paul’s prayer is a plea for change in us, and in those we pray for: Lord let what I know about Your will from Your Word change me. Help us keep growing in our knowing, but at the same time, Lord, please help what we know enlarge our living so we will honor you by doing what’s good and right. That’s prayer for a positive change. Are you bold enough to pray this prayer for others? Are you bold enough to pray it for yourself? But Paul also shows us we need to
II. PRAY: CHRIST WILL EMPOWER YOU TO ENDURE. (v. 11)
Larry Olsen describes a man lost in the desert: “He has been out of food and water for days. His lips are swollen, his tongue is swollen, he’s all beat up and bloody. Some of his bones are almost peeking through his skin. He’s been scraped and beat up by the cactus and sand and sun. He’s blistered. As he’s crawling over this little hill he comes across this little plant and props himself up on one bloody elbow, looks down at this plant and says, ‘You know, if things keep going like this I might start to get discouraged!’” [iii]
A lot of us get discouraged a much sooner than this fellow. In fact, a lot of people give up completely when things get tough. But others seem to be able to keep going, seem to be able to endure a lot and still make progress. What’s the difference? Their power source. A car needs gas to keep it going. Your microwave needs electricity to heat up those meals. People need power to keep going—especially when tough times try to pull the plug on our strength. That’s why Paul prays in vs. 11 for Christ’s power to enable the Colossian church to endure, no matter what happens to them. Specifically, he prays for power and perseverance.
He prays for power—not their own power, but God’s power. He asks that through Christ, the power of God will flow in them and through them. Let’s stop for a minute and consider what you know about God’s power. God’s power is infinite. There is nothing He cannot do. The most powerful forces we know—gravity, nuclear power---is to God’s power what a slingshot is to a tomahawk missile. Paul prays for this infinite, all powerful strength to empower people to endure. And here’s the good part: God can empower us with His power.
Philippians 4:13 I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
Do you get the picture of this prayer? Paul prays that God’s almighty, infinite power be channeled into and through weak, puny human beings like you and me. And somehow God can do that all because somebody asks Him to do it.
Now what do you do with all that power? Some preachers tell you to use God’s power to make you healthy, wealthy, and successful. But Paul seems to think God empowers us for a different reason: ...for all patience and longsuffering with joy…Did I read that right? Paul prays for God’s power to make them patient, to help them suffer with joy?
Some of us need God’s power to be patient. Waiting is not the American way. But I’ve noticed Jesus never was in a hurry? Not once in any of the 4 Gospels will you ever find Jesus checking His watch, scurrying to get where He’s supposed to be on time. He takes His time. He still takes His time, and if you follow Him, you’re going to have to learn to wait. More importantly, you’re going to have to ask Him to give you the strength to wait on Him.
It’s hard to wait, isn’t it? If you’ve ever sat in a hospital waiting room, 2 hours after the 30-minute surgery started, you know what I mean. I don’t know anybody who enjoys waiting.
Yet Paul goes farther and prays that they endure waiting with joy.
That’ll be the day we say it’ll take God’s power for me to be patient and happy.
And you’re right—it does take God’s power. It takes faith to believe God’s power will give you endurance, that you will be able to weather whatever storm comes my way with a smile because I know my All-powerful Lord holds me and my world in His mighty hands. I can afford to wait with a smile because I know Christ is in control. If He’s in control, no matter how bad it gets, I’m going to make it because He will pull me through.
This is a good prayer to pray---for yourself or anybody else: Lord, empower me to endure. Fill me with Your power so that I can keep going and keep waiting, with joy. Are you bold enough to pray that prayer for somebody else? Are you bold enough to pray that for yourself?
A preacher decided to retire from the ministry, and one Sunday he explained his decision to the congregation: "I wear two hearing aids; I wear tri-focal glasses; I have a partial plate; and I sometimes walk with a cane. It seems to me, that the Lord is telling me it's time to retire." After the service, a white-haired lady told him, "Reverend, you have misinterpreted what the Lord has been saying to you about retirement. He's not telling you it's time to retire; he's telling you that if you keep going he'll keep you patched up." [iv]
God will keep you going, even if He has to keep you patched up. Our job is not to give up. That’s a prayer for a positive change. But Paul doesn’t stop there. He prays for one more thing:
III. THAT YOU WILL ALWAYS BE FULL OF GRATITUDE. (v. 12-14).
A woman leaving the worship service said to the minister, "I enjoyed the sermon." "Don't thank me. Thank the Lord," said the minister. The lady replied "It wasn't that good.”[v]
Gratitude is one of those virtues you have to keep up. It’s hard to stay thankful because we’re so forgetful, so much easier to take our blessings for granted. It’s much easier to gripe and complain about what we don’t have than to be thankful for what we do have. But an unthankful heart is dangerous to our soul. This is why Paul in vs. 12-14 includes a prayer that the Colossians practice giving thanks to the Father…
I can hear some people saying for what? What do I have to be thankful for? What has God done for me? Paul lists off reasons every Christian should always be thankful:
He has given us an inheritance. (v. 12) The language Paul uses here denotes land given by a parent to a child. The inheritance of Christians includes a place in God’s family, all of the promises of God to His people, and a place in heaven. All of these blessings belong to us because we are His children. Jesus died to provide us with this inheritance of all of God’s richest blessings, both now and in eternity. Lord, help us be grateful for our inheritance!
Another reason we should always be grateful is because He has rescued us from darkness. (v. 13) You and I were born in a world of darkness, a world corrupted by sin and the power of the devil. Our destiny was not heaven, but hell.
Ephesians 2:12 you were without Christ… having no hope and without God in the world.
But what a change comes when we come to Christ! He rescues us from darkness, and we are conveyed= transferred into the kingdom of the Son of His love… Lord, help us be grateful we have been rescued! One more reason to be thankful?
He has redeemed us. (v. 14) Jesus once said that all of us are enslaved by sin. But God pays the awful bloody price for our freedom by allowing Christ to be nailed to a Cross, by placing our sins on His Son. If there is ever anything that should fill your heart with gratitude, look again at what it cost God to set you free.
1 Peter 1:18-19 18…you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold,…19but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.
Lord, help us be grateful You have redeemed us!
This is a good prayer to pray---for yourself or anybody else: Lord, help me be grateful for what you have done. Are you bold enough to pray this pray for someone else/yourself?
You may not always be grateful for money, because God might not give you a much. You might not always be thankful for a lot of stuff, because God might not give you a lot of stuff. You may not always be grateful for good health, because if you live long enough, your health will fail. You will not always be able to say, “Thank you, Lord for giving me everything I ever wanted,” because God has not promised to give you all you ever wanted. But you can always thank God for your inheritance in Christ. You can always be thankful He rescued you from darkness. You can always be grateful He redeemed you.
Warren Wiersbe writes about a student named Ed Spencer. In 1860, a ship went aground on the shore of Lake Michigan near Evanston, and Ed waded again and again into the frigid waters to rescue 17 passengers. In the process, his health was permanently damaged. Years later at his funeral, it was noted not one of the people he rescued ever thanked him. [vi]
Jesus has done some great and wonderful things for you. Are you truly grateful for what He has done? Bow your heads with me.
Tonight I want you and I to pray together.
First of all, I want you to pray for that friend or family member who has asked for prayer. Pray for the need they see, but don’t forget to pray for the needs they might not see. Would you pray for that person right now? Pray that what they know about Christ will change how they live. Pray that Christ will empower them to endure whatever comes their way. Pray that they will keep a grateful heart for what Christ has done for them. Pray for God to bring a change into their lives—a change for the better.
But don’t stop there. Pray this prayer for yourself. Maybe you need what you know to change how you live today. Maybe you need strength to keep going right now. Would you call out to the Lord right now to rekindle that thanksgiving you once had for all He’s done for you? Let’s make this our prayer today, for others, and for ourselves, for Jesus’ sake.
[i] Aleene Sanders, Poplar Bluff, Mo. Christian Reader, "Lite Fare.
[ii]Baptist Challenge, 12/81 10,000 Sermon Illustrations, electronic ed. (Dallas: Biblical
[iii]Larry Olsen, Outdoor Survival Skills Charles R. Swindoll, The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart and 1501 Other
[iv] Ivan P. Downing, Dagsboro, Del. Christian Reader, "Lite Fare."
[v] Robert S. Smith, Kane, Pennsylvania, Christian Reader, "Lite Fare."
[vi]Our Daily Bread February 20, 1994 10,000 Sermon Illustrations, electronic ed. (Dallas: Biblical Studies