The Epistle. Colossians 1: 3.
Brethren: we give thanks to God and the Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you: since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and of the love which ye have to all the saints, for the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, whereof ye heard before in the word of truth of the Gospel: which is come unto you, as it is in all the world, and bringeth forth fruit, as it doth also in you, since the day ye heard of it, and knew the grace of God in truth, as ye also learned of Epaphras, our dear fellow-servant, who is for you a faithful minister of Christ, who also declared unto us your love in the Spirit. For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding: that ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing: being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God: strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and long-suffering with joyfulness, giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the Saints in light.
What is the purpose of prayer? More specifically, when we pray, what is our purpose? I’m sure that we think we know what prayer is; a petition to God; and likewise I’m sure that we think we know what prayer does; which is to draw us closer to God. But my question today is intended to focus on the details of our prayer, the goal of our prayer, the objective of our prayer.
Now I am reasonably certain that most of us are not overly selfish in our petitions to God; I have no doubt that we do not burden Him with requests for personal wealth or such like. At the same time, I am also sure that most of our prayers are quite generous and charitable in nature; such as when we pray for those who are sick or for the souls of the departed. These instances of specific intention are very worthy and fine examples of how a Christian should pray. But do they really convey the purpose of prayer?
Today, in his letter to the Colossians, St. Paul gives us a better idea of the purpose of prayer, and the first point is this; “that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will“. When we petition God, we should always begin by asking for an ever growing discernment of His Will; “Thy Kingdom come, Thy Will be done”. This should be the greatest object of our prayer; to know the Will of God.
All too often when we pray, we think that we are trying to make God listen to us; and as a result, we fail to listen to Him. We think that we are somehow trying to persuade God to do what we want, and we forget that we should really be trying to find out what HE wants us to do. All too often, in our prayers, we are really saying “Thy Will be changed”, when we ought to be saying, “Thy Will be done”. So the purpose of our prayer should not only be to speak to God, but more importantly to listen to Him.
“in all wisdom and spiritual understanding: that ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing: being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God “. In this context, St. Paul is not talking simply about knowledge, but critical knowledge; an understanding of the principles of Christianity and the ability to apply them to our daily lives; “Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us”.
It is one thing to say that we have discerned the Will of God, but understanding is displayed by the way in which we live our lives. History is filled with the names of great theologians who have written about the eternal Truths of Christianity; but Christianity does not exist in an academic vacuum; it exists in a corporeal world.
So the purpose of our prayer should not be just to discern the Will of God and understand the eternal Truths of our Faith; but also to apply these truths to our daily lives in such a way that all whom we encounter in this world will know that we are Christians.
“strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power“. When I was working in the secular world, we had this saying; “you can only effect change according to your status”. What this meant was that a supervisor could make only a few changes; a manager a few more, a director or vise-president even more changes and, of course, the president or CEO had the greatest power. Naturally, the low man on the list had the least ability to change anything.
What St. Paul is saying here is that all of us, regardless of “status” have the power to effect change. This power, this “authority” comes to us from Christ himself, through his Apostles. But not only that, we also receive this power through our prayers. This might be a problem if we didn’t have any idea of what to do with this power; but if we have truly discerned the Will of God, then we know that we also have the power to accomplish it as well. So the purpose of our prayer should also be to properly wield the power that God has given to us.
“unto all patience and long-suffering with joyfulness“. OK, here is where most of us can get into trouble. When it comes to prayer, we are all too willing to sublimate our personal needs and to pray for the needs of others. We may even be willing to do this for some indefinite amount of time. But after a while we start thinking, “well, that’s long enough”; and we begin to “delete” people or causes from our “prayer list”, because “it’s getting to long, they must be better by now”, etc.
But in this context, patience does not mean that we have surrendered to the condition of those for whom we pray, or that that the term of their need for our prayer is limited. Rather, our prayer here reflects not just our desire for the relief of those who suffer, but further that they will not give in to bitterness and despair, and that they may accept their fate with joy.
This is a very hard thing to understand; that no matter what our circumstance, we must approach it with joy. The Christian existence is not one of mindless perseverance through the drudgery of everyday life. It is not about the grim struggle with people and events that seem to stack the odds against us.
Rather, the Christian must live every moment of every day with Joy in his (or her) heart. And this does not imply simply an “internal” joy, but one that radiates from us; a joy that is on display for all to see and that is easily recognized. A joy that tells others that even in the face of suffering or hard times we know that Our Lord has guaranteed victory; a joy that brings peace in the face of despair.
It is all too easy to feel joyful when things are going well; but the joy that a Christian experiences and exudes is one that not even all the pains of human existence can extinguish. And so the next purpose of our prayer must simply be JOY.
We all know what prayer is; a petition to God. We all know what prayer does; bring us closer to God. And we must always remember that a critical component of our prayer is to intercede on behalf of those who are suffering, or who have departed this mortal life. But even as we endeavor to maintain a faithful prayer life, we must be sure to properly focus on the purpose of prayer.
When we pray, we must always ask to know the Will of God, and to listen to Him. We must not only seek to discern His Will, but also be ready to display our understanding, through our words and actions, in our daily lives. We must likewise be ready to accept the power God has given us and to properly use it to affect the change that He desires. And when we pray, we must do so with all joy in our hearts, because we know that God has already declared the ultimate victory; and that those for whom we pray will likewise know this joy.
No matter what we are praying for, no matter whom we are praying for, these things should always be at the heart of the purpose of our prayer; discerning and understanding the Will of God; showing our understanding through our words and actions; wielding the power that God has given us so that we can properly carry out His Will; and doing so with joy in our hearts, because we know that God has already won the ultimate victory.
For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding: that ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing: being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God: strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and long-suffering with joyfulness, giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the Saints in light.