Praying As Jesus' Representative
The series is entitled “Mentors in Prayer.” Most of us pray—but we often don’t know how to pray, so our prayers often go unanswered and we lose motivation to pray. But when we pray according to God’s will, he answers our prayer (1John5:14,15)—and this is awesome and motivates us to pray more. This is why we need guidance from the New Testament. Here we find inspired help—actual prayers that we can pray (e.g., Lord’s Prayer), examples of how the early church prayed (e.g., Acts 4:24-30), examples of what biblical authors prayed for (e.g., Phil.1:9-11), and passages that tell us what we should pray for. I want to look at one of these passages today. It is found on Col. 4:2-6, and it teaches us how to pray as Jesus’ representative.
If you know Jesus, then you are his representative in this world. Although I often question his wisdom on this, he has chosen to stake his reputation on sinful, goofed-up people like you and me. He has given us the incredible privilege of speaking and acting for him among people who don’t yet know him. It’s no accident that you live and work and play among the people you do. God has placed you among these specific people to whet their appetites to know Jesus, and to explain how they can meet him. This is why Paul says 3:17 (read NLT).
If you want to see God answer your prayers, start asking for what you need to represent Jesus effectively. This is what Paul is encouraging in 4:2 (explain context). When you pray consistently, watchfully, and thankfully about being Jesus’ representative, God will answer your prayers—and his answered prayers will change your life. But what specifically should you pray for in this area? Let’s say you’re on your way to work, or you’re driving to your kids’ soccer game, or you’re having your neighbors over for dinner, or you’re in-laws are visiting from out of town, or you’re going to your book club, or you’re meeting with other students to study for you class. How can you pray about being Jesus’ representative in these situations? Paul gives us three general guidelines that apply to all such situations.
“Create an opportunity for me to share about Jesus’ love”
Read 4:3,4. The “mystery of Christ” refers to the message about Jesus. There was a spirituality in Colossae that centered around secret knowledge and secret initiation rites. Paul is using the word “mystery” ironically—he wants to share the “secret” about Jesus openly! This is the message that God loves us so much that he sent Jesus to die for all of our sins. And after dying for our sins, Jesus was raised from the dead so he is alive and able to actually live in your heart if you call on him for forgiveness. When he comes into your heart, he makes God’s love so real to you that it changes your life for good. Paul never got tired of sharing how meeting Jesus had transformed his life.
So Paul asks the Colossian Christians to pray that God will create an opportunity for him to share about Jesus’ love even though he is imprisoned. Paul was used to traveling freely around the Roman Empire and speaking about Jesus to gathered crowds of people. Now he finds himself under house arrest, literally chained to Roman guards, awaiting trial whenever Caesar gets around to hearing his case. It would be easy for him to say, “When I get out of prison, then I’ll be able to share Jesus with others.” But Paul knows that if God has allowed him to be imprisoned, there must be unique opportunities to share Jesus—so he asks them to pray for this. And God answered Paul’s/their prayers—read Phil.1:12,13 (Praetorian guards [4:22], other people in Rome through them, and spread through Roman Empire through transferred soldiers).
The application for us is obvious: If God can answer this prayer for Paul, he can certainly answer you when you pray: “God, create an opportunity for me to share about Jesus’ love.” No matter how constricted your situation may be, God will answer your prayer.
Several years ago, while my wife was taking care of her invalid father, she was very constricted from her normal freedom to meet people. Her life was almost completely restricted to housework, parenting and caring for her father. She began to pray along these lines as she went to the grocery store (every day!)—and God gave her opportunities to share Jesus with some of the employees. She began to pray for this with her dad’s care-givers—and God answered her prayers.
I volunteer at a store in my neighborhood once a week for a couple of hours. I walk there, and on the way, I usually (not always) pray that God would give me an opportunity to share something about Jesus to someone. Over the last 8 months, it is amazing to see how many times he has answered this prayer (EXAMPLE)!
I wonder what would happen if each of us simply asked God for this each day! I am embarrassed to admit that whenever I begin to pray along these lines, God begins to answer my prayers—and then I’ll go days and weeks without even asking him for this. Yet when I realize this and begin to ask him again, he answers!
“Show me how to demonstrate Jesus’ love through my actions”
Read 4:5. I realize that this is not a prayer request, but rather instruction to the Colossian Christians about being good representatives of Jesus. But I love to turn such instruction into prayers: “Lord, give me the wisdom in this situation to conduct myself in a way that will make a good impression for you.”
Specifically, this is about our actions (4:3,4,6 are about our words)—good deeds that demonstrate Jesus’ love and “adorn” the words we speak about Jesus (Titus2:6-10). Sometimes God gives us opportunities to share about Jesus’ love, and then shows us how we can demonstrate his love with actions. Sometimes it’s the reverse. It doesn’t matter—what matters is that we pray. Ask the Lord, Show me how to demonstrate Jesus’ love through my actions”—and watch how he answers this prayer!
Our society is a cold place. People are self-centered, self-protective, suspicious, and cynical. And unfortunately, most people have plenty of evidence to believe that Christianity is one more selfish scam. But when people see Spirit-led deeds of genuine love and kindness, this lends credibility to our words about Jesus’ love, and this can lead to the miracle of conversion.
My neighbors were involved for over 30 years in very strict cult. Today they are liberated by the love of Jesus. And one of the keys to their liberation was a deed of kindness by a woman who worked with my neighbor. His 90-year-old aunt had come to live them, and she needed so much care that they had to take turns missing their religious meetings. The leaders of the group rebuked them for missing meetings. But one of his associates at work (whom he knew to be evangelical) offered to watch his aunt so they could go to their religious meetings. This deed of kindness made a profound impact on my neighbor, simultaneously eroding his confidence in his religious group and attracting him to learn more about this Jesus whose love motivated his work associate to do this. This was a crucial link in the chain of events leading up to their decision to receive Christ on the same day!
There ought to be people in our lives who say about us: “I don’t believe what he says about Jesus—but there is an active goodness in him that I love being around.” This is so often what creates positive linkages between them and the name of Jesus. Sometimes they become open to Jesus sooner, sometimes later, sometimes not at all. That’s not your responsibility. Your responsibility is to ask God to give you wisdom to creatively show people that he is a loving, good God. When you pray for this, God will answer!
If you want more specificity in this kind of prayer for everyday situations, look at the preceding passage (3:18-4:1). “How can I show respect and genuine love to my spouse when I get home from work? How can I show honor to my parents when I visit them? Show me how to not needlessly exasperate my ornery teenage child. Help me to work hard today at my job and have a respectful attitude toward my boss. Show me how to treat this employee with justice and fairness.”
“Enable me to express Jesus’ love in this conversation”
Read 4:6. This instruction is not about what to say about Jesus to non-Christians (he already covered that in 4:3,4); it is about the way we talk with people who don’t know Jesus. Paul says that our speech should be “gracious”—filled with God’s undeserved love and kindness. This kind of speech is like salt—it seasons our words and makes them delicious to others.
This is how Jesus talked with people, and this is why he became known as “the friend of sinners” (Matt.11:19). He was totally righteous, and he never compromised morally in any situation. But he conversed with sinful people in ways that revealed God’s heart of love, so that they were drawn to him and opened their hearts to what he had to say about God. How different this was from the religious leaders, and how different this is from so many so-called Christians today!
Paul says it should be the same with us. We can talk with people in ways that communicate the heart of this Jesus who is the friend of sinners. (In fact, it should be easier for us than it was for Jesus, because we are also sinful people!) This has nothing to do with manipulation or technique—like some click salesperson who knows how to work people to get what he wants. This has to do with praying to God for a miracle: “Enable me (a naturally ego-centric person) to express your grace in this conversation.”
Only God can enable us to take interest/delight in discovering another person and learning about his/her unique life. Only God can enable us to be good and observant listeners—which communicates God’s love in a basic yet profound way: “You are important enough to me that I want to hear what you have to say.” Only God can enable us to communicate a genuine fondness and affection for people who are used to being rejected or ignored or manipulated. Only God can enable us to forgive and move toward people who have treated us poorly—not because we’re weak and insecure, but because we are secure in God’s love for us.
And when you converse with people this way, they often eventually start to feel comfortable enough to reveal more of their hearts—or even to ask you about what you believe (this is what 4:6b implies). And because you have been prayerful and genuinely gracious, God will show you how to respond to their heart/questions (4:6b).
How often do you ask God to enable you to speak graciously to those who don’t know Jesus? When you are conversing with the bank-teller? When the neighbor interrupts your house-cleaning day? When your teenage kids’ friends come over to your house? When you’re on the bus or at the restaurant? This is an easy prayer to pray—and God delights to answer it because he wants people to know his love!
Summarize. Would you commit to pray for these three things every day this week for area of your life (e.g., work, neighborhood, extended family, etc.)? Would you pray with other Christian friends together about this twice this week?
FOR DISCUSSION: How have you seen God answer these kinds of prayers?