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Paul Prays for the Colossians

Thomas J Parlette

“Paul prays for the Colossians”

Colossians 1: 1-14

7/10/16

Presbyterian Pastor Rodger Nishioka tells a wonderful story about his friend and neighbor Justo Gonzalez. Gonzalez is a well known church historian and United Methodist Pastor who is married to Catherine Gonzalez – also a church historian and a Presbyterian pastor. One day Dr. Gonzalez explained the difference between Methodists and Presbyterians. He recalled the time he was preparing to go into the hospital for surgery – his Methodists friends consistently told him, “I am praying for you.” But his Presbyterian friends consistently said, “I am thinking of you.” That’s the difference said Gonzalez. Methodists will pray for you while Presbyterians will think about you.”(1)

It would seem from our passage today that you could say Paul was more of a Methodist than a Presbyterian.

Usually when the subject of Paul’s letter to the Colossians comes up, the conversation, at least among scholars, centers around two issues. The first is authorship – who really wrote this letter. Many scholars question whether this letter was really written by Paul or whether it was written by one of Paul’s friends who imitated his style and signed Paul’s name.

The other issue that dominates the discussion about Colossians revolves around the false teachings that were happening in Colossae. Paul alludes to them but never says exactly what they are, so scholars spend a lot of time trying to piece all that together.

But today, as we look at the beginning of this letter, we aren’t going to worry about either of those issues. Today we are going to look at Paul in his role as Pray-er in Chief. This morning we see Paul as the point guard of prayer, the Quarterback of the prayer team for the church in Colossae.

Paul has been contacted by the leader of the church in Colossae – Epaphras – who has asked Paul to remember the Colossians in his prayers as they struggle with their faith. So whether Paul wrote this letter or not, and despite whatever questionable teaching was going on, Paul wants the Colossians to know, “I’m praying for you.”

That’s something we say a lot as Christians. “I’m praying for you.” So what does that mean to say we’re praying for someone? How is it different that saying, “I’m thinking about you.” Does it really make a difference? Or is it something we just say?

Scientists have wondered for years if prayer actually works – or more specifically, they have wondering if they could prove that it works – or prove that it doesn’t.

The earliest known attempt to quantify the power of prayer was probably carried out by a Victorian scientist in 1872 named Francis Galton. He prayed over random plots of land to see if the plants would grow any faster in the soil he prayed over. Results were inconclusive.

One of the most well-known modern studies was done by Dr. Randolph Byrd at San Francisco General Hospital in 1988. Using 393 patients in the Coronary Care Unit, one group was remembered in prayer, while the other was not. The ones who were prayed for had fewer complications. They were 5 times less likely to receive antibiotics. None went into cardiac arrest, compared with 12 in the other group. None needed to go on a ventilator, compared with 12 in the other group. None of the ones who had been prayed for died, while 3 from the group that did not receive prayer passed away. Byrd concluded that “intercessory prayer has a beneficial therapeutic effect.”

Although encouraging, other studies have been done that were far less conclusive – including one done at the Mayo Clinic in 2001 that concluded that “intercessory prayer had no significant effect on medical outcomes…”(2)

But, as Frank Laubach once wrote, “More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of.”(3) When it comes to the power of prayer – it’s not something that can be scientifically measured. As with most things in the life of faith, seeing is not believing – Believing is Seeing. For prayer to do it’s work, you have to begin with faith.

And that is the challenge for the modern Christian. It’s so hard to trust in something we can’t measure. It’s so difficult to put our faith in something we can’t explain. Prayer is a powerful mystery beyond our understanding. And sometimes that keeps us from praying.

Hugh Price Hughes has written a story called “The City of Everywhere” in which a traveler went to a city where he had never been before. When he got off the train, he noticed that everyone there was just like the people in all the other places he had been except for one thing. No one was wearing shoes. “Odd”, he thought.

He commented to the first person he met in the train station about no one wearing shoes. The man said, “That’s right, no one wears shoes here.” The traveler asked, “Well, why not? Do you not believe in shoes?”

Oh yes, we believe in shoes

Well, why aren’t you wearing any?

And the man said, “Ah, why aren’t we wearing shoes? That is the question.”

The traveler went into a restaurant, same  scene, no one wearing shoes. He asked the lady sitting next to him, “Are shoes not available to you?” And the lady said, “Oh yes, we have shoes here.”

Why don’t you wear them?

“Ah yes, why aren’t we wearing any shoes? That is the question.”

Completely confused, the man took a walk down the main street. He asked the first person he came across, “Sir, I notice you are not wearing shoes. I understand you know about shoes, and I am told that shoes are available to you. Do you not know the benefits of wearing shoes?”

And the man said, “Of course we know the benefits of wearing shoes. Go down that street and you will find the best shoe factory in this part of the country. Every week the manager of the shoe factory talks to us about the benefits of wearing of wearing shoes.”

“So let me get this straight,” said the traveler. “You know about shoes, you believe in shoes, you know the benefits of wearing shoes, and shoes are available to you. Well then, please explain to me, why don’t you wear shoes?”

“Why aren’t we wearing shoes? Ah, that is the question.”(4)

The same question could be asked of prayer. We know about prayer. We believe in prayer. Prayer is readily available to us. We know the benefits of prayer. And yet, we don’t pray as often as we should. Prayer is a powerful mystery beyond our understanding- and sometimes that gets in the way.

But Paul shows us something here today. He shows us how to pray. He shows us the difference between thinking of someone and praying for someone. When we think of someone, we pledge to keep them in our consciousness. But when we pray for someone, we make a promise, we make a covenant, as a community, to lift that person into God’s consciousness.

That’s what Paul does here for the Colossians. He makes a covenant with them, that he and the whole Christian community – notice that he says “we” throughout this passage – will lift the Colossians into God’s consciousness.

Paul prays for two things. He prays that the Colossians will be filled with the knowledge of God’s will. And God’s will is always for us to be spiritually whole and filled with peace, even when things are not going as we would like.

Paul also prays that the Colossians will be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to God. Endure with patience and joyfully give thanks. That’s easy to do when things go well. But it’s very difficult when life falls apart. It’s hard to endure, it’s hard to be patient, it’s hard to joyfully give thanks when tragedy and grief surround you – when the darkness threatens to swallow us whole and emptiness is the only feeling we know. It’s hard to be patient and endure and joyfully give thanks when senseless shootings are happening every week and violence, prejudice, revenge and hate dominates our headlines.

That’s why it is so important that we pray for each other – not just think about each other. It’s important to know that when we can’t say the prayers for ourselves that others are ready to pray for us. It’s important to know that in our darkest hours, other people are lifting us into the consciousness of God. For there are more things wrought by prayer than this world dreams of.

Derl Keefer tells the story of a sick and elderly woman who lived in abject poverty. She was known to be very devout and was frequently heard saying her prayers of thanksgiving and gratitude while sitting in her rocking chair. One day someone asked her what she had to be thankful for. Looking at the shabby, run down walls of her tiny room she replied, “For the sunshine through the cracks.”(5)

The choice is ours. We can choose to curse the cold coming in through the cracks in our world, or we can be grateful for the rays of sunshine, both of which seep in through the very same cracks. It’s all in how you look at it.

So my friends, leave here today with the assurance that Paul prays not only for the Colossians, but for all of us as well, as we also pray for each other.

As you travel the roads of life;

Be filled with the knowledge of God’s will,

And may you be prepared to endure everything with patience while joyfully giving thanks to God.

May God be praised. Amen.

 

1.    Rodger Nishioka, Feasting on the Word, Westminster John Knox Press, 2010, p. 232.

2.    Gary L. Carver, “Free to Choose” CSS Publishing Co. Inc., 2003, p. 276-277.

3.    Ibid… p. 276.

4.    Ibid… p. 284.

5.    Ibid… p. 279.