Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Necessity is the Mother of Prayer

Our needs drives us to God. It's not that we actually need God more during difficult times in our lives, but rather our dependence becomes more obvious. Why? Because we don't habitually think about what would happen to us if God were to withhold particular blessings. If we did, we might be motivated to pray more often and with greater fervency. We should therefore accept difficult circumstances as God-ordained opportunities for us to realize afresh just how pervasive His grace is in our lives.

The Case of the Colossians

It seems this is what the apostle Paul had in mind when he told the Colossian Christians to “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving” (Col 4:2). These Christians were under attack by false teachings that were undermining the gospel, and they needed God's grace to stand fast upon the truth. Paul choice of words here is noteworthy. The Greek word proskartereō – translated “continue steadfastly” in the ESV and “devote” in the NASU – means to do something with intensity and meticulousness. For example, the apostles used the same word when they said, “we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4). (On a side note, one must not use this verse to condone complacency in prayer, thinking that since one is not a “full-time” minister one should not even try to pray like the apostles did. On the contrary, the apostles are meant to be challenging examples that we should strive to emulate.) Proskartereō is the main verb of the sentence, and stated as a command. It is therefore the “main thrust” of Paul's statement.

Meanwhile, the Greek word gregoreuō – translated “being watchful” in the ESV and “keeping alert” in the NASU – means exactly how it is translated, and it clarifies what Paul means by being devoted to prayer. Elsewhere in the Scriptures, the same word is connected with standing firm in the faith (1Co 16:13), being prepared for the Lord's return at any moment (Mt 24:42; 1Th 5:6), triumphing over temptation (Mt 26:41) and persevering in the midst of persecution (1Pe 5:8). Therefore, for Paul, to be devoted to prayer was to always keep one's spiritual edge sharp, as it were, knowing that until Christ's return, the church and its members would always be vulnerable to God's enemies. The Christian must live in constant tension. As one commentator wrote, “a habit of prayer demands mental alertness to the dangers of life and the needs of those around us, an awareness which can at any moment launch us into fervent prayer.”

There is one more thing that needs to be said. If the Christian lives in constant tension, it is nevertheless a tension without relief or reward. On the contrary, the relief and reward that the Christian finds in God are the very reason he can and does bear up under such constant pressure from Satan, the world, and the flesh. In fact, we can go further. Adversity – theological, relational, or any other kind – only strengthens the Christian's resolve to rejoice in God alone. This is why Paul reminded the Colossians that their vigilance should always be accompanied with thanksgiving. Whatever challenges they were facing and would face, they would never lose their reason for living: Christ.


Paul's command is as applicable to us in any and all afflictions as it was to the Colossians in their particular circumstance. So let us face each day with spiritual alertness and a tough and hardy joy in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

No comments:

Post a Comment