The Content of A Challenging Prayer – D. A. Carson

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In a study called “Praying with Paul” by D. A. Carson from the YouVersion Bible App, I read a specific devotional that particularly stuck out to me. I wanted to share that with you so it would encourage, instruct, and challenge you as it did me.

Our prayers reveal what we believe about God and what we really value and desire. In the challenging prayer in Colossians 1, we see that Paul constantly thanks God for His work in believers’ lives and continually entreats the sovereign Lord to fill believers with His will, to the end that they live transformed lives that please and glorify God. Paul illustrates what it means to live a life pleasing to the Lord, using four participles (“bearing fruit,” “increasing,” being “strengthened,” “giving thanks”). These four characteristics are typical (though not exhaustive) marks of the maturing Christian life.

First, Christians please God by “bearing fruit in every good work (v. 10). This first quality recalls verse 6, where Paul thanks God that the gospel “is bearing fruit and increasing” in the whole world and also in Colossae. We are saved “by grace” and “through faith,” but believers are created anew “in Christ Jesus for good works” (Eph. 2:8,10; emphasis added). Fruitfulness isn’t the same thing as gifting or productivity. Rather, true spiritual fruit glorifies God and gives evidence of an ongoing, transformative relationship with Jesus Christ.

Second, we please the Lord by increasing “in the knowledge of God” (see 1:10). Paul thanks God that the Colossians “heard it and understood the grace of God in truth” (v. 6), but he’s not content with simply maintaining the status quo. Increasing knowledge of God is inseparably linked to obeying God’s revealed will. We must learn something of that will to obey it; discovery of more of that will is contingent on obeying what we know of it.

Third, conduct worthy of the Lord is to be achieved through divine empowerment, what Paul later describes as “his energy that he powerfully works within me” (Col. 1:29). The New Testament teaches that God demonstrates His supreme power in various ways. Colossians 1:11 highlights an essential but often overlooked way that God powerfully works in our lives. Paul asks God to continually strengthen His people “for all endurance and patience.” Endurance and patience are not often extolled in our culture that prizes success, independence, and quick solutions. Nevertheless, these virtues enable the believer to survive with joy when persecuted, to triumph in self-composure and contentment when insulted, to trust God’s all-wise and all-gracious providence when one is.

Fourth, the Lord Jesus is pleased when Christians joyfully give thanks to the Father (see v. 12) because we have received a glorious salvation and inheritance at His hand (see 1:12-14).7 Our greatest need wasn’t political stability, economic prosperity, education, good health, or entertainment, and so God didn’t send a politician, economist, teacher, physician, or artist. Rather, God knew that our most profound problem was our sin, rebellion, and estrangement from Him; and so He sent us Jesus who came to “save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). Believers who grasp that God has rescued us from darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of His beloved Son should respond with joyful gratitude. The apostle’s boundless thanksgiving and earnest intercession for the saints while sitting in a dark, dingy Roman prison makes clear to us that the gospel—not our temporal circumstances—must govern our priorities and practice in prayer.