Colossians — 4

Monday, July 30

Read: Colossians 4:2

Consider: As we near the end of our look at Paul’s amazing letter to the Colossians, we hear a very simple piece of advice — “devote yourselves to prayer” (4:2). What does that mean?

I’ve read stories of the great Christian mystics who spent most of their lives in monasteries. Some of them would spend up to eight hours a day in prayer. Don’t you wonder how in the world they could do that? Let’s be honest, most of us have a hard time praying for more than fifteen minutes at a time. Is Paul telling us that we’re not good enough at praying? Is he telling us to spend hours on our knees every day? Is that what it means to “devote yourself” to prayer? If so, most of us will live our lives feeling guilty about our spiritual health—we’ll feel like we’re not good enough to please God.

The problem is that we usually approach prayer in all the wrong ways. Most people think of prayer in terms of what we say to God. I’ve heard people define prayer as talking to God or conversing with God. That’s good, as far as it goes. But it’s an awfully narrow view. After all, most of us are not very adept at talking to someone who doesn’t talk back. We have a hard time giving a daily monologue to God.

Some will counter, saying that God does speak to us. Yes, he does. But seldom does he do it through verbal dialogue. If you get on your knees in the morning and list your questions to God, you’re probably not going to leave with a list of answers. That’s not how God speaks to us.

So, we need to clarify for ourselves what prayer is. What has helped me the most is shifting from a concept of prayer as communication to prayer as communion.

We don’t need to communicate our needs to God, after all Jesus said he “knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:8). But, we do need to share our heart, our dreams, our fears—ourselves. And most of the time, this must go beyond what words can ever do.

Pray: “Lord, my words cannot convey who I am or what I need. In fact, most of the time I don’t even know what I really need. So, I open myself to you. Beyond a few moments of verbalized prayer, I want this day to be a day of awareness that you are with me. My desire for your presence is my prayer today.”

 

Tuesday, July 31

Read: 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Consider: Let’s return to Paul’s encouragement to “devote yourselves to prayer” (Colossians 4:2). Those words, given to the Colossian believers, remind me of the simple statement we read today — “pray continually.”

Now, today’s reading could hit you in a variety of ways, depending on what is happening in your life at this time. If things are good, you feel strong, and the details of life are falling into place, you love hearing “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances.” It resonates with you. You think, “Yes! That’s how life should be lived!”

But, if you’re going through a time of grief, a time of uncertainty and fear, or you’re watching a loved one suffer, those words can sting. You may feel guilt, or even anger, because you find it almost impossible to rejoice and to feel thankful in your circumstances.

If the Bible is anything, it is realistic about pain and suffering. There are passages in the Old Testament that we call “laments.” They convey the deep, profound suffering that we endure. There are even psalms that we have labelled “Psalms of Complaint.” You may have read those passages in which the psalmist is angry with God and embittered by deep disappointment.

So, when Paul teaches thankfulness and joy, he’s not telling us that these will be perpetual emotions. He is saying that there will be times when you are angry, but you don’t have to live as an angry person. There will be times of doubt, but you don’t have to be consumed by your doubts. And in times of disappointment, you can know that you’re not abandoned.

So it is with prayer. There will be times when you cannot verbalize your heart’s cry—times when trying to articulate your prayers will feel dry and lifeless. Still, your life can be a prayer. The trajectory of your life can be given to an ever-increasing awareness that you are God’s child.

As you grow in that awareness, you’ll discover that you also grow in your confidence that you are loved and accepted by God.

Pray: “Lord, I’ve allowed myself to see prayer as something I must do, rather than grasping it as the growing relationship that you and I share on this journey. In my joy and in my sorrow, in my strength and in my weakness, in my virtue and in my sin, I want to share my life with you as my prayer of thanks.”

 

Wednesday, August 1

Read: Colossians 3:1-3

Consider: Two passages have guided our thoughts so far this week…

“Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.” (Colossians 4:2)

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances…” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

These are not commands to engage in certain times or methods of prayer. Paul is teaching us life-as-prayer. This is a life of ever-increasing awareness that we are God’s children—that we are loved and accepted by our Father.

We don’t stumble upon this awareness. We slowly learn what life-as-prayer is. And we only learn it by living it day by day.

That is why it is so important to have consistent—hopefully, daily—time alone with God. That is why I write these meditations for us each week. That is why I encourage you to read scripture, consider how Christ wants to work in your life, and begin your day with humble prayer. This simple act of opening ourselves up to him makes it possible to dwell with him throughout the day. Of course, he never leaves us. But we need to continually learn to be aware of his presence in our lives.

Over time, these small sessions of intentional prayer begin to change us. We begin to see the big picture more often. We all know how inspired we are when we see the world from the top of a mountain or from the cruising altitude of a flight. It gives us a perspective we can’t get from the ground. Our intentional time in the presence of God gives us perspective that we don’t always get in the chaos of everyday life. And when we go to the mountain regularly, we begin to see God’s view even in the small issues of our existence.

From the mountain, and then in daily living, you can learn what it means that “your life is now hidden with Christ in God” (3:3).

Pray: Take a moment today to sit silently in God’s presence with the knowledge that “your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” Don’t try to understand this on a cognitive level. You can’t. Ask the Lord to help you grasp it in your spirit. Then ask him to help you carry that “knowledge” with you throughout this day. And, no matter what you’re going through, don’t forget to thank him for loving you.”

 

Thursday, August 2

Read: Colossians 4:5-6

Consider: If you stopped reading with the first phrase of Colossians 4:5 — “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders” — you might think that Paul is telling us to protect ourselves. Don’t take any guff! Don’t be too open or warm or loving. Don’t let them take what is rightfully yours. That’s usually the kind of warning we receive when it comes to “outsiders” and strangers.

But the Bible takes the opposite approach. In all the admonitions that the prophets and Jesus give about how we are to treat the most vulnerable among us, the stranger—the foreigner, the immigrant—looms large. We are supposed to welcome and protect the outsider.

To the people of Israel, God said…

“Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt.” (Exodus 23:9)

“When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself (Leviticus 19:33-34)

And Jesus said…

“I was a stranger and you invited me in…” for “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:35, 40)

Paul’s warning in his letter to the Colossians is not a warning against friending the stranger — “the outsider.” It is a warning—really a directive—to be sure that we are the face of Christ to that outsider.

“…make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace…” (4:5-6)

In this passage Paul was probably referring more to unbelievers than to immigrants. But I think the principle is the same. We are to receive outsiders—no matter how they are different from us—with the open arms of Christ. That is how we “make the most of every opportunity” to be Jesus to a broken world.

Pray: “Lord, help me to have your eyes today. Help me to see the one who is treated like an outsider—whether it be a child with special needs, a Muslim living in our community, a homeless person, or a lonely co-worker. May my daily actions stand against any “othering” of racial or sexual minorities. And, Lord, after I have seen through your eyes, help me to love as you love. I don’t want to miss an opportunity to be Jesus to someone today.”

 

Friday, August 3

Read: Philippians 2:1-5

Consider: As we saw yesterday, we are called to embrace the outsider. When Paul told the Colossians to “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders” (4:5), he was teaching us to welcome “outsiders” with the good news of Jesus Christ—the good news that, to us, they aren’t outsiders.

Of course, to our culture, this is counterintuitive. In our world we’re often taught to fear the outsider. Too often, this leads to vilifying the one we don’t understand, which leads to hate. And, in extreme cases, this hate leads to violence. When our default setting is to suspect, fear or exclude those who are different, there’s no telling where it can lead and what tragedies it will bring forth.

But Christ-followers must have a different default—a different way of thinking. In the New Testament this is called the “mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16, Philippians 2:5).

When we see the outsider, we don’t ask, “How can I protect what is mine?” We ask, “How can I share what is mine?” We don’t ask, “How can I keep the stranger away from me?” We ask, “How can I make the stranger my friend?”

We all know that the world is a dangerous place. There are some bad strangers out there. We teach our children discernment. We show them which boundaries are necessary because we know their lives may depend on that insight.

But the world is also a beautiful place. And we who are blessed can help make this world safer and more beautiful for those who have been excluded.

Jesus told a parable in which he would one day say…

“‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For…I was a stranger and you invited me in…’

Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord…when did we see you a stranger and invite you in…’

The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” (Matthew 25:34-40)

Pray: “Lord, the ‘outsider’ may come to me in a variety of ways. Please give me discernment as to what she or he may need—a smile, a hug, words of encouragement, a meal, or simply my time. Help me to see the face of Christ in the people I encounter and help me to be the face of Christ to them.”

 

Saturday, August 4

Read: Colossians 4:7-18

Consider: As we conclude Paul’s letter to the Colossian believers, I’m reminded of a book I read many years ago—Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Letters and Papers from Prison. Bonhoeffer was a brilliant young theologian who was imprisoned by the Third Reich. I wanted to read the theology and spiritual insight that came from his pen, particularly as he wrote from prison. But I remember being distracted by all the personal notes in the book—things that didn’t seem theological in nature, but simply came from the daily needs of life. (I seem to remember him asking his parents to bring him a coat the next time they visited.)

Years later I went back to Bonhoeffer’s letters and this time I found myself fascinated more by his life than this theology. I think maybe I had grown up a little bit. Perhaps I realized that good theology is good life and good life is good theology.

In the same way, I used to skim over the personal greetings that are included in some of our New Testament letters. They didn’t seem very important. But today I wanted us to read these final verses of Paul’s letter to the Colossians because they help us see Paul, not simply as a great historical figure, but as a man who had vital relationships and who loved others deeply—even from prison. His words reflect passion and profound affection for the Body of Christ.

He refers to two men as “dear brother” (Tychicus and Onesimus) and to Luke as a “dear friend.” You can feel the great warmth in his heart for his “fellow prisoner Aristarchus” and his “fellow workers for the kingdom of God.”

I get a little choked up when he asks the Colossians to “remember my chains.” He was such a giver, but he also knew how deeply they loved him and how he desperately needed the prayers of God’s people.

And finally, with chained hands, he writes, “Grace be with you.” That is the stuff of real life—the life that Jesus gives, and prison cannot take away.

Pray: “Lord, in pain, suffering, stress, and many things that can imprison us today, help us to see you in one another. Thank you for my dear sisters and brothers and my dear fellow workers for the kingdom. And thank you for the grace that you always give and that we can always share.”