I hate to pray. There. I said it. I know that there are times in my life when I pray that the Lord will confront me with something that needs attention. Why can’t I have the “feel good,” prayers, the “peaceful” prayers, the prayers of “wisdom” and “revelation?”
Today I’ve been reading in Colossians, going through its verses again and again until finally this little passage hit me between the eyes:
“Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving” – Colossians 4:2.
This is not the kind of verse that normally stands out to people. For me the passages that stand out the most are those that describe the majesty, power, or sovereignty of Christ—or passages on ethics and the Fruit of the Spirit. But Colossians 4:2, a simple admonition to prayer? What’s so special about that, that it should take hold of my attention?
Maybe its that little word, “Devote.” Ouch. The meaning here is not simply to perform a function regularly, or to be dedicated. The Greek word used for “devote,” is the word, “proskartereo.” It means, as John MacArthur points out, “to be courageously persistent.”
Wait a minute. “Courageously persistent” in prayer? Isn’t prayer supposed to give “peace,” “strength,” and so on? What need is there for “courage” in prayer?
Since I already had my MacArthur commentary on Colossians opened I read further to see just why Paul uses such a profound word about prayer. MacArthur quotes a 1976 Christianity Today article by Virginia Stem Owens, and it’s a jaw dropper.
“Once you start praying there is no guarantee that you won’t find yourself before Pharaoh, shipwrecked on a desert island, or in a lion’s den. This is no cosmic teddy bear we cuddle up to…we must struggle with him as Jacob did at Peniel where he earned his name Isreal—”he who strives with God.” We too must be prepared to say, ‘I will not let you go until you bless me.’ But in this combat with God we must be ready to bear the consequences…’Jacob’s thigh was put out of joint, and he went away lame.’ Awful things happen to people who pray. Their plans are frequently disrupted. The end up in strange places. Abraham ‘went out, not knowing where he was to go’…After Mary’s magnificent prayer she finds herself the pariah of Nazareth society. How tempting to up the stakes, making prayer merely another consumer product. How embarrassing to admit that not only may prayer get you into prison, as it did Jeremiah, but also that while you’re moldering away in a miry pit there, you may have a long list of lamentations and unanswered questions to present to your Lord. How are we going to tell them they may end up lame and vagrant if they grasp hold of this God?”
MacArthur continues the theme…
“That stands in marked contrast to the glib self-centered prayers of our day. [God] is too often viewed as a sort of automatic teller machine. If we punch in the right code, He’s obligated to deliver what we want. The Lord might well ask the modern church what He asked the rebellious priests of Malachi’s day: ‘A son honors his father, and a servant his master. Then if I am a father, where is my honor? And if I am a master, where is my respect?’ – Malachi 1:6
As I thought through the examples provided through the lives of the Old Testament prophets and New Testament apostles I realized that there isn’t a Christian I can think of that I admire that hasn’t struggled in prayer. Every one admired are those to whom God has said hard things—of whom God has required difficulty and suffering. The ones who met God in the ring are the ones who walk away in triumph to do great things. They are the ones who establish the kingdom and who become a living example of their Lord. But the prayers only for personal satisfaction, of peacefulness and calm—these are the prayers to nowhere.
Only then does Paul’s admonition to be persistently courageous in prayer make sense. Likewise his following admonition to be alert (you are in a battle!), and be thankful—God uses the man or woman who has struggled with him in prayer.