“Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1).
Not only did Jesus teach His disciples how to pray (Luke 11:2–4; cf. Matt 6:9–13), but he also gave an example for us in His “High Priestly Prayer” in John 17. In other Scriptures, His apostles spoke by His authority and the Spirit to leave us example prayers as well. One such prayer is found in Colossians 1:9–14.
Paul prayed for the Colossians in a way that we as Christians can pray for one another and ourselves. In what follows below, I’ll attempt to break this passage apart in a practical way that gives us an example of how to pray.
Pray to know the will of the Father.
Paul heard of the conversion of the Colossians through Epaphras (Col 1:10). Since then, Paul had “not ceased to pray for” them, specifically “asking that” they would “be filled with the knowledge of his will,” that is, the will of the Father. So, the main thought of Paul’s prayer is to know the will of the Father.
But what is this will? As one author states,
This “will” is not concerned primarily with God’s private plan for individual believers; it is rather his salvific will as he accomplishes his plan of salvation. Paul later defines this “knowledge of his will” as “the knowledge of God” (v. 10) and “the knowledge of the mystery of God, Christ” (2:2).1
Or, explained similarly,
What Paul has in mind is not some particular or special direction for one’s life (as we often use the phrase “God’s will”), but a deep and abiding understanding of the revelation of Christ and all that he means for the universe (vv. 15–20) and for the Colossians (vv. 21–23).2
We should pray that we would better understand God’s salvation will for us in Jesus Christ. This knowledge is indispensable for the Christian life.
Pray for illumination to understand the will of the Father.
The verb “filled” is modified by the phrase “in all spiritual wisdom and understanding.” Being the case that this wisdom and understanding is spiritual, one might say that, once filled with the knowledge of the Father’s will, the wisdom and understanding to properly understand this will comes through or by the Holy Spirit, or, in a word, through illumination. The Spirit of wisdom opens the eyes of our hearts to understand more and more God’s salvation will for us in Christ (cf. Eph 1:16–23).
So, we don’t just pray to know the Father’s will. We pray to know it as God Himself understands it and as it applies to us. The Spirit helps us in this regard, and we should pray for His illumination.
Pray that we would walk according to this knowledge to please the Lord Jesus Christ.
Here we come to the purpose for Paul’s prayer in Col 1:10: “so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord,” which, if we do, we will be “fully pleasing to Him.”
The “Lord” is the Lord Jesus Christ, as indicated before and after this instance (cf. Col 1:2; 2:6). By knowing and properly understanding the will of the Father, we will walk worthy of Christ and please Him. But what exactly does that look like?
Thankfully, Paul gives us four phrases that open up what it means to walk in a manner worthy of Christ and to be fully pleasing to Him.
First, we please Christ by “bearing fruit in every good work” (Col 1:10). Guided by the Spirit according to the knowledge of the Father’s will, we please Christ by doing good.
Second, we please Christ by “increasing in the knowledge of God” (Col 1:10). Not only do we know what is necessary for our salvation in Christ, but we please Christ by increasing in this knowledge. We should faithfully assemble with our local church to hear the Word read, taught, and preached. We should study it on our own. We should pray that God would help us towards this end in order to be pleasing to Christ.
Third, we please Christ when we are “strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience” (Col 1:11). This power, strength, and might come to us by the grace of the Father and the Son through the Holy Spirit as we live out who we are in Christ (Col 1:29; Eph 3:16; 2 Tim 1:9). We should pray that God would grant such power to help us patiently endure (cf. Eph 3:14–19).
Fourth, we please Christ when we “with joy” are “giving thanks to the Father” (Col 1:11–12). The reason for such thanks is because the Father has prepared an inheritance for us in heaven, having redeemed us from darkness and having transferred us in the kingdom of His Son (Col 1:13–14). We should give thanks to God in our prayers for our salvation.
So how should we pray?
From this passage, we should pray to know the Father’s will for us in Christ, to have illumination by the Spirit to know this will as we ought, and to apply what we know to our daily walk with Christ. This walk pleases Christ when we do good works, increase in the knowledge of God, live by His strength, and give Him thanks for our salvation. May God help us to walk worthy of our Lord, and may we pray for our fellow Christians to do the same.
- David W. Pao, Colossians and Philemon (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 69.
- Douglas J. Moo, The Letters to the Colossians and to Philemon (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008), 93.