REACHING UP IN ORDER TO REACH OUT

Chuck Colson was a top aide to Richard Nixon, and was indicted and sent to prison for his part in the Watergate cover-up. Through that crisis he came to faith in Christ, and later began a ministry to those in prison. He has ministered to prisoners all over the world. Many years ago, he was standing in a long line in the airport in Jakarta, Indonesia. He and some Prison Fellowship colleagues had been traveling all night. It was now early morning. The terminal was hot and steamy, and they were tired. As he related in his book, Being the Body,

With passport in my sticky hand, I was exhausted and exasperated at the long, inefficient line snaking ahead of us. I was concerned we would miss our next flight and for the ministry friends who were waiting for us. But, I was also determined not to let my frustration get the better of me. I continued talking with my friends; laughing and making the best of the situation.

Two years later, he received a letter from a businessman who lived in Singapore. The man had been a follower of Confucius, but he sent his children to Sunday school at a Presbyterian church for moral training. One Sunday, as he picked up his kids, he heard the end of the sermon. A visiting missionary held up a copy of Chuck Colson’s first book, Born Again. On the cover was a picture of Chuck Colson.

A few months later, this businessman was stuck in the same long lines in the steaming Jakarta airport. Glancing over into the next line, he spotted the same face he’d seen on the cover of Born Again. He was so impressed by Colson’s calm demeanor and cheerfulness that when he got back to Singapore, he got the book ‘Born Again’ which is Colson’s testimony and read it and as a result committed his life to Christ.[i]

We never know who is watching our lives, and the difference that our actions have on others.

David Robinson, former National Basketball great, shares some insightful thoughts about life’s goals.

The goal of our lives is not our glory.  …trying to make life ‘all about us’ pushes happiness further out of reach. Our society is not wired for this kind of thinking. It’s a me-centric world out there, which destroys much of what should be good. Marriages are ruined because one or both partners are focused on their own happiness. Successful men and women are ruined by their own success, believing they don’t need anyone else’s input. And for some, life’s troubles are magnified because they believe life is all about them.[ii]

Of all the books of the bible that challenge that thinking, Colossians is at the head of the line. It not only challenges that notion but shows in no uncertain terms the supremacy of Christ, and that life is all about bringing glory and honor to Him. Jesus promised that he would give each of us a certain quality of life if we really made Him first in our lives. 

The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.[iii]

Often, we forfeit God’s promise of abundant life because we live as if our agenda rather than God’s agenda for our lives is what it’s all about. There are a few verses from the last chapter of the book of Colossians where some significant instructions on what a Christ-centered, God-honoring life looks like and its impact on others. It is this kind of a life that brings joy and happiness because it is lived under the direction of God’s Spirit and His word. In Colossians 4:2-6, we discover three life-changing ingredients that reflect an abundant life which impacts the lives of others.

THE FIRST INGREDIENT THAT REFLECTS AN ABUNDANT LIFE IS A LIFE DEVOTED TO PRAYER

We are to be fully committed to engaging in communication with God. Jesus tells us in the parable of the vine and branches in John 15:5b, ‘that apart from me you can do nothing.’

A. Devoted to Prayer

Our lives must be firmly connected to Him and that’s what prayer brings about. A truly effective life continually looks to God. Notice how Paul challenges the believers at Colossae to pray. “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful (Colossians 4:2).”

Richard Lenski explains that the word translated ‘devote’ is filled with meaning.

The verb meaning to holding on to something with strength and not neglecting or letting it drop.[iv]

Why such a strong appeal, an urgent command to communicate with God continuously? To pray continually doesn’t mean that we are constantly praying 24/7 but living with a continuous awareness of God’s presence and find ourselves bringing Him into our lives in each and every situation. We also need to have focused times with God in prayer. Kent Hughes in his book, ‘Liberating the Saints from the Success Syndrome’ compares vigilant prayer to photographic plates.

Prayer is like a time exposure to God. As we expose ourselves to God for half an hour, an hour, perhaps two hours a day, His image is imprinted more and more upon us. [v]

It is the image of God radiating from our lives that touch the hearts of others. Notice how the early church in the book of Acts was devoted to prayer.  

They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.[vi]

Their corporate, unified prayer was answered in the outpouring of God’s Spirit on the day of Pentecost and the end result of that day was the supernatural growth of the church as three thousand people were added that day to the 120 praying people in the upper room. But it didn’t stop there.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.[vii]

And we read of the results: awe, miracles, incredible sharing with those in financial needs, daily prayer together, and people continually coming to faith in Christ. The chapter concludes:

They were ‘praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.’[viii]

My wife Patty, pointed out to us recently at our church prayer meeting that the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts was constantly filling the lives of the people of God and generally it was happening during the early church’s prayer meeting. Something happens when God’s people gather together for prayer. We can begin to see why early believers were so devoted to God in prayer. They saw the connection between their communion with God in prayer and the miracles that were happening in people’s lives. John Piper points out:

…prayer is about as central to the meaning of the created universe as you can get. God created us, according to Isaiah 43:7, for his glory. ‘everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.’

Which means he created the universe so that persons created in his image would look to him to satisfy all their wants and needs so they would get the joy and God would get the glory. This looking to God in prayer. So prayer is not some small thing. …prayer is at the heart of why God created the universe. You may have the modern, secular notion that the universe is really about great galactic events and supernovas and remarkable expanses of time and space and energy. But in reality the center of the created universe is man created in the image of God. And the meaning of man in the image of God is to display God’s glory. And the way God delights to display his glory in man is by being depended on God through prayer.[ix]

Therefore our prayer life is tied to God’s glory. God is gloried when He answers our prayers.

B. We need to be watchful. 

Not only are we to be devoted to prayer, but we are to be watchful. What does Paul mean here?  There needs to be an alertness. What happened in the garden of Gethsemane when Jesus told his disciples to watch and pray? They fell asleep. Paul here is not talking about physically sleeping, but rather being spiritually awake and alert to what is happening around us. John Piper points out:

Prayer is not designed as an intercom between us and God to serve the domestic comforts of the saints. It’s designed as a walkie-talkie for spiritual battlefields. It’s the link between active soldiers and their command headquarters, with its unlimited fire-power and air cover and strategic wisdom.[x]

Richard Lucas points out, “It’s the prayerless church that the enemy can best do his work of disruption.”[xi] Jesus, in one of his parables, stated that they ought always to pray and not to give up (cf. Luke 18:1). One reason why we constantly struggle, quit, and lack courage is that we are not alert and praying. 

C. We are to pray with a thankful attitude.

It is interesting that people who pray generally have a positive, confident, thankful attitude. One characteristic of prayerlessness is murmuring and complaining. Thankfulness is an evident quality of a spiritually mature person.       

THE SECOND INGREDIENT THAT REFLECTS AN ABUNDANT LIFE IS ONE COMMITTED TO THE COMMUNICATION OF THE GOSPEL

We discover here that one area that we are to pray for is the proclamation, or the preaching of the word of God. God is deeply concerned about the message of His love being communicated clearly so others will discover His love and forgiveness to them.

And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains.[xii]

One of the reasons why we are so ineffective in reaching out to others is that we have neglected or not allowed prayer to dominate our lives. The key to effectively reaching out is to start by reaching up. We need to pray for others. Our intercession on behalf of others is critical to their receptivity. An incredible example of the power of prayer in impacting the lives of others is the testimony of Brian Roennfeldt, from Perth, Australia.

My wife, Angie, went to a rough high school. There were few Christians there apart from one teacher, Mr. David Bunton, who taught manual arts.

Years after Mr. Bunton left his position, dozens of his former students became believers. Many entered the ministry and become pastors and missionaries. I tracked down Mr. Bunton, who is now 70 years old and retired. He was stunned and choked with emotion when I told him of the many conversions since he had taught at that high school.

I wondered how his influence had brought such a harvest. He told me that many times he had prayed softly over his classes as he sat back in his desk and watched them work. But apart from this, he’d done nothing to influence these students toward Christ. The only common point of spiritual connection the students shared was that they were prayed over by their teacher.[xiii]

We need to communicate the love of God to others. It’s amazing how superficial most conversations are. It is sad to see that even when the gospel is preached or shared, how ineffective its impact is on people. Why? We need to realize that it is a spiritual battle. We have an adversary who tries to keep people in the dark.

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing.

The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.[xiv]

That’s why Paul asked for prayer.

And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains.

Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.[xv]

We discover in this text that Paul was imprisoned because he was preaching the gospel, particularly that Gentiles did not need to come under the law and embrace Judaism in order to be saved. Christ and Christ’s sacrifice alone for sins was enough. It was this tension that had him arrested and imprisoned. Rather than hear complaints about how unfair it all was, or that God had abandoned him, Paul rejoiced that the gospel could not be stopped even though he was in chains. It is amazing that all of Paul’s prayers in the prison epistles (Philippians, Ephesians and Colossians) he focused on the inner spiritual life and did not address the outward circumstances of life. Paul is seen rejoicing in his adversity because what outwardly appeared to be a setback was in reality an opportunity to reach others. Many were asking why he was imprisoned and this gave Paul the opportunity to explain the gospel.

Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel.

As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ.

And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.[xvi]

Paul was now calling this church to pray on his behalf. The only thing that prepares the hearts of people is God’ presence at work in their lives, and that happens because someone is praying.  Prayer is critical in preparing the receptivity of people toward hearing the gospel.

THE THIRD INGREDIENT THAT REFLECTS AN ABUNDANT LIFE IS THE WAY WE PRESENT THE GOSPEL

The witness of our words and life either build a bridge or a barrier to others coming to faith in Christ. Even though Paul had already asked for prayer for himself as a preacher of the gospel, and I do as well, it doesn’t leave all the communicating to the preachers. As people pray that ministers of the gospel will preach with power, passion, and clarity it doesn’t not mean that believers are left without responsibility in being an effective witness of the message of the good news of Jesus both in lifestyle and in gracious conversation. Paul goes on to say, “          Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity (Colossians 4:5).”

A. It begins with our lifestyle.

What does Paul mean here about being wise toward people who are not believers? How we live our lives will either attract or repel people from the good news about Jesus. Earlier in chapter three Paul talked about what the Christian life looked like at two primary places of living: home and work. How we relate to others in our everyday relationships are the most powerful sermons we can speak.

In Colossians chapter three you discover how employers are to treat their employees, with respect and fairness. We find that an employee must be willing to serve their employer as if they were the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, with respect and diligence. Then we turn our attention to the home, where the greatest spiritual battles are being waged today, for the hearts and minds of men, women and children. What we should find there ought to be a loving and caring attitude happening between spouses and their children. The greatest gift that parents give to their children is to love their spouse. This is a great antidote toward having a healthy family, where love is modeled by parents, and children grow up in the context of a loving home. The most powerful validation of the gospel is a loving, respectful, caring, and forgiving attitude toward each member of the family. In a world where ‘me first’ rules, relationships are falling apart. God can empower us to have healthy family relations. 

One of the problems today is that many are trying to live the Christian life in our own strength. A prayerless life, is a powerless life, and it becomes a loveless life. William Barclay points out there is a difference between human love and the love of God, and it’s the difference between successful relationships and many times broken ones.

The Christian love, like the Christian faith, is committal of the total personality to a certain attitude toward our fellow man. The New Testament word for ‘love’ is agape; a word that scarcely exists in secular Greek at all.  It is a word that Richard Trench relates was born in revealed religion, a new word for a new quality of love. It is significant that this is not the usual Greek word for love at all…

That is to say, there is in God an unconquerable benevolence, an undefeatable good-will; no matter what any man is like, and no matter what any man has done, God will never seek anything but that man’s good. The Christian love is that attitude to others, which, no matter whether it is refused, disregarded, rejected, insulted, in­jured, tortured, agonized, will never turn to hate, but will preserve only an undefeated and undefeatable good-will.

Clearly, this is an act of the total personality. What we might call ordinary love is an emotional reaction; it is an experience of the heart; it is something that a man cannot help; it happens like an act of God. But this Christian love clearly demands an effort of the will and a victory over self which require the effort of the whole man, mind and heart and spirit, in order to achieve it. It is, in fact not achievable until Jesus Christ, who is the supreme example of that unconquerable love, takes up his home and dwelling within our hearts.           

The true Christian will feel no bitterness toward any man; even if a man hates him, or is indifferent to him, he cannot seek anything but the other’s good.[xvii]

How do we act toward those who do not believe? Do we make the most of every opportunity? Are we to busy?

B. What about our words?

Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.[xviii]

We must speak with graciousness, but also with seasoning. Our message must not be dull, but should be explained in an interesting manner. If Christ is Lord in our lives, our lives will provoke others to ask questions. Do our lives cause others to want to discover what makes us tick? When that happens, we need to be prepared to answer them.

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.[xix]

CONCLUSION:

You may be thinking, I’ve heard all this before. The need to be devoted to prayer, to proclaim the message out of a life lived in His presence. The question I need to ask each of us is, how are we doing? The issue is not knowing about something, but rather living it out. Are you reaching up, living it out, and having a powerful impact on the people around you? So where do we begin this journey? Praying for others and praying for opportunities.You may be hearing these words today of God’s amazing love and realize that you are not experiencing that abundant life, but desire to know that transforming love in your life. Simply call out to Jesus and ask Him to forgive you, and cleanse you; to come and live within you. God’s Spirit will fill you now even as you call out to Him. Then be a part of a loving community of Christian faith where Christ is exalted and God’s word is taught. You can also join us on our live stream and here this message with additional words to empower and encourage your life.

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[i]     Break Point with Charles Colson” (5-16-03).

[ii]     David Robinson, Foreword to Max Lucado, It’s Not About Me, (Nashville, Tn: Integrity Publishers, 2004), xiii.

[iii]    John 10:10 New King James Version of the Bible, Thomas Nelson, 1982.

[iv]    R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistles to the Colossians, Thessalonians, Timothy, Titus and Philemon, (Minneapolis, Mn.: Augsburg Publishing House, 1937)189.

[v]     Kent Hughes, Liberating the Saints from the Success Syndrome, as quoted by John Piper, “Devote Yourselves to Prayer” Sermon preached January 9, 2000.

[vi]    Acts 1:14, New International Version of the Bible, 2011.

[vii]   Acts 2:42.

[viii]   Acts 2:47.

[ix]    Keith Miller “Three essentials for Ministry” sermon central, Col. 4:2-6.

[x]     John Piper, “Devote Yourselves to Prayer” Sermon preached January 9, 2000.

[xi]    R. C. Lucas, Fullness & Freedom, The Bible Speaks Today Commentary on Colossians & Philemon, (Downer Grove, Il: Inter Varsity Press, 1980), 172.

[xii]   Colossians 4:3.

[xiii]   Preaching Today Illustration on “Evangelism” Submitted by Brian Roennfeldt, Perth, West Australia.

[xiv]   2 Corinthians 4:3-4.

[xv]   Colossians 4:3-4.

[xvi]   Philippians 1:12-14.

[xvii] William Barclay, The All-Sufficient Christ, (Philadelphia, Pa: Westminster Press, 1963), 119.

[xviii]           Colossians 4:6.

[xix]   1 Peter 3:15-16.

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