2 Devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart. 3 Pray for us, too, that God will give us many opportunities to speak about his mysterious plan concerning Christ. That is why I am here in chains. 4 Pray that I will proclaim this message as clearly as I should.
Before the apostle Paul devotes his closing attention to some specific personal comments, he holds out before the church two general and essential principles for disciples of Jesus. We could summarize them this way: Pray Earnestly. Live Wisely.
Verses 2-4 are punctuated with prayer. To “devote” yourself to prayer means to be committed to the practice of prayer, the work of prayer. Give yourself a large amount of time to pray. Keep at it. We tend to view the apostle as a man of task and movement, but it is clear from his directives that his energy and direction for ministry were fueled by prayer.
He qualifies this imperative with a reminder to include your whole being. We don’t just feel our way through prayer, even though prayer is often made urgent by burden. Our minds must be “alert” in prayer, and our hearts must feel gratitude in our address of the Almighty. Observationally, one could ask “How is an alert mind displayed in prayer?”
In Matthew 26:41, as well as accounts in the other gospels, Jesus tells His disciples to stay alert in prayer so they do not fall into temptation. Generally, prayer is not to be taken up lazily, gliding through sentences on emotion alone. Engage your mind in prayer. Take a breath and think about your approach to God before you even speak. As you think through what you want to say, reflect on what is going through your thoughts. I have made it a practice to pray freely but reflectively as well. Often I find myself wishing to rephrase what I’ve said based on what I know about the character of God. By keeping my mind alert, I become aware of just how the circumstances of my life and the messages received from humanity taint my beliefs about God and the world. I remember that there is an enemy in opposition against us, tempting us to believe things that aren’t always glaringly untrue.
Let us acknowledge that prayer is indeed work and at times, wearisome. We should not be surprised by this. Paul goes on in verses 3-4 to give specific personal requests for the church to pray for concerning his missionary work. The partnership, as he calls it elsewhere, with the churches is built not only on provisional support but prayerful petitions on behalf of evangelism. By taking up the work of prayer, the church is also involved in the work of making disciples. We would do well to remember that prayer is not simply a discipline whereby obedience is satisfied; it is a vital participation in the program of God.
Please mark your calendars for the evening of October 18 for an Evening of Prayer. I would love for as many of our church members as possible to gather with me in prayer for all that concerns our thoughts and feelings during this time. We will gather strictly for prayer, guided by the leadership of the Spirit as He instructs our thoughts as well as feelings. Please make plans to join us.