"Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving; praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned; that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak." (Colossians 4:2-4)This is something, I must confess, that I find very hard to realize in my life. It's not that I don't desire devotion in prayer, but it's very hard to establish as a habit in my life. What does encourage me is the hope of the continual pursuit of devotion in prayer. The Greek term for "devote" (others translate it as "continue") means to be "strong towards" or "intense towards." It speaks of a pursuit as much as a continuance. While we may not have reached continued devotion in prayer, we may still journey down that path as we remain strong towards the goal of prayer in our lives. Continuing in prayer does not mean perfection in prayer but a continued growth in our relationship with God especially as it is demonstrated in our prayers.
The purpose of prayer is not discipline. Many religions teach prayer as a discipline or an obligation; a standard of piety to be measured against. However, God enjoins prayer upon us for its beneficial aspects in our lives. One of them Paul lists here. The Greek term for "keeping alert" is often translated as "watch" and also means to "keep awake." The opposite of sleeping is not being awake but watching. "Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober." (1 Thessalonians 5:6 NKJV) It is through prayer that our spiritual eyes are open, that we are able to see into the spiritual realm, to see the things that are around us and the things that are approaching us, For example, it is through prayer that we see the plans of the Devil and the temptations that are coming our way. "Keep watching and praying that you may not come into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak." (Mark 14:38) It is also through prayer that we see trials and the snares of the Devil before they arrive. "Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming. But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into." (Matthew 24:42-43) Prayer is more than asking. This type of prayer that Paul is calling us to is a prayer that is watchful. It is a prayer that is alert, seeing, and circumspect. As someone once said, "It is a jungle out there!" and prayer allows us to see the "lions and tigers and bears oh my!"
Finally, Paul asks for prayer for himself, but not for his ease, comfort, or needs but that he would find success in his purposes in life; that he would fully fulfill the call and will of God on his life. Life is short, and what prize will we take with us into the next life? Paul asked the Thessalonians, "For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming? For you are our glory and joy." (1 Thessalonians 2:19-20) In the end, the material blessings we have found will account for little as we proceed into eternity. However, the eternal victories we have won, the knowledge that we fulfilled the purpose of God in our lives, and the relationships we have forged along the way; these will be the things that give us joy and are the prize of our life on this earth. Let us learn to extend our prayers beyond temporal blessings to include those things that have eternal value and reward. Life is short. May this revelation teach us how to pray.