Prayer as Soul-Shaping with God (Colossians 1:9-14)

This past weekend at Eastbrook Church, I continued our series “Power in Prayer: Learning to Pray with St. Paul.” After looking at Ephesians 3:14-21 on praying our way into God’s power and love, this week I looked at how prayer shapes our souls from Colossians 1:9-14.

You can watch my message from this past weekend and follow along with the message outline below. You can also engage with the entire series here or download the Eastbrook mobile app for even more opportunities for involvement. Each weekend I am also providing some resources for prayer related to the passage or theme of the week.

Resources for prayer

Our life of prayer is fueled by accurate knowledge of God’s will for believers. Read through these verses and use them as material in your prayer life, both this week and in the future:

Paul’s example of praying regularly for others is inspiring. Join in praying for others more regularly through the monthly “Eastbrook Prays” guide, or joining our morning prayer gatherings each weekday (Mon-Fri), 6:00-6:45 AM, in Holy Grounds.

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Finding God: Jesus

Jesus-Christmas[This is the final devotional I wrote for Eastbrook Church‘s Advent 2018 devotional. Find the daily journey through Advent here.]

“While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.” (Luke 2:6-7)

The distance between expectations and reality is often one of the greatest strains on us as people. When our expected hopes never arrive we can easily descend into frustration or disillusionment. “What happens to a dream deferred?”, Langston Hughes asks in his famous poem, “Harlem,” about unrealized equality. The final lines summarize one aspect of that angst-filled reality: “Maybe it just sags / like a heavy load. / Or does it explode?” Endless anticipation that is never realized tumbles from the high peaks of hope into the chasms of hopelessness.

Yet when our anticipated hopes do arrive it is like the flash of glorious sunlight across the mountain peaks. It is like drinking a glass of clear, cool water on a hot, humid day. In the depths of our being we rise up into that realized hope and say: “Yes! Finally! This is what I have been waiting for!”

The birth of Jesus is not only the culmination of our Advent journey, but also the realization of all our greatest longings as human beings. In the words of the old hymn, “O Little Town of Bethlehem”: “the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.” Jesus arrives, bringing the peace of God Isaiah prophesied, the hope of God that Elizabeth tasted, the joy of God John the Baptist preached about, and the love of God that Mary felt deep within her.

Jesus, “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15), “who was with God in the beginning” (John 1:2), is now nestled in the warm flesh and solid bone of humanity at His birth in Bethlehem. God has done it! Our dreams are no longer deferred but met in Him here and now. God has drawn near and the wonder of this moment invites us into awe-filled wonder and worship again. So, let us do that today. Let us join our voices with the women and men of God throughout all the ages to speak praise from the depths of our soul to Jesus, our infant king:

O come, let us adore Him!
O come, let us adore Him!
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord!

Reflect:

  • How has your life with God been different from what you thought it to be?
  • What has been the greatest part of knowing you are loved by God, loved by Him so much that He sent His very own son to die in your place?

A Prayer for Christmas Day (from the Revised Common Lectionary):

God of glory,
your splendor shines from a manger in Bethlehem,
where the Light of the world is humbly born
into the darkness of human night.
Open our eyes to Christ’s presence in the shadows of our world,
so that we, like him, may become beacons of your justice,
and defenders of all for whom there is no room. Amen.

Praying with Paul: Colossians 1 [30 Days of Prayer]

Summer of Prayer Ads_Banner“We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you…For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you.” (Colossians 1:3, 9) 

To conclude the 30 Days of Prayer, I want us to have some interactive exploration of the Apostle Paul’s prayers in his letters to churches. Today, we begin with Colossians 1:3-13. Open your Bible and read through those verses. When you do, you will notice that Paul’s prayer has two basic parts. The first part (1:3-8) focuses on gratitude to God and the second part (1:9-14) focuses on requests asked of God.

Consider what Paul is thankful for in this first section of his prayer. He celebrates the faith and love of the believers. He is grateful that their faith and love overflows to bear fruit because of their hope in the Gospel. Any form of gratitude is good, and there are many things that we can be thankful for in our lives. However, Paul chooses specific sorts of things to thank God for in the life of believers. Those themes of gratitude reflect the essence of the Christian life and the fruit of the Spirit. This shows us that Paul is watching for certain things in the churches, and also that certain sorts of things lift Paul’s prayers toward thanksgiving.

Following his prayer for gratitude, Paul strings together a series requests of God on behalf of the Colossian believers. He asks God:

  • that He will fill them with knowledge of his will (v 9)
  • for wisdom and understanding from the Holy Spirit (v 9)
  • that they might live a life worthy of the Lord (v 10)
  • that the believers would bear fruit in good works (v 10)
  • that they would grow in knowledge of God (v 10)
  • for strength within God’s power for patient endurance (v 11)
  • that they would find joy in the inheritance given by God through Christ (v 12)

Paul’s series of requests in prayer resound with a depth and focus that often does not characterize our prayers. His requests focus on the life of the believers becoming more God-centered and God-shaped in every way. Paul takes seriously the need for ongoing growth in the life of the believers, seeking that God would mature them even more deeply in Christ.

Focusing on gratitude without need can lead to unrealistic prayer that is out of touch with our lives. Focusing on our needs without gratitude can often lead to self-centered prayer that is out of touch with God’s power.

Take some time now to thank God for the fruit of the Spirit that you see in believers around you and in your church. Then, take some time to intercede before God in a way that is similar to Paul’s petitions on behalf of the Colossian believers. Perhaps you could write out a prayer to God in response to this devotional. You may even want to slowly pray the words of Paul’s prayer back to God to conclude your time in prayer today.

[This post is part of the “30 Days of Prayer” devotional. Read other posts here.]

Image and Idolatry

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A quick search online reveals that a lot of us have image problems. Not only do you and I have image problems, but it seems like every category of person, career, human activity, and individual has an image problem.

The Satanic Inversion of the Image of God

As I mentioned in my message this past weekend, “I am More than My Image,” the deepest root of our image problem is the Satanic inversion of how God created us in His image. In Genesis 3:1-7, we can see three aspects of this inversion within the dialogue between the serpent and Eve:

  1. Satan questions the truth of God (“Did God really say?…”) – something which humans in original innocence took for granted as true and good
  2. Satan questions the motivation or rationale of God’s truth (“You will not certainly die…for God knows…”) – something which humans in original innocence took as in their best interest
  3. Satan questions the human relationship with God (“And their eyes were opened”) – the original harmony (shalom) or relationship is no disrupted

The opening of eyes gives more than humanity bargained for as this taints the image of God within humanity. That image is still there – an amazingly good reflection of God in our lives – but it is fogged over and cracked like a damaged mirror.

Human Dissonance about Image and God’s Guidelines

As we look at the story of the Bible after Genesis 3 we see that humanity tends toward putting the self at the center. Not only that, but we construct the world in a way that lifts up images outside of us and inside of us that are contrary to God and His ways. This is a direct reflection of the dissonance we experience as a result of the Satanic inversion of the image of God in Genesis 3. Read More »

I Am More Than My Image

With our current series at Eastbrook Church, “Who Am I?”, we are exploring biblical answers to questions about finding our identity in God.

This past weekend, in my message “I Am More Than My Image,” I spoke to the ways in which we are  tempted to live according to false images of ourselves instead of living into the image of God and the restoration of that in Jesus Christ.

You can view the message video and sermon outline below. You can follow the entire series at our web-site, through the Eastbrook app, or through our audio podcast.

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