Tag Archives: power

Colossians: Pray and Keep on Praying

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Colossians 1:3-14

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people— the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel that has come to you. In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace. You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant,[a] who is a faithful minister of Christ on our[b] behalf, and who also told us of your love in the Spirit.

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives,[c] 10 so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience,12 and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you[d] to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. 13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

I did not write the lesson on this section in Colossians, but I would love to share some thoughts concerning this passage. I would encourage you to read through the passage above and record your own observations (noting key words, admonitions, tone of voice, connectives, and so on).

The first thing I noticed this time around is Paul’s very friendly and encouraging tone toward the Colossians. It reads quite differently from his letter to the Galatians for example. He also introduces us to a new name, Epaphras. New names immediately pique my interest and result in me following a rabbit trail that takes me hours to get back to my original path. In order not to take you on too many rabbit trails, I’ll simply choose a few ideas from the passage I found interesting (trust me when I say this is very hard to do for me. I’d like to pick apart every. single. verse.).

If we look at this section of the letter very broadly, we would note his common habit of giving thanks and praying for the recipients. It is a beautiful way to start a letter. I find that Paul teaches me about being thankful and how to pray for others simply by the way he writes his letters.

As I mentioned he’s very encouraging toward the Colossian believers, noting their faith and their love (v. 4, 7) which is a result of the hope (v. 5) they have in Christ {hmm…where have I seen those three qualities together before??}. He also comments on the gospel bearing fruit and increasing among them since the day they heard it and understood it (v. 5-6). I find the idea of an inanimate object being able to bear fruit very fascinating. The good news (gospel) which Epaphras spoke to the Colossians continues to produce good things among them.

I would like to look closely at the idea of faith. Webster’s 1828 defines it as “a full and affectionate confidence in the certainty of those things which God has declared and because He has declared them.” Another way to put it is an “affectionate, practical confidence in the testimony of God” or a “firm, cordial belief in the veracity of God, in all the declarations of His word.”

Perhaps it is best to point out that the power of faith depends not on the person who has the faith but on the One in whom the faith is placed. Christ is the object of our faith. Our faith has power because it is on Him, and He does not fail. C.F.D. Moule wrote this:

Regardless, the issue is not just the presence of faith, but a faith that resides in Christ. It gives the thought of reliance going forth to Christ, and reposing on Christ, so as to sink as it were into Him, and find fixture in Him; as the anchor sinks to the floor of the sea, and then into it, that it may be held in it.

To recap, Paul gave thanks for their faith and love because of hope (and this hope does not disappoint because it is also in the person of Christ who has secured glory/heaven for us). One of the ladies I teach with said this, “The validity of faith is not the fervency with which you believe, but the degree to which the object of your faith is true.”

It is in verse 9 when he switches to praying for these people he’s never even met. He asked that they would be filled with the knowledge of God’s will. I couldn’t tell you how this happens, I only know that if he asks for it, it must be something that can happen to any believer. We can know God’s will for our lives. Isn’t that such a comforting thought? I also happen to love that he prays this for them as a father would pray for his own children to know God fully.

Hopefully you had a chance to read my post detailing the background of Colossians. You see, there was a threat of false teaching in Colossae, and those opponents were promising spiritual fullness with things that were not Christ. Paul tells the believers that true spiritual fullness can only be found in Christ alone. Just look at these verses in the letter about fullness or being filled:

1:19 For in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell

1:25 …to make the word of God fully known

2:2 …all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ,

2:3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

2:9 For in Him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily,

2:10 and you have been filled in Him…

4:12 …stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God.

Christ is sufficient. (more on this later!)

Now on to verses 10-11. Paul had spoken of the gospel which was bearing fruit in the lives of the Colossians and now in verse 10 he tells them to walk in a worthy manner, being pleasing to God, bearing fruit in every good work…. One of my favorite teachings of Jesus (and which Paul continues) is this idea of the Vine and branches. We abide in the Vine (which is Christ), and He produces fruit in us (fruit of the Spirit for example). I realize this can be a touchy subject since too many people believe they must work really hard to be “good” and accepted by God (or whoever it is they believe they need to work for). I would clarify that it’s not so much that we work for God but that God works in us. {I feel a blog post bubbling to the surface so I had better stop at that.}

In verse 11 Paul tells them their strength comes from God. The words for strengthened and power come from the same word in our English language for dynamiteDunamei means “to make strong, strengthen” and carries the idea of making something strong that is inherently weak. Paul says this power helps us to endure and have patience with joy. Again, this is his prayer for the Colossians and gives me such encouragement knowing this can happen for me as well.

Paul wraps up this section in verses 12-14: we give thanks to the Father who has qualified us to share in His inheritance, He has delivered us from darkness and transferred us to His Son’s kingdom, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Now those verses are truly packed with some dynamite!

What I learned from this passage is that the words used for delivered and transferred give the idea of military conquest. In Biblical times it was common to take a people who had been defeated, uproot them from their culture and environment, and re-root them somewhere else. That is exactly what God did for us! He broke the bonds of our past life (out of darkness) to assimilate us into a new life with Him (His kingdom of light – see also 1 Pet 2:9). It’s His grace to us, because we don’t deserve a single thing He did in those verses. We have been qualified, delivered, transferred, and redeemed.

The Blessing of the Thorn

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thorn

From Creationswap.com

I miss my old Bible study group. 😦 I had the privilege of being a part of that group for almost 5 years. I miss the teacher, and I miss the ladies. We were able to just be real, and you have no idea how refreshing that is when your flesh tells you to hide. I’ll never forget the day we talked about the “thorn in the flesh.” I even remember where I was sitting.

Many people have discussed what Paul meant by the “thorn in my flesh” (from 2 Corinthians 12:7), and the consensus is that no one really knows what his “thorn” was exactly. It’s rather fitting for God to have left that detail out so that perhaps all of us could relate to this “thorn” idea. We know one thing for sure: the thorn was meant to humble him.

If you read the chapter before his thorn confession, it gives some insight into Paul’s dilemma. He is combating the false apostles that have crept into the Corinthian church who have been claiming (or rather boasting) to preach the gospel without charge like Paul had been doing (but without the boasting part). He writes:

Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they offspring of Abraham? So am I. 23 Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. 24 Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant? 30 If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. 2 Corinthians 11:22-30

It’s actually quite humorous in parts. I’m talking like a madman! mwahahaha… (*cue music*) “I can do anything you can do better, I can do anything better than you!” Seriously though. He’s got quite a few things to be proud of yet also to be honest about. He got real with us in this section, just like those ladies in my Bible study group. I think we could safely assume that Paul, being a Pharisee, was probably also steeped in legalism and likely struggled with this after his conversion at times. I can relate to this. Somehow it’s comforting to think that he didn’t always get it right. So for him to admit weakness in any area must have been a HUGE breakthrough for him (just like it would be for any perfectionist). He continues on in the next chapter:

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:7-10

Wow.

That is such a nice passage to memorize, and it sounds really good, but it sure is hard to actually do!

In my small group recently we read through Philippians 2:5-11, quite the hefty theological passage. I highly recommend it. 🙂 We see the example of Christ as One who was completely humble, to the point of a criminal’s death (with a ton of thorns stuck into His head, I might add), and because of His work on the cross, God highly exalted Him above everyone and everything. I just can’t get this out of my mind. God exalts the humble. (James 4:10; 1 Peter 5:6)

My husband raised the question, “is God humble? Is humility actually a godly trait?” Well, after we thought about it, we realized God doesn’t need to be humble. But He isn’t proud either. Humility is just not a quality that God needs to have because, frankly, He’s God and deserves all praise and glory. So although He isn’t humble, He does esteem the humble (Isaiah 66:2). He looks on them with favor. That was definitely true of Christ in our Philippians passage, and it seems true of anyone else who humbles herself.

It begs the question – why? Why is humility such a big deal to God? Isaiah 2:17 gives us a clue:

And the haughtiness of man shall be humbled, and the lofty pride of men shall be brought low, and the Lord alone will be exalted in that day.

Will the clay say to the Potter, why did you make me? Will the clay actually try to take from the glory of the Almighty? Do we really do this? Unfortunately we do – alllll the time.

But when we acknowledge our weakness, it is truly a thing of beauty to the Father. What is the chief end of man? To glorify God and enjoy Him forever (Westminster Catechism Question 1!). He delights in us coming to Him, fully acknowledging our need for Him. Ironically when we humble ourselves before God, He lifts us up (He’s the One doing the lifting up, not us, and there’s the key). Just like Paul said, when we are weak, then we are strong. It makes absolutely no sense! But there you see the blessing of the thorn.

If any of you have a “thorn”, you may be like me and have a love-hate relationship with it. For without it, you know that you wouldn’t be all God desires for you to be. But because you have it, you get frustrated that it won’t go away. You just wish you could be done with this problem and find yourself on the other side of it, more sanctified and not struggling in the way you do now. You can’t find tweezers large enough or pointy enough to dig it out yourself. You, like Paul, ask God to take it away, but there it remains, doing it’s work to humble you. Arg. and Yay.

In the end, I truly don’t want people to look at my life and say, “Wow, she was one amazing woman, wife, mother, teacher, etc.” I’d much rather them say, “Wow, her God is truly amazing. Look what He did in her life. If He can do that kind of a miracle, surely He deserves all praise and glory. I want to follow Him.” And at that point, I’ll thank God for the thorn and hear Him say, “Well done my good and faithful servant.”

Just Try Harder

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vine

I’ll never forget the message I received loud and clear one day as I was driving home from work some 5 years ago. I was listening to a Chip Ingram message from his Living on the Edge broadcast about the pressure we put on ourselves to just try harder and do better. See, I’m one of those people who is very critical of myself (and unfortunately of others…I’m working on that…), and I get into this mentality that when I mess up I should just try harder. I should beat myself up over not being perfect. I should feel really ashamed and wallow in it for a while. Ridiculous? Absolutely.

What does that even mean? To try harder? To be a “better Christian”? What does trying harder even look like? More self effort? More tears from failure and frustration? Or does it look like the Pharisee? More pride in self effort?

I’m thinking I want to stay clear of all of that. And you should too, frankly.

In his message, Chip mentioned that he was working with one of his sons on lifting weights. This event came after he and his wife were helping him through some life difficulties, including the son feeling like he was failing in some serious ways.  The son was having difficulty with lifting the weights (because he had just started and wasn’t very strong yet), and Chip kept yelling to him to “try harder!” “try harder!” The son would strain with all of his might, but the results were the same. He just couldn’t try hard enough.

Chip, being the wise father he is, had a great moment with his son at this point because he was able to lovingly direct his son that trying harder is not the answer. And trying harder in your Christian walk isn’t the answer for any of us either.

Let’s get one thing straight. There are definitely passages in Scripture that direct us to work out our faith with fear and trembling, to be good stewards of what God has given us, to run the race with perseverance. There’s nothing in my Bible that says we should just coast through this life being lazy bums because we don’t want to confront sin in our lives. Faith without works is dead, says James, the brother of Jesus. But there is a balance and a small twist to all of this.

 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. Acts 1:8

“My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 2 Corinthians 12:9

Let this soak in. Let it pour over you like a refreshing stream of life. Read through the lines and see the grace in this. It is Christ’s power in you that allows you to do any good thing, to overcome any stronghold of sin, to run this race of life to His glory. It has absolutely nothing to do with you trying harder to better at this whole Christian thing. It is getting to the end of yourself, realizing you can’t do it, and watching God pick up and do beyond all you could ask or imagine. It’s when you can’t explain how it happened because there would be no reason for it to happen by your own power. It’s abiding in Him.

I am the vinenowatermark

When Christ spoke to the people about who He was, at one point He makes a statement about being the Vine. And we are the branches. We can’t ever be the Vine. And these branches can’t ever produce any grapes apart from being attached to the Vine.

Think of it, a piece of a grape branch lays on the path right next to the vine. It has no fruit on it, but it has a lot of PASSION to bear fruit. It DESIRES to be fruitful. It really wants to have a beautiful cluster of grapes growing on it, but try as it may, it just can’t seem to make grapes. Oh, it tries very hard. But the fact remains that it’s not connected to the vine.

You and I must realize that we have to ABIDE in the Vine, drawing from the POWER of Christ and the Holy Spirit, in order to conquer that habitual sin, to do any good thing, and to truly run the race set before us. Stop trying harder and go before Him with completely honesty that you can’t do it, and then ask Him for His power to be made perfect in your weakness. For when you are weak, then you are strong.

Will you or I get it right immediately? Probably not. Most likely not. Abiding in the Vine is not a one time event though. Chip Ingram went on to tell of the long hours he spent with his son in weight training. Eventually, his son could lift those weights that were impossible for him in the beginning. But it took time, and it wasn’t about him trying harder so much as it was trusting in the process of strengthening those muscles little by little (and being disciplined to stick to it). So, be weak and proud of it.

Take care to give Him the glory by boasting in your weakness.

Then watch Him go to work and amaze you.

vine abide