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A Call to Prayer

September 3, 2023

Teacher: Daniel Baker
Scripture: Colossians 4:2–4

A Call to Prayer
Colossians 4:2–3 – That I May Make it Clear: Colossians 4:2–6 – Daniel J. Baker – September 3, 2023


“If you’re able....” Reading Colossians 4:2–6. “....Thanks be to God.”

Imagine being at the Grand Canyon with your family. Your stunned and amazed by the beauty. But you’re there with your family so you’re also aware of the edge of the cliff and the height of the fall.

Off to your side you notice a group of teenage boys. Suddenly, one of them runs away from the group with a blindfold on. He’s running straight for the edge of the cliff. He thinks he’s a long way from the edge, but he’s only 20 or 30 yards away.

What do you do?

You might decide, “You know, I don’t want to judge. To him, running in that direction is a fine thing to do. I don’t want to embarrass him. I’m afraid of what he might think of me. He might think I’m a weirdo. I don’t want to be one of those people who’s always telling people they’re doing something wrong. I’ll just let him do his thing, and I’ll do mine.”

You would never do that.

Why not? Because gravity and falling off a cliff aren’t things true for one person and not another. You know that. You know that falling off that cliff will mean his death. You would throw yourself in front of him or try to or scream for him to stop.

In many ways that’s what evangelism is. The world is full of people who are blindfolded and running toward a cliff they don’t believe is there. And we’re trying to get in the way.

For the next four weeks, we’ll be thinking about evangelism from these verses in Colossians chapter 4.

We’re looking at the end of Paul’s letter to the Colossians. He’s writing from a prison in Rome. This is the imprisonment recorded at the end of the book of Acts. During this time in prison he wrote Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon.

Paul never visited Colossae that we know of, but he traveled to cities very close (Ephesus, Pisidian Antioch, Roman roads just north).

This church was planted by Epaphras (Col 1:7). He was likely one of the Gentiles saved during Paul’s time in Ephesus (Acts 19:10). He was from Colossae and returned there to plant the church (Col 4:18).

Colossians is written to address many issues but especially a wrong view of Christ. Paul presents in this letter some of the loftiest teaching in the New Testament about who Christ is.

And like he often does, he begins with exalted theology and then he turns to Christian living—anger, purity, relationships, marriage, parenting, masters/slaves.

Right in the middle of these passages is an overarching life vision:

And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Col 3:17)

But at the end of his teaching on Christian living he turns to evangelism. His shift goes from inward (ourselves, the church) to outward. In 4:2–6 he gives one of the clearest passages on evangelism in our New Testament.

We’re going to hit this passage in four ways in our four sermons, hitting four key ideas:

  • Prayer
  • Relationships
  • Answering Each Person (Evidence)
  • Clarity (Romans Road)

This morning we’re thinking about prayer. In this passage we hear A Call to Prayer: (1) How We Need to Pray (4:2); (2) Why We Need to Pray (4:3–4).

I. How We Need to Pray (4:2)

It's fitting that in this paragraph on evangelism Paul begins with prayer. Nothing so reveals our need for God as evangelism. And so it's fitting that we start this series on evangelism with this call to prayer.

In our text we are first told HOW WE NEED TO PRAY. He gives us 3 things that should describe our prayers.

First, our prayers should be constant: Continue steadfastly in prayer” (Col 4:2)

“Continue steadfastly” means to “be devoted to it,” “continue in it.” Pray and keep praying! Pray and don’t stop praying! “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17).

And when it comes to praying for the lost, this makes good sense. We never know how long it will take.

John Flavel was a 17th century pastor who preached a sermon in Dartmouth, England. A farmer Luke Short heard that sermon and didn’t respond. But 85 years later this farmer was alone in his field and thinking about his long life. The words of John Flavel came back to him. He was struck by the terror of dying under the curse of God. He converted to Christ at that moment.[1]

You never know how God will work in the soul of another. Keep praying! Many of us have testimonies of relatives we prayed for for decades and then turned to Christ. Keep praying!

Second, our prayers should be “watchful”: Being watchful in it” (Col 4:2)

“Being watchful” has the idea of “stay awake,” “be alert.” Now there’s a basic side to this: Don’t fall asleep when you’re praying! But “watchful” here means more.

A lot of times in the New Testament it’s connected to being alert because the time is short. Our lives are short. And Jesus is coming back. So be watchful! 

Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. (Matt 24:42)

“Being watchful” means we pray with an awareness of the day in which we live. We live in dangerous times. With a dangerous enemy of our souls looking for ways to devour us. Christ has won the victory! But the battle rages on for a few more days.

In these dangerous times we have an enemy in the devil. So be watchful! 

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. (1 Pet 5:8)

Pray with an awareness of the dangers in us and the dangers around us.

Third, our prayers should be “thankful”: With thanksgiving” (Col 4:2)

“Being thankful” reminds us that our awareness we live in treacherous times isn’t to rob our joy or confidence in God. He has been good to us! He will bring grace in the days ahead! His goodness to us is always a thousand times greater than the hardships we experience—and that’s because our hardships will one day end, but his goodness to us goes on forever. Thanksgiving is evidence we haven’t lost sight of that.

Constant, watchful, and thankful prayers: These are what should describe our prayers.

II. Why We Need to Pray (4:3–4)

Read Colossians 4:3–4.

First is 3 things that should describe HOW WE PRAY. Next we’re given 2 reasons WHY WE NEED TO PRAY.

Paul here is asking for prayers for his ministry. He does this throughout his letters in the New Testament. As he asks for prayer, God is teaching us about prayer. In this case, God is teaching us WHY WE NEED TO PRAY IN OUR EVANGELISM. We’re given 2 reasons.

First, we need to pray, because we need GOD TO PREPARE THE WAY FOR THE GOSPEL.

Paul asks for prayer “that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison” (Col 4:3).

This is a prayer for God to remove the barriers to a person hearing and believing the gospel. Paul uses the image of opening a door. If the door is closed, the gospel can’t get in. If the door is open, the gospel can get in.

This has a practical aspect to it and a more spiritual one. At a practical level, evangelism requires opportunity. Sometimes you’ve prepared what you’re going to say, prayed for God to open the heart of the person you’re going to talk to, but then the person calls and says they have a flat tire and can’t make it. The door is closed, at least temporarily.

You might feel called to a specific country and have an invitation to do ministry there. But there’s a snag with your passport and you can’t leave the country. The door is closed, at least for a while.

For evangelism to happen we need God to open a door for the word in very practical ways.

Then there’s the opposition of the devil:

17 But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face, 18 because we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, again and again—but Satan hindered us. (1 Thess 2:17-18)

Then there’s a more difficult door that we need God to open. We need God to open the door inside a person’s heart. Without God’s work on a heart, that heart is closed to the gospel. We need the Holy Spirit to work on the heart and make it receptive to the gospel.

Jesus reminded us of that in his teaching:

“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:44)

But God does open hearts to receive the gospel. We see this with Lydia:

One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. (Acts 16:14)

So we pray for God to open a door for the Word.

Mark Dever:

Remember the importance of prayer in your evangelism. When Jonah was saved from the fish, he said, “Salvation comes from the LORD” (Jonah 2:9). If the Bible teaches us that salvation is the work of God, then surely we should ask him to work among those we evangelize. Jesus did. His prayer in John 17 was for those who wuld believe in him through the disciples’ preaching and witnessing. And God answered that prayer. Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44). If this is God’s work, we should ask him to do it.
Mark Dever, The Gospel & Personal Evangelism[2]

Second, we need to pray, because we need God to help us MAKE THE GOSPEL CLEAR to those we’re talking to.

Paul says to pray “that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.” If the apostle Paul needed prays to make the gospel clear, so do we!

Paul here even calls the gospel “the mystery of Christ” (Col 4:3). We’re trying to make clear something that is mysterious. It is something that was unknown before, and now it has been made known. So, yes, we need God to help us make it clear.

We need help so that we can share the gospel with CLARITY:

  • Clarity about who God is and this world as his creation.
  • Clarity about the great reality and problem of sin.
  • Clarity about the remedy for sin in Christ and his work on the cross.
  • Clarity about the response of faith and repentance required to receive the forgiveness he offers.

These aren’t obvious things. Even when we have a good grasp on these ideas for ourselves, we need God’s help to make them clear to others.

We need help to make the gospel simple enough for the person we’re talking to. If we’re not careful we drop words like JUSTIFICATION or CONDEMNATION or THE BLOOD OF CHRIST into our gospel presentation. If we don’t stop to explain these we can really lose people.

For example,

“Without forgiveness, you’re eternally condemned. But through the blood of Christ you can be justified through faith and forever united to him.”

That’s a true statement, and it’s good news! It’s the gospel! But it won’t make much sense to someone unless they’ve been taught a lot of Christian truth.

When we were in Guatemala this summer we went to church at Agua Viva. A man named Harold preached on Revelation 2–3. I think his sermon was actually very clear and probably really helpful. But he was speaking it in a language I didn’t know. I knew very few of the words. He was speaking gospel, but I didn’t know the words so those words couldn’t affect me.

We need God to help us make the gospel clear.

Now, if the door is closed in a person’s heart, the problem isn’t our clarity. The problem is they are closed to the gospel. We be as simple and clear as humanly possible and still they’ll reject it. Clarity isn’t the issue at that point, hardness of heart is.

That’s why these two prayers go so well together—Prayer for God to open the door and prayer for God to help us be clear.


How we need to prayer—constant, watchful, thankful.

Why we need to prayer—God to open doors, us to be clear.

Tonight there’s an excellent chance to apply this sermon on prayer for evangelism. We’re gathering at the church to do a prayer walk.

  • Pray for God to open doors for the gospel
  • Pray for God to help us make the gospel clear in this community

Book recommendations: The Gospel & Personal Evangelism by Mark Dever; Evangelism by Mack Stiles; Evangelism & the Sovereignty of God by J.I. Packer.

I said at the start evangelism is like getting in front of people who are blindfolded and running toward the edge of a cliff.

I read a story this week that has something of this quality.

John Harper was born in Scotland and became a Christian as a teenager. He began to do street evangelism as a 17-year old. Eventually became a pastor.

His effectiveness became well known, so Moody Church in Chicago invited him to speak. He accepted. His wife had died, but he bought tickets for his daughter Nana and him.

Nana died in 1986, but she told the story of their journey. Her father woke her up a few nights into the journey and said the ship had struck an iceberg. A ship was coming to save them, but she needed to get into one of the lifeboats as a precaution.

The ship was the Titanic, and no boat came to save them. Nana was rescued that night but not her father. But in a prayer meeting in Hamilton, Ontario some months later, another Scotsman stood up and gave his testimony.

He, too, was on the Titanic. He was clinging to a piece of debris. A wave brought another man near, John Harper, who was also holding on to a piece of debris. Harper asked, “Man, are you saved?”

“No, I am not,” this man replied.

Harper shouted back, “Believe on the Lord Christ, and thou shalt be saved.”

The waves took him away but then brought him back.

“Are you saved now?” Harper asked.

“No,” the man answered.

Harper said again, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.”

With that, Harper sank into the waters. But the man testified that alone in the night with two miles of water underneath him, he trusted Christ as his Savior. He said, “I am John Harper’s last convert.”[3]

May God open doors for the gospel. May God give us clarity as we share the gospel. Amen.

Prayer and Closing Song

[1] Mark Dever, The Gospel & Personal Evangelism (Crossway), 81.

[2] Mark Dever, The Gospel & Personal Evangelism (Crossway, 2007), 60.

[3] Story told in Mark Dever’s The Gospel & Personal Evangelism, 14–15.

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