Week of Feb. 24: Prayer extends beyond words to actions, attitudes


For the week of Feb. 24
Lesson Scripture: Colossians 4:2-6; 17
Background Scripture: Colossians 4:2-17
       In completing this quarter’s study of the three letters of Paul written while he was under arrest in Rome, today’s verses are actually very few in number. However, the larger background scripture is critical for an understanding of what Paul experienced in this, the final chapter of his life.
     First, we have a list of persons who were with him in Rome and were his associates in the work.  Among the persons he mentions is the bearer of the letters, Tychicus, and a companion, Onesimus. From the letter to Philemon, we learn Onesimus is a slave who has run away to Rome where he becomes very close to Paul. Paul writes to Philemon a very personal and impassioned letter for Onesimus to be welcomed back - no longer as a slave, but as a brother in Christ. We can deduce that Philemon’s home is the probable location of the Colossian church (Philemon vs. 2).
     Also among Paul’s companions in Rome are Mark, the writer of the first Gospel, and Luke, the writer of both the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts. In addition, there are Aristarchus, Demas, and Timothy. Isn’t it wonderful to know that Paul was not alone in these final days of his life? One of the great assurances we have as Christians is we are never alone! “Never Alone” was a recent theme of the South Georgia Conference. Human companionship of committed Christians is a critical ingredient to effective Christian living and witness. Two of these companions of Paul at the end are two that he had bad feelings about earlier: Mark (Acts 15:36-39) and Demas (II Timothy 4:10).
     Secondly, in the background scripture, we learn of the letter Paul wrote to the Christians in Laodicea. The two letters were to be shared between the churches. Obviously, the Laodicean letter has been lost—a grievous loss to Christians down through the centuries! Could it have been deliberately destroyed because of the reputation of the church there colored by the description in the book of Revelation? Remember the Christians were described as lukewarm—neither hot nor cold!  (Revelation 3:16-17) 
     We visited the site of Laodicea in 2002 and discovered the city’s water supply came from two sources carried by Roman aqueducts. One came from a region of hot springs miles to the west, and the other from the melting snow of mountains miles to the east. By the time the water reached Laodicea, it was neither hot nor cold—just lukewarm! 
The scripture for today is divided into two sections. The first, verses two through four, focuses on prayer and the participation of the church in the mission work of Paul. The second, verses five and six, on how Christians are to relate to non-believers.
     Prayer is not so much the words we say, but the spirit and attitude in which we live. In the middle ages, a lay monk named Brother Lawrence wrote about “Practicing the Presence of God.” His job was in the kitchen of the monastery and there he practiced! We have to work at staying alert to the Presence in our life and in the world. We always have access to God, but we must always and in everything give thanks and be in prayer for each other. Our salvation is a gift for which we say, “thank you” to the Father constantly. 
      That salvation must also be shared with others. Paul asks his readers to pray for him as he witnesses to the power of Christ to redeem people and circumstances. Often we members of local churches have near-sightedness. We see only the needs around us—our family, our church, and our community. We cannot ignore the local, but the work of God in Christ is bigger than where we are. Like the Colossians, Paul wants us to share in the world-wide work of the church. In United Methodism, that means seeing the benevolence program of the UMC as integral to the ministry of the local church—not an imposition from outside.
    He asks them to pray for God to “open doors” so the work can spread. There may be a double meaning for Paul about having an open door, since he was confined with guarded doors. We have a committed couple who are dear friends in Christ. His work requires him to travel to places of great danger and disaster. This includes Muslim countries. He is constantly asking us to pray for him as he serves our Lord. Specifically, he asks us to pray that God will open doors to reach people with the good news of the Gospel. He leaves his wife and two children when he travels and is gone for weeks at a time. Do we pray? You bet!
     The reminder of Paul’s confinement gives urgency to his final instructions on living in a world with non-believers. The different values of the Christian from the values of the world create tension. We are not to flaunt our differences unnecessarily, but we are to live wisely demonstrating how Christians live. This means we have to be prepared to defend our faith with understanding. Too many of us are timid about sharing our faith walk. Paul uses two powerful metaphors in this “talking the talk” part of our walk. Season our speech “with salt,” always being gracious, and “redeeming the time.” 
     Sometimes there is a person at work, or a neighbor, or just an acquaintance who just doesn’t understand church and church people. They may be hostile, even very rude or outspoken, but when the door is open, you may well be the most effective by your lifestyle and speech to reach them for God. They are not enemies, but human beings who are also children of God, beloved, redeemed and don’t know it! God will give you the right words.
Helen and Rev. Sam Rogers are a retired clergy couple. They can be reached at sandhrogers@friendlycity.net.