Two weeks ago the British Olympic team had their victory parade through the streets of Manchester. Members of Team GB were carried through the city centre in open-top buses to celebrate their gold medal success in Rio.
But you may have seen on the news that it wasn’t just the Olympic medalists on those buses. There were two ‘gatecrashers’ who got on one as well. Two young men called Jamie Rawsthorne and Zac Alsop put on Team GB tracksuits and wore fake plastic Olympic medals. Apparently they pretended to be members of the Olympic fencing team – and managed to get on the bus, wave to the crowds and even do a TV interview before being exposed as fakes!
You see, Jamie and Zac could only pretend to be part of a world-class team. They didn’t have what it takes to really get to Rio, and a genuine gold medal was beyond their grasp. Blagging a ride on the Team GB bus was the best they could manage!
But things are different for Christians. As we finish our series in Colossians today, the apostle Paul wants to tell us how we can play a genuine, real role in God’s team. Whatever our age or stage of life, wherever we live, wherever we work, we can all play a full and active part in the Church’s God-given mission to spread the Gospel message. Paul today explains that through our prayers, our behaviour and our words, we can play our full part in proclaiming the Gospel in Gidea Park and beyond.
- Pray hard! It’s a privilege and a partnership
What do you ‘devote’ yourself too? What do you dedicate time to and invest money in? Your career or social life perhaps? Or home improvement or hobbies? We all devote ourselves to things we consider important. Things we think are worthwhile. Things we think will benefit us or those close to us. Paul begins in verse 2 today by saying Christians should “devote ourselves to prayer”.
We should dedicate quality time to speaking to God. If we are honest, I expect all of us would admit that this doesn’t come naturally. None of us, I assume, spend as much time praying as we do watching TV, going shopping or simply gossiping. Prayer doesn’t come easily, and its always competing with other, more urgent demands on our time. Prayer can also seem so intangible, so invisible, that its hard to prioritise in our lives. Its so tempting to do something more ‘practical’ than pray. But pray we must, says Paul. Because prayer is both a privilege and a partnership.
Firstly, prayer is a privilege because it is something reserved for the children of God. Prayer is privilege that faith in Christ alone makes possible. Prayer is every Christian’s opportunity to spend “quality time” with our Heavenly Father. A chance to share our confessions, hopes, joys and fears with a Father who loves us.
When we pray, Paul says we are to be “watchful and thankful”. We are to be watchful for opportunities to pray, we are to be on the look out for people and situations to pray for. If you look to verse 12 of Colossians 4, Paul tells us that Epaphras – the man who founded the Colossian Church – was a man devoted to prayer. That verse says “he is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured.”
Who are you wrestling in prayer for? Who do you know who is most in need of God’s help? For instance:
- Do you have a non-Christian friend, family member or even spouse? Then pray hard that they will come to faith in Jesus and be saved.
- Or do you have a Christian friend (someone in our congregation perhaps), who is going through a tough time at the moment? Then pray that God will carry them through it, and grow them in their faith.
- And please do pray for our church as a whole. Make use of our termcard and our notice sheet to pray regularly for our ministries and mission activities here at St.Michael’s. Wrestle in prayer for St.Michael’s, that God will be glorified through our work here.
We are also to be watchful for answers to prayer. We are to keep an eye out for the way God has answered prayers, watchful for blessings that we and others have received in response to prayer. Our church monthly prayer meeting always begins with a time of praise for recent blessings. A time for us to give thanks for answered prayer in the recent past. And even if nothing else comes to mind, Christians can always be thankful for the rescue from sin we’ve received through Christ, and grateful for the glorious future that God has promised us beyond the grave.
I said just now that prayer is a partnership as well as a privilege – and I think this is what Paul is driving at in verses 3 and 4 today. Listen again to those verses: “Pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.”
When we pray for the spread of the Gospel we are partnering with God in his work in the world. When we pray for Christians trying to share the good news about Jesus, we are aligning ourselves with God’s great plan to save people from sin and bring them into his kingdom. When we pray for such people, we are joining God’s team in the most important mission in the world.
Two thousand years ago Paul wanted the Colossian Christians to pray for him on his missionary journeys around the Mediterranean. He wanted them to pray for opportunities for him to speak of Jesus as he travelled around. Paul wanted the Colossians to pray that he would clearly proclaim the Gospel of Christ.
Today in 2016 we too can pray for messengers of the Gospel at home and abroad:
- Please pray for Chris and Veronica, our link missionaries in Spain and North Africa, as they seek to share the Gospel with Muslims and others.
- It seems that Paul in prison when he wrote this letter. So please pray for persecuted Christians in different parts of the world today. Ask that God will give them boldness and courage in the face of opposition.
- Closer to home, please pray for our four Mission and Ministry partner churches in Harold Wood, Harold Hill and Ardleigh Green, that they will successfully share Jesus in their parishes.
- And, finally please pray for myself, for Ken, and for Cat Trinder, as we seek to share the Gospel with guests at our Christmas services next month. Ask God to help us make the most of the evangelistic opportunities of the festive season.
Prayer is a privilege and partnership – but it is hard on our own, I know! So as well as private prayer, please do make an effort to pray with others. We have our fortnightly house groups, our monthly prayer meeting, and our intercessions groups to help us pray with others. I have also made a time of prayer a permanent agenda item for our PCC meetings as well! Prayer is absolutely essential to the spiritual health of us as individual Christians and as a church. So let’s devote ourselves to prayer, let’s keep at it, and watch how God gets to work!
- Go public! Let your lives and lips point to Jesus
Last Thursday the computer firm Apple went public with their new range of laptop computers. With much razzmatazz and hi-tech special effects, they had a major launch event in California. People all around the globe could watch live online, as Apple showed off their latest laptops to the public. They are confident in their product, and wanted everyone to know all about it.
Surely the same principle applies to us as Christians, as a Church. Our product, our ‘unique selling point’, is the Lord Jesus and his lifesaving Gospel. Our hearts desire should be to ‘go public’ with our faith, and share it with the watching world.
Helpfully, in verses 5 and 6 today, Paul gives us guidance on how we can go public with our faith, both in our words and deeds.
Firstly, in verse 5, Paul says “Be wise in the way you act towards outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.” By outsiders Paul means non-Christians. People who have not yet come to Jesus as Lord and Saviour, the world beyond the church.
It can be very tempting for Christians to withdraw from the world, and minimise our contact with wider society. But that’s wrong, because we can’t go public with our faith if we Christians can’t be seen. God certainly got involved in the world, when he became incarnate in Christ to save us. Withdrawl from the world is simply not an option.
At the opposite extreme, another error Christians can make is to compromise with the world. It can be very easy to adopt the language, the values and the attitudes of our secular society. It can be very easy to go along with the non-Christian crowd, and behave in a way that isn’t godly and isn’t distinct. That simply won’t do either.
But the third way – the right way – says Paul, is to act wisely. The right way is to get involved in the world, but to behave in a wise, distinctive, Christ-like way. We are to be salt and light where we live and work.
Many of us were thinking about this in our house groups this week, weren’t we? We were talking about practical ways we can show grace and love to our colleagues, friends and neighbours. Ways we can gently challenge and change the culture in which we live and work:
- Where people are competitive, we can cooperate.
- Where we see selfishness, we can share.
- Where people are greedy, we can show generosity.
In our fallen world, Christians living wisely should stand out a mile. Our behavior should be distinctively different.
If you have mortgage or a bank account, you will know that interest rates are at a record low. In an effort to stimulate the economy and avoid a recession, the Bank of England have slashed the base rate to a mere 0.25%. That’s good news if you have a mortgage on your house, but bad news if you want to earn some interest on your savings!
Thankfully, Christians should be more concerned about a different kind of interest. Not financial interest on our savings, but interest in our faith. We should pray that non-Christians’will be interested in our faith. Our hope is that their interest and curiosity will be aroused by the way we act. We should pray that people who see how we live will want to know what makes us tick – what beliefs and values are driving our counter-cultural behavior. And that’s where our final verse from Colossians, verse 6, comes in. Because Paul says there: “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”
We should be ready, willing and able to answer questions about our faith. We should be ready to explain what we believe and why, when asked. Think through how you’d answer someone who asks why you believe in God, what you think about Jesus, why you trust the Bible, why you go to Church. Think how you would explain to someone the difference Jesus has made to your life.
We are not to be arrogant or aggressive in our answers, but gracious, says Paul. And our words are to be “salty” too, he says. I think that means our words need to be interesting, distinctive and engaging. If we make Jesus sound ordinary, or eternal life sound boring, then we really do need to up our game!
As I finish today, I hope Paul’s final words to us in Colossians have been an encourgament. An encouragement that we can all play our part in God’s mission to the world. Even from the comfort of our own home, we can be prayer partners with people sharing the Gospel near and far. And in our own daily lives, we can all speak and act in a way that points people to Christ.
Let’s pray: Heavenly Father, thank you for the Gospel. Help us to work with you to take this Gspel to every corner of the world, through our prayers, our words and our acts. In Jesus’ name. Amen.