Watch and Pray
01/08/2010 at 6.30pm
Jesmond Parish Church
A sermon preached by Jonathan Redfearn
Lord, teach us to pray and to proclaim your gospel, for your Name’s sake, Amen.
What on earth are you and I here for? What on earth are we here for as a church? What is the normal Christian life? What is normal church life? Well here in Colossians 4 Paul tells a church, not just an individual, that what we’re here for and what is normal, in part, is to make the most of every opportunity to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ as we watch and pray, thankful to God for all he’s done.
You see back in Colossians 1 Paul tells us how the Colossians came to faith, through Epaphras’s evangelism. In Colossians 4 we see how Paul draws the new Colossian Christians into evangelism as a part of the normal Christian life. We become Christians by being on the receiving end of the ministry of the gospel; once Christians, we’re to be on the giving end of the ministry of the gospel - not all gifted as ‘evangelists’, but all involved in speaking for Christ in some way.
Now in chapters 1-3 Paul’s concern has been to teach and build them up in the faith, to help them to maturity in Christ and to live out their faith at home and at work under the Lordship of Christ. And making disciples not just converts is also, in part, what we’re here for. But Paul doesn’t just want them, and so us, to be well-taught, firm in the faith, mature and godly. He also wants them and us to be involved in evangelism – to be proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ. This is because evangelism is part of the normal Christian life. Its part of what it means to be a disciple and a church. It’s not just for Paul, or even just for those who are gifted evangelistic speakers today. It is for all. The call to have Jesus as Lord involves the call to stand vocally and publicly for him. So here in chapter 4 Paul is treating the Colossians not as spectators of his own evangelism, but as partners in evangelism. They are to pray for his evangelism (v3-4) and they are to get on with their own (v5-6) while devoting themselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. Now to learn more about how we do that, let’s look more closely at Colossians 4:2-6. I’ve subtitled these verses, ‘How to make evangelism slightly less difficult’. Now evangelism will never be easy or cost free as Paul’s chains here in Colossians 4 make clear but if we follow the Bible’s teaching evangelism can be slightly less difficult. But before we come to the how I want to briefly look at the who and the why of evangelism. Despite what I’ve just been saying from Colossians some of you maybe thinking nervously does God really want to use me? Help, I’m not an evangelist! So first:
Who should be involved in evangelism?
The answer Colossians 4 gives is all of us who are believers. Look first at v4. Paul says:
“4Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.”Paul asks the church to pray that he would proclaim the mystery or gospel of Christ clearly, as he should. It’s that word ‘should’ that’s important in answering our question. The word is a strong word in the original, meaning must, because God wants him to. Paul was called to publicly proclaim the mystery of Christ. In a similar way some today are called to publicly preach the gospel. Now some of you are beginning to relax – phew I’m not a Paul, so I’m off the hook. Well not so fast. V5&6: Paul writes this to the whole church at Colossae and so by extension to us:
“5Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. 6Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should [according to the original] answer everyone.”And that word should is the same strong should or must of v4. All the Colossian Christians were to be involved in evangelism and so today all believers are to be involved in evangelism in conversation, at least. It’s a must says this part of God’s Word. We are all in this together. And together we can make an impact in the power of the Spirit, whether we’re preaching or gossiping the gospel at the health club, at our workplace or on facebook. Apparently it takes just 2% of a population who have a new vision to change the culture. Today the numbers connected with JPC form 1% of the population of Newcastle. With Christ we can begin to make a difference now and as God gives the growth in the future.
Let me ask. Why do you work where you do? Why do you live where you do? God has put us there for a purpose. And that purpose is to reach out to those around us with the good news, to be salt and light. We might be the only Christians they know or meet. Why has God put us here as a church? To reach out to the community around us, to the local schools, to the two universities close by, to the hospitals, to Tyneside through the growth of this church and by church planting, and with our international student friends and mission partners to the rest of the world. We are commissioned by Jesus to evangelise in the power of the Spirit to play our part in making disciples, changing this nation and the world. Are you on board with that? Secondly,
Why should we evangelise?
Because ‘outsiders’ (v5) or non Christians, are in ‘the dominion of darkness’, as Paul puts it back in Colossians 1:13, and without Christ they have no hope. And as Romans 10 reminds us, how can they hear the good news of Jesus without someone preaching to them? So if we don’t reach out to those around us, if we don’t play our part, whether that’s preaching, conversing, facebooking, inviting them to hear a preacher at church or inviting them to Christianity Explored, what are we saying? That we don’t care where they’ll spend eternity?
God has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the Kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins, says Paul in Colossians 1:13-14. God has transferred us from the dominion of darkness to the Kingdom of his Son. And that transfer cost him the death of his Son, who took the punishment we deserved for our sin on the cross. It was the costliest transfer price in history. Manchester City have nothing on God. But Jesus did not just die for you and for me. The Apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:14 that Christ died for all. So, as Paul goes on in 2 Corinthians 5, the love of Christ compels us to reach out with the love of Christ to our friends and neighbours. The love of Christ compels us to reach out together by inviting folks to church, to Christianity Explored (when we’re praying for 1500 to come to the Taster Sessions in January), to plant churches and to reach out with our mission partners across the world.
Are we willing to play our part to reach out together to those on the outside of God’s Kingdom? Sure ultimately it’s God’s work – we can’t do the rescuing and the transferring. Only God can do that but we are to make the most of every opportunity he gives us, which brings us to
How should we evangelise?
Colossians 4 gives us 4 Bs to sting us into godly action! Be devoted to prayer, be watchful and thankful, be wise in the way you act toward outsiders making the most of every opportunity and be distinctive in conversation. So first and this should be first in practice:
Be devoted to prayer v2-4
“2Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. 3And 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. 4Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.”As a church we’re often devoted to activity but are we devoted to prayer? You see apart from Christ we can do how much - nothing – absolutely nothing – a big fat zero (John 15:5 in the JR translation!). One pastor said: ‘If you want to humble a Christian, ask him about his prayer-life!’ And it’s true. But we’re to devote ourselves to prayer - praying in faith for opportunities to evangelise. And devote is a strong word. It means to spend time in prayer. Paul says we’re to pray for God to open doors for the message of the gospel and for the message to be proclaimed clearly. So plan to pray on your own and with others. ‘Much praying is never done because we do not plan to pray’. But maybe you’re thinking I’m really struggling to pray and read the Bible. Does it really make any difference? George Muller wrote:
It is a common temptation of Satan to make us give up the reading of the Word and prayer when our enjoyment is gone; as if it were of no use to read the scriptures when we do not enjoy them, and as if it were no use to pray when we have no spirit of prayer. The truth is that, in order to enjoy the Word, we ought to continue to read it, and the way to obtain a spirit of prayer is to continue praying. The less we read the Word of God, the less we desire to read it, and the less we pray, the less we desire to pray.Does this devotion to prayer mean being in prayer meetings all week and that we even drive with our eyes closed? No. We’re to devote ourselves to prayer being watchful and thankful.
Be watchful and thankful v2
We’re to devote ourselves to prayer watching for the Lord’s second coming (Mark 13:37). Why? Well prayer keeps us mindful of him, living today as if he might return tonight. ‘Will Jesus find faith on earth when he comes again?’ (Luke 18) is the same question as ‘Will Jesus find me praying in faith? What does that mean practically? Well we’re to pray without ceasing, as Paul tells the Thessalonians, but we’re to do so being watchful, looking out for opportunities to introduce Jesus into the situation or discussion. So we’re to go out each day prayerful and prepared. And we’re also to pray being thankful especially for what Jesus did for us at his first coming. But also because God answers prayer. Indeed in Colossians 2 Paul says thankfulness should characterise our lives. Yet so often we forget to be thankful to God.
There’s a true story about a man who, on the night of an awful ferry disaster, risked his life time and again to fish 17 people out of the freezing water. When asked about the episode and what stood out in his memory of that terrible night he replied, "Yes, one thing does stands out - not one of the 17 has ever written to thank me for saving their lives." If as humans we can feel like that what does God feel when we ignore what he’s done for us? God wants and deserves our praise. But that word thankful also has an air of expectation about it. When we pray we’re to pray in faith expecting God to act.
Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity v5
I believe we need to wise up in our welcome to and in our ministry to outsiders as a church. How? Well we’re to pray for wisdom and for them. We’re to look out for newcomers and be welcoming. We are also to watch our life. What message do we carry around with us by how we act in our daily lives to outsiders? Paul says ‘be wise in the way you act towards outsiders’. Look back at v12 of chapter 3. What clothes are you wearing tonight and what clothes are you going to put on tomorrow as you go out? V12 we are to clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. And we are to put on love (v14). Our actions can speak louder than words, even when we’re in the minority of one as a Christian. Alan Redpath, who was a Christian speaker and author from Newcastle, was saved in the workplace through the witness of a colleague in an accountancy firm. The colleague used to pray regularly at work, which baffled everyone else until Alan became so intrigued that he asked him why. The colleague made the most of the opportunity and God did the rest bringing Alan to faith in Christ. An aide of Billy Graham said that one of the distinctives of his ministry was his ability to make the most of every opportunity for the gospel in any situation. When doing a TV microphone check Billy would always quote John 3:16: 'For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.' When asked why he replied, 'Because that way, if I’m unable to communicate the gospel clearly during the interview, at least the cameraman will have heard it.'" So we’re also to speak about Christ, which I believe we’re doing so less today. So v6 Fourthly and finally,
Be distinctive in conversation/facebooking, twittering and texting (now 27,020,020 facebook users in the UK!)
We are to watch our lips and these days our fingers. How? Paul says: “Let your conversation [tweets and texts] be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” Notice not full of salt seasoned with grace but rather full of grace, seasoned with salt. A woman once asked Charles Simeon ‘should I talk about the gospel and nothing else with people? The preacher replied, ‘Madam let your conversation be seasoned with salt, not full of salt.’ Our conversation as Christians is to be distinctive – we’re not to join in the swearing, blaspheming and gossiping that might go on around us. Our words, our value-judgements, our reactions are to be ‘salty’. They’re to be godly in a worldly environment. They will be ‘salty’ – when they contain gospel-values, and may then provoke further questions that get us onto the gospel itself. Then we will know how to answer everyone both in terms of content and manner. How we need to ask to keep on being filled with the Holy Spirit each day. And of course it’s he who brings people to new birth in Christ. We are to play our part but the rest is up to God. Now it’s been a great Holiday Club week so I thought it would be good to finish with one visual illustration! You see speaking to others with grace is powerful. To speak to unbelievers with grace can be a little bit like sharing your Ready Salted crisps with them. Want one? Help yourself! One of the simplest acts of grace in meeting someone is to simply be interested in them. Just ask them a question about something they care about in life. It's like turning to them with a bag of crisps and saying, 'Want one?' E.g. what's it like to deal with people in your job? Want one? Or perhaps you can find a way to ask gently or discretely about deeper issues. E.g. how do you keep going with all this turmoil in your life? Want one? You know, there's a wonderful verse in the Bible that might encourage you. Want one? To another person: Let me tell you a story about a Father whose son broke his heart. Want one? To another: You know what? I'm going to be praying for you. Want one?
You see grace-accented conversations give people more than they deserve or expect. They are conversations rich in love and sincere interest, in unexpected sympathy and empathy, in undeserved hope and forgiveness. They are conversations which, by the Holy Spirit's miraculous help, touch something soul-deep—words that go where no one else has. Words like that are salty, tasty. They make a person want more. Though people may not realize it, your grace-accented words are giving them a thirst for Jesus.
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