How to pray (like Paul) during a pandemic
Colossians 1:9 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, 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 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.
It’s often said that there are no atheists in foxholes, that people are most inclined to turn to God when faced with danger and hardship. But even in this current pandemic, I must confess that I’ve failed miserably to pray as I ought. Beyond the perfunctory thank you God for this food, I scarcely utter more than a few sentences to a Heavenly Father who loves me. If this is the case for you as well, I hope this passage will encourage you to reach out to God. There is a richness to the Christian life experienced by those who know to seek it and who pray likewise that all may find it.
The apostle Paul in his letter to the Colossian church prays for a people he’s never met, yet both how he prays and what he prays for reflect a sincere love and genuine concern. His prayer doesn’t address any specific issue, yet it is immensely practical. It reads incredibly personal, yet it is invaluably timeless. Its content is deep, yet any Christian could grasp it as easily and surely as hot glue when it is first applied. So what does Paul pray for?
Broadly speaking, Paul prays that Christians would grow to understand the gospel more and more. It was this gospel message of Jesus Christ that first came to the Colossian Christians, bringing with it a hope that is now stored up in heaven for them (1:5). It is this gospel message that has spread throughout the world and through which we understand God’s grace (1:6). I take it that when Paul prays for God to “fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives.” (1:9), the will that he is referring to is the gospel of Jesus Christ. For it is through the gospel that we see and understand the grace of God.
Why should we grow in our understanding of the gospel? Because it is imminently practical. It enables us to “live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way” (1:9). But how does it do that? Paul describes it with 4 participles (words ending with -ing) in verses 10-12.
1. Bearing fruit in every good work
2. Growing in the knowledge of God
3. Being strengthened so as to endure patiently
4. Giving joyful thanks to the Father
How do we pray in a pandemic? What should we be concerned about when hundreds of people are dying daily? What do we say when over 3,000 people have died in a single day (March 29th) around the world? We pray that God will grow us in our understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Here's why.
The gospel motivates us for good works
That all men are created equal is widely acclaimed, but it is the gospel that teaches us all peoples are loved by God for Jesus Christ died for all. When we hear the staggering numbers of people affected by this pandemic, we should recognise that each number represents a person. That person has family and friends, all of whom have seen their lives deeply impacted and irrevocably changed. If that isn’t enough, consider that some of them are our fellow Christian brothers and sisters – people for whom Jesus Christ laid down His life. They are precious to God and should be to us as well. So let’s do whatever we can to love and care for all those around us.
The gospel teaches us about God
Some people would argue the irrelevance of God when it comes to suffering. What good is the Bible when I’ve got fluid in my lungs? Except, denying God doesn’t make suffering any easier. In fact, consider the God revealed in the gospel of Jesus Christ. He is no stranger to suffering. He is not unaware or unconcerned with our dire needs. He knows and He cares. It is often the simplest truths that shine the brightest light in dark times. So may this pandemic cause us to see in greater clarity who God is.
The gospel strengthens us for endurance
If you had any doubt that the gospel is immensely practical, consider that the gospel helps us to endure suffering. Paul prays that Christians would be “strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience” (v.11). What is the power? What is the glorious might of God? We need only look at the gospel and see Jesus Christ who died and was buried and yet was raised back to life. It was the gospel that gave Paul the confidence to proclaim that
“Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Cor.15:55-56)
So don’t give up. Never lose heart. Be patient. There is no death that can rob us of our victory in Jesus Christ.
The gospel helps us to be thankful
Being thankful is easier said than done. Yet ironically, oftentimes thankfulness can be achieved merely by speaking. We mourn our losses and grieve our dead. But our sorrow can’t diminish the preciousness of what we have, even if it was only for a brief moment. For all things come from God and they return to God. Likewise, we will all one day be reunited. But more, we will receive an inheritance that would so far outstrip the loss we experience as a bird flies higher than we can jump. “For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves” (v.13). So let’s give thanks to God for all that we have and also all that we may have lost.