Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving; and pray for us also, 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, that I may make it clear, as I ought to speak.
I chose this text for one reason: because next Sunday our aim is to worship at Northwestern College with a lot of people there who don't ordinarily go to church and who need to receive Christ as Lord and Savior of their lives. And if I understand this text correctly, the human key that might unlock the blessing of God's power and grace in that service is steadfast, watchful, thankful prayer. If we pray steadfastly this week, and with wakefulness, and with expectant thankfulness, this text gives us strong hope that God will open a door for the Word next week so that faith will come to many people.
Let me begin with a story told by Wesley Duewel, whom I met out at Colorado Springs a few weeks ago. The point of the story is that God opens doors for the gospel in response to earnest prayer.
The Story of Duncan Campbell
The story is about Duncan Campbell, a minister of the United Free Church of Scotland. He was a personal friend of Wesley Duewel and told him many stories of God's amazing guidance during the late 1950s and '60s in the Hebrides (the islands just west of Scotland) where Campbell was serving.
On the Monday after Easter in 1952, Duncan was seated on the platform after speaking to the Faith Mission Convention in Bangor, Northern Ireland, when he sensed the inner voice say to him, "Berneray!" (That is a small island in the Hebrides.) Duncan bowed his head and prayed silently. Again came the name "Berneray." He prayed on, and the name came a third time.
So Campbell turned to the chairman and whispered, "Brother, you will need to excuse me. The Holy Spirit has just told me that I am to go to Berneray." The chairman objected mildly, "You are the speaker tomorrow." But nothing could stop him. He knew the Spirit had spoken.
He reminded Wesley Duewel, who was telling this story, "I had never been to Berneray, had never known anyone from there, and had never received a letter from anyone there."
He went to the hotel and packed his two suitcases and contacted the airport. There were no connections with Berneray because it was too small and out of the way. So he caught the first flight to the nearest island.
When he got there he went down to the coast and asked how to get to Berneray. The answer from a fisherman was that there is no usual commercial way, but that he would take him for such and such an amount. It was almost the exact amount Campbell had in his pocket.
When they got to Berneray the fisherman returned and left Campbell alone on the shore. He climbed the bluff and found himself on the edge of a plowed field and a farmer not far away. He said, "Please go to the nearest pastor and tell him Duncan Campbell has arrived." The farmer responded, "We don't have a minister for the church now." "Do you have elders?" Campbell asked. "Yes." "All right, go to the nearest elder and tell him, Duncan Campbell has arrived."
The farmer looked at him quizzically, then started off across the field as Campbell rested on his suitcases. After a while the farmer returned and said, "The elder was expecting you. He has a place ready for you. He has announced the meetings begin at nine o'clock tonight."
While Campbell had been ministering in the convention at Bangor three days earlier, this elder had spent the day praying in his barn for God to send revival to the island. God gave him the promise in Hosea 14:5: "I will be as the dew unto Israel." He claimed it in faith. His wife in the house heard him praying in the barn, "Lord, I don't know where he is, but You know, and with You all things are possible. You send him to the island." He knew in his heart that God was going to send Duncan Campbell, who had been used in mighty revival in other parts of Scotland, to Berneray. He was so sure that he would be there in three days that he made all the arrangements to use the local church and had announced the services.
Wesley Duewel goes on to say that great revival came to the island of Berneray and a great door for the Word was opened that no man could shut because God opened it. He draws out this lesson: "When God has people who prevail in prayer, and people who know how to recognize the voice of the Spirit and obey without question, there is no limit to what God can do." (Story taken in part verbatim from Let God Guide You Daily by Wesley Duewel, Zondervan, 1988, pp. 117–119.)
Urging You to Pray
Now let me ask you this morning: Is there any among you who will pray this week for next Sunday's service like the elder of Berneray? Who will pray, for me and for the people who may come, like you have never prayed before—that God would open a door for the Word and awaken new life for many?
To encourage you, let's look at today's text in Colossians 4:2–4. Paul is urging the Colossians to pray just like I am urging you today to pray. Let's talk first about the goals of this prayer and second about the method of this prayer. What does Paul want them to pray FOR, and what does he want them to pray LIKE?
What Are We to Pray For?
I see two things he wants them to pray for, namely, for an open door and for a powerful word. Or to put it another way: Paul wants God to work in the unbelievers and he wants God to work in him.
For an Open Door for the Word
In verse 3 he says, "Pray for us also that God may open to us a door for the word." What does he mean by this? Three other times Paul used this same image.
- At the end of the first missionary journey with Barnabas, Paul reports to the church in Antioch (in Acts 14:27) about what God had done. Luke puts it like this: "They declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles." God opened a door and the result was faith.
- In 1 Corinthians 16:8–9 Paul explains his itinerary like this: "I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, for a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries." Here the open door is a set of circumstances or a climate of receptivity that is making Paul's work unusually fruitful.
- In 2 Corinthians 2:12 Paul says, "When I came to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ, a door was opened for me in the Lord; but my mind could not rest because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I took leave of them and went on to Macedonia." Again the open door seems to be a remarkable set of circumstances that would have been very effective for the gospel.
So when Paul pleads with the Colossians in our text, "Pray for us also, that God may open to us a door for the word," I take him to mean when Christians pray, God changes circumstances and attitudes and receptivity for the Word so that instead of hitting a brick wall, the Word finds an open door and becomes unusually effective.
That is the first thing we should pray for next Sunday: that God would work in all the circumstances surrounding this special service, including the hearts of those who come, to open a wide and effective door for the Word of God. Pray the locks off of people's hearts. Pray open the doors of willingness to come, and pray open the doors of faith.
Let this sink into your mind and heart today: the key to opening the door of God's blessing on next Sunday morning's service will be prayer.
For the Clarity and Boldness of the Preacher
That's the first goal the text mentions for prayer—the first thing we should pray FOR. The second thing to pray for is the clarity and boldness of the preacher. Verses 3–4, "Pray for us also, 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, that I may make it clear, as I ought to speak."
In other words not only is there a need for God to open doors, there has to be something clear and powerful to send through the door—namely, the Word, the mystery of Christ, the gospel. This is a prayer for the preacher, the choir, and any others who take the Word of God on their lips.
O how I need your prayers! If Paul could imagine himself speaking the gospel in a way that was not clear and bold and powerful, how much more can I imagine that for myself. Think of it: the greatest preacher and missionary who ever lived (besides the Lord Jesus) said that the effectiveness of his preaching depended on the prayers of the church. If that is true for Paul, it is true a hundred times over for me. What happens next Sunday morning when I preach (as every Sunday morning) depends in great measure on how you pray for me.
Those are the two goals Paul has—
- that a door be opened in the lives of unbelievers, and
- that a clear and powerful gospel message go through that door.
Now we turn briefly to the HOW of these prayers. That's what we are to pray FOR. Now, what are we to pray LIKE?
What Are We to Pray Like?
Paul mentions three things. All three are mentioned in verse 2.
- "Continue steadfastly in prayer." (That's the first way to pray.)
- "Be watchful in it." (That's the second way to pray.)
- "With thanksgiving." (That's the third way to pray.)
Pray with steadfastness, with watchfulness, and with thanksgiving.
"Steadfastness" means with constancy and devotedness. It's the opposite of hit and miss. It implies earnestness and serious pursuit of God, not just casual contact. It implies pressing on and not giving up.
"Watchful" means being vigilant, like a sentry on duty outside the camp at night knowing that if you go to sleep in this job, the enemy can overthrow your mission. This is the note of prayer that is so often missing when the church has settled into the world and is just using prayer as a domestic intercom instead of a wartime walkie-talkie. So Paul urges the church to remember how tremendously serious the battle is. Heaven and hell hang in the balance next week. So be watchful, awake, vigilant. Pray the way you would if you knew that twelve unbelievers next Sunday morning would hear the gospel for the last time.
Finally, Paul says, "Pray with thanksgiving." Next Sunday's message will be given in the context of a Festival of Thanksgiving. So this command is especially fitting for us.
Pray with Thanksgiving for What?
What does Paul have in mind? At least two things:
1. Thankful for Our Own Salvation
It's impossible, isn't it, to pray for God to open a door of faith for others without remembering that he did this very thing for you? When we pray for the salvation of others, isn't the fervency of our prayer a mirror of how thankful we are for our own salvation? If we don't feel thankful for our own salvation—for the time when God opened the door of our heart—then how can we pray with steadfastness and vigilance for the salvation of others? O be thankful for your own salvation, and you will pray with new zeal for others.
2. Thankful for What God Is Going to Do
The other thing I think Paul means is that we should be thankful for what God is going to do. Not just what he has done for us, but for what he will do in answer to prayer. In other words, pray with thanksgiving means pray with expectant faith. Be thanking him in advance for what he is going to do.
A Closing Invitation to Pray
So would you join me this week in steadfast, vigilant, thankful prayer that a door would be opened for the Word among many precious unbelievers, and that I would speak the gospel with clarity and power.
I am going to set aside three special times when I will be praying here at the church and would welcome your company. First, our usual Friday morning prayer time at 6:30 AM will be in the overflow room this week. Second, I will be praying in the same place from 7 to 8 Saturday morning. Third, we will gather for prayer from 9 to 9:30 at Maranatha Hall (we will tell you the room when you get there).
Paul Yonggi Cho, the pastor of one great Korean church, explained the difference between what God is doing there and what he is doing here like this: "Americans stay after church and eat. We stay after church and pray."
Lord, give us more women like Mary Slessor, who said,
My life is one long, daily, hourly record of answered prayer for physical health, for mental overstrain, for guidance given marvelously, for errors and dangers averted, for enmity to the Gospel subdued, for food provided at the exact hour needed, for everything that goes to make up life and my poor service. I can testify with a full and often wonder-stricken awe that I believe God answers prayer. I know God answers prayer! (The Kneeling Christian, author unknown, Zondervan, 1986, p. 94)
And Lord give us more men like Robert Murray McCheyne. He was a pastor in Dundee, Scotland. He knew Hebrew well enough to speak it with European Jews. He had an appetite for Greek classics. He kept his diary in Latin. He could have left his church several times for a bigger, more notable pulpit. But he didn't. Why? Because no church could offer him more time for prayer than Dundee.
Brothers and sisters, pray for a door to be opened to the Word next Sunday morning!