Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving” (Colossians 4:2).    

Our words have consequences and power. Whether it is your spouse’s words of encouragement or criticism, your bosses praise or rebuke, or the despair or ecstasy of your reaction to your doctor’s diagnosis, we understand the affect what we say, and how it is said, can have. Jesus said, “But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every…word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:36-38, NIV). Surely the gravity of our words must be of serious consideration. Including how we pray. 

So Paul now returns to one of this letter’s predominant themes; prayer (see 1:3, 9, 29; 2:1). These references are clear in depicting the perseverance and earnestness of Paul’s prayer life. Now he instructs the saints at Colossae concerning what their praying is to look like and it hardly resembles the devotional life of most of us. Why? Because we often go to God’s throne and do not get the desired response. Often times, because we ask for the wrong things (see Matthew 7:7-11), with the wrong motives (see James 4:3), or without faith (see James 1:5-8), we find God seems silent. Thus, our prayers weaken, become less frequent, or even cease. But Paul declares we should communicate with our Lord persistently, watchfully, and thankfully.   

In our culture of fast food, multiple job changes, short attention spans, rampant divorce and remarriage, and instant gratification, steadfastness in anything is seldom seen. Prayer is no exception. But we are called to pray with perseverance. I’m reminded of a preacher who once said, “For Christians, it is always too soon to quit.” Jesus had this in mind when he shared the story of the persistent widow: “And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1). Does this suggest we will always get what we desire? We mustn’t be that presumptuous. Yes, sometimes the Lord honors our requests when they are in accordance with His will, purpose, and plan. Yet sometimes God gives us new and better desires than what we had before: He gives us His desires. This is the real meaning of Psalm 37:4: “Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” And this is why consistent pleading before God for His will, His wisdom, His provision, His kingdom, His righteousness, and His glory (see Matthew 6:8-13) is ever-critical. And we are to do this with obsessive consistency. 

Paul also instructs to pray watchfully. Now what does that mean? The original language suggests alertness to the working of God in response to our prayers, that our spiritual antennas be raised to recognize how He is moving. Although our petitions do not always guarantee a “yes” from God, Paul is indicating that we should pray with confidence that God is acting, “according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will…” (Ephesians 1:11). This fearlessness is echoed by the writer of Hebrews who said, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). This begs the question: do we pray in anticipation of God’s working? Are we on “high-alert” for His answer, knowing that no matter His response we are serving a God who continues His sovereign rule from the throne of Heaven? Often, I believe, the power of our prayers and prayer life is diminished when we don’t have a sense of expectation, attentiveness, and confidence in God. 

Lastly, we are to pray thankfully. Grateful hearts belong to those who know that God loves, listens, and leads us. His answer, whether yes, no, or wait, is to be met with a heart-appreciative that His answer is always right and for His own glory and our eternal good. We also swell with thanksgiving when we truly believe and bow “to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us…” (Ephesians 3:20). This is a heart-felt acknowledgment of who He is, what he has already done, and what He is going to do. When we are bathed in gratitude it’s difficult to be fearful and faithless. When we are saturated in thanksgiving for whatever He chooses to do we will be moved to steadfastly and expectantly wait on the response of our Father. 

Praying with these three attitudes – perseverance, attentiveness, and gratitude – may seem simple but they are not easy. Prayer is a discipline and a practice. The essence of this kind of heart-longing, desperate, pleading petition to God is often lost – lost in the business of life, the faithlessness of our requests, and the presumptuousness of our spiritual posture. I am of the definite opinion, however, that this one verse reeks with dynamic power and truth. Praying this way unleashes our confidence in Him and positions us to recognize His moving in response to us, His adored children. And in this process we will be drawn ever-closer to and more like Jesus.