Colossians 1:9-11: A Productive Prayer for the Sojourner

January 9, 2015

9. . . asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God.

Parents encourage their emerging adult children with “You’ll know what to do,” but those young adults never grow old enough to know precisely what course to take any given moment. I have been a legal adult now for 43.5 years, and sometimes I still feel like I’m a kid! It is a good thing I am a child of God, for I can consult with my heavenly Father at any time. How full my heart is when I remember God’s direction even in the darkest times of my life. Some of the twists and turns have not been my choice, and I still chafe at a couple of them. I can’t help but be glad that, despite everything, God has made known his will and, in the main, I am walking in it.

But there is still plenty of uncertainty from time to time, and that is the basis for my suggestion that this prayer of Paul’s is universally needed. But for what exactly is he praying?

The knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding. The avenue by which we know what God desires for us is spiritual wisdom and understanding. These are gifts of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:8) and therefore not conjured up by merely using one’s brains, à la the Scarecrow in Wizard of Oz. (1 Corinthians 1:18-25). It is not acquired by study, although knowledge of God’s Word exposes us to God’s way of thinking and gives us plenty of commands and case studies from which to learn. Nor is God’s wisdom and understanding imparted to only a few. Since it is a gift that comes along with the Holy Spirit, and every believer has the Holy Spirit inside, the gift of wisdom is available to all who have trusted Christ and turned their lives over to him.

God’s wisdom is evident in a person with sufficient spiritual knowledge and experience to choose a course of action that is God-honoring and life-affirming. The wise course is to be differentiated from the most expedient course, or the most profitable course (in worldly terms), although expedience or profit may be God-honoring and life-affirming in particular situations. Having said that, the wisdom of God can seem foolhardy to world-wise people, because self-sacrifice and humility are often hallmarks of God’s way of doing things. When we pray for others, then, we are praying not only for wisdom and insight but also for the courage to follow through on a godly course of action.

For those angry at and alienated from the church, a prayer for knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding is a petition for freedom from a merely human point of view. Our human emotions—particularly anger and bitterness—can lock us into an infinite loop, a vicious cycle of blame. But inject godly wisdom into that cycle, and one has hope for a new perspective and a positive, productive (God-honoring and life-affirming) way forward. The way to get that injection is to ask for it; hence, the prayer Paul offers here.

I hope someone is praying for me and my tribe today, as we Presbyterians get the news that one of our own, a godly, patient, gracious minister named Joe Rightmyer who has served the church for over 40 years was stripped of his ordination yesterday. The reason for this extreme measure? He participated in a decision-making process, of which an allegedly “illegal” congregational meeting was a part, that ultimately resulted in his congregation leaving the PC(USA). I will probably post a separate blog on this topic, but I can say this much now: it is precisely this kind of self-serving, punitive, and power-blinded action of a bureaucracy gone bad that turns good people off to so-called organized religion. I myself have worked with the man over a period of several years, and know him to be faithful to Jesus Christ and a genuine bridge-builder within the PC(USA). Yes, I find the whole situation disturbing and disgusting—that’s why you need to pray for me. But it illustrates the need we all have to pray through this and similar situations just as Paul prayed for the Colossians, so that better fruit than bitterness can grow out of it.

Speaking of cycles, the passage continues to describe an alternative to the vicious cycle. I will unpack that idea in my next Colossians study.

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