This morning is Mother’s Day, and so let me begin by wishing a “Happy Mother’s Day” to all of our mothers in the audience. On May 9, 1914, President Woodrow Wilson said that this day is to be set aside as a time for ”public expression of our love and reverence for the mothers of our country.” And so, we want our mothers to know just how much we appreciate you.
I was met with a tremendous challenge this past week. Because this is Mother’s Day, I wanted to preach a sermon that is appropriate for the occasion, but I also didn’t want to disrupt our study through the New Testament, so I wanted to make sure that my lesson comes from the book of Colossians. And I can tell you that that was not an easy task. There’s not a lot about mothers in the book of Colossians. But, in the end, I decided to talk this morning about the power of a mother’s prayer
J.R. Miller tells a story of a time when he walked in on his mother. He says, “Once I suddenly opened the door of mother’s room, and saw her on her knees beside her chair, and heard her speak my name in prayer. I quickly and quietly withdrew, with a feeling of awe and reverence in my heart. Soon I went away from home to school, then to college, then into life’s sterner duties. But I never forgot that one glimpse of my mother at prayer, nor the one word — my name — which I heard her utter.”
As I read that story, I couldn’t help but think of my own mother. I don’t remember ever walking in on her and hearing her pray for me, but I know that she did. I know that she prayed for me as I was growing up, and I know that she still prays for me today, and I am richly blessed because of that.
And even though I know very little about being a mother, I do know that one thing you mothers can do that will help your sons and your daughters to grow up to be godly men and women is to pray for them.
We don’t have a lot of examples in the Bible of mothers praying for their children – probably the most familiar is Hannah praying for her son Samuel – but I think it’s safe to say that every godly mother in the Bible prayed for her children.
I think of Eve, who must have prayed from a heart that was filled with deep pain — the pain of a mother who lost her son to senseless violence, an even greater pain because this loss was at the hand of her other son. For all those mothers who know the pain of conflict among their children, Eve prays together with you.
I think of the widow from Zarephath in 1 Kings 17, who only had enough flour and oil to survive one more day, before Elijah showed up. And as she got ready to make that last meal before she and her son would starve to death, I’m sure she prayed. For all those mothers who struggle to make ends meet, who live in fear that there won’t be enough to adequately provide for their children, the widow of Zarephath prays together with you.
I think of Jochebed, Moses’ mother, who surely prayed as she put her son in a basket into the river in Exodus 2. She had to separate herself from her child, but she did so out of her faith in God. For all those mothers who find themselves separated from their children this morning, Jochebed prays together with you.
I think of Bathsheba who prays together with mothers who have had to carry small caskets to the cemetery. For those mothers like her, who only got to hold their child for a few days. Bathsheba prays together with mothers who wonder, as she must have: If only I had done something different, maybe I should have, maybe I shouldn’t have…
I think of Hagar who was literally carried out of the household of Abraham and Sarah, and left for dead in the wilderness. When the little water she had left was gone, her son, Ishmael, began to cry from hunger. In the midst of her grief, her anger, and her despair, Hagar surely must have prayed to God. And Hagar prays together with all those mothers who have suffered abuse, and had people in power who used them and set them aside
And I think of Mary, who knew what it was like to have a child that was unusual, different from the others, a bit peculiar. A child that everyone else wanted to label. And Mary knew what it was like to have her child ridiculed. It must have caused her tremendous pain to hear the lies they would speak about Jesus. It must have made her angry to have his motives and his intentions misrepresented. And so, Mary prays together with all those mothers who feel the pain of having their children misunderstood or mistreated.
But, this morning, I promised you a sermon from the book of Colossians. A book where there’s no mother to be found. But there is a prayer. A prayer that Paul prayed for the Colossians that I would encourage those of you who are mothers to pray for your children. And the good thing is, even if you’re not a mother, this is a prayer that all of you can pray for people who are special to you.
But before we get to that, let’s take a look at this overview of the book of Colossians, and then I’ll be back to talk about this very important prayer.
Watch VIDEO (Colossians)
Let me ask you a question. When you pray, what do you pray for? And, perhaps even more important, who do you pray for? And to really make you think, if God answered “yes” to all the prayers you prayed this past week, what would change in this world? Would God’s kingdom be advanced? Would other people’s lives be changed, or just your own?
For some of us, if all our prayers were answered, we’d finally be rid of our back pain, we would have received an unexpected check in the mail, and we would have found parking spaces a whole lot closer to the entrance to Walmart. But I’d like to think that our prayers carry more significance than that.
So, what are you praying for? And who are you praying for? In this letter to the Colossians, Paul is writing this letter from prison, and yet we find him here praying for other people rather than praying for himself. And what he was praying for specifically was their spiritual growth.
Part of living the Christ-centered life is praying that others will also live a Christ-centered life. When Jesus Christ is at the center of your life, you love Jesus so much that you want others to know the same joy that you have. And so, like Paul, you will often pray for others – your children, your other family members, your friends, people you know at church, people you know at work, people you know at school – you will pray for others and their spiritual growth.
Our text this morning not only shows us that we should pray for each other’s spiritual growth, but it also gives us some very specific requests we can pray to make that happen. There are a lot of things that you mothers could pray for your children, but I can’t think of anything more important than praying for their spiritual well-being.
Because if your children grow up and they have good health and lots of money and all the good things this world can provide, what good is all of that if they’re not growing spiritually in the Lord? Nothing, absolutely nothing, is more important than their relationship with God.
So, let’s listen to what Paul prayed:
“And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him:
“bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; giving thanks to the Father…” (Colossians 1:9-12)
One thing I love about kids is their strong desire to grow up. I heard about a boy who was asked how old he was. And his response was, “I’m twelve, going on thirteen, soon be fourteen.” There’s a boy who was obviously eager to grow up.
Sueanne and I have a spot in our house where we keep a growth chart of all of our grandchildren. Every time they come for the summer, we have them stand next to the doorframe and we mark how tall they are, and they can see the marks getting higher and higher. They love seeing how much they’ve grown over the course of the past year.
But how do you measure spiritual growth? Can you measure it by how often you go to church or by how many ministries you’re involved in or by how much you give? Those are things that certainly reflect our spiritual growth, but they aren’t at the very heart of it. At the heart of spiritual growth is what Paul mentions here in this prayer – it’s learning how God wants us to live so that as his children, we can please him by living that way. And so, I would encourage you mothers to use Paul’s prayer as a guide for your prayers for your children.
1. Pray that your children may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will
Because a knowledge of God’s will is essential for spiritual growth. You can’t please God if you don’t know what God wants. So, spiritual growth begins by learning how God wants us to live.
And so, Paul prayed, “From the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding…” (Colossians 1:9).
The word “filled” is a key word here. We hear the word “filled” and we get the image in our mind of a cup or a glass that’s been filled to the brim. And so, we think that someone who is filled with knowledge and wisdom is like a scholar who pulls out the books and studies more and more and learns more and more until his mind is just filled to the brim.
But that’s not the way the word “filled” is used in the New Testament. In the New Testament, to be “filled” with something means to be controlled by it. If we’re filled with anger, we’re controlled by our anger. To be “filled with the Spirit” means we’re controlled by the Spirit.
And so, when Paul uses this word “filled,” he’s not so much thinking of a cup or a glass as he is a glove. You see, if you pour water into a glass, the glass is filled with water, but that water doesn’t control the glass. But, with a glove, it’s different. If you put your hand into a glove, that glove is both filled with your hand and it is controlled by your hand.
And so, Paul’s prayer is that these Christians might be controlled by a full knowledge of God’s will. Praying that they would be “filled” with this knowledge means they would be controlled by this knowledge so that that knowledge would govern their every thought, word, and deed.
When we think about God’s will, we often think about what God’s will is for a particular situation. Is it God’s will that I marry this person over here, or that person over here? Is it God’s will that I take this job here in this city or that I move somewhere else and take that job? What is God’s will for my life?
But Paul is not necessarily speaking of God’s specific will for your life, although that would be included here, but rather he’s talking about God’s will for your life as a whole. It’s basically the same thing that we find in the Lord’s Prayer where Jesus prayed, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” – except now we are praying this specifically for each other.
I like what William Barclay says about prayer in this regard. He said, “We are trying not so much to make God listen to us as to make ourselves listen to him; we are trying not to persuade God to do what we want, but to find out what he wants us to do. It so often happens that in prayer we are really saying, ‘Thy will be changed,’ when we ought to be saying, ‘Thy will be done.’”
But how does that happen? How do we grow in the knowledge of God’s will? And the answer to that question is that we understand the will of God through the Word of God. God’s will for our lives is given to us in the Bible. This book was given to us so that we would know how God expects us to live. And so, the better we know God’s word, the easier it is to determine his specific guidance in our daily lives.
So, mothers, pray that your children would be filled with a knowledge of God’s will. In fact, do more than just pray for that. Do everything you can to help them to know and to love and appreciate God’s Word, just like Timothy’s mother, Eunice, and his grandmother, Lois, did for him.
2. Pray that your children will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him.
Paul’s first prayer request was for knowledge, he it’s not knowledge for the sake of knowing more facts. Paul wants the Colossian Christians to know and to understand the will of God so that they can apply it and live the way that God wants them to live.
“That you may have a walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing him.” (Colossians 1:10).
We can’t live a life that pleases God in every way if we aren’t first filled with the knowledge of God’s will. As I said a moment ago, you can’t please God if you don’t know what God wants. But once you know God’s will, that’s when things need to change. As someone has said, “Right knowledge leads to right behavior.” And so, we pray for our children to be filled with the knowledge of God’s will so that they may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way.
But what does it mean to walk “worthy of the Lord”? That word “worthy” in the Greek means “to walk in alignment with”. In other words, the way that we live should match what we know about God and what he wants.
This idea of walking worthy of the Lord had a more profound meaning in the first century, where most cultures were shame-based. Here in America, we don’t usually think this way, but in shame-based cultures, to dishonor your father is a really big deal. So Paul urges these Christians to live in a way that would bring honor to the Lord.
In every situation, we should always ask, “What sort of speech or conduct would honor or glorify the name of the Lord? What can I do that would please him the most?” Paul lists four ways that we can please the Lord:
1. Pray that your children will bear fruit in every good work.
The New Living Translation translates verse 10, “Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit.” (Colossians 1:10, NLT)
The New Testament often uses the imagery of bearing fruit as a sign of health and growth. As Jesus taught in John 15, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)
Scholars like to argue over exactly what this fruit is, but whatever else it may be, fruit is evidence that a tree is healthy and doing what it’s supposed to be doing. The good works that we do in our lives should bear evidence that we are living for God, that God’s Spirit is transforming our lives into the very image of Jesus Christ.
Mothers, pray that your children will live in such a way that people will be able to see the Spirit of God at work.
2. Pray that your children will grow in the knowledge of God.
This may sound like the same thing Paul prayed for earlier, but it’s different, and the difference is significant. The New Living Translation translates this section, “All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better.” (Colossians 1:10, NLT)
You see, it’s not just studying the Bible and learning the Bible better. We need to know God better. We want our children to do more than just remember the order of the minor prophets of the Old Testament, or to list the names of all the kings of Israel or quote lengthy scriptures by heart. We want our children to be filled with a knowledge of God.
The best way to know somebody’s will is to know them personally. Don’t expect to know how God operates or what he wants if you don’t know him personally and you don’t spend time with him. You need to know God to know his will. Mark Meynell put it this way, “To understand what God wants, we need to know what God is like. To know what God is like, we need to spend time with him”.
As a parent, it always pleased me when my children wanted to spend time with me so that they can know me better. In the same way, we please God when we desire to spend time with him so that we can know him better.
Mothers, pray that your children will come to know God better and better.
3. Pray that God will give your children strength and endurance.
The New Living Translation translates verse 11, “We also pray that you will be strengthened with all his glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need.” (Colossians 1:11, NLT)
If our children are going to live a life worthy of the Lord and if they’re going to live in a way that is pleasing to him, they are going to need strength for that journey, and that’s what this prayer request is all about. And where does this strength come from? It comes from God. And so, pray that God will give your children strength and endurance. This is all about God’s power working in us. We need to depend on God’s strength rather than our own.
I don’t need to tell you that life is hard. You’re going to go through many trials. You may even face persecution for your faith. You’re going to be tempted to do the wrong thing. And so, if we are going to live a life worthy of the Lord that pleases him in every way, we need to pray for each other for God’s strength in our lives.
As William Barclay writes: “The great problem in life is not to know what to do but to do it. For the most part we are well aware in any given situation what we ought to do; our problem is to put that knowledge into action. What we need is power; and that we receive in prayer.”
Mothers, pray that God will give your children strength and endurance.
4. Pray that your children will be grateful for all that God has done for them
The New Living Translation translates this section, “May you be filled with joy, always thanking the Father.” (Colossians 1:11-12)
We don’t want our children to grow up ungrateful, unappreciative for everything God has done to bless them. We live in a world where so many people take what they have for granted. We don’t want to be that way, and we don’t want our children to be that way.
I found a website recently that lists 20 ways to help teach your children to be grateful. It was a very good list that includes such things as:
- Teach them to say please and thank you
- Help someone less fortunate.
- Send out thank you cards.
- Look for awe-inspiring moments of the day – a beautiful sunset or the sound of a baby’s laughter, and share that with your children.
- Take 5 minutes at bedtime to ask your child what he is grateful for that day.
The point is, don’t just pray that your children will turn out grateful. Do everything you can to instill an attitude of gratitude in them.
And so, we have these two themes that Paul includes in his prayer – having a knowledge of God’s will and living in a way that honors God. And I would encourage you mothers to regularly pray for all these things for your children.
But, as I said at the beginning of this lesson, it’s not just limited to mothers. Fathers should be praying the same thing as well. And we should all be praying these things for our family members, our friends, people we know at church, people we know at work, people we know at school – pray for the spiritual growth of everyone we know.
And I don’t think I need to tell you that this isn’t just something you should desire for everyone else. It’s something you should desire for your own life as well. Our best growth as Christians will take place when we do these two things. We need to grow in our knowledge of God’s will and then we need to walk worthy of our Lord, in a way that is fully pleasing to him.