Prayers that Open the Doors of Evangelism
By Bro John Sanders, Pastor Loveland BC
Presented at the Rocky Mountain Missionary Baptist Association Meeting hosted by Salt Valley Landmark Missionary Baptist Church, Clearfield, Utah on August 12, 2011.
Text: Colossians 4:2-6
2 Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving;
3 Withal praying also for us, that God would open unto us a door of utterance, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in bonds:
4 That I may make it manifest, as I ought to speak.
5 Walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time.
6 Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.
Prayer: Speaking to God about others; Evangelism: speaking to others about God.
At the mention of prayer and evangelism, many folks immediately think, Oh no, get ready for another guilt trip. Why would that happen? Because we've all heard messages on the need to pray and the need to witness, and yet most of us struggle because we know we're not doing enough. We know that prayer makes a difference, that we have access to the God of the universe, that we can have peace as we pray, and that without prayer, we are powerless. We know that evangelism is not a request of God that we can choose or not choose, but a command of God that we are to obey. We know that if it were not for the evangelistic effort of a parent or teacher, a pastor or friend, we would still be lost in our sins. And yet, most of us do not pray or share our faith as we should.
Even though I love to pray, I find that there is nothing in my flesh that resists quite as much as being still and seeking the Lord. Even though it is an incredible privilege to approach the throne of the Almighty God, I often neglect if as if it were not even a priority. Even though I have had the joy and privilege of sharing my faith and seeing people accept Christ in a number of different countries and throughout the United States, I still find myself being neglectful in witnessing and making excuses for not following up on an obvious opportunity.
Nine out of ten Christians admit that maintaining a warm and deepening prayer life is one of their greatest challenges. Religious statisticians say that 95-98 percent of believers have never led a person to Christ. Most people admit that fear of being rejected or not knowing how to answer a question if asked is what keeps them silent. Failing to pray and failing to evangelize leads to an unpleasant feeling of guilt. “Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin” (James 4:17).
I am not intending on causing you to feel guilty. However, if God causes that to happen, then I pray you will not ignore the cause for the guilt, but renew a commitment to prayer and evangelism that would lead to lives being changed, including your own.
Speaking to God about Others
Let's look first at how to speak to God about others. Colossians 4:2 answers the question, “How do we pray?” We discover three helpful guidelines in this verse.
1. Pray with devotion. “Continue in prayer” (Colossians 4:2a). The word “continue” means “be devoted to or adhere firmly to.” It implies unrelenting persistence and is the opposite of “hit and miss.” It brings back to mind how steadfast the early church was. “And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42). Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up (Luke 18:1).
Being devoted in prayer is similar to cheering on your sports team, regardless of whether they are winning or losing. That means that when an out of state team beats your favorite team, you still continue to root for your team. Paul is saying something quite simple: Keep praying. Don't bail out. Don't give up. Be faithful. You may have dry times and days when you don't know what to say, but keep praying anyway. For example, we should continue to pray for a lost loved one or neighbor.
To “continue in prayer” also means to be “ready at all times.” Paul is saying, “Always be ready to break into prayer, and do it instantaneously, at all times.” That's precisely the admonition in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 where we're exhorted to “pray without ceasing [continually].”
As we “continue in prayer” on a daily basis, we won't need an introduction to God when some demand or crisis suddenly comes upon us.
Paul then gives a couple of tips on how to remain devoted in our praying.
2. Pray with watchfulness. “And watch” (Colossians 4:2b). We are to “be watchful, wide awake” when we pray. Have you ever fallen asleep praying? Paul told believers not to sleep but to “watch [be alert] and be sober [self-controlled]” (1 Thessalonians 5:6) as the time approaches for the Lord's return. This exhortation brings to mind the words of Jesus to His disciples the night before He was crucified in Mark 14:34, 38 when He asked Peter, James, and John to keep watch while He went deeper into the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. He said, “Watch ye and pray, lest ye enter into temptation. The spirit truly is ready, but the flesh is weak.” Watchful prayer provides the spiritual fortitude to face down temptation. Because Peter could not stay awake when he was supposed to pray, he gave in to temptation and denied Christ a few hours later.
Consider the difference between two military sentries. One is guarding the Armory here in Utah. The other is guarding a platoon in Tora Bora, Afghanistan. Which one is probably going to be more attentive? Which one will be more watchful? The one who realizes he's in a battle.
Friends, because we're in a spiritual battle, we need to stay on high alert at all times. 1 Peter 5:8 paints a real picture of the war we are in: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.”
10 Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.
11 Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.
12 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
13 Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
14 Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness;
15 And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace;
16 Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.
17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God:
18 Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints;
3. Pray for thankfulness. “With thanksgiving” (Colossians 4:2c). We should never pray without thinking of at least one thing to thank God for: certainly for our salvation, our health, our family and friends, our Bible, and our church family to name a few. Gratitude is a stimulus to prayer. When we see answers to prayer, we will pray more.
Listen to how Paul puts his own preaching into practice in the book of Colossians:
“We give thanks to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you” (Colossians 1:3).
“Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light” (Colossians 1:12).
“Rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving” (Colossians 2:7).
“And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful. And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him” (Colossians 3:15, 17).
So, Colossians 4:2 answers the question, “How do we pray?” and focuses on the characteristics of prayer. We do so with devotion, watchfulness, and thankfulness. Colossians 4:3-4 answer another question, “What do we say when we pray?” “Withal [meanwhile] praying also for us, that God would open unto us a door of utterance [for our message], to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in bonds [chains]: [Pray] That I may make it manifest [speak clearly], as I ought to speak.” (Colossians 4:3-4).
As a missionary pastor and church planter, Paul makes two very special requests for the prayers of God's people. These requests are still being made by church planters and should be requests for ourselves.
1. Ask for open doors. “Open unto us a door” (Colossians 4:3a). It's amazing to me that, while Paul is under house arrest, he doesn't ask for prayers for his release, for better food, or anything else like that. He simply wants an open door for the gospel message. Even though he was locked up, he was able to minister effectively. Still, he needed the prayers of God's people for the doors to open.
In scripture, a door is an opportunity or ability. In 1 Corinthians 16:9, Paul said, “For a great door and effectual [for effective work] is opened unto me.” In 2 Corinthians 2:12, he writes, “When I came to Troas to preach Christ's gospel...a door was opened unto me of the Lord.”
Jesus opens and shuts doors for us as we seek Him in prayer. “Behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it” (Revelation 3:8).
In Paul's day, God gave open doors into countries like modern Turkey, Greece, Italy, and, most likely, Spain. Through the centuries, God has opened doors for missionaries and church planters to preach the gospel to nations all over the world. However, Satan successfully used evil men to help close doors. Then, in the late 80's and early 90's with the fall of communism in Easter Europe, doors began swinging wide open.
In answer to the prayers of God's people, God began calling men and churches to respond: Bro. Darvie Fenison in Albania; Bro. Doug Wiersema and my family and me to Romania: Bro. Kevin Plaster to Russia; and Bro. Joe Morell to Lithuania. Then, more doors opened for Bro. Joe and the folks in Lithuania for ministries in Latvia and Finland.
More recently, God gave an open door opportunity fulfilling a burden Bro. Morell and I have had for a missionary training ministry (MTM) to help prepare missionaries for their fields of labor. Now we are seeing more open doors such as the ministry to the Russian community in Florida, expanding to Chicago, and, most excitingly, in Israel through the open door given to Bro. John Pinkavich (one of our first MTM graduates). Praise God for open doors!
We must keep praying with devotion, watchfulness, and thanksgiving for doors to open and grace, wisdom, and willingness to walk through those doors.
I also rejoice that God has given Loveland Baptist Church an open door in Sacalasau, Romania with our missionaries, George and Mia Cormos. Just recently, a new door has opened for us to go into Tatarus, Romania, known as the village with no churches. I am thankful that God has given us an open door in our own community, providing us a building and property to use for His glory (now owing under $90,000). I know God has given us marching orders to go, and as we are going, we are to make disciples (baptize and teach them) (Matthew 28:19, 20). He has placed a burden on my heart and vision to cast before our people to aggressively begin planting churches in the cities around Loveland, Colorado, at least 1 every 2 years beginning in 2012. Please pray for God to show us the doors that He's opened for us to fulfill that mission.
In a personal way, we need to focus our prayers on asking God to give each of us open doors with the lost people in our lives, people who don't yet know Christ, people in sin's bondage heading blindly into an eternity of torment. I'm talking about family members, friends and neighbors, co-workers, classmates, and everyone whose paths we cross.
Paul craved the prayers of people because he knew it would lead to increased opportunities to proclaim the gospel message. We need to teach our members to pray for us knowing that without the prayers of God's people, we could never effectively serve the Lord.
I can open a door for you and you can open a door for me if we pray for one another and God responds. 1 Samuel 12:23 is very challenging: The last Judge of Israel, Samuel, said, “God forbid that I should sin against the LORD in ceasing to pray for you.” That means that if I don't prayer for you, and you don't pray for me, we can end up sinning against the Lord.
2. Ask for clarity (Colossians 4:3b-4). Once God opens a door, it's essential that we, and those for whom we have prayed, have the ability to proclaim the “mystery of Christ” with clarity. That mystery has been revealed in God's Word as the Good News that Christ has died for our sins, was buried and rose from the grave after three days. The Good News is that when a person receives Christ by faith, He comes to take up residence in that life, giving the believer eternal life and a home in heaven.
Would you please pray more fervently for missionaries and pray for one another to have open doors and the ability to communicate with clarity. Church members, if you don't pray for your pastor and he preaches a confusing sermon, it's really your fault! Seriously, there is nothing more comforting and assuring to a missionary or pastor than to know that people are earnestly praying for them every day. Pray for your Sunday school teachers, your musicians, and all in places of leadership. And, if you're able, could you arrive a little early before the service and pray for what takes place on Sunday mornings?
Speaking to Others about God
In Colossians 4:5-6, we gain some insight into how to speak to others about God. This is where prayer dove-tails with evangelism as we discover that our ability to impact people is directly related to the intensity of our intersession.
Verse 5 focuses on how we walk. In verse 6, the emphasis is on how we talk. We must balance our livers and our lips. “Walk in wisdom toward them that are without [unbelievers], redeeming the time [making the most of every opportunity]” (Colossians 4:5).
How We Walk
1. Be wise. “In wisdom” (Colossians 4:5a). To be wise in the way we walk means that we're careful not to say or do anything that would make it difficult to share the gospel. People who don't know Christ are watching us. They want to know if we are real – if we live what we profess – if our lives match our preaching. They are making decisions about the validity of Christianity based upon how we're living. When we pray, God will give us open doors. Let's not shut those doors by our behavior.
When Jesus sent his disciples out to spread the good news, he told them to be “wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16) because they were going to be like “sheep in the midst of wolves.” Paul challenges us to be “wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil” (Romans 16:19).
2. Make the most of opportunities. “Redeeming the time” (Colossians 4:5b). This phrase is a commercial term and means to “buy up.” It’s the picture of finding something on sale and buying all you can afford because the price is so good. Likewise, we're to buy up every opportunity to speak for Christ when we see one. We are to pray for opportunities through friendship evangelism. For example, have the new neighbors over for a meal to begin building a relationship. There are websites offering lists of things churches can do in their communities to create opportunities for evangelism. Churches can open their doors to people affected by disaster. A statement made famous in the book Experiencing God is that we “see where God is working and then join Him.” Are you making the most of the opportunities you have every day?
How We Talk
1. Be gracious. Verse 6 challenges us to guard what comes out of our mouths. Our wise walk should lead to wise words. “Let your speech [conversation] be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man” (Colossians 4:6). It is important that we communicate with words of grace when we speak with those who don't know Christ. Unfortunately, many times, believers go off on people who are living in sin. Or, we begin ranting about a moral issue in our culture, forgetting that there may be someone listening who is caught in that particular sin. When we're filled with anger and rage, people feel judgment and not hope.
We need to be more like Jesus. He was the perfect embodiment of both truth and grace. Even when He dealt with sin, He spoke words of grace as the story of the woman caught in adultery. He said to her, “Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more” (John 8:11). After listening to Jesus teach, the people “wondered [were amazed] at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth” (Luke 4:22).
2. Be appetizing or tasty. Our conversation needs to be “seasoned with salt” (Colossians 4:6). Salt enhances flavor and makes food appetizing. “Salty speech” in Paul's day referred to witty and clever discussion. It was the opposite of being boring or monotone. When we talk about our faith, how can we not be interesting? If you think your testimony of salvation would be boring to share, you may need to revisit what really took place. I'm hoping that you realized you were on the road to hell, just one breath from eternity. You understood that you could not save yourself but that Jesus died an agonizing death on the cross of Calvary to pay the penalty of your sins and that he would save your soul from hell and give you eternal life if you would cry out to Him in true repentance and faith. Your life has never been the same. There's nothing boring about an experience like that! We should be talking about Christ in a way that makes someone's mouth water!
Salt was also added to the Old Testament sacrifices (Leviticus 2:13). Maybe Paul is implying that we should view our words as oral offerings to God, just as our words of praise are spiritual offerings (Hebrews 13:15). Recognizing that what comes out of our mouths is a sacrifice to God would help us to be both gracious and appetizing.
3. Be ready. “That ye may know how ye ought to answer every man” (Colossians 4:6). We need to always be ready to give an answer to people who ask us a question about our faith and hope in Christ and His Word. Peter said, “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15).
When we are gracious and appetizing, people will want an explanation. This is a natural process that will happen when people see Christ in us. When we respond to negative circumstances in a way only true believers can respond, people are going to want to know how we were able to do that. They’ll want to know how we handled that matter with such grace. First, be ready to tell your story of God's amazing work of grace in your life. Talk about how you because a Christian. Second, focus on Jesus and explain why He had to die on the cross and the need for us to respond to what He has done. Third, invite your searching friends to a Sunday morning service or an event that is specifically designed to be a tool for you to use.
Cancel Your Guilt Trip
Now, before you leave here feeling beat up because you don't pray enough and you don't say enough, let me encourage you to cancel your guilt trip. The key to praying more and witnessing more is not necessarily to become more disciplined.
The real answer is to cultivate intimacy with God by bowing to the preeminence and supremacy of Jesus. The Book of Colossians is all about the Preeminence of Christ: over creation, over the church, and over us as believers. We won't really pray until we see prayer as a way to express our love to Christ and recognize that He is even more eager to meet with us than we are to meet with Him. Likewise, it's impossible to salt our speech with the deliciousness of Jesus when we haven't been enjoying the taste ourselves.
Prayer and evangelism flows out of relationship. Do you have a relationship with Christ? Are you growing in your love for Him?