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… – Colossians 1:9 ESV
I love the prayers of Paul. You’ll find them in just about every one of his letters. They give a glimpse into the heart of this great 1st-Century apostle, missionary and church planter. Paul had a passion for the gospel and a love for people that revealed itself in how he prayed for them. While I am sure Paul received many personal requests from Christians he met along the way during his many journeys, and there is little doubt that he faithfully lifted these petitions up to the Lord in prayer, his recorded prayers give us a glimpse into his heart. Paul’s real passion for people went way beyond the surface needs, wants and desires that they may have had. While he took their physical needs seriously and cared deeply about their health and well-being, his real concern was for their spiritual lives and their relationship with God.
In the opening lines of his letter to the Colossian believers, Paul encourages them by informing them that they have been in his prayers – constantly. He tells them that he has not ceased to pray for them. What a blessing it is to hear that someone has been praying for you. What an encouragement to know that someone cares enough for you to lift you up before the throne of God. And then Paul tells them exactly what he has been praying. This is where it gets interesting and revealing. Paul says that his request to God for them was that they would have a knowledge of His will. Paul is asking God to give them a knowledge or awareness of His will. But he is doing much more than just asking. Paul is begging. The Greek word carries much more force behind it. Paul is coming to God with a strong desire that He give these people a knowledge of His will. Not only that, he wants God to fill them with that knowledge. Once again, the original Greek is much more rich and forceful in its meaning. When Paul asks God to fill them, he means “to fill to the top: so that nothing shall be wanting to full measure, fill to the brim.” In other words, he is asking God to fill them so fully that there isn’t room for anything else – including their own wills. For the believer, knowing the will of God is essential. It is what directs our actions and influences our attitudes. It is what gives us direction for our lives. As we live life in this world, we will be constantly influenced by our own sin nature and the world around us. Our wills will attempt to control our lives. Paul elsewhere warns us, “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect” (Romans 12:2 NLT). So there is a sense in which we have to turn our attention from the things of this world and concentrate on God’s will as revealed in His Word. God is out to transform us by influencing our thinking and altering our behavior – from the inside out.
But Paul goes on to qualify his request. He says that he is asking that they be filled with a knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding. In other words, God’s will is spiritually discerned. It is not of this world. In fact, the wisdom of God will often, if not always, stand in conflict with the ways of this world. It will make no sense from a human perspective. It will appear as illogical. To know God’s will requires spiritual wisdom and understanding, which can only be provided by the Spirit of God. Paul told the believers in Corinth, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14 ESV). Then he reminded them, “But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16 ESV). We have the mind of Christ because we have the Spirit living within us. We are spiritual creatures with a God-given capacity to understand and know His will. And Paul’s prayer was that his brothers and sisters in Christ be filled to overflowing with that knowledge.
So what are we to pray? It would seem that this prayer of Paul is a great example of how we should be praying for one another. There is nothing wrong with praying for someone’s physical healing, for their marriage, their financial needs or any other concern they may have. But how much more important to desire for them a knowledge of God’s will. One of the problems we face as believers is understanding what it is we are supposed to do in life. We need to know how we are to use our time, talents and resources. We need to know what it is that God is trying to teach us through the trials and troubles we face in life. We need to know how God would have us respond to the situations and circumstances in which we find ourselves. It is not difficult to discern our will. That comes easy. But knowing the will of God takes intention. It requires listening to the Spirit of God and patiently waiting to hear God speak. But what greater prayer could anyone pray for a friend or family member than that they be filled with a knowledge of the will of God – his good, pleasing and perfect will?