Devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart. – Colossians 4:2 ESV This short, simple verse carries a key to having a more effective prayer life. Prayer requires devotion. It takes a level of commitment that many of us seem to lack. We tend to treat prayer as a spiritual add-on, an extracurricular exercise that is somehow optional, and not required. We pray when we have a pressing need. We pray when it's convenient. We pray when others are watching or listening. But for many of us, our prayer lives lack commitment. In his letter to the believers living in Colossae, Paul encouraged them to devote themselves to prayer. The Greek word he used was proskartereō and it means, “to give one's self continually, to continue steadfastly, to persevere and not to faint.” It carries the idea of doing something with diligence and determination. It is not a passive word, but an active one. Paul used the same word in his letter to the believers in Rome. “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer” (Romans 12:12 ESV).
Prayer requires determination. It demands persistence. Notice that in his words of encouragement to the believers in Rome he combined hope and patience with steadfastness in prayer. There is a need for a kind of stick-to-it-ness when it comes to prayer. Some of us pray, then give up when we don't get what we want. We pray and if we don't get what we want when we want it, we stop. But Paul would have us devote ourselves to prayer. He would have us keep on praying, regardless of what happens, because we don't know what God is doing behind the scenes. We can't see the future. We can't know the outcome.
That's why he tells us to be alert. The Greek word he used is grēgoreō and it means “to watch, be vigilant, stay alert and awake.” It would seem that Paul wants us to pray with an air of expectation. And a heart of thanksgiving, even before we get the answer to our prayer. In other words, we are to thank God for what He is going to do even before He does it, because He is faithful and trustworthy. He may not do exactly what we ask, but He will do what needs to be done. He will always do what is best for us. To fail to pray is to fail to trust God. It conveys an independence from God and an attitude of self-sufficiency. Prayer at its core is an expression of need. It is an act of dependence that illustrates a willing submission to God's plan for our lives.
Prayer is a privilege afforded to us by Christ's death on the cross. His payment for our sins has made it possible for us to come into God's presence through prayer. We can come before Him at any time and from any place through the simple act of prayer. We can tell Him our needs. We can praise Him for His love, grace and mercy. We can express our fears, share our doubts, unload our problems, and confess our sins. We can ask Him for wisdom, help, encouragement, strength, healing, power, or patience. Our prayers can be long or short. They can be eloquent or little more than a moan of anguish. But He always hears us. His Holy Spirit takes our most confusing prayers and turns them into words that align with the very will of God.
But we must be persistent. We must persevere. We must not lose heart. Prayer is our connection with God. It keeps us in tune with Him. It reminds us of how much we need Him. There are no shortage of things for which to pray. There are those around us who need our prayers. There are situations taking place each and every day that demand our prayers. Taking all these things to God is a way of showing Him just how much we need Him. It is a way of letting Him know how much we long to see His power displayed in our world. When we pray, we are asking God to step in and do what only He can do. When we fail to pray, it means we are going to try to be our own god, our own savior. Devotion to pray is nothing more than devotion to God. Praying is another way of trusting. That is why Paul told the believers in Philippi, “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7 ESV). Pray diligently. Pray expectantly. Pray thankfully.