Colossians 4:2-6 Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.
Perhaps many of you are feeling overwhelmed and challenged by the theme of the year, “The Year of Invitation.” It can be intimidating to think about investing in relationships, making yourself vulnerable and working up the courage to share your faith with people. But I have just come to own that our mission as Christians is to make disciples and the option of standing there and doing nothing about the lost is not an option for true believers. Remember, God won’t ask us to do something that He also won’t equip us to accomplish.
Colossians 4 is filled with instruction about how we should live our lives as Christians, and with purposeful language it tells us how to live an invitational life. It shows us how we can invite people to know Christ in a strategic way.
First, Paul challenges us to be devoted to prayer. We are not powerless in our mission to win the lost. II Corinthians 10:4 “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.” We don’t walk around unarmed and defeated. No! We walk in power and in might when we utilize the weapon of prayer. I believe prayer is our greatest weapon! Be careful when you say to someone, “All I can do is pray.” Prayer IS the battle! It is where spiritual wars are fought and won.
Paul says in verse three to pray for OPEN DOORS! Paul wanted to pray not only for people, but he asked for prayer for ways to get to the people. An open door is a starting point, an inroad, a connection or bridge that enables us to get to a person in order to do the ministry of Christ. Pray God will reveal something to you about an unbeliever that you can use to share something about the ministry Jesus offers. An open door is just an opportunity like Colossians 4:5 says we are to make the most of.
When you go shopping or go to your hairdresser or to work or have an evening of fellowship in your home with people who aren’t Christians, you need to pray for an open door. After all, we have the human experience in common. An open door could be your love for UK basketball. J An open door could be a carpool arrangement to sports practices. An open door could be the friendships your children have with other kids at school. An open door could be a need in someone’s life. Surely God will help you find a way to connect with people, especially if you are praying to that end.
In I John 3:8 we read, “The devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.” The devil is a door slammer. Where there is hope, he wants to shut that door. Where there is faith, he wants to slam that door. Where there is effective ministry and healing going on, he wants to nail that door shut.
When he is tempting someone to sin, Satan makes it seem like he’s opening a door. He wanted Eve to believe that she could be just like God in the Garden of Eden. Why? Did he really want to see Adam and Eve prosper and become something even greater? No way? He wanted to appear to hold open a door to greatness in order to try to lock the door to all God had in mind for them.
Whenever people choose sin, Satan is standing near and he is closing doors and locking people behind them. You can almost see it in the spirit realm. Once the seeds of sin are sown, Satan and his little imps start closing doors and get out their padlocks and chains. They close doors in people’s minds. They slam shut, futures and hopes and dreams and devotion to God and to all that is good and right. And when the doors slam, people hear things like, “You’ve blown it now. God will never take you back. Show is over. Game is over. Your life is over. You can’t recover from this. You’ll live in shame the rest of your life. No one will ever want you or love you now because you’re damaged goods. You should never have tried in the first place. God can never forgive you” and on and on his lies go. Why? He wants to shut the doors so tight that people never escape the power of the darkness. He wants to lock them behind as many doors as possible so that he can imprison them forever in this life and in the life to come.
But Jesus happens to have a set of keys in His hand! “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades” (Revelation 1:17-18). We need to pray for open doors to share the Gospel so that Jesus can literally open the doors people have been locked behind. Jesus wants to release prisoners! He wants to set captives free. We can’t cram Jesus through a closed door. We need an open door, so start praying people out of their emotional and spiritual prisons! When we pray, we are countering the attacks of Satan to shut people behind closed doors.
If your invitation to someone to come to know Christ as Savior and Lord is going to be effective it will be because somewhere along the way, prayer paved the way for the doors to be unlocked! This past Wednesday during the half hour of prayer at noon, five of us gathered to pray. Much of our time was devoted to praying for people that were on the guest lists of those who had come. It was thrilling to see how God was at work in and through the members who were gathered there.
Each one of you has been challenged to develop a guest list of people that you will issue an invitation to by the end of the year. You will invite them to enter into a relationship with Jesus Christ. Pray for that moment. Pray for those people. Pray for them to have an OPEN HEART! Using the acrostic “H-E-A-R-T” can help you remember what to pray. (The following HEART acrostic is taken from Praying Your Friends to Christ.)
Pray for a receptive Heart. Sometimes before people can receive Christ into their heart they have to work through anger, bitterness and unforgiveness. Sometimes their hearts are hard because of heart and abuse they have suffered. Sometimes they are so broken and battered that it takes them a long time to open their heart to trust that what you are saying to them is true. Pray God will do a work in their heart to bring healing in their heart so that they can receive an even greater healing in their heart.
In Luke 8 in the Parable of the Sower, we read about the different conditions or the different kinds of soil that can occupy a person’s heart. Like soil, people’s hearts can be shallow, rocky, or thorny. They can be hard and that makes it difficult for the Good News of Jesus to take root. You’ve heard the expression, “He’s a tough nut to crack.” That probably refers to a person with a hard heart. When you pray for the people on your guest list, pray that whatever it takes for their hearts to be receptive to the Gospel that’s what will happen.
Pray for their spiritual Eyes to be open.
Matthew 13:15 “For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes.”
2 Cor. 4:3-4 “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”
People are so focused on the natural. Every one of us has more problems than a math teacher! J Without Jesus, all we have is our problems. Those who are without Christ have a harder time seeing past their problems to even look for the One who can help solve them. Pray for a sensitivity to the things of God so that they can see how God is there and how He wants to come into their life.
Pray for them to have God’s Attitude toward sin. John 16:8 “When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment.” Many people live with a disconnect between this life and the life to come. Their only concern is the “here and now.” If it feels good, do it. The idea that choices we make here have eternal consequences is now foreign to people’s understanding. God has never changed His view on sin. He has never watered down its consequences. It is no less serious now than it was in the Garden of Eden. The penalty hasn’t softened over time. “The wages of sin is death.” The price hasn’t been waived. Jesus paid it, but all who live and die without Christ will suffer as if the price hadn’t been paid. They will suffer eternity in Hell. Pray for a change in people’s attitude and for a searing of people’s consciences again that reinforce that Hell is real and that sin breaks the heart of God, and that God’s way is the best way to live. Pray for a change in attitude when it comes to caring what God thinks about the choices we make.
Pray the person to be Released to believe. 2 Tim. 2:25-26 “Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.” People have to want to walk and live in truth, but it seems today most people just want Jesus when and if it’s convenient. Being released to believe involves believing God so fully that you want to do HIS will alone.
Pray for a Transforming life. Romans 12:1-2 “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Scripture talks about being faithful until the end, enduring until the end, standing firm until the end, finishing the race, etc. It is sad, but I see many people fall away and turn away from Christ because they never signed up for transformation. They didn’t let God do the work He wanted to do in transforming their heart and mind. Therefore, they didn’t have the capacity to know and do God’s will.
(Call someone up and ask for them to share the name of a person on their guest list. Pray for that person using the H-E-A-R-T acrostic.)
We are to pray for open doors, open hearts, and in Colossians 4:4 we see Paul’s request to pray for his OPEN MOUTH. He says, “Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.” It’s one thing to proclaim the Gospel and talk about Jesus, but it’s another thing to do it as we should.
Just because a person calls themselves a Christian and proclaims something doesn’t mean it’s God’s Word or God’s will for the people who are hearing the proclamation. This part of Paul’s desire is so key, so crucial, if people are going to receive the Gospel. It limits or stifles our ability to speak for Christ if we aren’t speaking as we should. Paul wanted to be clear. He wanted people to understand the message. He wanted to be as effective as possible.
We have become accustomed to speaking in ways in our Christian culture that the world doesn’t understand. Walking up to someone and asking if they would like to be born again would earn us stares and confusion. To ask someone if they are saved and sanctified could cause people to tune us out. To try to explain justification to an unbeliever in theological terms would be a big mistake. To just quote verse after verse of Scripture without explanation or in small enough bites for someone to digest them isn’t the way to start. If you ask someone if you can take them down the Roman Road they might think you’re trying to kidnap them. J
We have to learn to speak in the language of the culture. Paul knew this. That’s why he said in I Cor. 9:22 “To the weak, I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people that by all possible means I might save some.”
Jesus was a Master at connecting with people just through the stuff of life. He talked to people simply about lost things, brokenness, worry, relationships, work, rest, and doing the right thing. He didn’t come with lots of flowery or “preachy” language but connected with people in terms they could understand.
How we say what we say is just as important as the message itself. Remember, we are Ambassadors for Christ. People form an opinion about God after encountering His Ambassadors. If we aren’t careful about our approach, we can come off as condescending and squash people.
We can do more harm than good if we speak, for example, without love. I Corinthians 13 tells us that without love we just sound like Craig Gobel playing a constant drum solo! We’re only an echoing gong and crashing symbol. We’re just noise! (Not that Craig’s drum playing is just noise! J) Paul’s desire is not to sound like noise, but like Good News!
Worse than noise is condemnation and judgment. Yet that is often the message non-Christians hear when some Christians decide to share the Gospel. I was surprised as we were walking in to the Civic Center a few weekends ago to hear ten leading Christian bands testify in song (loudly in song!) about the goodness and grace of God, that there were Christian protestors outside of the arena. They were “Christian people” holding up signs condemning people for going to a Christian concert. They were proclaiming Christ, yet were condemning people for going to an event where Christ was going to be exalted. Their premise was that the style of the music, some of it being rock music, was Satanic or of the devil. Satan was really trying to be a door slammer that night!
I thought to myself, “What if I had brought a non-believer to this concert? How would I explain that other Christians were outside yelling unkind things to the rest of us who were going to the event to worship God? How would I try to undo the damage they were doing with their message of judgment as we walked by?
We don’t want people to hear noise, condemnation or judgment, so how do we speak effectively to people? Paul says our conversation is to be full of grace and seasoned with salt. Grace meets people where they are. Salt makes people thirsty to be where Christ desires for them to be.
Romans 5:8 tells us that while we were still sinners, Christ came near and died for us. If we are going to speak for Christ we are going to have to get over our fear of getting the world’s cooties J and go to them and embrace them right where they are. Christ came to us in our sin. We are to go to the world as they are sitting in their sin.
Maybe some of us are willing to go, but we are unsure about what we will say when we get there. What does “salty language,” in the Christian sense, look like? I want to use the remaining time to talk with you about how to start a spiritual conversation.
In John 5, we read about an encounter Jesus had with a man who had been an invalid for 38 years. He would lie by this pool of water in hopes that someone would have pity on him and take him into the pool which was thought to help promote healing. When Jesus found him, He asked the man a simple question. Verse 6 says Jesus asked him, “Do you want to get well?” It may have seemed an obvious question to anyone else, but there was more to the question than simply, “Do you want to be healed?” Jesus was asking, “Are you ready for a change in your life?” We see this was Jesus’ motivation because later in the passage in verse 14 Jesus told the man to stop sinning. Jesus asked a simple question so that He could build a platform for not only changing the man’s life but also so that He could challenge Him to live differently. Think about your guest list, those you want to invite to know Jesus. Could you see yourself asking any of them, “Are you happy with the way things are in your life or would you be open to a change?”
How about Jesus’ encounter with the Woman at the Well? (We talked about it last week.) He had a spiritual conversation with her but it also included references to her past. One of the big messages in John 4 is, “I know you’ve made bad choices, but I still want a relationship with you. I came out of my way, through Samaria to this well, just to talk to you. You came to draw water, but I came out of my way to draw you into a relationship with Me.” Maybe someone on your guest list needs to know that Jesus went out of His way to know them and be known by them. Do you see yourself asking someone the question, “Have you ever thought of how God makes Himself known to us” or “How far do you think God would go in order to reach someone?”
John is on a roll when it comes to Jesus’ spiritual conversations. How about John 8 where Jesus encountered a woman who had been caught in adultery? The religious leaders wanted her to be stoned according to the law. Jesus basically said, “Anyone here who is perfect, go ahead and start throwing rocks.” They walked away one by one with their heads between their tails. They knew they were all guilty of sin as well. Jesus’ spiritual conversation with the woman involved helping her see we are all in the same boat. None of us is perfect. None of us is righteous apart from Christ. We’re all hopeless without His forgiveness. Is there someone on your guest list that needs to be reminded that Jesus loves them, wants them and will forgive them? Do you know someone hiding behind the shame of their sin? Could you share your story with them about how Jesus forgave you and freed you from your shame?
Jesus lived an invitational lifestyle. He was always inviting people to follow Him. It’s obvious that people felt comfortable approaching Jesus. One of the religious leaders, a Pharisee, a group that was antagonistic towards Jesus, came to visit Jesus at night. His name was Nicodemus. Nicodemus had to talk to Jesus under the cover of darkness for fear of persecution from the rest of the Pharisees. But he knew Jesus wouldn’t mind. Jesus welcomed Nicodemus in. Nicodemus came to talk religion. He shared what he knew about Jesus but his knowledge was limited. He had some questions. Jesus willingly answered his questions. Sometimes you don’t even have to start the spiritual conversation, you just have to be willing to let someone in and engage them in conversation and answer questions. Jesus kept the responses simple, but in His conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus laid out the whole reason for His coming. He steered it from religion to relationship with God. It was in this famous discourse that we learn “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.”
I have provided you with spiritual conversation starters and encourage each one of you to start a spiritual conversation this week with someone after you pray about that person and opportunity in advance. When Paul charged young Timothy in II Timothy 4 to do what was necessary in the work of ministry, he said in verse 5 “Do the work of an evangelist.” Do it. Embrace it. It is your assigned task as a minister of the Gospel, and it is also the assigned task of every believer.
How many people do you engage in a typical day at work, school or while running errands? What if you just picked one per day to pray for and engage in a spiritual conversation? What could God do in and through you as you trusted Him to lead you as His evangelist? Don’t be indifferent to people’s spiritual depravity. Don’t be overwhelmed by the complexity of their faulty thinking or questions about the issues. Just pray and trust God to open doors, hearts, and your mouth in an appropriate way to be His mouthpiece!
I’d like to close by inviting you to pray Colossians 4, our text for this morning, with me: Lord, help me be devoted to praying for the lost. I commit to praying for open doors and open hearts. Open my mouth and fill it with Your message of grace and salt for someone this week. Help me to represent You as I should. Open my eyes to the opportunities around me and help me to have the answers the people I will talk to need because You will speak through me.
**Spiritual Conversation Starters
Do you give much thought to God and spiritual things?
Tell me about your most memorable spiritual experience.
What do you think is a person’s greatest spiritual need?
Tell me about your church background. Did you go to church as a child?
How would you describe your life with God now?
How do you think a person begins a personal relationship with God?
When did you feel closest to God?
What factors or influences brought you nearer to God?
What would renew that sense of closeness?
On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being closest to God), where do you see yourself in relationship with God? Where do you want to be? How do you see yourself moving closer to God?
What gives most meaning to your life?
When you have problems or crises, how do you manage to get through them?
Is religion or God important to you? In what ways? If not, why?
Does God seem personal to you?
Do you feel close to God?
What is your picture of God?
What has God done for you?
How is God working in your life right now?
Are you comfortable with God’s guidelines and laws for living?
Do you feel there are any barriers between you and God?
Have you ever felt anything against God?
Have you ever done anything for which you feel God could not forgive you?
Do you feel God has a plan for your life?
Do you feel you are living up to what you feel God expects of you?
Do you read the Bible? Why or why not?
Is prayer a meaningful part of your life?
Do you feel you are growing spiritually?
Are you involved in a church? Why or why not?