Colossians 4:2-6 – Circular Praying

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. (New International Version)

Ever since I blew into my first musical instrument, I’ve been fascinated with circular breathing. It’s a technique used by the instrumentalist (or singer) to produce a continuous tone without interruption. In other words, you can keep blowing or singing without doing the traditional stopping to inhale. 

By breathing in through the nose while simultaneously pushing air out through the mouth, using air stored in the cheeks, the person can maintain the sound. This might sound difficult, but it really isn’t. It’s just that circular breathing takes a lot of practice. 

The hard part is unlearning how you typically breathe. I can do it, yet I’ve made the personal observation that it doesn’t happen unless you can be very relaxed, connected to your body, and grounded in what you’re doing.

I imagine that we all sometimes feel like admonitions to devote ourselves to prayer, pray continually, and never give up praying, are something like circular breathing. 

Maybe the prayer thing is best left to the experts and the professionals, we may think. Yet, the Apostle Paul encouraged the entire Colossian church to keep up the praying, both leaders and laity.

“Never give up praying,” (Colossians 4:2, CEV) might sound unattainable. It isn’t. The catch to it is this: You’ll need to unlearn some old ways of praying before devotion to prayer is realized. 

The ancient Colossians had fallen into the wrongheaded belief that Christianity could be reduced to a nice neat, packaged formula of do’s and don’ts. Do the right things. Say the right things. Don’t do the list of the terrible ten or the nasty nine, or whatever checklist you are using to live by your form of “Christianity.” 

Paul was telling the Colossians to completely jettison such an approach to the Christian life. Instead, persevere in prayer without knowing the outcome. Pray relying on God and the mystery of Christ. Pray with uncertainty instead of continually believing you need sure answers to everything for everyone.

The Christian life cannot be forced into some geeky algorithm so that we can avoid suffering, know all the right things to say in a conversation, and always keep God happy. 

God is not some algebra equation to figure out. The Lord is not a gumball machine to put a quarter in and get what you want. The almighty is not Santa God. 

Christianity requires living in the tension of not knowing everything, and yet, having cogent answers for others who inquire about our faith. It is a dynamic relationship, in which we must continually interact in prayer to God, while mostly improvising our lives, spontaneously applying the understanding we have for each situation before us.

Breathing in and breathing out at the same time – that’s what prayer is really like.

Paul’s desire was to keep the church vigilant in prayer. He wanted all the churches to maintain an ongoing dialogue with the God who answers in his own good time, according to his own good will.

The believers were being taught a kind of circular praying whereby they make good use of the time God has given through choosing wise words to say, while simultaneously carrying on a silent prayer conversation with God. 

This is a Christianity that’s far above rules and laws and checklists. It’s Christianity as it’s meant to be lived, depending on Jesus, and relaxed in the Spirit.

But again, the catch is this: Circular praying takes practice, practice, practice. 

Failure is both inevitable and expected. And that’s okay. We’re not living by lists and human contrived rules.  We’re living a new life in the power of Christ’s resurrection. So, it takes a new kind of praying.

God of Mystery, the One who conceals and reveals, forgive me for my attempts at reducing faith to a few spiritual rules to keep. Help me to speak in ways which are gracious, loving, and redemptive. May the person and work of Jesus come tumbling out of my mouth while I inhale the breath of your Holy Spirit. Amen.

Colossians 2:16-3:1 – Get Rid of the List

Do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you. Such a person also goes into great detail about what they have seen; they are puffed up with idle notions by their unspiritual mind. They have lost connection with the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.

Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.

Since then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. (New International Version)

“Moral stupidity comes in two different forms: relativism and legalism. Relativism sees no principles, only people; legalism sees no people, only principles.” – Peter Kreeft

There was once a pastor who found the roads blocked one Sunday morning and was forced to skate on the river to get to church, which he did. When he arrived the elders of the church were horrified that their preacher had skated on the Lord’s day.

After the service they held a meeting where the pastor explained that it was either skate to church or not go at all. Finally, one elder asked, “Did you enjoy it?” When the preacher answered, “No,” the board decided all was good.

Nothing can choke the heart and soul out of true spirituality like legalism – a precise extra-biblical list of do’s and don’ts. For many folks, it seems easier to live by the list than to pursue the harder road of developing character qualities.

Christian discipleship involves growing into spiritual maturity and allowing a seasoned character to shape how we make decisions. We must patiently and consistently follow in the way of Jesus, which is the way of grace and of life.

The Apostle Paul spent a lot of his time and energy trying to keep the churches he established from slipping into a soul-less legalism.

Legalism is a compulsion to spell out every detail of how everyone is to live a godly life, going beyond the stated commands of Holy Scripture.

The problem with this approach to the Christian life is that godliness is merely an outward expression of our ability to hold to the list. This legalistic way feeds human pride and boasting, going against the inner heart values of genuine humility and thoughtful service to others.

Biblical teaching thus gets lost in trying to do everything right or perfect.

There are only two alternatives: Choose the way of life and set your heart on things above – or choose the way of destruction through the legalistic list.

The legalist is like a wolf in sheep’s clothing. We need to be wary of people who seem pious and sincere, yet who do not quite pass the smell test. After all, Satan himself, the Apostle Paul once said, masquerades as an angel of light, appearing righteous, yet is intent on deceiving many (2 Corinthians 11:13-15).

So, how do we recognize a legalistic wolf who spiritually and emotionally devours people by judging them according to a contrived list, instead of altruistically helping them with grace? 

Look at the fruit of the tree. Anyone who fails to uplift others will be seen by the rotten fruit of boasting and pride. A telltale sign of such a person is their lack of connection with any spiritual body of people or faith community.

Bellicose boasters and nit-picking legalists believe they are above others because of their expertise at keeping the list of do’s and don’ts. 

A bogus disciple will always be shown by their profound lack of grace, gentleness, and genuine humility. They inevitably advocate for holding to their brand of religion and keeping the unscriptural list. Steer clear of such persons.

A sobering reality is that many people can be deceived with a devil’s bargain: take the nice handy list and you will become godly; here are twelve principles to change your life; follow these rules, pray this prayer, give your money to this, and all will be well.

It is, however, a highway to the grave. The so called “fruit inspector” comes along and goes on to judge everyone according to the legalistic list.

So, get rid of the extra-biblical and even unbiblical list. Stop judging others on whatever someone has deemed the nasty nine sins to avoid or the terrible ten things that will send you to hell. Don’t waste your time or energy on such persons.

The legalist holding to a contrived list of don’ts is not honest about their struggles. Because the bald fact of list-living is that it cannot be fulfilled; it’s unreasonable. So, when we know we are not measuring up to the list, the temptation is to keep up appearances as if we are. 

List-living eschews showing any weakness or imperfection. The legalist’s self-talk says:

  • Always avoid admitting my sin to anyone because the list pronounces me a failure if I do. 
  • Don’t ever enter a deep and prolonged grief over my loss because the list says I need to stay strong. 
  • I cannot profess my doubts about God because the list says if I doubt, I am not a real Christian.
  • Just tell me what is on the list, and I will do it – even though I cannot.

Here is my response to legalistic list-living: To hell with the list! 

You were raised from death with Christ. So, live for what is in heaven, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God.

Grace transforms hearts, turns lives around, and provides genuine joy and satisfaction – not list-keeping.

If grace is not the answer, we are not asking the right question.

The greatest anti-legalistic prayer we can pray is the tried and true ancient prayer of the Church:

“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”

Colossians 1:27-2:7 – What Is God’s Goal For Your Life?

Gran Abuelo, a 3,600 year old Cyprus tree in Chile

God chose to make known how great among the gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.It is he whom we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil and strive with all the energy that he powerfully inspires within me.

For I want you to know how greatly I strive for you and for those in Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face. I want their hearts to be encouraged and united in love, so that they may have all the riches of assured understanding and have the knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.I am saying this so that no one may deceive you with plausible arguments. For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, and I rejoice to see your orderly conduct and the firmness of your faith in Christ.

As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. (New Revised Standard Version)

I invite you to consider the question: “What is God’s goal for my life?” 

This might just be the most important question you ever answer. 

We are created in the image and likeness of God. We were designed for a purpose. Therefore, it is vital and necessary to know the aim, trajectory, and goal for your life.

First, however, let’s consider why we might be out-of-touch with the answer. 

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Man and woman are the apex of God’s imaginative activity. Only humanity has within themselves the ability and the special character to connect with the divine in a special fellowship relationship. 

Yet, the original people fell from their place in Paradise. 

Now, in this current broken world we inhabit, and apart from God, people’s experience is fragmentation, disconnection, confusion, and separation in relationships and self-understanding.

One way of looking at the entirety of the Bible is that it reveals how God is graciously and patiently wooing wayward people back to Paradise. 

The ultimate fulfillment of this re-connection is found in the person and work of Jesus Christ. In Christ, what was lost is found; what was separated is connected; and what was scattered into a thousand pieces is being put back together again.

So, let’s get back to the question of God’s goal for you and me. Since we live in a fallen world, we have to deal with sin, death, and adverse situations. Yet we can take charge of our lives and face reality with a Christian life which thrives and flourishes.

“My friends, be glad, even if you have a lot of trouble.  You know that you learn to endure by having your faith tested.  But you must learn to endure everything, so that you will be completely mature and not lacking anything.  If any of you need wisdom, you should ask God, and it will be given to you.  God is generous and won’t correct you for asking.  But when you ask for something, you must have faith and not doubt.” (James 1:2-6, CEV)

What is God’s goal for my life? Maturity. That you and I will be completely mature. That we will work toward spiritual maturity in our own lives, and what’s more, labor toward presenting others mature in Christ Jesus.

Yes, maturity. Out of all the things which God might want from and for us, maturity is at the top of the list.

Maturity means to be a whole person, not fragmented, a complete and healthy person – in body, soul, spirit, mind, and emotions – all aligned together in a total package of wise living from encouraged hearts and loving faith communities.

Maybe that sounds too far from your own experience. Perhaps you feel that you are all over the place, as if you could never have it all together (or that others are never going to have it together). However, the goal is not about having it all together. 

Rather, maturity is about you and me submitting to adversity and hardship as our teachers. In other words, it’s suffering which leads us to God. Spiritual growth and development happens in the crucible of life. Faith formation occurs in the class of hard knocks.

And we are not to let any spiritual hucksters or charlatans come along and deceive us with all kinds of talk about how the Christian life is having every earthly desire satisfied and never having any significant problems again – that if we just name it and claim it, then our faith will move mountains of money into our bank account or put us into positions of power.

Wi’áaşal, a giant 1,000 year old oak tree in California, on the Pechanga Indian Reservation

Maturity requires spiritual growth over a long period of time. There is no substitute, no other way to be mature in Christ. And our faith will be tried at every turn so that it is strengthened in sustained living for Jesus.

Whenever things are going great, it’s too easy to attribute it to our own ingenuity, ability, or intellect. Yet, when things are rough and there is no apparent way out, we need something or someone outside of ourselves. 

Faith is a muscle that must be stretched, exercised, and used so that it will grow and develop. Trials to our faith and hard situations are the means of strengthening such a faith. The result of all that struggle is maturity, completeness, and wholeness. 

We learn to connect with a generous God who won’t chide us for our messiness and problems. God delights in hearing us and responding to our prayers.

God pays attention and responds… in his own good time and according to his own good grace, and not on our timetable or according to our expectations.

Sometimes we need to learn that the three-ring binder approach to Christian discipleship, with clear proven steps to move forward, is not what we really need. We need Jesus himself. 

In order to return to the Garden, we must walk through the gate of Christ and learn to enjoy the pasture we are currently in. 

Maybe our circumstances will change, and maybe they won’t. But that’s not the point. The aim of all Christian discipleship is that you and I will change, and that our perspective will be different.

So, what will you do today, even right now, to take charge of your life and make a step toward maturity and healthy spiritual wholeness? 

In truth, you know exactly what to do and who to be. You just need some encouragement and affirmation to get over a few fears. It’s okay to be afraid. It’s not okay to remain stuck in fear.

Gracious God of mission who reaches the world with mercy and love, you alone bring growth to your Church everywhere. Send your Holy Spirit to strengthen our faith, give shape to our Christian hope, and love to all our words and actions. May our witness in the world demonstrate a mature Christianity, full of grace and seasoned with salt, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Colossians 2:6-15 – Our Identity in Christ

Death, Burial, and Resurrection of Christ by Guy Roddon (1919-2006)

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.

For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self, ruled by the flesh, was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. (New International Version)

I like kids. Since I believe them to be closer to God’s kingdom than most adults, I respect them by bending down to talk with them on their level. I take an interest in what they have to say and what’s going on with them. And I pay attention in ways that helps solidify their sense of worth, identity, and belonging. Indeed, how we treat children within the family, the church, and in public can make a significant difference in the trajectory of how they grow up and think of themselves.

One of the most fundamental of all Christian truths is that we belong to Christ. We are God’s children. God has given us everything we need for a solid awareness of our true identity. 

The follower of Jesus is a person who has moved from the realm of being in the world to the sphere of being in Christ. The Christian’s knowledge, understanding, and sense of identity are vitally important because we tend to live up to how we view ourselves.  

Today’s New Testament lesson is dense with the teaching of who we are in Christ. We are to live our lives in Christ. We are rooted and built up in Christ. We have been filled in Christ. We have a spiritual circumcision in Christ. We have been raised in Christ to new life. We are triumphant in Christ.  All this is meant to saturate us with the richness and security of being in the realm of Jesus Christ.

In Jesus Christ:

I am God’s child (John 1:12)

I have been justified (Romans 5:1)

I am Christ’s friend (John 15:15)

I belong to God (1 Corinthians 6:20)

I am a member of Christ’s Body (1 Corinthians 12:27)

I am assured all things work together for good (Romans 8:28)

I am confident that God will perfect the work begun in me (Philippians 1:6)

I am a citizen of heaven (Philippians 3:20)

I am hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3:3)

I am brave, strong, and self-disciplined (2 Timothy 1:7)

I am born of God and the evil one cannot touch me (1 John 5:18)

I am blessed in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing (Ephesians 1:3)

I am chosen before the creation of the world (Ephesians 1:4, 11)

I am holy and blameless (Ephesians 1:4)

I am adopted as God’s child (Ephesians 1:5)

I am lavishly given God’s glorious grace (Ephesians 1:5,8)

I am redeemed (Ephesians 1:8)

I am forgiven (Ephesians 1:8; Colossians 1:14)

I am hopeful (Ephesians 1:12)

I am included (Ephesians 1:13)

I am sealed with the promised Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13)

I am a saint (Ephesians 1:18)

I am the salt and light of the earth (Matthew 5:13-14)

I am God’s coworker (2 Corinthians 6:1)

I am a minister of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:17-20)

I am alive with Christ (Ephesians 2:5)

I am raised up with Christ (Ephesians 2:6; Colossians 2:12)

I am seated with Christ in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 2:6)

I am rich with God’s grace (Ephesians 2:7)

I am a recipient of God’s kindness (Ephesians 2:7)

I am God’s workmanship (Ephesians 2:10)

I am close to God (Ephesians 2:13)

I am peaceful (Ephesians 2:14)

I am a member of God’s household (Ephesians 2:19)

I am secure (Ephesians 2:20)

I am a holy temple (Ephesians 2:21; 1 Corinthians 6:19)

I am a dwelling for the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 2:22)

I am a friend of God (Ephesians 3:6)

I am free and confident (Ephesians 3:12)

I am joyful in my sufferings (Ephesians 3:13)

I am loved and can love others (Ephesians 3:18)

I am called (Ephesians 4:1; 2 Timothy 1:9)

I am humble, gentle, patient, and tolerant of others (Ephesians 4:2)

I am truthful (Ephesians 4:17)

I am living a new life (Ephesians 4:21-32)

I am kind and compassionate to others (Ephesians 4:32)

I am forgiving of others (Ephesians 4:32)

I am good (Ephesians 5:8-9)

I am grateful (Ephesians 5:20)

I am secure (Ephesians 6:13)

I am dead to sin (Romans 1:12)

I am not alone (Hebrews 13:5)

I am growing (Colossians 2:7)

I am united with other believers (John 17:20-23)

I am victorious (I John 5:4)

I am chosen and dearly loved (Colossians 3:12)

I am blameless (I Corinthians 1:8)

I am more than a conqueror (Romans 8:37)

I am safe (I John 5:18)

I am healed (I Peter 2:24)

I am no longer condemned (Romans 8:1, 2)

I am not helpless (Philippians 4:13)

I am overcoming (I John 4:4)

I am persevering (Philippians 3:14)

I am protected (John 10:28)

I am born again (I Peter 1:23)

I am a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17)

I am delivered (Colossians 1:13)

I am redeemed from the curse of the Law (Galatians 3:13)

I am qualified to share in Christ’s inheritance (Colossians 1:12)

I am victorious (1 Corinthians 15:57)

Take ten minutes today and focus on one of the phrases or words from these verses. Think about its meaning. Ponder how it makes a difference in your Christian life. Then decide what you will do with the insight God gives you. Finally, share it with a friend. In all these ways we can press the truth of our identity firmly into our souls and live into the reality that we belong to Christ.

Gracious God, you have brought me from death to life, from being of the world to being in Christ. Solidify my sense of identity with Jesus and release that self-knowledge into loving practice toward others. Amen.