Too often our praying is confined by our own line of sight. We see the good things God has given us, and we give thanks to him. We see the problems that we can’t overcome by ourselves, so we plead with him to help. We see our faults and so we confess them to him and are gratefully reminded that he is a loving and forgiving Father. This kind of praying is absolutely good, but something more can be added here – our line of sight needs to be lifted from our own lives to see God’s own plans and purposes and include those within our prayers. The praying of Epaphras in Colossians 4:12 is an example of this. His praying – continual and arduous – is for the stability of the new Colossian Christians. He wants them to “stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God.”
The biblical use of the phrase “will of God” is not so much about choices you might make (e.g. whether to apply for this job or that job, or join this church or that church). Rather, it is about God’s purposes in the world and us being on board with them. Under the new covenant, God’s will is focused on the message about Jesus, establishing his kingdom, and the lives of people aligning themselves with this – that’s in a profession of faith and allegiance to Jesus as the king, as well as in our attitude and in our actions.
It is in this that Epaphras wants the young Colossian Christians to stand. He prays for two things on their behalf.
First, he desires that they would be mature. Not childish in their faith, but grown up. He doesn’t want to see them doing things that new believers might do because they don’t know better or because they’re not used to living or thinking or feeling in a way that aligns with Jesus (cf. Matt 20:21). Growing can take time, and so Epaphras prays for them to become people who stand in the will of God in a way that is mature.
Second, he desires that they would be fully assured in the will of God. Not uncertain, but confident. Confidence is important when the pressure is on (cf. Daniel 3). Epaphras knew that challenge faced these Christians in their following Jesus and sticking close to him properly (cf. Col 2). When faithfulness to Jesus and consistency in following him becomes difficult, if you’re not confident that this is God’s will you’re going to opt out and take the easy route.
Epaphras prays for these young Christians with gospel-oriented goals in mind. He doesn’t pray for their welfare or success in life (although this is fine), but for them to grow up and stand confidently in the profession of loyalty and trust in Jesus that they have made. This praying that is exampled by Epaphras calls on God to bring Christians to the goal of their personal faith. It is reminding God that he has promised to bring his kingdom and vindicate his church. This is praying for a goal that is in keeping with God’s own goal.
This might be an unusual thing to pray about for many of us. But perhaps we can see the value in it when we consider what it looks like: seeing the faith of new believers firmed up, or people grappling with the challenge of forgiving others, or putting less value on money, success, leisure or ease when they stop us serving God wholeheartedly. This is praying for members to seek the Lord’s guidance for fraught issues and difficult decisions. That is the destiny for God’s people and so we pray that that day will be hastened, and that the brothers and sisters who profess faith in Christ might continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel we acknowledge (cf. Col 1:22-23). It is fine to pray for help, thank God or ask his forgiveness. But texts like Colossians 4:12 add something more – prayer in light of God’s promises and purposes, asking him to hasten these things. This is prayer that seeks the goals of the Lord’s promises in the gospel to be reached, and a praying God’s people must adopt into their own prayer habits.