What does God expect of us? Does he expect a lot? A little? Is there some way we can measure it? And does he expect us to accomplish it on our own? There are so many different expressions of Christianity that it can be confusing to know what God wants. Take gathered, corporate worship on Sundays. When I was on my sabbatical three years ago, I visited a bunch of different church worship services. From some local Mennonite churches, to a large megachurch, to a Roman Catholic church in the city of Lancaster, to an American Orthodox church in Harrisburg. They were so very different. What kind of worship does God expect of us?
Knowing that God has expectations for more than just worship services, I think about how Christians live their lives. And how I live mine. What does he expect of us? I’ve seen Christians in places around the world from as different as the very poor Christians in Guyana, to the urban Christians in Jamaica, to our EC sister churches in rural India and Nepal, to a multicultural church in the massive Muslim city of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and to Christians in a refugee camp in Kenya. Each were quite different, and yet they had practices of discipleship and lived out their faith in ways that had some similartis to American Christianity. In every place, of course, those Christians’ lives are impacted by the cultural and economic situation in their country and locale. I mention that because I’m not just talking about language or worship services. How we express our Christianity goes well beyond the one hour we spend in gathered worship each week. In fact, what about the other 167 hours in the week? Those hours matter to God at least as much as the weekly worship service. So what does God expect of us? What is his will?
As we continue our series through Colossians, the author, Paul, has something important to say about God’s will. Turn to Colossians 1:9. Notice how Paul starts this section in verse 9, where he writes: “For this reason.”
For what reason? The reason he just mentioned in the previous verses. What did he just mention? To learn what he just mentioned, we need to do a little review of verses 3-8. Paul, in verses 3-8, talks about how the Christians in the town of Colosse had heard the good news of Jesus from another missionary named Epaphras. They responded to that good news in faith, and they showed it was real faith by their practice of loving one another. In other words, Paul had heard that the Christians in Colosse were true followers of Jesus.
He tells them in verse 9, “For that reason, since the day I heard, we have not stopped praying for you.”
This is an expansion of what Paul mentioned in verse 3. There he says that “when we pray for you,” and now in verse 9 he says “we have not stopped praying for you.” Just he began this letter, as we saw in verses 1-8 last week, Paul in verse 9 continues to encourage the Christians in Colosse. Imagine the reassurance the Colossian Christians felt, knowing that a leader of Paul’s stature prayed for them. It reminds me of the reports that I have to fill out and send to the my denomination, the EC Church.
Every quarter the EC Church asks all pastors to submit some basic stats such as our average worship attendance and our total income, and then they ask us to answer some questions about the joys and difficulties in the life of our church family during the past quarter. Additionally, every year they ask us to complete an annual report. I will admit that I have sometimes forgotten to fill out a report. A couple months go by, and I’ll get an email reminder saying it is time for another quarterly report. Looking back through the files on my computer, I realize, “Oh my…I forgot to send them reports for the last two quarters!”
This causes me to wonder if anyone at the denomination headquarters cares that I didn’t fill out those reports. What does it matter, all this reporting? Why am I taking the time to fill these things out anyway? It can seem like a waste of time. Does anyone ever read the reports?
I then think maybe I should have a little fun with a report. What if I started submitting some bizarre stats, would it even matter? What if I said this past quarter Faith Church averaged 10,000 people attending worship each Sunday? (Our normal average is far less than that!) Then the next quarter what if I wrote to say that we only averaged 5 in worship? Or what if I wrote that there was an earthquake in East Lampeter Township, and a giant crack opened up in the earth and swallowed our building? Maybe then I would get a response! I have never submitted a creative report like that, but I sometimes toy with the idea.
A couple years ago, though, something different happened when I submitted a regular quarterly report. Later that day I got an email from my new district field director. As district field director, he is not only my boss, but also the boss of about 10 other pastors in the churches that comprise our geographical district. On top of that he is a full-time pastor of one of those churches. Simply put, he’s a busy guy, and yet he emailed me to say that he read my report, and that he was praying for me. Furthermore, in his email he mentioned the specific prayer requests I had written in my report, showing that he actually did read my report! It was really cool. I’ve had great district leaders before this, but this was new. It showed me that my reporting was being taken seriously.
Then something else happened. A few days later, the Bishop sent me an email. The Bishop is my boss’s boss. He is in charge of the entire denomination, which includes about 125 churches. Think about that. 125 pastors are submitting one of those quarterly reports, and the Bishop wrote me an email about my report. It wasn’t like I put anything critical in the report. No crisis was happening. No need to call in the big guns, and thus it was highly unlikely that my boss said to the bishop, “Here’s a doozy of a report…you better respond to this.” Nope, the Bishop simply wrote thanking me for serving, and like my boss, in his email to me the Bishop mentioned specific details from my report, showing he had read my report, and that he was praying.
You know how those emails from my boss and from my boss’s boss made me feel? Really good! I don’t interact with them on a regular basis. Maybe once every month or so, usually less often than that. So it was encouraging to hear from them. That’s exactly how the Colossian Christians would have felt, knowing that Paul had heard about them, and he was writing them and praying for them.
I know we don’t want to self-promote and come across as ultra-spiritual, but I wonder if we can miss out on genuine encouragement if we don’t tell people we’re praying for them? How can you be an encouragement to the people you pray for? I don’t think it would be wise to mention to them every day that you’re praying for them. But it could be really encouraging to check in from time to time.