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The spiral upwards because of knowing God (and how to pray for it)

Friday August 21 2015

The spiral upwards because of knowing God (and how to pray for it)

Recently I got together with two old friends. We met 40 years ago next month! As old friends do, we talked about our children, our parents, our siblings. At some point, we moved onto the subject of praying for the needs of these central people in our lives. One of my friends enthused, “My favorite way to pray for the people in my family is to use that prayer from Colossians chapter 1, about being filled with the knowledge of God’s will in order to live lives worthy of the Lord. I pray it for my kids, and I often pray it for your kids, too. Sometimes I name one person at a time and pray the whole prayer for each person.”

She went on to say, “I even use those words to pray for non-Christians I know. After all, why wouldn’t it be good for them to be filled with wisdom so they can lead a life worthy of God?”

I think the prayer in Colossians 1 is deeply profound because it shows how, in the Christian life of faith, one thing builds on the next in a kind of spiral. Here’s the prayer:

We have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God. May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light (Colossians 1:9-12).

The Apostle Paul prays for the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding. What’s the purpose of that? In order to lead lives worthy of the Lord, which pleases God and enables us to bear good fruit. But note the idea that comes right after bearing fruit: “and as you grow in the knowledge of God.”

Knowledge of God leads to a fruit-bearing life that pleases God, which involves further growth in the knowledge of God. It’s a spiral upwards.

Many of us are intimately acquainted with a spiral downwards. For me it looks like this: I eat too much, I feel angry at myself for eating too much, so I punish myself (or perhaps I’m soothing myself) by eating too much one more time. Then I feel bad, then I overeat some more. Down, down, down, until something interrupts the spiral.

My propensity for downward spirals has given me a great appreciation for the upward spiral described in Paul’s prayer in Colossians 1. Knowledge of God leads to good fruit which leads to further knowledge of God. Strength, endurance, patience, joy and thankfulness play a role in this spiral, as Paul indicates in the remainder of the prayer.

It’s worth noting that Paul was speaking out of his deep study of Jewish tradition. Remember that in the world of the Old Testament, the word “knowledge” didn’t refer only to concepts and abstract ideas. “Knowledge” was experiential and relational. A man “knew” his wife, a way of describing sexual intercourse (for example in Genesis 4:1).

The “knowledge of God’s will” that Paul refers to involves our whole being: heart, soul, mind and strength. We can pray for it for ourselves and others using the words from Paul’s prayer, and we can enter into a life-giving and joyous upward spiral.

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