The summer of 1980 was a critical time in my faith development. I participated in an internship in Miami, Florida. Just committing to travel to Miami and spend three months there took this West Texas novice out of his comfort zone.
I suddenly found myself in the heart of Little Havana, walking down the streets hearing Cuban men behind me saying things like, “Oye, flaco.” They were calling out to other friends but I didn’t always know that. It was my first experience feeling like a minority.
I felt that way too when it came to prayer and sharing my faith. Prayer was a struggle for me at twenty years old and still can be. And I had been in few opportunities to actually share my faith seeing as how I spent most of my time with people who were already believers. Now I was in a city where I could expect that most people I bumped into did not believe in the gospel.
The internship threw us all into both areas where none of us had much training. Our mornings started with an hour of prayer. We would find an empty upstairs classroom in the church building and claim it as our prayer closets. An hour seemed like eternity. Especially when we discovered that the air conditioning was not turned on.
Our afternoons would be spent serving people and looking for opportunities to share our faith. Some days we would be given assignments: “This person came to a Seeker Event we held in the Spring. Go follow up with them.” Not easy for a 20-year-old that was still more introverted than extroverted. But I would get in my car with another intern and off we would go.
It took about half the summer before it dawned on some of us that the prayer time in the morning and the witnessing in the afternoon were not disconnected. They went together. When we started connecting the two we began to see more opportunities right in front of us and as a result, more fruit.
How do you feel about prayer and witnessing? Most would say they feel like a failure when it comes to one or both. Maybe we have guilt over our prayerlessness or anxiety knowing there is someone in our circles we could be telling about Jesus. But we just don’t know how.
I have felt that way. And I feel that way at times today. But instead of being racked by guilt, we can train to become more adept in these areas. It is part of our calling as Christians.
In fact, as Paul begins to close his letter he tells the Colossian church: “Devote yourselves to prayer; stay alert in it with thanksgiving” (1:2). Literally, the Greek reads: “Prayer—devote yourselves to it.” By placing the word “prayer” at the start of his directive, he emphasizes it. Prayer is an integral part of the life that follows Jesus. It is not something to be added on as a second thought. It is essential to our lives.
So Paul gives a short lesson on prayer and mentions three characteristics of a praying Christian. First, one is to be devoted. The word can mean to be persistent, but it also carries with it the idea of patience. Devotion does not mean a person stops everything else they are doing and gives every minute of the day to prayer. But it is to be regular and central in our lives.
This devotion to prayer can be easily read as individual prayer, and that is certainly a part of our lives. But Paul is speaking to corporate prayer—he’s writing to the church. And so the Christian church should find times to prayer together and be devoted to prayer, just as the first Christians in Jerusalem devoted themselves to it together (Acts 2:42).
Another characteristic of prayer is that we are to be “watchful” or “alert.” Jesus had told his disciples to “watch and pray” so they would not enter into temptation (Mark 14:38). Surely that is part of his meaning. We need to be asking God to search our hearts and help us to be wise in our lives, placing boundaries where they need to be so that we can “…walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:10).
But there may be more Paul is referring to. He may be connecting devotion and alertness in prayer to our walk. We’ll talk about that in a moment. But before we get there, a third characteristic of prayer is thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is a theme in Colossians. This is the fifth time Paul has mentioned it (1:3,12; 2:7; 3:17). Remember Paul is telling them to pray with thanksgiving while he himself is in chains. How can he be thankful?
Thanksgiving in our lives grows from a life that has learned to trust God. We learn that in life we are dependent on God and interdependent on the people of God. Even Paul is dependent on God and the Colossians. He says: “At the same time, pray also for us that God may open a door to us for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains, so that I may make it known as I should” (Col. 4:3-4).
He requests their prayers for an “open door” to speak the “mystery of Christ.” Paul may be in chains, but his prayers are unchained. He is around guards. He most likely has people coming and going as they visit him. He could be asking prayers for his freedom. Instead he prays for doors to be opened.
Those with time on their hands debate whether the “open door” has to do with opportunities to preach or means a positive response to his preaching. My guess is meant both. You need one to have the other. And because he trusted God and knew the proclamation of the gospel was dependent upon God’s actions, he asks them to pray. It has been said, “When we work, we work. But when we pray, God works.”
And often God works through us. There are times we need to pray and wait. We wait for God to give us direction. But eventually we pray and then walk. We go on a prayer walk.
Not necessarily the kind you might see today. You may have heard of some individuals or churches going on a prayer walk. They go to a specific location, walk through the area, and pray. The idea is that the nearer the proximity the clearer the prayers can be. You might see houses and pray for the spiritual and physical health of those living there. You may pray around a school for the teachers and students. You get the idea.
And you may be starting to feel some guilt now because you’re thinking, “I’ve never gone on a prayer walk.” Relax. There is no biblical injunction to go on that kind of prayer walk. It’s fine if you do. But search the scriptures and you’ll find no biblical model for that kind of prayer walk.
There is, however, a model for another kind of prayer walk. After Paul tells the Colossians to devote themselves to prayer, he says, “Act wisely toward outsiders, making the most of the time”. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer each person.” (Colossians 4:5-6).
You didn’t hear the word “walk” but it was there. The Greek word for “act” is the word “peripateo.” You’ve heard it before in 1:10 and 3:7. It has to do with the way you go about your life. These first century believers walked everywhere they went. If they were devoting themselves to prayer, then they did a lot of prayer walking.
They are to walk in “wisdom.” This is the wisdom of Christ and not of the world. Paul’s prayers for them has been that they be filled with wisdom (1:9) and has said that Christian teaching is marked by wisdom (1:28; 3:16). This teaching is marked by wisdom because it is centered in Christ, in whom all the treasures of God’s wisdom is found (2:3). When he says to walk in wisdom, Paul is tying together all that he has been teaching them since chapter one.
You might ask what a “walking in wisdom” would look like. Paul gives two characteristics. The first is that we “make the most of our opportunities.” Literally we are to “redeem” or buy back the time. Like Paul, we pray for an open door and we are watchful for when one opens. We watch for opportunities to speak and opportunities to do good.
In other words, you don’t have to go out and try to manufacture a time to witness. Instead, pray for open doors and then be alert. How many opportunities have we missed because we were not praying for them and, because we were not devoted to prayer we weren’t watching for them?
Paul had learned the secret to seeing the gospel spread. It wasn’t some new silver bullet that would bring about instant church growth. In fact, the growth of the church then may not have been connected to the size of the congregations but rather that the gospel had made inroads into all the world. Historians estimate that a house church may have held around 35-50 people. But these were people learning to pray and walk. And as they made the most of their opportunities some people responded positively to the gospel.
They do that because walking in wisdom is also characterized by gracious speech. People with gracious speech use words that are “attractive, winsome, and wholesome.” It is the opposite of the kind of speech he told them earlier to “put to death”—things like foul talk, abuse and slander.
“Gracious speech” is to be “seasoned with salt.” Salt brings out the flavor in foods. We need to learn the art of seasoning our speech so that it leaves a good taste with the other person.
Gracious speech takes wisdom. We are to learn to speak this way for a reason: “… so that you may know how you should answer each person.” Living a new life that is lived in contrast to the world will prompt questions. We will find some open doors, especially when we are praying for them. That’s when we need to know how to walk through them.
One early Christian theologian of the 300’s wrote:
Paul therefore tells us that we should discuss religion at the right time and place and in great humility, and keep quiet if one of these people is shouting at us in public. We should behave one way toward the powerful, another way toward the middle class, another way toward those lower down the social scale, and yet another way to those who are gentle and another way to those who are irritable. Letting them be is redeeming the time, because if you give way to someone who attacks the Lord’s words or who rages because he is free to do so, you turn the insults of this unhappy experience into gain.
Early Christians were a minority group in a largely hostile world. It is not too different today. it takes wisdom to know when to speak and when not to speak.
And it takes prayer. This is what we learned to do in Miami. Pray in the morning. Walk in the afternoon. In between was study so that we would have something to say whenever we had the opportunity.
What might happen if we learned this two-step rhythm for our lives? Prayer, then walk. Prayer Walk. We might be less stressed about both.
 Thompson, 98ff.
 Thompson, 99.
 McKnight, 377.