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In writing to the Colossians, Paul underscores something that he is convinced should characterize every believer’s life.

Devote yourselves to prayer. (Colossians 4:2)

To write about “devoting oneself” to prayer, Paul is calling for a whole-hearted kind of “caught up in” kind of life of prayer. This doesn’t mean every waking moment is given over to vocal conversation with God, but it does mean that prayer is common, regular, frequent, and characteristic of this kind of life.

As I have been thinking about this, my thoughts turned to the variety of language that is used to refer to prayer in the Scriptures. Here, in Colossians, Paul uses the general word for prayer. Thus, he has all the kinds of praying in mind when he writes about being devoted to prayer. What, specifically, might be included in this life of prayer?

There is “prayer” (as mentioned above) that refers to all kinds of conversation with God in general. (See, for example, Matthew 6:5-10.)

There is a word rendered “pray” that focuses more on begging specifically for something from God. (This is seen, for example, in Acts 4:31; 8:24: 10:2; 1 Thessalonians 3:10.)

Sometimes the sense of prayer is conveyed by a word that means “to ask,” in the sense of making a request. (For examples, see Mark 7:26; John 14:16.) There is a similar word, rendered “to ask,” that is also sometimes used of prayer. (As in John 14:13; 16:23; 1 John 5:16.)

Prayer includes the ideas of giving thanks to God for his blessings. (This is pictured in Mark 8:6; Acts 27:35; Romans 1:8; 1 Corinthians 1:4; Ephesians 1:16.)

There are a few times when a word for “calling for help, inviting assistance” is used to speak of prayer. (We see this idea in passages like Matthew 8:5; 26:53; 2 Corinthians 12:8.)

The variety of prayer is even hinted at in a single verse in Paul’s letter to the Philippians.

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer [the general word for prayer] and supplication [specific strong appeals] with thanksgiving [expressing gratitude] let your requests [things asked for] be made known to God. (Philippians 4:6)

I realize that I could be much more “devoted” to prayer if I only thought about prayer with the richness of the New Testament language. If I understood that my life of prayer could include thanksgiving, requests, discussion, conversation, and appeals (and even more than just these things we’ve highlighted!) I might discover how much more prayer, in all its rich diversity, could be woven into the moments that make up each day.


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