“We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you.” Colossians 1:3
For reasons that remain a mystery, I pulled my hand from the grip of my mother and darted across 21st Avenue to the grocery story that was our destination. Even in the late 1960’s this was a busy street in Nashville. That day I learned the phrase, “Look both ways.” I’m sure there were a few other phrases that my mother used, but this one stuck.
I find myself looking both ways as a follower of Jesus. I’m not looking to the right and left for dangers so much as I am looking backward and forward for God’s faithfulness and work of grace in Christ.
This is what Paul is doing when he prays for the Colossian Christians in his letter to them. He begins by giving thanks to God. His thanksgiving is prompted by a look back on how these people first heard the gospel of grace. They responded to it in faith and were transformed by it. Paul sees the evidence of grace and the fruit of faith that has occurred since they were saved. By the end of the prayer it is clear that he has cast his gaze all the way back to the work of Jesus on the cross and in the resurrection, back to where forgiveness of sins and newness of life was secured.
After the over-the-shoulder thanksgiving for God’s grace, Paul then prayed for more grace for their future. These people had to keep going. They were to walk by faith. They needed the knowledge of God, strength for endurance, and joy in the journey. So, Paul prays for their future needs. But it is clear that Paul is looking into a more distant future, to the day of Christ’s appearing, when they will share the inheritance with the saints and be presented holy and blameless before God. (Colossians 1:12, 1:22, 3:4)
In this prayer Paul is looking back to the cross of Christ and their conversion to him. He is also looking ahead to the return of Christ and to what these Christians will need to follow him until then. It is instructive to us that Paul looked both ways.
Look both ways. Each day, look back. Look to the accomplishment of Jesus on the cross. Thank him for the forgiveness of your sins. Thank him that by dying for your sins, he removed the barrier between God and you, and that now you are reconciled to God by faith. Look to the reality of the resurrection of Christ. Thank God that in Christ you, too, are raised with him to walk in new life. Looking back builds our faith because we see the faithfulness of God to save.
Look ahead. Since God has been so faithful in the past, will he not also be in the future? Since Christ came once to deal with sin, will he not also come again to deal with death and receive us into eternal life? Since we have been sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, will we not possess the promise that awaits us? Since we have been raised up with Christ, will we not appear with him in glory?
Let’s look both ways: back to the cross, and ahead to glory. Let’s give thanks for the past and make requests for the future. This will help keep us steady when we face the dangers from the right and from the left.
This week at Grace, we plan to look both ways, as we thank God for 25 years of congregational life together, and ask him for all that we need for future ministry in our city.