As Paul finishes his letter, we glean confirmation that he is in prison for his faith and witness. Yet he is not despondent, but full of hope and sees opportunity. He has good reason, for the chapter demonstrates a range of names, e.g. Tychicus, Onesimus, Aristartchus and Nympha to name just a few. This is a network of believers and co-workers, people on the same task of bearing witness to Jesus.
This is the church at its best - it doesn't depend on buildings, programs of meetings or institution. Instead it is people connected together, sharing the same priority and task - telling about Jesus, contending for the Kingdom of God, and wrestling in prayer. One local expression of the church meets in Nympha's house - the lady hosts believers (and maybe enquirers) in her house. That was the norm for the first 300 years or so!
When it comes to church, always start with people. They can meet and gather (no matter how small that gathering may be), and do that wherever convenient - be it a house or some other meeting place. It is about people, Jesus, and His message - and the Spirit knits those people together into a wider network.
This is not just about people who are 'nice', forming a friendly network, exchanging nice stuff. It is people jointly on a task - serving Jesus - on mission across the wide area that Paul covered. So in verse 2 Paul encourages them to devote themselves - to make a priority, give themselves over to, and invest heavily in. More specifically he writes to devote to Prayer, Being Watchful, and Being Thankful.
For prayer, remember the spur last week to contend in the heavenlies, praying in the spiritual realm. For Watchful, always ask 'What is God up to?', and look for what He is doing, mindful too that Jesus promises to return. Being Thankful is about a choice we can make: despite the tough conditions and a year of setbacks we can still choose to be thankful, even if it is for just a few small things.
The call to devote is a fresh reminder that they together are on a team, in something together. Paul goes on to ask for prayer that 'God may open a door for our message ... to proclaim Christ'. On one level this is practical - he literally needed his prison door to be opened for his release! But remember the spiritual realm - pray for re-ordering in the spiritual realm so that people can be released from blindness! Paul wants to proclaim clearly - let us too pray that we can get swiftly to showing people Jesus. Pray this for each other - as members networked together, in our scattered locations and pools of contacts across the city, but all on the same gospel task, each of us proclaiming the mystery of Christ.
In the runup to Christmas each of us can consider a small (micro) initiative. We call them micro-initiatives because it could be simply starting with one person or family. Pray for them, and then ask God 'what is the next step?'. Note this order of pray, ask for direction and then act - this is the way to learn to work with God in His way, rather than feeling pressured that you should do something, trying to do it (possibly in a panic!) and asking God to bless it. Maybe you will be prompted to go on a walk with someone, or invite them for a longer chat at a coffee shop - the action will probably be something completely natural for friends to do.
For each of us, therefore the key question is:
Key Qn: [OUT] What initiative will you take this Christmas?
Challenge: Pray for as little as one person/family, ask God for the next step
Paul writes 'make the most of every opportunity'. Let us be confident that God is already at work drawing people to Himself, and so pray, discern and act with our antennae up! If someone is actually inquisitive, then go with their line of asking. Remember that even questions they have that you do not know the answer to are still opportunities - simply be honest and agree to ponder those questions together!
Finally Paul urges to be full of grace, conversation seasoned with salt. In practice this means listening as much as we speak (if not more). Listen for where they are at, and go from there. Make the most of every opportunity: if the situation presents, then offer to pray with the person. Very few will outright decline - and if possible pray right then & there!
This is all about proclaiming Christ by bearing Christ person to person. This is something every believer in Jesus can do, through the smallest of opportunities. It puts us on the same team as Paul, Tychicus... the Colossian believers ... and many many others. Each of us able to bear Christ, and be His presence, witness and voice in all our respective situations.