So what did Paul pray for? What did he want most for those in Colossae? I wonder what they might have said to him had he asked, "How may I pray for you?" We'll never know, but what we do know is that Paul asked, apparently repeatedly, that God would fill them "with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding."
Let's be clear about one thing. Simply because Paul prayed for them to know God's will does not mean we are forbidden to ask for other things. There are countless blessings, both spiritual and material, for which we ought to intercede. But there is significance in the fact that this weighed heavily in Paul's value system.
I doubt if knowing God's will is at the top of many of our "want" lists. New cars, better paying jobs, respect, notoriety, physical comfort, all the latest technological conveniences are probably of more pressing importance to us than knowing the will of God. It's tragic, but all too true.
This prayer is similar to what we find in Ephesians 1:17 where he prays that God would give them "a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him." Likewise, in Philippians 1:9 his prayer is that their "love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment" (see also Philemon 6).
Clearly, knowledge was important to Paul. But not any sort of knowledge will do. He asks for knowledge of "God's will." At minimum, this would involve the understanding of all that Paul teaches in the remainder of this epistle and all other inspired writings as well. In one sense, then, this prayer is for illumination, or to use the words of Ephesians 1:18, it is for the "enlightenment" of the "eyes of their heart."
More specifically, he asks God to fill them with the knowledge of his will "in all spiritual wisdom and understanding" (v. 9b). There are three possible ways of understanding the relationship between "spiritual wisdom and understanding" and the "knowledge of God's will."
The NIV renders this: "the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding." That is to say, by means of Spirit-imparted wisdom and the understanding he provides we come to discern God's will. Others say the idea is more that wisdom and understanding accompany the impartation of divine knowledge.
Perhaps the best rendering is that the knowledge for which he prays consists of all spiritual wisdom and understanding. In other words, to know God's will is not only a matter of understanding what is pleasing to him but also consists of experiential wisdom in knowing how to apply God's desires to the concrete realities and crises and decisions of every day life.
In any case, don't miss Paul's emphasis on the word "spiritual" (which applies to both the wisdom and understanding that we need). Part of the problem in Colossae was the temptation to listen to the worldly and fleshly "wisdom" (cf. 2:8,18,23) of the false teachers who were disrupting the life of the community.
Before leaving this part of Paul's prayer, I must draw our attention to Isaiah 11:2. There we read of a similar experience in almost identical language of what was to be true of the Messiah: "And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord."
This is good news indeed! The same Spirit who anointed the Lord Jesus Christ and empowered him with wisdom and understanding and knowledge has anointed us (see 2 Cor. 1:21-22; 1 John 2:20,27). Thus the knowledge of God's will and the spiritual wisdom and understanding to apply it in every circumstance is available to us as well. Oh, God, may your Spirit fill us up to overflowing that we might live as Jesus did, to your glory and in conformity with your will in all things.
By God's grace, praying for the right things,