1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.
I have always believed in prayer. I have practiced the discipline of prayer most of my life. I have dedicated specific times in my day and in my week for prayer. But, I have always struggled with prayer. Too easily I fall into routine patterns. Too easily my mind wonders and I lose focus. Too easily I see prayer as a last resort, instead of my first response to every situation.
I recently reread Ben Patterson’s book Deepening Your Conversation with God. Ben is open, honest, and candid about his own spiritual journey. There are so many things that he shares with which I can identify. His last chapter on corporate prayer was especially convicting. He points out, with lazar focus, that we have made prayer a personal endeavor and lost the power and significance of corporate prayer. He boldly suggests that one of the reasons that the church in America lacks power is that it lacks corporate prayer.
My wife and I have been reading the Mitford books together. The main character in these books, by Jan Karon, is Father Tim, an Episcopal priest in a small North Carolina village. The author has a remarkable handle on the life of a pastor. One of the things that always catches my attention is the way that Father Tim prays. His prayers sound formal, even memorized, yet ring true and genuine. In part, because of Father Tim’s prayers, and in part, because I want to reignite my devotional life, I pulled a book off of my shelf called A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants. It comes from a distinctly liturgical context, but it has been a fresh addition to my devotional time.
One of the aspects of this guide is that it gives a written invocation and benediction for each week. The authors suggest that a person use these prayers daily. On the surface, these prayers are old fashioned and a little stiff, but their sentiment is powerful. I have begun rewriting these prayers for my own use; adapting them to my style. It has been refreshing.
There are two ways that we most often approach prayer. First, we approach prayer as a formal duty that we dispense as quickly as possible. Second, we approach prayer as a last resort, a desperate plea for help from God. Neither of these approaches lines up with the biblical concept of prayer. Prayer is intended to be an ongoing dialog with God; a perpetual conversation, which informs all of our lives. Paul simply says, pray continually because this is God’s will for you.
As I have struggled with prayer over the years, there are three things that keep coming to the surface. God wants us to pray often, pray broadly, and pray specifically. Paul combines all three of these observations at the end of his description of the armor of God in Ephesians 6. Look carefully at what he writes.
And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.
Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should. Ephes. 6:18-20
Paul instructs us to pray on all occasions with all the resources of prayer that are at our disposal. He tells us to pray for all the saints, because we are not on this journey alone. It is important that we broaden our focus beyond our personal needs. Then he concludes by telling us to pray specifically for the advancement of the Gospel.
Prayer is not a formality to be gotten through so we can get on with the real work. Prayer is the real work. Prayer is the power source that we need to be able to accomplish what God wants of us. Without genuine prayer, we are flying blind in a spiritual fog, with no real sense of direction.