A couple of weeks ago Jay Harris, from the Tarrant Baptist Association, came and preached filling in for me. His topic: prayer. It is nice for me as a pastor to sit in the congregation, and listen to someone else talk for a while. It gives me insight into what it is like to sit and listen each week, and it also gives me a chance to learn from other people.
As Jay was talking about the importance of prayer, I couldn’t help but think about how my own life has been impacted by the faithful prayers of those around me. I could tell you story after story of people that have prayed for Julie and I through our time in ministry.
The interesting thing about prayer is that we are called to do it in the Bible and yet we struggle to know how. In fact, Paul says it pretty clearly in 1 Thessalonians:
16Rejoice always, 17pray without ceasing, 18give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 ESV)
Pray without ceasing. Now that’s a crazy concept. Is Paul actually calling us to pray every second of every day? Well, yes and no. I don’t think Paul is calling us to get on our knees and spend 24 hours every day doing nothing other than prayer. Yet it is a call to be connected with God throughout our day, giving him our cares and concerns, and asking him to guide us along the way.
The problem for us is that we have relegated prayer to something that happens at a set time in the service. You know what I am talking about. A stoic church member gets up and offers an eloquent prayer, which is full of wisdom, insight, and clear words. That is what prayer looks like, or so we think. The truth is, yes, that is a form of prayer. Yet we are called to have a personal prayer life, one that reflects our relationship with God and our constant dependence on him.
For some of us, that freaks us out. What do we say? How do we do it? What if I mess it up? I understand, because I have felt the same way from time to time. Yet I have found that a little guidance can help propel us into a faithful prayer life, a life where we pray without ceasing if you will.
Tackling a topic like this in a blog post is tricky, because there is so much to say. So my goal is to offer some practical things that may help you become a person that is living out the call to pray without ceasing.
Our lives are busy. We have more going on now than any of us can handle, and in order to be serious about prayer we have to be intentional. There are a million different options of how we can carve out time in our schedules to pray. Maybe it is when you are in the car, or in the shower, late at night, or early in the morning. It can be any time but we have to be intentional if we are going to get serious about prayer.
When we were in our first ministry position, we had a faithful lady in our church that was in her 80s. She was still an active in mission work and loved God deeply. She had a picture of Morgan (my 7 year old) and would pray for her every morning when she did her exercise routine. At a given point she would roll over and face a wall that had Morgan’s picture on it. It would remind her to pray for our family. She was intentional, and the impact of her prayers meant so much to us.
We struggle with what to say in our prayers, yet I have found it helpful to pray for specific things as they come up. Are you worried about a meeting at work? Pray for it before you go in. Are you unsure of a decision you need to make? Pray that God will guide you when the thought of facing the decision comes to your mind. We are really good at issuing the spiritual line of, “I will pray for you.” Yet what would it look like if we stopped right there and prayed for someone who just shared a need with you? You can pray directly for them before you walk away and forget.
I have found that a lot of men struggle with praying in front of or with their wives. I offer them the same advice. It is difficult to gear up for a long eloquent prayer with your wife before you got to sleep. Yet what if you prayed specifically for a need your wife has right after she mentioned it? It is intentional and direct. “God I pray for my wife and the difficult decision she is facing at work today, give her peace and guidance. Amen”
We are blessed to be better connected with those around us than ever before. Well sometimes it’s a blessing, other times it drives us crazy! Yet what would it look like if we used technology as an avenue for prayer. When Jay was at Praxis he mentioned that when he thinks of people he texts them, or calls and asks how he can be praying for them. It’s a simple thing that hardly takes any time at all.
Last year I was called to minister to a family who had just lost their son in an overnight motorcycle accident. I was headed over there about 9am on a Saturday morning, and the phone rings. It is Jay. He says that he felt the need to pray for me, and so he did. He had no idea what I was facing, but he felt called to pray for me, he grabbed his phone and did it right then and there.
Be creative! Use the tools God has given you to pray for those around you. Send them a text, give them a call, use Facebook or Twitter. They are easy ways to be intentional, direct, and creative.
Prayer is not just talking, it is always listening. I have heard that my whole life, yet I find myself spending most of my prayer time talking. Yet as we pray, we should create space for God to speak to us. It may not be a big, audible voice like you see in the movies, but God is faithful to speak to us in a way that only He can. Sometimes it is a thought or feeling that he uses to call us to action. The challenge with being quiet is that it takes forever for our minds to quit racing. So be patient, create some intentional time to just be quiet before God, allowing him to move in your heart.
Prayer is an incredible gift from God, and we are called to take hold of it and put it into practice in our life. My prayer for you is that He will give you the passion to pray for areas of need not only in your life but in the lives of others. I pray that God will help you along the way to know what it looks like to be a person that prays without ceasing.