November 25, 2013

Pray without ceasing

When I cannot think of a prayer request, I need to examine my spiritual life, or at least pay more attention to others, even to world news. Is life ever so perfect that there is nothing to pray about, nothing to speak about to Almighty God? After all, the Bible says, “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Today’s devotional reading offers a short list . . . 
Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. (James 5:13–16)

The issue of suffering people is never an “if” but a constant need. I have friends with physical ailments, family concerns, financial problems, and problems in the workplace. Even if those who are sick don’t call the elders for anointing, they appreciate prayer for their peace of mind and hopefully for a quick recovery. And while we don’t easily confess our sins to one another, I can still pray for conviction, confession, and repentance for all of us. God is eager that we keep our lives clean before Him. I can also pray for a deepening faith and growing righteousness that we might be depending on Christ for all things.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. (James 1:5)

This is another constant. At first, I asked for wisdom when stumped with truly large problems. As the years go by, I’ve learned the value of praying for wisdom concerning even the little things. Life is filled with daily choices. God is pleased when I ask His guidance for all of them. He even tells me, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6). I take “all your ways” to mean everything.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (Romans 8:28–29)

This has to be my guidance-for-life passage of Scripture. At first, I read only the first line, but learned that both verses are important because the “good” that God works is my transformation into the image of Christ. He uses everything that happens to me toward that end. When I realized that, it became easier to pray for insight so I would know the specific changes that He wanted and then cooperate more fully with what He was doing. Life is full of opportunities to think and behave like Jesus. Prayer keeps me from becoming oblivious to them.

Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. (Psalm 107:6)

This one is easy. Who doesn’t pray when they are in trouble? As they say, there are few atheists in foxholes, yet I know from my own hard heart that I can be really stubborn and independent. Instead of praying at the beginning of a problem, I try to solve it myself and pray only after I find out that I don’t know what I’m doing. God is very patient. My relationship with Him is more important than my comfort. That relationship is developed through heartfelt communion and sincere dependence all the time, and not going my own way until I’m desperate.

Perhaps the biggest block to prayer, at least for me, is that prayer implies impotence. I don’t like being weak and dependent on anyone. However, I can acknowledge God’s power and be in awe of His goodness. Without prayer and answered prayer, I’d miss many opportunities to do that.

I’d also miss the delight of praying with God’s people. The Bible and experience shows the power of praying with others. These prayers ascend to God’s throne like holy incense and God is delighted to see our unity and fellowship as we speak together to Him. This short list shows how easy it is to “pray without ceasing.”

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