April 4, 2014

Persevering in prayer

Yesterday I found out that God answered a prayer I’ve been laying before Him for decades. What joy! Then this morning my devotional reading asks if prayer is at the top of my priority list. The author, Selwyn Hughes, says to keep my appointments of prayer with God, whether I feel like it or not.

Even though going to God is not like a dentist appointment, it is often an appointment involving hard work, one that is difficult to keep. Why is that? When prayers are answered, prayer is easy. When life is challenging, prayer is almost automatic. I run to God with personal need, or when I feel that my spiritual enemy has the upper hand . . .

Deliver me from my enemies, O Lord! I have fled to you for refuge. Teach me to do your will, for you are my God! Let your good Spirit lead me on level ground! For your name’s sake, O Lord, preserve my life! In your righteousness bring my soul out of trouble! And in your steadfast love you will cut off my enemies, and you will destroy all the adversaries of my soul, for I am your servant. (Psalm 143:9–12)

Prayer comes easily when I need His advice, or when I am filled with His Spirit and have a song in my heart. Being thankful also makes time in prayer seem well spent . . .

Look carefully then how you walk . . .  be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ . . .  (Ephesians 5:15–20)

The prophet Samuel indicates that what takes the stuffing out of prayer is intercession for others. He told God’s people that he had an obligation and a burden to pray for them and failure to pray would be sin . . .

Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and the right way. Only fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart. For consider what great things he has done for you. But if you still do wickedly, you shall be swept away, both you and your king. (1 Samuel 12:23–25)

I find that an obligation to pray is different than personal reasons for prayer for it requires a sacrifice of time and effort. It requires fighting distractions and allurements to do something else, or it requires giving up sleep, food, even comfort. Jesus did all of that as, “In those days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God.” (Luke 6:12)

The apostles made prayer a priority too. When a problem arose about the ministry of the early church, “The twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, ‘It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.’” (Acts 6:2–4)

The church made prayer a priority. When James was killed and Peter was arrested and put in prison, “earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church.” (Acts 12:5)

Groups of Christians also met in special places for regular prayer: “And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together.” (Acts 16:13) Some of their prayers were for each other, but I’m certain they prayed about many other things.

Praying often is important, but not always easy. Battling the lies of Satan is one thing, but those lies usually concern my own spiritual health so I’m motivated. Praying for others can be more challenging and is an act of sacrificial love. Praying for the ongoing work of God in the church and in the world requires great grace. I need the will and determination to continue, and most of all, a strong faith to believe that prayer is far more important than anything else.

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