I’m guessing we have all seen it, on TV or in a movie. In a hospital lies somebody who has been shot, or stricken by some horrible ailment. Huddled around the patient’s bedside, anxious family and loved ones gather and talk. Memories are shared, doubts of recovery expressed. Then, at the end of the scene, one of the group will utter these words: “Well, I guess there’s nothing to do now but pray.”
So often, prayer gets treated as a last resort. It is a fall back when all else has failed, or we’ve fouled our mess kit. Our life plans go awry, and then, once we have exhausted all we know to do, we turn to God for help. The problem is the cavalier approach we often take to God and the gift we have of going to Him in prayer.
THE BEST DEFENSE IS A GOOD OFFENSE
I have looked and looked and looked. I have studied Scripture trying to find God’s promise that Christians with a strong prayer life will never have troubles again. It isn’t there. In fact, Jesus promised us a rough ride as believers: “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, KJV).
Nor am I saying that it is wrong to pray when trouble strikes. That is precisely when we should be praying. But we should also be praying when things are good. Prayer really should as regular and normal as eating, sleeping or breathing.
Jesus sets the example for us in Scripture. He would go off alone to a quiet place to be with the Father, to pray. At Gethsemane (a Greek word that indicates great suffering), we see the reality of prayer – of communicating directly with God – exemplified before our very eyes. In prayer, we find comfort. In prayer, we find direction. In prayer, we find preparation for the task ahead. Most importantly, in prayer – along with studying Scripture – we find God. The best way to be ready when life happens is to develop a strong, consistent habit of spending time with God – in His Word and in prayer.
CONSTANTLY RUNNING IN THE BACKGROUND
Prayer is the best security software there is. On your computer, (hopefully) you have a firewall and antivirus software that run in the background while you work or game or listen to music or do whatever it is you on your computer. These things work to protect your computer.
Prayer works to protect our souls, and Paul says we should “pray without ceasing.” A quick check of the Greek text shows us that what Paul means by “pray without ceasing” is this: Pray without ceasing.
But it goes deeper than that. Let’s look at the entire passage and see the common thread:
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil. Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-23 (ESV)
Notice that the emphasis always goes back to God. Our attention needs to be constantly focused on God. We need to keep our eyes on Christ. Peter walked on the water until he took his eyes off Jesus. Then Christ had to save him from drowning. Keep your hearts on God through Jesus Christ always, without ceasing, in all circumstances. Faith – that is what Paul is writing about. And it is through faith the we are sanctified. Not by any works we perform. Only the Lord sanctifies us, enabling us to pray in the first place! It is Jesus Who makes us righteous, which – in terms of prayer – is really good news since “the prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:16, ESV).
THE LAST RESORT?
Prayer is about being connected with our Lord and Savior. It is a grand privilege afforded us by our loving almighty God. It is our way of staying hooked in, seeking His help and guidance and communicating with the Lord. We shouldn’t see it as merely a last resort.
Repeatedly we are reminded that prayer is answered “according to His will” (1 John 5:14). That can be a tough one for us. But we need to remember that we are to seek God’s kingdom – His will and His ways – first (Matthew 6:33). That means being willing to set our agenda aside and asking God to do as He wills, not as I want Him to. “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalms 37:4, ESV) does not mean God will lavish upon us everything we want. God’s not a sugar daddy, here to satisfy our every earthly whim and desire. When we truly delight ourselves in the Lord, we are seeking His kingdom first and foremost. This means what God wants becomes what we want. He changes our desires. We walk closer with Him and find that the Lord defines our lives, not our goals and plans and wants. Even the most noble of schemes must be in God’s will.
And, believe me, God’s will trumps my plans for my life every time. Even when letting go is painful. Even when the road ahead is foggy. Even when we can’t see God working. Keep seeking God, keep your eyes on Christ, keep praying. Prayer needs to be our first line of defense – at all times, in all circumstances, down bumpy paths and smooth highways, seeking God, trusting Jesus (not our circumstances), walking through life with eyes of faith wide open.
We will return to the subject of prayer again soon, looking at 1 Timothy 2 and James 5 a bit closer to see what God says about the hows, wheres, whos and whys of prayer.