Pray Without Ceasing!
James 5:13 “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise.”
This verse describes really well what our lives should look like. It gives us two extremes: on the one hand, when you’re really in a bind and suffering – pray. On the other hand, when things are going to well and you have so much going for you right now that your smile might split your face – praise God, tell Him about it! So whether you are in mud, or on the mountaintop, you should be speaking to God about it!
Talking to God should be the marking characteristic of Christians. Jesus said He’d be with us always, even to the end of the age, which means that He’s always available for prayer. But we go through the joys of life, the hardships of life, the successes and the challenges of life, and we go through them as if we were alone.
There are so many things that we can and would want to speak to God about, that one poet described prayer as the breathing process of the Christian’s soul. It should come to us as naturally and as frequently as breathing itself.
So why doesn’t it? Why is prayer such a hard thing to get ourselves to do?
My aim tonight is to challenge you to pray. I’m not going to give you all the answers to all your questions about prayer; but I’m going to challenge you to lay aside your objections and your frustrations with prayer and just get down and do it. That’s my aim. Let’s see if we can do that tonight.
Firstly, I want to tackle some obstructions to prayer. Why is it that prayer can be such a hard thing to do?
Because it’s time-consuming
Setting aside time to talk to God is time consuming. What else is time consuming? Exercise is – but you do that, right? Why – because it’s good for you. Or maybe you don’t do exercise. What else is time consuming? Watching TV is, but you put aside time to watch the rugby game on Saturday. That’s important enough to pay your time into, why isn’t prayer? What else is time consuming? All relationships. All relationships are time consuming. If you want to have a good relationship with your kids, you need to be spending time with them. If you want a healthy marriage, you need to be dedicating time just with your spouse. Maybe you haven’t been dedicating time to your spouse, and that’s why your marriage is suffering. If you want a healthy relationship, it’s time-consuming. Building a relationship with God through prayer is time-consuming. The question is, how important is that relationship to you? Is it less important than TV? Is it more important than spending family time? How important is that relationship to you? It will require time.
Because it’s tiring and seems ineffective
Prayer is tiring. But because it’s tiring, we often give up before we experience the benefits of it. Let me paint you a scenario which happens to me a lot. I sit down, or kneel down, or pace around my office in my prayer time. I start to speak to God, and it feels dry and empty. I don’t know how to start, or what to say. I get frustrated. I want to quit. At that point, sometimes I do. Sometimes I confess my frustration to God, and I commit to going on. I talk to God about a few things that are on my mind. I feel that there’s something blocking my prayers and I confess that to God. I remember something that I wanted to speak to Him about and I pray over that. I realise I can’t be praying about those things until I’ve told God about this list of sins I’ve committed and haven’t asked for forgiveness for. I go through them, asking God to give me His heart on those matters. My heart begins to ache, even as it begins to heal. I ask God to take me deeper and show me more. My prayers get bigger, my hope soars, peace covers my soul…at this point I don’t want to stop praying. I feel like I can talk to God, and I want to talk to God all night through.
…and where I wanted to quit because I was tired, God wanted me to push through and experience the beauty of His presence.
Sometimes prayer can be tiring and seem so ineffective, and that keeps us from praying – but I’ve been telling our youth guys: if you’re praying, pray till you push through, pray till you don’t want to stop.
So we’ve looked at the obstructions to prayer. Next, let’s look at the pulls of prayer. Why is prayer so good??? (what MAKES ME WANT IT?)
It’s strengthens me in my weakness (Mt 26:41, Hebrews 4:16)
Matthew 26:41 “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
Hebrews 4:16 “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
There are so many areas in my life where I know that I am weak. I have so many good intentions, but as much as I try and try and try, I often fail. For example, I want to be a good husband. That’s something that I know I should be; and I know that if I am, my home life will be easier, my relationship with God will be stronger, my witness to others will be clearer. I want to be a good husband.
But so often I’m not. I struggle and fail to set aside my desires for her good. Often it’s pride, sometimes it’s selfishness, but somewhere along the way I look at what’s good for her, and what will make me happy, and I choose my happiness.
I also want to be a faithful minister of God’s glory. After all I’ve seen God do, I should be. But so often I’m not.
It’s at those times that I need to go to God in prayer; when I’m struggling and I’m not getting things right. It’s not a time to drop into a lower gear and charge up this hill in my own power, but to turn aside to God, draw near to His throne of grace to find mercy and grace to help me in my time of need.
If you find that you’re struggling to be a godly man in the office, or maybe you’re struggling to be pure in your marriage, maybe you’re struggling to be obedient to your parents or struggling to properly love your neighbour – friend, at that point of weakness you need to turn aside to God’s throne of grace. He’s more than willing, and eager to aid you in your time of need.
We get because we ask, and we don’t get because we don’t ask (Psalm 145:18-19)
Psalm 145:18-19 “The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. He fulfils the desire of those who fear him; he also hears their cry and saves them.”
I’ve been especially moved by the teachings over these last few weeks of God’s willingness to heal through the prayers of His people.
There’s a wonderful story in the second chapter of Acts of an incredible healing that took place in Jerusalem. Peter and John were walking to the temple and they saw a cripple in the gate, begging for money. I believe it was the Holy Spirit that prompted Peter to turn to the cripple, and through faith in Jesus to pronounce healing over him. The man stood up, praising God – but that’s not all that happened. Can you imagine Peter and John? I don’t think they threw the healing at the man like a cheap coin and walked on – I believe they were hugely impressed and captivated by God’s power at work to bring healing.
Imagine they had ignored the man in need, as we often do. They would have missed out on an opportunity of seeing God’s amazing power at work, they would have missed out on the opportunity of growing in their faith.
I try to remember all the experiences I’ve had of God’s power. I’ve been a part of groups that have prayed, and seen infertile woman fall pregnant; I’ve seen a man get a much-needed laptop days after asking God for one; I’ve seen a man’s leg extended to the right size; I’ve heard stories of people receiving what they need at the right time in answer to prayer. And those answers to prayer have grown my faith.
What is it that you’re needing from God? Because whatever it is, I know that God can provide it. Not a thing is too hard for my God. But have you asked Him for it?
William Temple was a bishop in the Church of England a little less than a hundred years ago. He met one man who mocked his commitment to pray, saying, “answered prayer is a mere coincidence.” William Temple replied, “That may be true, but I’ve noticed that when I pray coincidences happen; and when I don’t, they don’t.”
That’s obviously not to say that answered prayer is just a coincidence, William Temple was just mocking back. God answers prayer – and if you find in your life that there’s a great need for something, and you know that you’re asking with an innocent motivation, then go ahead and ask and see what God does in response!
We know we are where Jesus was (Mt 14:23, 26:36-41; Mk 1:35, Lk 5:16, 6:12)
Over the last few weeks I’ve had several opportunities to share devotions at a number of schools, and I’ve been telling the stories of Jesus feeding the five thousand and then later walking on the water to his disciples in a storm. Do you know what separates those two stories? After preaching all day, feeding five thousand with five loaves and two fish, and sending the hearers home; Jesus went up into the hills by himself to pray, and he prayed all night.
Think about that: if Jesus, who is God, himself needed to go and pray – do you need to? Do I need to? In fact, the gospels tell of many accounts of Jesus spending precious time in prayer. Not because He had nothing better to do – He had a world to save – but because it was necessary for Him to be in communion with His heavenly Father. So the Bible tells us that sometimes he went away and spent the entire night praying. And Luke 5:16 says that as His popularity was growing and vast crowds were coming to listen to Him and experience healing, He often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer.
If Jesus needed to withdraw – step out of the busyness of life – is that something you and I might need? Certainly. We need to step away, step away even sometimes from good things: family, work, exercise, entertainment; we need to step away and experience communion with God.
Remember that prayer is not just communication, where we express our needs and wants to God; it is also communion, where we experience the presence of God.
That leads me into our last point, that prayer gives us the opportunity to experience God’s beauty.
It gives me opportunity to experience God’s beauty (Jer 33:3)
Jeremiah 33:3 “Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known.”
A few years ago, when my wife first started coming to the Church, we’d been dating already for a few months. We’d spent quite a bit of time together, and I knew her a lot better than our friends here did. Sarah’s a bit of an introvert, and so it took a while for people to get to know her, but as they did they would come up to me and say, ‘Hey, Sarah’s really funny!’ And I’d think, ‘Yeah, I know that already. How can it have taken you so long to find that out?’
Many of you have hidden qualities which are beautiful. Maybe you’re a generous giver, but not many people know that, and only people who are close to you and spend a lot of time with you find that out. Maybe you’re a talented artist, but you only let a few people in on the secret, those that you trust and spend time with you.
Now none of you is perfect. And if I spent a lot of time with you, and you let me, I’d discover both the hidden gems as well as the hidden imperfections. There are things that you hide from people that are ugly, as well as beautiful.
But not so with God.
You know that God doesn’t reveal Himself to everyone. God has chosen to hide aspects of His character and His personality, and to reveal them only to His friends. The more time you spend with the LORD, the more you discover His hidden character traits. And they are beautiful. The more you get to know God, you won’t discover some hidden trait that is bad, or ugly, like it is with us; something that God hides because it’s shameful. Not at all! The more you know God, the more beauty you’ll find in Him – the more you’ll want to discover!
Some final tips.
Maybe now at the end of all this, you want to be a man or a woman of prayer. One of the biggest questions that follows is, ‘How?’
Here are some tips:
Make a commitment – one of the biggest reasons we don’t pray is because we’re not committed to it. If you realise the importance of prayer in your life, choose a time every day that you will set aside for speaking to God, and tell others that this is what you’ve chosen to do – then not only will they understand if you can’t be with them at that time, they’ll hold you accountable to it! But the first step is to make a commitment. Think now maybe of a time when you can set aside 20 minutes to pray. Think about it. Write it down. Commit to talking to your family/colleagues/friends about it.
Use a prayer list – if you don’t know what to pray for, use a prayer list like one that you get from mission organisations, or the BU. All you have to do is find one and let it help you keep on track.
Use index cards – keep a small pack of cards and whenever you think of something you need to pray about, pull out a card and write that down. You might not have time to pray over that thing right away, but later during your prayer time you can pull your cards out and speak with God about all those things you would otherwise have forgotten about.
Get rid of distractions – all kinds of things will distract you: tv, family, books, the pattern in the carpet, your neighbour’s sneeze. You can’t get rid of all distractions, but do what you can to make sure nothing will disrupt this time between you and God. There was a time I would wear a blindfold in my prayer times because every time I opened my eyes I would get distracted by my bookshelf.
Try praying through a pattern – sometimes when it’s difficult to pray, it helps to pray through a set pattern. Jesus gave us a pattern in the Lord’s Prayer. Here’s another one: P.R.A.Y: Praise, Request, Admit, Yield. Or A.C.T.S: Adoration; Confession; Thanksgiving; Supplication. Hand prayer: Those close to you; teachers; those in authority; weak; myself)
Try something different– a few weeks ago I went with our youth to Sandton Square for a prayer adventure. One of the activities was to write a letter to God. I was quite happy to pray – pray for an hour, two hours. But I wrote 3 lines, didn’t know what else to say, looked across at the young people who were one line 10. I tried again a little bit, decided it had been long enough and was about to call an end to the activity and I saw they were turning the page, writing more and more and more. It doesn’t work for me, but maybe it’ll work for you. Try different things. Try a prayer walk; try a prayer journal; try a prayer chain; try a prayer group; try praying in a closet; try praying Scripture; try praying through a prayer book; try praying songs; try praying quietly; try praying out loud; kneeling; sitting; driving; do what it takes that your attention is focussed and your heart is lifted up to God
These are some (I hope helpful) tips on getting started on a prayer journey; but my hope tonight is to get you to pray.
Prayer is a must for everyone who believes in God. In fact, I believe the chief characteristic of someone who’s mature in Christ is someone who regularly is in intimate prayer with God. Many people go to Church, read and study their Bibles, or even lead ministry who are at the same time far from God and have not lifted their hearts to Him in a long time.
Prayer is a must for everyone who follows Christ. Prayer connects us to God. We are commanded to pray unceasingly and our prayers are indeed powerful. The Bible tells us that whatever is in our lives, whether it be blessings or trials, we are to give them all to God in prayer. I am convinced that as we walk a journey with God through prayer, we will see God’s handy-work in answer to prayer.
Will you accept this challenge tonight: Commit to having 20 minutes of once-off talk time with God each day this week. Grace before meals doesn’t count. 20 minutes that you set aside and say, ‘God, this is our time now. I’m not going anywhere, and I’m listening to You.’ Do it before the family wakes up or after they go to sleep, or tell them when your time is and make sure they know not to disturb you, and just spend that time with the Lord. And I trust that the Lord will bless you, show you His miraculous provision, and more importantly show you His character as you turn to His throne day after day.