September 30,, 2023
“…Pray continually…” — 1 Thessalonians 5:17, NIV
That advice is from the missionary, Paul, or perhaps, the title we are more used to, Paul the apostle. At first, that directive looks impossible to put into practice. Our busy lives seem to prevent it. Even when we are less busy in Retirement, we may have other pressing priorities. It’s not surprising people have that excuse, but like everything else in life, we can be surprised at what is possible. The modern technique is called “multitasking.” Again, we can surprise ourselves by discovering all we can be doing at the same time.
Regarding this, I do have a confession to make, but first, let’s get the old picture of prayer out of the way. Prayer is simply talking with God — not just talking at God, but reaching out for an actual conversation WITH God. Prayer isn’t always on your knees at whatever Church you attend. It isn’t just at dinner time or bedtime. It isn’t just for children. It isn’t meant to be only when you are in trouble or in desperate need. God wants to talk with us and walk with us, having community with all of us. Amazing, but true.
Talking with God should be a continual experience. However, let me use my new word, the process comes with “stipulations.” Yes. It’s okay to start by just talking at God, and He will eventually bring you to a place where He will open your ears. You will receive your hearing when you sincerely begin to search, turning to and calling on Him. Jesus said that in order to hear and see, that is to say, before a person can understand this concept of continuous praying, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” — John 3:3, NIV.
That’s where the conversation begins.
It’s the one and only place to begin. Jesus said “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” However, doesn’t that claim become a stumbling block for most of us? Maybe, that is because of a widespread but unfounded philosophy that claims there are many paths to God. My challenge to that concept is this: How does that idea work out for individuals in real life? Is the evidence there for demanding a resolute judgment? As for what Jesus claimed, my sworn personal testimony of how Jesus has been changing my life for over fifty years, as well as all the testimonies of so many others… These witness accounts require a verdict. “How say you?” the Judge demands from you, the Jury…
Now, prayer is so much better than talking to yourself… Yet, perhaps it can begin there, alone, consumed in your own thoughts, but we must power through, turning our eyes “upward” toward God, talking to Him in the remarkable name of Jesus.
God is invisible. True. The Bible says that. Jesus said that.
So, it might seem silly to “look toward” Him, but we often look for things we cannot see — perhaps like a career, like a soulmate, like a new restaurant, like many things we pursue. Heck! Even when desperately gasping for breath, the air is invisible, isn’t it? We do realize we need it when we are desperate, and do we give a second thought to air being invisible?
Maybe this all sounds unusual. I admit it does take a bit of getting used to, but soon it becomes quite natural. Yet, In the Garden of Eden Adam and Eve walked and talked with God, and so did others throughout Biblical history, This experience of Elijah might shed some light: “…a great and mighty wind tore into the mountains and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake there was a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a still, small voice…” 1 Kings 19:11–12, BSB. What we are listening for is that “still, small voice” — not thunderous — still… small.
Now my personal confession… I’ll first discuss this passage from the Bible:
“For it is by grace you have been saved through faith, and this not from yourselves; it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance as our way of life.” — Ephesians 2:8–9, NIV.
These verses get jumbled up, mashed together, and twisted into something they are not intended to say. First, Jesus saves people by grace. We can find forgiveness, cleansing and healing from our harmful and hurtful lives. Sure, some of our actions were right, but others very wrong. One doesn’t cancel out the other. However, after being given this new life, God has already planned new, right things for us to do, according to His good pleasure. We can choose to do them, or not.
Now, I may have tried to do them, but I failed, because, as you will read, I repeatedly made the same extremely critical omission…
When I was early in my Born Again experience, the most beautiful times in my life were when I was alone with God, reading and studying the Bible. Living by myself, in a third floor studio apartment, in a college oriented neighborhood, before I went to work, and after a meal, I would sit for hours at my little kitchen table with a spread of research books, a Bible version or two, and relish the insights God was revealing. Yes, those were some of the best times in my life… because I was talking with God continually. But guess what… Life gets more complex when we join the rest of the world…
Things were getting better and better. I had a great job, and I saw a need to become a Union Rep for the benefit of my coworkers. I wanted to be the best Rep I could be, and started paying my way through Cornell’s Extension Labor Studies program. Short story long, I was elected Chief Steward and eventually the Local Union President. I was doing a fine job and had very able fellow Union Reps around me. My knowledge was sufficient — or so I thought — to do the job well, and I was having some successes.
Now, I don’t want to confuse anyone with this next Scripture from Ephesians 2:10, but it is essential to put into practice, exercising the muscles God has given.
When problems came up, my intellectual preparedness would win the day — or so I thought.
I knew that God had opened the career doors for me. I was progressing in the Union responsibilities. But here’s the thing: God had opened the doors, but I had left HIm outside, “to watch me through the window,” I suppose.
I thought of myself as a man who had been “around the block” more than a few times. When everything I had been leaning on, including my intellectual development, collapsed. My knees were cut out from under me, and my intestinal fortitude melted away. I still haven’t recovered completely.
So, why am I sharing this sad story? Why did this calamity happen? God had opened doors for me, but I had left Him outside by not praying continually! In fact, every awful thing that has happened to me in my entire life, has been the result of my own decisions and leaving God outside. Everything good in my life has been from the loving, living God of the Bible. Everything wrong has been the consequences of my own doing.
Our decisions have consequences. That is what I always claim, and I publish that warning for your benefit. This admission illustrates the purposes of that precept and this one, “Pray continually.” Here is another bit of advice from the Bible — appropriate to this writing…
I can now admit I haven’t made it around the block even once, and have returned to praying all the time. Here’s a bit more help: “…Pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.” — Philipians 4:6, NLT.
How do we pray in the Spirit without ceasing? From the web, there is this outline with a short discussion you may benefit from reading:
5 ways To Pray Without Ceasing
- Pray in the Morning. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.”
- Center Prayer Around Meals.
- Focus on Joyful Prayer.
- Pray After a Mistake or Error.
- Understand the Purpose of Praying Without Ceasing.