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Pray without ceasing

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Pray Without Ceasing

This is what we are told to do in Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians. It means that there are at least two types of prayer Retreat Prayer and Regular Prayer.

Retreat Prayer is when you set aside large chunks of time to focus solely on prayer. Jesus did this kind of prayer at the beginning of his ministry when he did a forty day fast. He did it in the middle of his ministry when he stayed up all night praying. And he did it at the end of his ministry in the Garden of Gethsemane when he prayed three times for God to take away the cup of his wrath, he prayed so earnestly that his sweat was like drops of blood.

Our Retreat Prayers will not be this intense.

But I still recommend taking a half-day every month where you get alone and focus on prayer. For these days sometimes I will head to the ocean or the mountains. Other times I will find a nearby chapel or retreat center. I wrote about Retreat prayer here. These times away are very good for praying about the big picture of our lives and making big decisions. What should I do about my career? What should I do about my relationships? What should my annual goals be? What is God’s vision for my life?

However, if this is the only kind of praying we do, then God will actually become more distant.

Talking to someone only once a month, does not build a deep friendship.

And so we also need the rhythm of regular everyday prayer.

Regular prayer is about keeping the conversation going with God all throughout our day. One classic work on this topic was written by a man named Lawrence who served as a cook in a Carmelite Monastery in France in the 1600’s. It is called The Practice of the Presence. He writes,

“There is not in the world a kind of life more sweet and delightful, than that of a continual conversation with God; those only can comprehend it who practice and experience it.”  

Some of the most helpful prayers for keeping the continual conversation going with God are one-liners found in Scripture. These are short Biblical prayers that can keep our hearts and minds before God as we hustle from one obligation to the next.

“Abba Father!”

“Jesus, Son of David, Have mercy on me!”

“Lord have mercy on me a sinner.”

“Here I am Lord.”

This last one is from Ananias and his response to Jesus in Acts 9. There are lots of other places like Genesis 46 and Exodus 3 where God’s people pray this way. It is a simple statement that helps us draw near to God.

Pray while you shower. Pray while you cook. Pray while you dress. Pray while you commute. Pray while you work. Pray while you play. Pray without ceasing.

Saint Patrick was famous for teaching the Irish to pray regular prayers. You can see a collection of these here.  Here is one Celtic prayer for waking up from St. Patrick’s Breastplate

“I arise today 
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
of the Creator of creation.

I arise today
Through the strength of Christ's birth with His baptism,
Through the strength of His crucifixion with His burial,
Through the strength of His resurrection with His ascension,”

Brother Lawrence also wrote-  

“He does not ask much of us, merely a thought of Him from time to time, a little act of adoration, sometimes to ask for His grace, sometimes to offer Him your sufferings, at other times to thank Him for the graces, past and present, He has bestowed on you, in the midst of your troubles to take solace in Him as often as you can. Lift up your heart to Him during your meals and in company; the least little remembrance will always be the most pleasing to Him. One need not cry out very loudly; He is nearer to us than we think.”

 

He pictured himself as a beggar covered with sores coming to God as a great king. He then pictured God himself receiving him graciously. He writes

“this King, filled with goodness and mercy, far from chastising me, lovingly embraces me, makes me eat at His table, serves me with His own hands, gives me the keys of His treasures and treats me as His favorite. He talks with me and is delighted with me in a thousand and one ways; He forgives me and relieves me of my principle bad habits without talking about them.”

Lawrence called these regular prayers, “Little acts of interior adoration.”

In addition to the regular one-liner prayers throughout the day, and Celtic prayers while we multi-task, Regular Praying means setting aside small amounts of time each day to get on our knees in focused prayer.  

In his commentary on 1st John Dr. Martin Lloyd Jones wrote about prayer. He has some helpful insights so a long quote is worth it.

“The first question that John seems to raise is this: what is prayer? I wonder how often we stop to consider that, and yet it seems to me that it is a question which should always be uppermost in our minds. What exactly am I doing when I pray? …There is nothing automatic in it; indeed, I think a case should be made for saying that the most difficult thing of all is to pray. Prayer is not just a repetition of certain phrases, nor is it merely emitting certain desires or giving expression to certain beautiful thoughts…That is not the New testament idea of prayer, nor that of the Old Testament…What is prayer? Well, I cannot think of a better way of describing it than these two words which we have at the end of 1 John 3:19 ‘Hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him.” That is prayer; prayer is coming before Him. Now, we are always in the presence of God- ‘in him we live, and move, and have our being’ (Acts 17:28) – and we are always under his eye. But prayer is something still more special. Prayer is having a special audience and going immediately and directly to Him – ‘before him.’ Prayer is something in which we turn our backs upon everything else, excluding everything else, while for the time being we find ourselves face to face with God alone. There is a sense in which one cannot expound it further; it is just that….When I get on my knees in prayer, then in a sense, I am doing nothing, I am submitting myself, I am abandoning myself before Him. It is He who is in control, it is He who is doing everything.”

One way to do this is to take a psalm each day and use it as a guide. I recommend starting today with Psalm 3.

With the powerful help of God's Spirit dwelling inside us, let's be a people who pray without ceasing.

Posted by Rich McCaskill with
in Prayer

3 Ways to Pray Like Jesus

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The year was 1896 and Charles M. Sheldon decided for his Sunday night church services that he would write a story that continued one chapter per week. The story would be about different people who decided to model their life after Jesus. He was soon preaching to a packed crowd. Eventually the chapters were combined and published with the title “In His Steps.” One of the main themes in the book was people making decisions in their everyday lives by answering the question “What would Jesus Do?”

The popularity of this book and the eventual fad of the bracelets, hats, t-shirts and tattoos tells us something about the Christian faith. We don’t just want to BELIEVE in Jesus. We want to LIVE like Jesus. In fact this is what 1 John 2:6 tells us the Christian life is all about, “Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did”

This is particularly true when it comes to prayer. 

Jesus “would withdraw to desolate places and pray” (Luke 5:16).

When was the last time you and I did that? When was the last time we powered down all of our devices, got alone and settled into a conversation with God?

Jesus prioritized communication and communion in his relationship with his heavenly Father. And so must we.

But what did Jesus’ prayer time look like?

If we look closely at the accounts of his life we will see that Jesus used his prayer time for (at least) three things.

1) First he used it to bring IMPORTANT DECISIONS to his heavenly Father.

2) Second, he used prayer to DEAL WITH FEARS.

3) Finally he used his prayer time to INTERCEDE for his enemies and friends.

DECISION MAKING

First let’s look at his decision making. Luke 6:12 Jesus goes out to a mountain to pray, and all night he continues to pray to God. In the morning he calls his disciples and chooses from them 12 whom he called as his apostles. This may have been one of the most important decisions Jesus made and we see him spending an incredible amount of time in prayer just before it.

Do you have a major decision? Get out away from the hustle and bustle of your everyday life. Find a trail, find some trees, find a mountain and pray it out with your heavenly Father.

This gives us an important insight into the nature of prayer. We often define prayer in terms of talking to God, but major decisions require that we also LISTEN. Psalm 81 has a theme of listening.

God says in verse 8 “Hear, O my people, while I admonish you! O Israel, If you would but LISTEN to me!” And then again in verse 13 we see God lamenting, “Oh that my people would listen to me, that Israel would walk in my ways.” In typical Hebrew parallelism we see Psalm 81 equating Listening to the LORD with walking in his ways.

When we pray over big decisions our prayer must include both speaking to God and then listening to God.

One way to listen to God is through stillness and silence.

Psalm 46:10 says “be still and know that I am God” This is why it tells us that Jesus would withdraw to isolated places to pray (Mark 1:35).

Another way to listen to God is through his written word. He has already spoken through the prophets and the apostles. If you have a big decision-  read the book. Often there is a clear answer in there. Recently I was talking to a husband about difficulties in his marriage. He wanted to know what God’s will was. We looked at Ephesians 5 where it says “Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her.” This was the answer he needed for his big decision. Prayerfully reading Scripture in a listening posture is how to deal with big decisions.

 

FEARS

One of Jesus’ most well known prayer times was right before his crucifixion. He goes into a grove of olive trees and takes his three closest friends, Peter, James and John. Once they are alone he becomes anguished and distressed. “He told them, ‘My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me..’ He went on a little farther and bowed with his face to the ground, praying

 ‘My Father if it be possible let this cup pass from me, nevertheless not as I will, but as you will.’”

As the passage unfolds we see Jesus went and prayed that same prayer three times. Jesus brought his most raw and disturbing desires to God in prayer.

 And so can we.

 

Psalm 51:6 tells us that

 

God desires honesty. 

 

Pray out your fears.

 

Pray out your ungodly desires. Pray them over and over each time declaring, “but not as I will, but as you will.”

INTERCEDING

Jesus spent some of his time in prayer lifting others up to his Father and standing in the gap on their behalf. He told Peter, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift each of you like wheat. But I have pleaded in prayer for you Simon, that your faith should not fail” (Luke 22:31). This was so key to Jesus’ prayer life that we see him doing it on his death bed as it were. From the cross we hear Jesus praying for his enemies.

 The very people who hammered the nails in his feet and mocked him and spit on him now overhear him at prayer.

“Father forgive them,” he prays “for they don’t know what they’re doing”(Luke 23:34).

He taught us to do the same in Matthew 5:44,

“Pray for those who persecute you”

Pray for your friends that they will be able to deepen their faith in Jesus. Pray for your enemies that God will forgive them. This is what Jesus would do with his day.

NOT ON YOUR OWN

As we look at Jesus’ life and we desire to become like him, it will quickly dawn on us that there is no way we can do this. He was perfect and we are not. But there is good news.

He has given us his Spirit.

 

Jesus lived the life he lived by the power of the Holy Spirit and he has given us who believe in him the same wonderful gift.

Pray like Jesus? Yeah right!

 

 

 

Pray like Jesus by the power of the Spirit? Absolutely!

That is our hope of becoming a praying people. Our only hope.

 

Romans 8 puts it this way,

“The Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us.” (Romans 8:26). We do not know how we should pray but the Holy Spirit gives us the power we need to get alone and to settle down into communion with God.

If Jesus can conquer death, he can certainly make prayer-less people pray.

 

Take your fear, your decisions, your friends, and even your enemies to God in prayer, and do it now by the power of the Spirit who lives within you. 

 “Therefore let everyone who is godly offer prayer to you” - Psalm 32:6

Posted by Rich McCaskill with

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