just pray

pray without ceasing

1 Thessalonians 5:17; NRSVue

We all breathe one breath after another without thinking about it. Prayer needs to become like that for us. We breathe so to speak one prayer after another without thinking about it. We are in an attitude of prayer even when we can’t pray. There will be plenty of times when it takes effort for us to summon ourselves to pray, when there seems somehow to be a resistance against us praying. Just pray.

Paul tells us to do that without ceasing. Prayer can be understood as two-way communication between us and God. We need to be in Scripture as well. Our desire is to hear from God, to receive God’s word as we continue to pray to God. Note that this is given to the church. This is where that starts, and maybe the main point. We pray together, we’re in that together. But from that it becomes a part of each of us as members of Christ’s body.

Prayer includes a good number of things in no particular order such as confession, praise, worship, thanksgiving, petition/supplication, lament, even silence before God as in waiting on God. The one thing that should more and more characterize us as people of God and followers of Christ is prayer, the practice of prayer, as we seek in love to God and to others to live in God’s will, to do good to all. In and through Jesus.

the needed emphasis on prayer

That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed by demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases and cast out many demons, and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.

Mark 1:32-35; NRSVue

We really can’t pray too often. While we can and should pray throughout the day, there really needs to be those special times of prayer for ourselves and others. We need to pray for ourselves, because unless we get God’s help in our own issues and struggles, we can hardly help anyone else. And we pray for others.

I imagine, as one helpful commentary put it, Jesus surely prayed for himself after an exhilarating but surely also exhausting day of ministry, as well as for his disciples who in Mark more than any other gospel account, just don’t get it time and time again. And Jesus surely did this regularly. Luke’s gospel account brings that out more, and though most sparse in Mark, it is still sufficiently present to see how important prayer was in Jesus’s life and teaching.

As followers of Jesus we need to do the same. Prayer, prayer and more prayer throughout the day. And special times of it, as well. That should mark our lives. Too often we somehow think God’s blessing depends on us, our own effort. But no, not at all. In fact we’ll find little to no blessing that way, though God might bless in spite of that at times. No. No matter what we first and always give ourselves to prayer. Then God will help and give to us and through us to others what only God can give. In and through Jesus.

“I prayer”

In return for my love they accuse me,
even while I make prayer for them.

Psalm 109:4; NRSVue

The footnote for the NRSVue translation here is “Syr: Heb I prayer”. Which means this depends on a Syriac rendering. The Hebrew simply says into English: “I prayer.” And that speaks to me. What should mark us, what should we be about? Of course in love, but prayer, prayer and more prayer. That should characterize us, our lives, what we do.

No matter what gift we might have, whatever charisma, etc., etc., etc., if we’re not people of prayer, we’re really not helping anyone. Blessed are those who see themselves as having little gift and no charisma, and yet set themselves to prayer. And blessed are all those around them as well as all the lives and the world they touch. Why? Because they set themselves to prayer.

The psalmist was praying in spite of what was going on around them. What follows is for our pondering, but in the way of Jesus, we continue to pray for those who persecute and hate us. God is the one who must act. All attention needs to be turned to God, not to anything else. And our attention included, as we look to God in prayer, in prayers, over and over again. Not stopping, the goal. In and through Jesus.

prayer and then whatever else (all in love in Christ)

Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with thanksgiving.

Colossians 4:2; NRSVue

There’s a critique out there which has a point, criticizing “thoughts and prayers.” But honestly for the follower of Christ in God’s love, that’s generally where all the good begins. Otherwise we’re prone to want to do everything on our own and actually we can do that. But the needed change in us and in the world can only come from God. And prayer is a prime vehicle of that change.

Prayer is communication to God, deeper: communion with God. Through God’s word coming to us from scripture and in answer to prayer, our lives will take on a life and light that they otherwise wouldn’t have, from Christ himself. And there’s nothing greater we can actually do then pray.

Of course all of this has to be in God’s love in Jesus and by the Spirit. Otherwise it will ultimately be empty (1 Corinthians 13). But that doesn’t mean that when we’re upset and angry or struggling with loving someone that we shouldn’t pray. There’s no time prayer isn’t important. Good times, bad times, and every time in between.

And the word above from Paul is addressed to the church. We’re in this together. The more we join together in prayers, the more powerful prayer can be. Potent in God’s love cutting through into our lives and through us into the lives of others. And simply for those in whatever need, while we open up ourselves to be the answer to our prayers in whatever way God might put on our hearts. In and through Jesus.

devotion to prayer along with certain kind of prayer

Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with thanksgiving. At the same time pray for us as well that God will open to us a door for the word, that we may declare the mystery of Christ, for which I am in prison, so that I may reveal it clearly, as I should.

Colossians 4:2-4

Prayers of all kinds for ourselves and for others should be a practice which we regularly do. We should have a special prayer time along with prayer punctuating our days. Again, all kinds of prayers. For needs, but also with praise and thanksgiving. But looking to God. Waiting on God. Wanting God’s help, even breakthrough for whatever problems we and others are facing.

Usually when we read Paul’s personal request in the above passage, we think of it mostly if not completely in terms of souls getting saved. While that’s certainly included, the ramifications of the gospel are often all but lost. We should be praying for those in strategic places, who are in the open, that the word which goes out from them will not only save souls, but shake and shape the world in terms of the gospel. That all the barriers of “race” might be broken down, that the principalities and powers embedded in the world system might be served notice not only that their day is going to come, but that in a sense it’s already here, as we anticipate the curtain closing on them when the present kingdom of God finally enters in in its fullness at Christ’s return.

We need to begin to understand that the wisdom of God through Christ and the way of the cross is not only the power of salvation for all who believe, but also through the church serves notice to the principalities and powers of the world order that something good is coming, a light penetrating the darkness, and indeed exposing them for what they truly are. That is the way of the cross, the way of the love that comes from Christ. So that the world will be shaken, and ultimately turned upside down, really right side up. As we anticipate the Day when all of this will be finalized once forever when Jesus returns.

In and through Jesus.

devotion to prayer (a good reminder yesterday at a dear aunt’s funeral)

Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with thanksgiving.

Colossians 4:2

Yesterday we remembered the life of a dear aunt along with her blessed family. Among the things which stood out other than the love which was central to her life lived out in Christ, was her practice of prayer. Her husband, and a dear uncle who preceded her in death some months back used to join her at least one set time to pray most everyday. And as I heard it, she spent significant time praying morning and evenings. This was such an encouragement to hear, and a great blessing to her family, and from what was said, to a good number of other people, as well. Prayers from her and my uncle answered by God is wonderfully evident in the testimony and love of the family gathered yesterday.

I have been much helped through following the morning and evening office in the back of the new Mennonite hymnal, Voices Together (985, 987). I don’t ordinarily necessarily feel like doing it, although I know it is an oasis of being in Scripture and in a couple of hymns/songs in the book, as well as directed prayer. I find in doing so, God’s help, since I certainly can’t pray well without that, really can’t pray at all one could say in a true sense. I pray first for myself and those dear to me (family, friends), next for our community and neighbors, then for the church, for the world, and for other concerns carried in my heart. I am finding this resource so helpful for me. Hopefully, and I’m confident that by God’s grace this is the case, the prayers are a means of God blessing others. But I am much blessed myself in so praying.

It was a good reminder yesterday to us, the importance of prayer. What God can do, which none of us can do by ourselves or together, indeed, what God wants to do, even using us many times in that special work. Wonderful that we can bring ourselves, our loved one, and all of our concerns, as well as the concerns of others before God in prayer. In and through Jesus.

pray for yourself

Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger
or discipline me in your wrath.
Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am faint;
heal me, Lord, for my bones are in agony.
My soul is in deep anguish.
How long, Lord, how long?

Turn, Lord, and deliver me;
save me because of your unfailing love.

Psalm 6:1-4

In the morning and evening offices in our new hymnal, Voices Together (985, 987), there is the part toward the end when we’re offering prayers.

We pray for ourselves and those dear to us…

At first, when I was beginning to do this every morning and night, I gently resisted the idea of praying for myself, especially first. But I dutifully did it, knowing that I’m not as wise as the collective wisdom of others. And I began to more and more see the wisdom of doing so. If God doesn’t help me or I receive little of that, I certainly can be of little or no help to others. James tells us that we don’t have because we don’t ask God. And I’m reminded of the African-American spiritual,

It’s me, it’s me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer. It’s me, it’s me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer. Not my brother, not my sister, but it’s me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer. Not my brother, not my sister, but it’s me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer.

This really has been a tremendous help to me. We pray for “those dear to us,” “our community and…our neighbors,” “for the church,” “for the world,” “for other concerns we carry in our hearts.” But it begins with us. We can see that in Jesus’s high priestly prayer on the eve of his crucifixion. He first prayed that the Father would glorify him so that he could glorify the Father (John 17). I can’t help but think that when Jesus used to break away early mornings to pray to the Father that he lifted himself up for the help he needed, as well as praying for his disciples and others, whatever else he might have prayed. Certainly enjoying his fellowship as God. Yes, he is God, but fully human, too. And in this life in which he lived, he did so in full dependence on the Father.

But again, this practice is helping me immensely. I have not done this on a regular basis, as far as I know, ever. Just here and there, when I felt in need, which was a lot. But to do so regularly helps me find the help from God I need. In and through Jesus.

Note: In the morning and evening offices mentioned above, toward the end we also “Pray together the Prayer Jesus Taught: “Our Father…”

pray for each other, for others, and be prayed for

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.

Ephesians 6:18

…prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out.

Ephesians 6:18; MSG

A big part of what God wants us to do in this life is to pray. It’s interesting how Jesus himself often broke away from his disciples in the silence of the early morning to pray to his Father. We too need times spent in prayer. The morning and evening offices within our new hymnal has been helping me that way.

Little do we understand the impact that will make, if we really pray for each other daily. We all need such prayers. That’s the way God has made it, we are truly in need of each other. And we need to pray for others. God might be prompting us to do such, and we can simply choose to pray for certain people.

We can’t know the precise difference such praying makes, but we do know it does make a difference. We’ll surely sense that. We need to be alert, not just praying regularly, but on occasions when we notice certain things. God will give us the wisdom and help we need in this endeavor. As we gladly receive the prayers of others as well. In and through Jesus.

renewing one’s commitment to prayer

My God, whom I praise,
do not remain silent,
for people who are wicked and deceitful
have opened their mouths against me;
they have spoken against me with lying tongues.
With words of hatred they surround me;
they attack me without cause.
In return for my friendship they accuse me,
but I am a man of prayer.
They repay me evil for good,
and hatred for my friendship.

Psalm 109:1-5

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.

Colossians 4:2

I have to admit that today I’m discouraged. Partly over circumstances in which there is no needed breakthrough. But just as much if not more over my own failure to remain in prayer the way I ought to, according to the sense I have of calling, faint though it may be, but persistent and clear enough, to simply be in prayer.

David was referring to adversity from others. But he remained in prayer. The inspired utterances which follow, quoted in the New Testament are completely understandable given what he was up against, though some of it is not worthy of a follower of Christ. At the same time God doesn’t tell us to deny our true feelings and thoughts, but to indeed air them out to God, a part of prayer. The rest of David’s prayer (click Psalm 109 link) is interesting. If you consider the rest of Scripture, you can see that God would bring judgment against the evildoers with the desire to bring them mercy in the end, I think the prevailing current we find in the First/Old Testament prophets and elsewhere.

Paul’s word is for Christ followers, for the church, that we’re to be devoted to prayer. I find it too easy to drift away from that. When by God’s grace I’m able to remain in prayer, it’s a gift, really something I find not only enjoyable, but helpful. But such devotion is expressed regardless of how one feels, or what they’re up against. Yes, at times it can wonderfully seem to be a part of us, but at many other times, it’s simply something we do, a practice. But I would like to add it’s like something we enter into so that we become a part of that prayer, and that prayer becomes a part of us. Now I’m going way beyond what I can understand, but the idea is that we’re taken up into the grace and working of God. And that prayer is not just something we practice, but a part of who we are becoming.

We just need to pray, practice that, and enter into this reality. And as Paul tells us elsewhere, remain there.

pray all the time

1 Thessalonians 5:17; MSG

In and through Jesus.

devotion to prayer tied to living in God’s presence

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.

Colossians 4:2

Recently James Banks spoke to us at Our Daily Bread Ministries on prayer. And specifically on living in God’s presence, or “practicing the presence of God.” It definitely spoke to me, James often referring to his black Labrador who loves nothing more than just being in his company.

Prayer is not just a means to an end. It’s about participation with God in seeing God’s will be done. And it involves dwelling in God’s presence. Jesus’s words about abiding/remaining in him point that direction:

 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.

John 15:7

“Remain” here might better be translated “abide.” Concerning the Greek word here, μένω, Bill Mounce writes: “To abide in Christ is to follow his example of a life obedient to the will of God.” As I heard Pastor Darwin Hartman of Pike Mennonite Church suggest recently, arguing along the same lines: while remain might be literally accurate, that comes across as more passive than the context of its usage might suggest. That to abide by something, means adherence to it in a more active sense (my words of what Pastor Darwin said).

Prayer is then dependent on both God and us. We pray, and in a sense are in God’s presence in both speaking to God, as well as being with him. God’s presence is never withdrawn from us, though we often can be withdrawn from him, and not living in God’s favor.

James Banks noted how that his Labrador gets special favors from him, because the Lab is lovingly present with him. Another dog they have doesn’t like to hang out with his master, but is disappointed when he misses out on the treats James gives. That could be an apt analogy of part of the dynamic of prayer. That we want to be near God, that God even appreciates such a longing. And that God honors that in specific ways. In and through Jesus.