Monday, April 27, 2015

Praying Without Ceasing

In 1 Thessalonians 5:17, we are told that we should "pray without ceasing."  But what does that mean?  How can we possibly expect to pray non-stop throughout the day if we are also supposed to do our work and be present among other people?

If you've never read Brother Lawrence's classic work "Practicing the Presence of God," I highly recommend you take some time to read it.  This book, more than any other, teaches on the subject and gives some good guidance for normal people.

However, the book about Brother Lawrence book is medieval, and lacks a larger biblical context.

Pastor John Piper offers some good thoughts on how we can pray without ceasing. And rather than re-create the wheel, let me just post what he says here.  It is worth the read.

What does it mean to pray without ceasing?

I think it means three things. First, it means that there is a spirit of dependence that should permeate all we do. This is the very spirit and essence of prayer. So, even when we are not speaking consciously to God, there is a deep, abiding dependence on him that is woven into the heart of faith. In that sense, we "pray" or have the spirit of prayer continuously.

Second - and I think this is what Paul has in mind most immediately - praying without ceasing means praying repeatedly and often. I base this on the use of the word "without ceasing" (adialeiptos) in Romans 1:9, where Paul says, "For God, whom I serve in my spirit in the preaching of the gospel of His Son, is my witness as to how unceasingly I make mention of you." Now we can be sure that Paul did not mention the Romans every minute of his prayers. He prayed about many other things. But he mentioned them over and over and often. So "without ceasing" doesn't mean that verbally or mentally we have to be speaking prayers every minute of the day. But we should pray over and over and often. Our default mental state should be: "O God . . ."

Third, I think praying without ceasing means not giving up on prayer. Don't ever come to a point in your life where you cease to pray at all. Don't abandon the God of hope and say, "There's no use praying." Go on praying. Don't cease.

So the key to delight in the Word of God is to pray continually - that is, to lean on God all the time. Never give up looking to him for help, and come to him repeatedly during the day and often. Make the default mental state a Godward longing.

I think it would be good to notice here that in real life some discipline in regular prayer times helps keep this kind of spontaneity alive. In other words, if you want to have a vital hour-by-hour spontaneous walk with God you must also have a disciplined regular meeting with God. Daniel had some remarkable communion with God when it was critically needed. But look what it grew out of. The decree was passed that no one could pray except to the king, under penalty of death. But notice what Daniel does, according to Daniel 6:10. "Now when Daniel knew that the document was signed, he entered his house (now in his roof chamber he had windows open toward Jerusalem); and he continued kneeling on his knees three times a day, praying and giving thanks before his God, as he had been doing previously." The point here is that Daniel lived a life that combined discipline (three times a day) with spontaneous encounters with God. So it will be with us: if we hope to pray without ceasing day and night - enjoying a continual coming and communion with God - we will need to develop disciplined times of prayer. Nobody maintains pure spontaneity in this fallen world. (See Psalm 119:62; 55:17.)

For the rest of Dr. Piper's sermon on this text, go to this link.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Prayer in the Noise

The appointed Psalm for this Wednesday is Psalm 38.  In the Bost house, it was read aloud in the living room: me and the boys praying the Morning Office “together.”  I put together in quotes because their participation today was intermittent at best.   Our youngest loves his lines from the Easter greeting:  “He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!”  But beyond that, this morning prayer time was mostly Daddy offering prayers to God amidst the chaos and the wailing and gnashing of teeth.

But Psalm 38 is the psalm for this type of prayer.  We tend to think of prayer as a quiet and contemplative act (and indeed, it often is), but many of the psalms are prayers for those in turmoil.  And for many of us, there are no quiet times of the day to pray. So, if you’re in a stage of life without much quiet (either filled with literal noise or with the noise of the soul), let me offer a few reflections from Psalm 38.  

It is a prayer for those ….

  • Who are painfully aware of their sin and weaknesses:  In years past, this Psalm was for when my inner sins were too great for me to bear.  These seasons of realization are a mercy from God.  So it was this morning:  "O LORD, rebuke me not in your anger, nor discipline me in your wrath! For your arrows have sunk into me, and your hand has come down on me. There is no soundness in my flesh because of your indignation; there is no health in my bones because of my sin. For my iniquities have gone over my head; like a heavy burden, they are too heavy for me. My wounds stink and fester because of my foolishness, I am utterly bowed down and prostrate; all the day I go about mourning. For my sides are filled with burning, and there is no soundness in my flesh. I am feeble and crushed; I groan because of the tumult of my heart." (Psalms 38:1–8) 

  • Who battle with anger at the evils of this world:  This is a psalm, a prayer, for times when the world out there, especially as I see it on the news or on social media, seems so corrupt and twisted.  Because I’m a passionate person, this causes anger to rise up within me, and I often struggle to quell it.  This psalm gives me words to express my heart and gives me something to do with anger:  "But I am like a deaf man; I do not hear, like a mute man who does not open his mouth. I have become like a man who does not hear, and in whose mouth are no rebukes. But for you, O LORD, do I wait; it is you, O Lord my God, who will answer." (Psalms 38:13–15)

  • Who struggle with loneliness in a crowd:   In the loneliness of life, this Psalm gives me words to say to the One who is always near: "My heart throbs; my strength fails me, and the light of my eyes—it also has gone from me. My friends and companions stand aloof from my plague, and my nearest kin stand far off…. O Lord, all my longing is before you; my sighing is not hidden from you. Do not forsake me, O LORD! O my God, be not far from me! Make haste to help me, O Lord, my salvation!" (Psalms 38:10-11, 8-9, 21-22)

Monday, April 20, 2015

Do You Know How Important the Lord's Prayer Is?

It is hard to overstate the importance of the Lord’s Prayer to the Christian life.  While the Lord’s Prayer does not contain everything that can possibly be prayed (the Psalms offer a more comprehensive guide), it is our Lord’s chief teaching on the subject and has formed Christian practice of prayer throughout the centuries.  

The Didache (70-110 AD), an early 2nd century summation of Christian teaching, states that Christians should pray the Lord’s Prayer three times a day.  

Theologian William White Jr. has this to say of the influence of the Lord’s prayer:  “Without a doubt this is the most widely-known passage from the Bible and has been included in the Christian catechisms and liturgies of almost everybody since the days of the Apostolic Fathers. So familiar is it that it is usually known by its first line, Latin: Pater noster, German: Unser Vater, Dutch: Onze Vader, and so on through the manifold tongues of mankind.”  

Martin Luther’s comments on the Lord’s Prayer give us a tender picture of a man who prayed it with all his heart… along with a warning for those of us who pray it regularly: “For to this day I drink of the Lord’s Prayer like a child; [and I] drink and eat like an old man; I can never get enough of it.  To me it is the best of all prayers, even above the Psalms, though I love them very much.  Indeed, it will be found that the true Master composed and taught it; and it is a thousand pities that such a prayer of such a Master should be babbled and gabbled without any reverence throughout all the world.  Many people repeat the Lord’s Prayer perhaps several thousand times  a year and if they prayed it this way for a thousand years they would still not have [truly] tasted nor [really] prayed a single jot or tittle of it.  In short, the Lord’s Prayer… is the greatest martyr on earth, for everybody tortures it and abuses it while few cherish and use it joyfully as it should be used.”

What Should You Say to God?

Prayer is a common aspect of human life.  This has been true throughout human history in every culture and is true in our own day as well.  According to a 2010 Pew Research poll 55% of Americans claim to pray every day. If that's true, then every other person you met today prayed. 

But does God care what we pray about? Are there some things we should say to God in prayer and other things we should not say? What kind of prayers does God want to hear?  Or can we say anything to Him?

Consider human relationships for a second:
  • What should every husband say to this wife? Wife to a husband?
  • Are there things every father should say to their son/daughter?
  • Are there things that every child should say to their parent?
Clearly each of these relationships carries with them obligations.  A parent who does not tell their child they love them is failing as a parent.  A husband who doesn't tell his wife: "You're beautiful," is probably failing as well.

But in our day, it is unusual to think that are words that we should say to God.  It is common today to hear people say that we should talk to God about whatever is on our hearts.  While there is some truth to this ("….Cast all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you." (1 Peter 5:7) "Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us." (Psalms 62:8)), God calls us to pray more than simply whatever comes to our minds (as if the best prayers were streams of consciousness prayers).  He also calls us to pray more than just what we are anxious about. 

If you heard that Jesus was going to be giving a seminar on how to pray, what would you expect him to talk about? Well, God in wisdom and power, has preserved and inspired records from both Matthew and Luke of Jesus's teaching on prayer for us.  What does Jesus say about how we should pray?  In this post we'll just look at one aspect of Jesus teaching on prayer.  In future posts, we'll flush out other areas of his doctrine of prayer. 

For now, let's look at Matthew 6:9a and Luke 11:1-2a:  "Pray then like this..." and "Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” And he said to them, “When you pray, say..."

As we will see in future posts, the way of praying that Jesus teaches his disciples does indeed include prayer for all our needs and anxieties.  But note what Jesus does NOT say when he is teaching on prayer or when the disciples ask to be taught to pray.  He does not say: "Hey guys, just pray whatever it is that's on your heart.  That's totally cool." No.  Jesus gives them both a pattern ("like this") and a form ("in this way") for prayer.   If the disciples, when they asked to learn how to pray, were told by Jesus to pray the Lord's Prayer, shouldn't we, who also want to learn to pray, learn the Lord's Prayer and what it means?