1 Thessalonians 5:17
We all get tired. Tiredness is part of the daily cycle of our lives. We eat daily to restore our depleted energy. We sleep every night to refresh our tired minds and bodies. Rest, restoration and refreshing are as necessary as air, food and water. Without rest, restoration and refreshing, we would die.
This series called “Refresh” is that important.
For some, the burdens of life are too much to bear. Depression, disease and death result from this overload. Many factors contribute to depression and disease, and the burdens of life are not the only explanation nor are they the only contributing factors in depression and disease. However, some among us cannot carry the burdens they labor under. Galatians 6 addresses this issue when it says:
Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2 ESV)
Sabbath and rest and thanksgiving are all part of our refreshing and are necessary for us because of the burdens we carry.
Today, we are going to consider another necessary part of our refreshing.
Today, we are going to think about prayer.
Prayer is necessary for the life of the believer.
The unbeliever rests his/her body, feeds his/her body and takes time for mental and emotional renewal, but spiritually he/she is dead with no connection to our Heavenly Father. We all started out in this place. Ephesians 2:1-3 says,
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (Ephesians 2:1-3 ESV)
When we accepted Jesus Christ as our Savior, we were made alive with Him. We were reborn - born a second time - born spiritually. A natural and necessary component of this new life is prayer. The physical body breathes. The spirit prays.
1 Thessalonians 5:17 says:
“pray without ceasing,” (1 Thessalonians 5:17 ESV)
These instructions are to the point, clear and concise.
The context of these instructions is the first thing I want us to look at. In context, this passage says:
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 ESV)
Rejoicing, praying and giving thanks appear together in the same sentence, because rejoicing, praying and giving thanks belong together. I borrowed many of the thoughts that follow from C. H. Spurgeon’s sermon from March 10, 1872 titled “Pray Without Ceasing.” Spurgeon suggests, and I agree, that we are able to rejoice always because we are able to unburden ourselves in prayer. Through prayer we can bring all our worries and cares to the Lord and leave them with Him. When prayer and rejoicing are tied together like this, they naturally result in giving thanks. This unburdening of ourselves goes a long way in refreshing our spirits and strengthening our minds.
“Pray without ceasing.” Through these brief, helpful instructions, we can gain insight to help us pray.
First, we should take the command of the Lord seriously, and it is clear that He wants us to pray constantly, However, He cannot mean that we should pray without sleeping, eating or carrying on other activities necessary to life. Therefore, obeying these instructions must be possible while still carrying on daily life.
One way we practice prayer is with daily devotions. By daily devotions, I mean our own time set aside for being alone with the Lord.
Mark 1:35 gives us insight into the earthly ministry of Jesus when it says,
And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. (Mark 1:35 ESV)
From the other Gospels, we get the impression that Jesus often found places where He could be alone to pray. If the Son of God found it helpful and even necessary to make prayer a practice, can we assume it would be helpful for us?
Martin Luther is quoted as saying, “I have so much to do today that I shall never get through it with less than three hours' prayer.” Spurgeon also tells of a student who prayed. Spurgeon says:
When Edward Payson was a student at College, he found he had so much to do to attend his classes and prepare for examinations, that he could not spend as much time as he should in private prayer; but, at last, waking up to the feeling that he was going back in divine things through his habits, he took due time for devotion and he asserts in his diary that he did more in his studies in a single week after he had spent time with God in prayer, than he had accomplished in twelve months before.
Find a way, find a method that works for you and make daily time alone with the Lord part of your routine. We make time to sleep because we must. We make time to eat because we must. We must also make time for prayer. Please do not make this a law to be obeyed or an achievement to be proud of. It is a privilege. It is part of our refreshing, like eating and sleeping.
Sometimes we do not know how to pray. At these times, we can find comfort and courage in the words of Romans 8:26.
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. (Romans 8:26 ESV)
Even when we do not know how to pray, we can trust that God will help us. And God has also given us help in His word. The Psalms are a great source to go to when we cannot find words to express what is on our hearts.
When the Bible says, “Pray without ceasing,” we can assume that the voice is not required to pray. During our daily time alone with God, we might pray out loud with our voices, but what about when we are at work or at school or with other people? Are we to cease praying because we cannot speak out loud? “Pray without ceasing” indicates that we can pray without our voice, even when we are with others.
When Moses was leading the people out of Egypt, Pharaoh called his army together and chased the people of Israel. Moses found himself trapped between the Red Sea and Pharaoh’s army. He had nowhere to go. Exodus 14:15 says:
The Lord said to Moses, “Why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward.” (Exodus 14:15 ESV)
Apparently, Moses was crying out to the Lord without using his voice. We, too, can pray without using our voices. When Jesus was having dinner at a Pharisee’s house, a woman came in and washed his feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. The Pharisee was outraged because she was a prostitute, but the Pharisee did not say anything. However, Jesus knew what he was thinking and corrected what the Pharisee had been thinking within himself. Jesus knew what the Pharisee was thinking, and He knows what goes on in our minds as well.
Praying does not require the use of our voice. Therefore, we can add to our daily time of prayer the idea that we can call out to the Lord wherever we are, at any time without disruption of our work or activities.
Since we can pray wherever we are without disruption of our work or activities, it follows that we should not engage in activities that disrupt our ability to pray.
I have a habit of praying about everything, and at times find myself starting to pray for people portrayed in movies. When this happens, I feel rather foolish and end up talking with the Lord about how much my mind and heart are being captured by these things.
What would a person pray when living together unmarried and he/she encounters relationship problems? “Lord, bless me in my sin and fix this relationship the way I want it to be?” What would a person pray when cheating on his/her taxes? “Lord, keep me from getting caught?”
Praying without ceasing implies that I do not put myself in situations where I cannot pray. If my heart or the word of God condemns me, then I cannot pray and therefore should stop or not do what I am doing.
We are in a spiritual battle. When we were dead in our trespasses and sins, we were already prisoners of the enemy and were by nature children of wrath. But we were set free. We were given life and were united with Christ. Now, as children of God, we must stand firm against the tricks and schemes of the devil. Ephesians 6 lists the armor God provides for our protection. The list of armor concludes with these words:
...praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, (Ephesians 6:18-19 ESV)
In this conclusion to the instructions to be prepared for battle, we are instructed to pray at all times in the Spirit. We are to persevere in prayer. We are to pray for all our fellow Christians a.k.a. “Saints.”
We have already talked about praying at all times. Now, it is time to talk about persevering in prayer. Jesus told a parable designed to teach that we ought always to pray and never give up.
He said, "In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, 'Give me justice against my adversary.' For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, 'Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.'" And the Lord said, "Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?" (Luke 18:2-8 ESV)
The last sentence of this passage is troubling. God answers prayer, and yet we still do not believe Him. Some cease praying because of discouragement. Some cease praying because of unbelief. Whatever the reason, ceasing to pray is a huge problem for our spiritual lives. We cannot be renewed, we cannot be refreshed without this vital link to our Heavenly Father.
We all get tired at times. The burdens of life get heavy and sometimes we are tempted to give up, but we must not give up. We must continue to pray. Jesus instructed us:
Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. (John 16:24 ESV)
Here is a promise that brings refreshing. Jesus ties prayer to joy. He says to ask and we will receive, that our joy may be full. This sounds a lot like where we started in 1 Thessalonians where rejoicing, prayer and thanksgiving are tied together.
If we would be full of the joy of the Lord, if we would be free from the burdens of life, if we would enjoy victory over the world and the devil, we must be people of prayer.
If we would be refreshed, we must be people of prayer.