I’ve got a confession to make. I’m not very good at praying. Sure, I pray regularly for my church, my family, and for those who are sick and in need. I’m a pastor, so obviously, I do a lot of praying, but I wouldn’t say I’m particularly good at it - not like those “prayer warriors,” you sometimes see in other churches or on TV. When asked about his prayer life, Frederick Buechner said that it was “meager, random, sporadic, inarticulate, and mostly blubbering.” I can relate to that.
That’s why passages in the Bible like 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 tend to cause me a bit of consternation. Depending on how you translate it, the verse reads: “Pray continually,” “pray constantly,” or “pray without ceasing.” So does this mean we have to become like monks and get on our knees and pray all day long? Do we need to order prayer shawls from Amazon? Do we need to join organizations where a steady stream of volunteers file into prayer rooms to “pray without ceasing” in the hope of Jesus’ imminent return? I sure hope not.
Do we need to join organizations where a steady stream of volunteers file into prayer rooms to “pray without ceasing” in the hope of Jesus’ imminent return?
Let’s go back to the text. “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thess 5:16-18). When Paul says to rejoice always, he doesn’t mean that we have to be happy all the time, but that we can have joy even amid our suffering. When he says to give thanks in all circumstances, he means that no matter what is happening in a given situation, we can have a thankful disposition toward God. So when it comes to prayer, I think the context of this verse seems to indicate that it is really about an attitude of the heart.
So what does this mean? What does prayer look like? It looks like thinking God’s thoughts after Him and saying back to him what he first says to us in his word. It means that we keep the conversation going with our Creator, Savior, and Friend.
The daily prayer life of the Christian will vary from person to person, but practically, these three times of day are a good place to start: morning, meals, and night. May I suggest praying the Lord’s Prayer and/or Luther’s Morning Prayer when you wake up, say a prayer of blessing over your meals during the day, and then pray the Lord’s Prayer and/or Luther’s Evening Prayer at night, along with whatever personal petitions you may have. Sprinkle in a few psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs throughout the day, and you’ll be on your way to a fruitful prayer life that can grow as you grow in the grace of your Lord Jesus Christ.
Yes, we are going to have those days when it’s hard for us to pray or when we forget to pray. Those are the times when the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness, interceding for us with groans that cannot be expressed in words (Rom 8:26). Those are also the times when we can use prayers from Scripture and make them our own, as we allow God’s Word to guide and direct our words.
Remember - Jesus gave His disciples the Lord’s Prayer as a gift. It’s really our prayer when you think about it. His prayer is the High Priestly Prayer in John 17, but ours is the Lord’s Prayer - so we shouldn’t be afraid to use it early, often, and late.
Here’s another reminder - Scripture and prayer always go together. They are like salt and pepper, milk and cookies, and peanut butter and jelly. Luther said that when he prayed, he always did so with an open Bible in his hand. In this way, prayer is like breathing – inhaling and exhaling – as God speaks to us in his word, we speak back to him what he has already said and promised.
Praying continually means being about the things of God no matter where you are or what is going on around you. Asking, seeking, knocking, thinking, pondering – at work, at home, at church, with the kids, on vacation – all the while knowing who you are and whose you are in Christ. You are a child of God, a son and daughter of the King, a royal heir of an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade. You have been given a passport to the very throne room of heaven and with it, a gracious invitation to enter into the intimate inner life of our loving God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Scripture and prayer always go together. They are like salt and pepper, milk and cookies, and peanut butter and jelly.
Before the children of Israel entered into the promised land of Canaan, Moses said to them in Deuteronomy 6 - “These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates” (v. 6-9)
Moses wasn’t instructing the people of Israel to get out their sharpies and face paint. He didn’t mean they should go through the motions of learning God’s commands by way of a rote formula. He was reminding them to think about and talk about the words of God all the time, no matter where they were or what they are doing. That’s why God’sGod’s words needed to be on their hearts and why their children needed to learn them: so that they could recall them when they were far from home even in a place like Babylon.
We need to be reminded of this today as well. God has given us his word and the wonderful gift of prayer, so that we might always remember that he is our God and we are his people and that we can always come to him at any time to “pray, praise, and give thanks.”
So then, let us indeed rejoice always, pray continually, and give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for us in Christ Jesus.