Pray without ceasing
“…pray without ceasing…” 1 Thessalonians 5:17 KJV “…pray continually…” NIV
“But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.” Matthew 6:7 KJV “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.” NIV
I recently had a conversation with a friend who was worried that the intensity and repetition of her prayers on behalf of her friend might be crossing the line of a lack of trust and maybe even heckling God, and asked for my opinion based on scripture. I immediately thought of the two scriptures quoted above and tried to formulate helpful thoughts based on them. After prayer I offered the following guidance:
1) Prayer is a conversation with God. It’s listening when He speaks and presenting our point of view. He gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason — we should listen twice as much as we speak!
2) We have to respect the power dynamic here. God is God, we are not. (c.f. Isaiah 55:8) This means His point of view trumps anything we come up with. Although we may be passionate about the solution we conceive, we do not know better or think of solutions He can’t. Also, if we don’t believe He is a caring God of love, why do we bother to pray?
3) God hears and answers all prayers. “… your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” Matthew 6:8 NIV Sometimes He says “yes", sometimes “no", sometimes "not yet”, and sometimes “I have a better way”.
4) When we ask God for something it only has a chance of being answered in the way we want if it is in God’s will. “You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” John 14:14 NIV So there is no point in asking God to do something obviously sinful or against His revealed character or scripture. It’s just not going to happen, so there’s no point in getting bent out of shape because it’s not the way we would do it. (See point 2 above) So, if what we want is not happening we should assume the request was either not in his will or the timing is in the future, but never that God isn’t listening. Ask for clarification - that’s a conversation!
5) God wants us to be in dialog with him, but he wants us to trust him. To repeat — He heard our request before we made the request. Prayer is for our benefit. It is a means of expressing and strengthening our faith that he is working everything out for good for those who love him.
6) Given 3) and 5) once we have asked we should not pray in a way that assumes he didn’t hear us the first time. Trying to wear God down by using some formula of words just shows a lack of faith or understanding of who he really is. Also, it inevitably leads to more frustration. Just asking for the same thing over and over can be what the Bible calls “vain repetition” because it assumes that by repetition we can wear God down to get him to do what we want. The (sinful) assumption here is that we know better and God is just being stubborn.
7) It is OK to ask for status updates on our requests! Knowing and believing that our original prayer is heard and answered, (yes, the timing may not be obvious to us) it can strengthen our faith to ask if there is any further light he would like to share on our request either through the scripture, his people, or direct revelation. However, be sure to give thanks for the answer!
8) Above all, it is important to release our concern into his keeping and will. He will dispose of our request in a fair and loving way consistent with his glory. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28 NIV It might be fruitful to ask if there is anything else we should be doing to further his will in answer to our request.
9) Interestingly the scripture tells us to "pray without ceasing (or continually)”, which does not mean to just repeat the same request over and over, but to exercise the "privilege to carry everything to God in prayer” on a continual basis. That way we are in constant dialog, which is, after all, what God wants from his creation.
Prayer is the soul's sincere desire, uttered or unexpressed; the motion of a hidden fire that trembles in the breast.
Prayer is the simplest form of speech that infant lips can try, prayer the sublimest strains that reach the Majesty on high.
Prayer is the Christian's vital breath, the Christian's native air, his watchword at the gates of death: he enters heaven with prayer.
James Montgomery SASB #784
It is my prayer that my words will encourage you to find greater joy in dialog with your creator.
Blessings on you and yours, Jim Black