When Scripture repeats some exhortation, we may be certain of at least two important facts concerning those items: (1) they are definitely important to God; and (2) they are likely to be neglected by us. Both are surely the case concerning the theme of these paragraphs: unceasing prayer. Four verses should convince us that this concept of unceasing prayer is important: “continuing instant in prayer” (Rom. 12:12); “Praying always with all prayer and supplication” (Eph. 6:18); “Continue in prayer, and watch in the same” (Col. 4:2); and “Pray without ceasing” (I Thes. 5:17).
What is unceasing prayer? The Bible is a book for the real world; it does not dwell in the realm of unrealizable ideals. It speaks in terms of objective reality. Yet we all know that the reality of our lives is that we cannot always be talking to God. The practical demands of our occupations and other requirements in order to survive often require our full conscious attention. What then, do the exhortations listed above mean, and how can we fulfill them? In its basic form, all prayer involves communication with God. When Paul instructs believers to “pray without ceasing” he is instructing us to be in conscious communion with God whenever possible and to live our lives so that nothing breaks that fellowship: we should refuse to sin, and when we fall we should immediately confess and forsake that sin so that we have unhampered access to the Lord at all times. Our efforts, actions, choices, desires, opinions, and thoughts should all be bathed in prayer. And even when occupied with some necessary natural distraction, the lines of communication should be kept open so that we might cry out in an instant and so that we might recognize God’s response in whatever form it comes.
Why is prayer important to God? We probably have a pretty good idea why prayer is important to us. We need wisdom, direction, deliverance, and help in general that only the Lord can provide. Prayer is the channel that delivers those commodities to us in specific ways. But why is prayer important to God? Does He need our prayers in order to keep busy with some purposeful activity, to feel fulfillment, or have His ego stroked? Clearly, He is Self-fulfilled and requires nothing outside Himself. So then our praying must be important to God because He has our victory and blessing at heart and knows that we will have neither without praying. The exhortation is intended entirely for the sake of our welfare: proper prayer keeps us out of trouble, keeps us in His perfect will, empowers us to live victoriously, enable us to fulfill His will, and so insures our blessing.
Why, then, are we likely to neglect prayer? Sin and self are the short answers. Prayer is a spiritual activity, an act of faith, of obedience, of patience, of self-denial. The only time the flesh feels compelled to pray is in time of dire need. But the new nature and the Holy Spirit within us seek constant communion with God. We tend to neglect prayer, then, when our old nature is in the ascendancy, when we are in sin or when we are ruled by the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, or the pride of life. Anything that puts temporal self-interest above the will or the glory of God has a smothering effect on prayer. In short, we neglect prayer because sin blinds us to the deleterious results of pursuing what pleases us and convinces us that God’s will is less important than our own and God’s power is less necessary than our own. When we love the Lord, we will love prayer in all its forms: petition, supplication, intercession, thanksgiving, and praise.
May we say with the psalmist: “As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God (42:1).
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