May 2 was the 2013 National Day of Prayer. It was the 62nd annual observance of the Day. A day of course set aside for prayer. Since it is the National Day of Prayer, a day when the call is to pray for our nation. In fact, that was the theme of this year’s observance. The theme for this year was Pray for America, which was based on Matthew 12:21, which reminds us that it is in God’s name that we are as a nation to put our hope.
The chairman of the National Day of Prayer Task Force was Shirley Dobson. With the theme of Pray for America, and with Matthew 12:21 in mind, she is quoted as saying, “The American people continue to be plagued with challenges that defy simple answers,and our hope lies in humbly seeking the Almighty’s guidance, protection, and blessing.”
Dobson added that seeking the Almighty’s guidance, protection, and blessing needs to be done, not only on the National Day of Prayer, but throughout the year. With that as a backdrop, we are, throughout this month of May, going to be thinking about prayer. Not just prayers for our nation, but praying in general. Each week we will be looking at various Bible verses that address a specific category of prayer. May 26, the category will be for whom we should pray. May 19, the category will be what we should pray. May 12, how we should pray will be the category. Today, how often we should pray.
I also have an additional Bible verse to mention in this message. It tells, not only howimportant prayer is, but also has a list of some other actions and attitudes we are to have along with a willingness to pray. But first, some verses that address the question, “How often should we pray?”
To begin, there is a verse that tells us how often the apostle Paul prayed, his teaching being that that is what we, who are Christ’s followers now, are supposed to do. The verse is early in Paul’s first letter to the Christians in the city of Corinth. It is I Corinthians 1:4. Paul wrote, “I give thanks to God always for you.” Now, Paul was thankful that those people had received grace from God. He was thankful they had received that grace when they had accepted Jesus as Savior. He was thankful that the Christians in Corinth were growing in their faith. Paul was thankful for those spiritual things. But he thanked God for those things. He thanked God in prayer always. Again, the teaching is that we also pray always -that that be how often we pray.
That leads us to the second verse on the topic of how often we should pray. It is in Ephesians 6:18, also written by Paul, which begins with the words, “Pray at all times.” To put those words into context, we need to consider what is written right before verse 18. What is written are instructions on how to survive spiritually as we live our lives. What we need to do to survive against all the wiles of the devil. Wiles which are responsible for all the spiritual darkness of the world. And actually, Paul wanted Christians to be able, not only to survive, but to “stand” against whatever spiritual enemies we have. He wrote that what was needed for that to happen was spiritual armor.
One piece of the armor is the spiritual belt of truth. The truth of God is supposed to keep our lives under control, just as a belt keeps our shirts or our dresses from getting in the way of what we need to do. There is the spiritual breastplate of righteousness. It is righteousness, which is treating God and treating others the way they are supposed to be treated, that protects our hearts
There are spiritual shoes, which are needed for us to share the gospel of peace. Peace with God and peace with others is what is supposed to keep us moving.
There is the spiritual shield of faith. It is our faith -our trust in God and Jesus -trust that is possible because of the Holy Spirit -that is to protect us from any darts of doubting thrown at us by the devil.
There is the spiritual helmet of salvation. As often as I think of that, and as often as I share this with any of the Pastor’s Class kids, I am impressed by what the helmet represents because the kind of helmet referred to - the kind of helmet worn by Roman soldiers -covered the back and the sides of the head. The only opening was to the front. You know what that means? It means that once we are saved from our sins, we no longer have to be concerned about any bad things we did in the past. Salvation means those sins are forgiven and, at least spiritually, forgotten. And we do not have to fall to temptations coming at us from either side. With salvation, we have the strength to ignore, or at least keep going past, what the devil wants us to do wrong. Again, the only opening is to the front, which means that with salvation, we can keep our attention on what is ahead, which refers to following the Lord through life all the way to Heaven.
All those parts of spiritual armor are defensive in nature, but there is also an offensive part of the armor. It is the spiritual sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. With the word of God, we can attack the devil. And then another offensive weapon is mentioned. It is prayer. And in verse 18 of Ephesians 6, today’s prayer category is addressed. It is specifically stated how often we should pray. “Pray at all times.”
Other things about prayer are mentioned as well. “Pray in the Spirit.” Pray with “all prayer and supplication.” As you pray, “keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints.” And in verse 19, pray “also for me,” referring to Paul. Paul asked the people to pray for him so he could continue to preach boldly.How often should we pray? We should pray at all times, as in always.
You know, it seems so easy or natural to pray in times of crisis. And hey, there is nothing wrong with praying at such times. But here, Paul encourages us to pray, not just in difficult times, but at all times, the idea being that daily prayer gives daily strength. And notice the wording. We are to keep alert when we pray. We are to have perseverance when we pray. In other words, we are to concentrate when we pray. Do you ever have trouble with that? I do. There are times when I pray when suddenly my mind is off somewhere else and I cannot remember what it is or who it is I was talking with God about. It is easier for me to avoid that if I have a list with me, but even then, I sometimes lose my train of thought. I mention that as a challenge to myself to do better. Maybe you need to do better as well.
And we are to make supplication -we are to specifically pray for -all the saints, including our fellow Christians right here and other Christians we know. And yes, Paul did ask for prayers for himself. Do you suppose that could be extended to asking for prayers for other ministers? We might have different styles. We might differ from Paul in how he ministered. But those of us who are ministers now also need to be bold. We, too, hope to be effective. Please pray for us. How often? At all times. That is how we can be effective as ministers. That is also how each of us in this congregation, no matter what our position happens to be, can stand against the wiles of the devil.
Pray always. That is what is taught in I Corinthians 1:4. Pray at all times. That is what is taught in Ephesians 6:18. And I Thessalonians 5:17, which is the third verse for today. This is a good one to choose if you are ever asked to memorize a verse. “Pray constantly.” This verse, like the one in Ephesians, is part of a list of things we are taught to be or do or have. Here there is a rather long list of things by which we, as Christians individually, and by which we, as a Christian congregation are to be described.
We are to “respect [our] leaders.” I think part of that is, as we just discussed, praying for them, but we are to respect and esteem our leaders.
We are to “admonish the idlers.” Idlers refers to those who seem determined to walk away from faith in Christ. We are to warn them.
We are to “encourage the fainthearted,” which refers to those who are fearful. And hey, there is a lot to be fearful about, is there not? Both generally in life and specifically with spiritual things, what with so many attacks on the Christian faith by some and the apathy that is expressed by others.
We are to encourage and comfort those who are fearful, the goal being to strengthen them. We are to “help the weak.” Another word for “help” is to cling to them. We are to at least spiritually grab those who might be drifting away from faith in Christ. Clinging can be done through fellowship or words of encouragement or persuasion.
We are to “be patient with all” those just mentioned. We are also to avoid revenge. We are instead to “seek to do only good” for one another. By the way, that is another way to respect and esteem a Christian leader. A congregation getting along will make a pastor’s life easier.
We are to “rejoice always.”
We are to “give thanks in every circumstance.”
We are to use rather than “quench” the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
We are to “test everything.” Yes, including everything I say, the purpose being to
determine if what is tested is in line with what the Bible teaches. Testing will keep you
from being led astray from the word of God.
We are to “hold fast to what is good.” We are to “abstain from every form of evil.”
And - verse 17 - we are to “pray constantly.”
Pray always. Pray at all times. Pray constantly. What do you suppose that means? I mean, it cannot mean pray 24/7/365 -or 366 on the leap years. I mean, we have to eat and do our occupations or go to school. We have to sleep. We have to watch football and baseball and stuff.
What does it mean to pray all the time? Let me share three things I came across while studying that question.Praying continually does not mean that we never stop praying. Instead, it means we are in a prayer-like mindset where God should never be far from our thoughts.
When we pray at all times, it includes praying for safety when we leave for work or for school in the morning. When we arrive, we should thank God for getting us there safely. We should pray before a big meeting or before a presentation or when we meet customers. Or before a big report or a big test in school. You know the joke -the statement -that as long as there are tests, there will be prayer in school. Before meals or snacks, we should thank God for our food.
There are going to be times we are busy, and prayer completely slips our minds. That happens. But if we focus on God as much as possible and pray about all things, we will find that the work day or school day goes by faster and that our attitudes are better. Sometimes, people around us seem nicer.
Being in a prayerful mindset. That is one way to explain the challenge to pray constantly. Here is a second explanation I came across. Some more examples of when you can pray.
You can pray when you are adding up prices in the grocery store line. Maybe a prayer of thanks that you have enough money to pay the bill. Maybe a prayer of thanks that food is so easily available in this country. A prayer of thanks you are not going hungry.
You can pray when you are changing a tire. Maybe a prayer of thanks the flat did not cause an accident. Maybe a prayer of thanks that you have a vehicle.
You can pray when you are singing a song. Maybe a prayer of thanks you have a voice.
You can pray when you read. Maybe a prayer of thanks you are literate.
You can pray if you have a chance to teach someone else to read. Maybe a prayer of thanks for the patience needed to teach.
And here is something else I found. God wants to be the center of your life -the center of your conversation, your entertainment, your relationships. It is prayer that keeps Him in the center of all you do.
Years ago, I could have told you that I prayed an hour every day. But now, I cannot determine how long I pray because I just pray every time I see or feel a need. I pray while driving. I pray while working and while relaxing. Sometimes I just stop what I am doing and praise God. That is prayer, too. cast my cares on Him and say, “Lord, I am not going to worry about anything today. I am giving everything to You.”
Prayer should be like breathing, natural to do anywhere you are. That is what it means to pray always, at all times, constantly.
And then, going back to the idea of the National Day of Prayer, let me mention the on additional verse that is on my mind for this message. It is II Chronicles 7:14, which, just like the verse in Ephesians 6 and the one in I Thessalonians 5, includes other things we are to do or be, in addition to having a willingness to pray.
“If My people, who are called by My name.” Isn’t that interesting? What is about to be shared -and this applies to the New Testament verses we looked at, too -is not an instruction for everyone. This is an instruction for those who belong to God. In New Testament terms, for those who are Christians.
“If My people, who are called by the name Christian, will” -listen to the list -if God’s people will “pray,” but also “humble themselves, seek His face, and turn from their wicked ways” -if they know God’s ways are best, and if knowing and doing God’s will are the most important parts of life, and if, once finding God’s face, they will repent by not only turning away from wickedness, but then taking the next step of walking toward and reaching righteousness -and if they will pray always, at all times, constantly -“then - here is God’s promised reward -He will “hear from Heaven, will forgive the sins of those who do those things, and will heal the land” of those people.
To put it into context, II Chronicles 7:14 was an Old Testament promise for the people of God who were ruled at that time by King Solomon. It was not only a promise, but an instruction of what they were to do when they sinned.
But I think the verse does apply to us today. So, may it be our prayer that we will be humble and seek God’s face and turn away from whatever evil might be in our lives and turn more and more toward God. May that be our constant, at all times, always prayer. As we pray, may we look forward, not only to being healed nationally, but also to being healthy as a congregation and individually.
The closing song is the chorus Jesus, Draw Me Close. As we sing, may we desire a closer and closer relationship with the Lord, which will happen as we pray always, at all times,constantly.
Jesus, draw me close, Closer, Lord, to You.
Let the world around me fade away.
Jesus, draw me close, Closer, Lord, to You.
For I desire to worship and obey.
Lord, may it be our constant desire to worship You and obey You. May it be our
constant desire to stay spiritually alert. May it be our constant desire to respect our
leaders and to watch out for the spiritual health of others. May it be our constant desire
to pray so we can please You and receive Your blessings. Thank You. Amen.