Tuesday, 25 March 2014

No excuse, no messing!

Pray continually.  1 Thessalonians 5:17

I remember somebody, just converted to Christ, who was so excited about her new-found faith that she told me she had become "a one-woman non-stop prayer-meeting". Obviously she took Paul's words here in a very literal sense. Pray continually.

Most Christians find that prayer can be both a great joy and a real problem. A joy because it opens up the whole world of our relationship with God, our heavenly Father. A problem because, once the initial novelty has worn off, it can become a discipline which is hard to maintain.

We are good at finding reasons not to pray. Here are perhaps the three most common. I wonder if they strike a chord with you?

First: I don't have time. There is only one answer to that, and I'll put it as gently and kindly as I can: Rubbish! Complete, total rubbish! The fact is that all of us find time - perhaps it would be better to say make time - for things we regard as important to us. I bet we all make time for our favourite tv programme, time to have our meals, time to brush our teeth, time to read our emails or whatever. Yes? So let's not allow ourselves any of this nonsense about not having time to pray. Don't find time; make time.

Second excuse: I don't feel like it. That, perhaps, is more understandable. As human beings we can be very controlled by our moods. Somebody might tell a wonderful joke: but we are having a bit of an off day, so we can't summon up a smile. Somebody is really enthusiastic to get cracking on a job that needs to be done: but we feel lethargic and would rather put our feet up. And that's how it often is with prayer.

Fair enough. But we need to grasp that the Bible doesn't urge us to pray only when we feel like it. Because we are still very "fleshly" in our natures - in other words, not really very "spiritual" at all - the chances are that we would probably hardly ever pray if we didn't take ourselves in hand and make ourselves. 

Sometimes people tell us to pray only when we feel led by the Holy Spirit. That is bad advice because it means you will give in to the mood of the moment. The Holy Spirit has already given us very clear "leading" - precisely through verses like this and many others in the Bible. Don't just pray when you feel like it or when you "feel led"; pray continually, mood or no mood.

Third excuse: it just doesn't work. If we are really honest, this is the little voice that slithers, snake-like, into our minds. "I'm wasting my time... why bother?... I've tried it and nothing happens..." And yes, it's a fact that there are many things we have prayed for perhaps over many years, and nothing yet seems to have happened.

How can we counter this voice? Well, perhaps we should start
simply by saying: "If prayer doesn't work, then why would God have asked me to do it? Has God got it wrong?" Remember, we don't pray mainly in order to get what we want from God, but in order to deepen our relationship with him. Often it's in the barren times that that relationship grows stronger.

Perhaps we should then go on to say: "But over the course of the years I have known many answers to prayer! It just isn't true to say that it 'doesn’t work' ". 
We will never know the effects of all those "unanswered" prayers.

We can't get a real idea of the value of prayer until we try to imagine a life without prayer. What would that be like? Answer: unthinkable. There's only one alternative to praying, and that is... er, not praying. And not praying would be tantamount to renouncing our faith altogether. From the beginning of time God's people have been a praying people - read both the Old Testament and the New. Why should we be different?

And then - and this surely is the clincher - we can go on to say to ourselves: "Jesus prayed." Jesus is our model and our ideal. If he needed to pray, can we seriously suggest we don't? Are we better than him? Do we know better than him?

Learning to pray can be like learning to ride a bike. All right, you can take a bit of advice and accept a bit of help. Fine. But ultimately you've just got to get on and do it. The Bible says "Pray continually." And you know what? It actually means it. So... no excuses, no messing. Why not turn yourself into a one-person non-stop prayer meeting?

Father, thank you for the beautiful gift of prayer - actually talking to you. Help me to take it seriously, even if often as a duty, trusting that the duty will become a joy. Amen.

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