Friday, December 17, 2010

Trademarks of Prayer (or... The Need for Persistence doesn't mean I'm Wasting my Time!)

There's something about myself that I'm all too well aware of:  I struggle to persist. Just look at how many posts I've written about perseverance and trust. That's not because I know so much about it. It's because I'm still trying to learn how to do it amidst all the stuff that comes up in life.

This is especially true for me in the area of prayer. I get discouraged easily and feel defeated quickly if an important answer seems slow in coming. And after twenty years of disappointing doctor's reports about Fiona, I've even grown a bit confused about prayer. I've sometimes wondered what it accomplishes. Bad things happen even though I pray, and then good things happen in other areas I haven't even prayed about. And then I see godly, biblical examples that put me in my place. Biblical examples like the apostle Paul who never let life's trials or troubles convince him that prayer was pointless, and who made prayer an absolutely essential part of his life no matter how many disappointments came his way.

This is obvious in the letter Paul wrote to the Colossians. Paul wrote that letter while he was in prison, and yet he clearly describes God as being in charge of his life as well as of the hostile world around him. And there are three places in that letter to the Colossians where Paul expresses how committed he was to not allowing the reality of persistent troubles to discourage him from believing in the value of persistent prayer.

Paul wrote in Colossians 1:9 that "from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you." Wow. "Not ceased"!  Ceaseless prayer characterized Paul's busy, trouble-filled, fruitful ministry. Then in Colossians 4:2, Paul exhorted the Colossians to "continue steadfastly in prayer". Another translation (NASB) says in that verse to be devoted to prayer. Those are more strong words about prayer: steadfast, devoted. That means Paul didn't want them to give up praying when answers seemed slow and troubles seemed overbearing. Then in Colossians 4:12, Paul described a man named Epaphras as "always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers." Always. Laboring. Earnest (meaning zealous and heartfelt). Here's a man who didn't treat prayer like some casual listing of requests expecting immediate gratification. He knew he was in a battle and was prepared to persistently struggle for the victories that would only be won through prayer.

None of these verses suggest that we ought to be surprised or frustrated when prayers aren't answered immediately. Paul used words like "not ceased" and "steadfast" or "devoted" and "laboring" for a reason. I'm still learning that prayer requires persistence so that the praying I do changes me as much as the things I pray for. To Paul, we're to be: Always in prayer -- Devoted to prayer -- Steadfast in prayer -- Labouring in prayer --  Earnest in prayer. And the one who is determined to make those words the trademarks of their prayer life is the one who is far more likely to find value in praying, and will see the answers that just don't come to those who don't persist.

© 2010 by Ken Peters


Laurence said...

This topic is right on for me as well. I commented about this in my blog regarding expectations, but prayer has always been a blockage for me. And spending time in prayer for me lately has amounted to thinking about God every once in a while, but Jesus said, "when you pray..." meaning there was a time and place in the day for prayer. Jesus went away to pray. If we hung around our friends, or spouses and never spoke to them, using the same excuse, "they already know what I'm going to say..." we'd be not so great to be around. Thanks for this encouragement to persevere in prayer. I also get caught up in the immediate crisis and life...

Ken said...

Thanks Laurence. I wish I could say that writing this post now meant that I practiced this post consistently. I feel like I'm continually in the process of learning to persevere -- by the grace of God!