By Will Dole
In the past three issues, we have delved into the question of how to become addicted to God, that is, how to follow Him both passionately and dependently. The focal point of this discussion has been Acts 2:42, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” We’ve covered the other aspects of this verse (see the Press On archives for May, June and July 2011); only the topic of prayer remains.
I personally struggle greatly with prayer, so any lack of cohesiveness which may follow is due mainly to the fact that I wrestled with this as I wrote. I pray that my struggles prove beneficial.
One of the first issues many of us face in relation to prayer is the fact that we lead exceedingly busy lives. We know we ought to pray, but there simply doesn’t seem to be the time. Between work, school and social activities, the number of things demanding our attention already leaves us wondering if there really ought to be more hours in a day. Even the time that we consider as being dedicated to God is often filled with texting, checking Facebook updates, or sending email in an attempt to stay connected and minister to other believers. In a world where we rely more heavily on caffeine and sugar to energize our day than we do sleep and rest, who has time to pray?
As I pondered this poor excuse for my rotten prayer life, Paul’s words in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 came to mind: “Pray continually.” But how does this work? Does a switch flip inside my head one day, causing me to become a superhero Christian who spends 24 hours a day on my knees? Will I have to give up all else to do this? Obviously, this is not the case; but how does this concept meet real life?
When Paul says, “Pray continually,” he’s not suggesting it; it’s not one in a list of seven things to make us happier. These instructions are sandwiched between commands such as “be patient, kind, fair, joyful and thankful.” Like these other exercises in controlling the self, it seems we must consciously decide to pray continually.
Colossians 4:2 says, “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.” And Ephesians 6:18 states, “Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.” These scriptures use words like “devote,” “continuously,” “all occasions,” “be alert,” and “keep on,” indicating the thought and diligence required. Continual prayer doesn’t happen unintentionally. There isn’t some magical Bible passage to read to make ourselves pray more. We are to keep on devoting ourselves to it, in a continuous manner. Maybe it sounds archaic, but prayer really is a spiritual discipline. It is not natural to us, which is why it requires our devotion. What’s natural is to think of ways to satisfy self, but those thoughts cannot coexist with the sincere act of prayer.
Prayer says that I am dependent on God, whereas my natural inclination is to rely on my own wisdom and strength. In prayer, I make my requests known to God, even though often I am ashamed to tell God what I desire – as if He doesn’t know. In prayer, I praise God and lift to Him my thanksgiving, which is to deny that I have earned anything. Instead, I acknowledge that anything I receive is a gracious gift from my Heavenly Father. All of this runs counter to the flesh, which as Paul tells us, is at odds with the things of God (Galatians 5:17). So prayer is not simple. It is not easy. It does require discipline.
Another thing I draw from the Bible’s discussion on prayer is that it is exceedingly important in continued spiritual growth. Prayer is a means of submitting our own will to His, and to neglect prayer is the same as believing ourselves capable of righteousness in our own power (Romans 7). We must continue always in prayer and submission, because Satan is constantly looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8), and it is only in following Jesus that I am safe and able to have peace in spite of my circumstances. Even Jesus, God in human flesh, devoted much time to prayer (see John 17, Luke 24).
The point is that prayer is not easy. So long as we live in a sinful world and struggle with our fleshly nature, we will find it difficult to pray, at times. But it is necessary for continued growth and a deep relationship with our God, so it is incredibly worthwhile. I say all this not to guilt you into praying, but rather, so that your addiction to God might be complete! Submit yourself in prayer to the One who created you. “Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you,” (1 Peter 5:7).