Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Getting ahead of God ...

While counseling with a pastor about his troubled life, I was assessing his practice of spiritual disciplines, which included probing about his prayer life.

I asked if he prayed without ceasing, and he seemed somewhat startled by the question, as if it didn't make any sense.

"No, I'm a specific guy," he answered.

What he meant was that he only prays about specific things. If he's working on a sermon, he'll pray about his sermon. If he's leading a group, he'll pray about that. He prays about specific things, but often those prayers come after the action has already been taken and he's asking God to bless what he's already done.

Sometimes this pastor prays in advance, but part of the problem of his not practicing "praying without ceasing" is that he easily finds himself getting ahead of God; he's already acted before even bothering to consult with God on what action should be taken. Sometimes he prays before acting, but leaves God out while he acts, and then prays after. It's great to seek God prior to our acting, but we really need God in the middle of our action!

Many Christians have a habit of praying in the morning, and again some time in the evening, but then leaving the house --- and God --- for work or their daily responsibilities until they return in the afternoon or evening. That often means God's voice is absent in much of their day. Not surprisingly, evening prayers often consist of asking God to clean up the tangled mess we made of our day without Him.

The New Living Translation of the Bible phrases 1 Thessalonians 5:17 this way: "Never stop praying." We can't accurately anticipate everything we need to pray about in advance, and praying only after we've acted asks God to bless what is already done or fix what we've broken. But when we heed Paul's admonition to never stop praying, we are talking with God before, during and after the thoughts we form, the emotions we construct, and the actions we take. Praying without ceasing keeps God in the thick of our lives to help us better see things as He does, feel about things as He does, and act in a way that glorifies Him and is in the best interests of those our actions touch. Never stopping our conversation with God is a vital safeguard from acting in advance of God.

How do you pray? Do you pray in reverse, asking God to bless what you've already done? Or is your walk through life an ongoing conversation with God?

Scotty

2 comments:

  1. A very interesting article Pastor Scotty. I am sorry for the delay in commenting on this and i hope you get to see it, as i know this article is getting on for 6 months old... What exactly does praying without ceasing mean? Of course, i know what it means literally but how does a person go throughout his day praying like this. Prayer is something that i have always found challenging, most likely due to wrong interpretation and this only confounds me more. Thank you for any help/advice you may have.

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  2. Neil, thank you for checking out the article. Let me see if I can provide you with a helpful response. First, let me say I think it helpful, beneficial, to have focused times of prayer each day. But I greatly believe in "praying without ceasing," as it deepens the reality of actually walking with God each day. And that's a good way of giving some greater understanding to this. Take some time to imagine --- really explore with your mind --- the idea of what it would be like if your spouse was with you every single moment of every day, together 24 hours without ever being apart. You wouldn't talk constantly, but the entirety of your time together would be shared, and their would be conversation, punctuated with meaningful times of silence, throughout that entire time. Well, God is always with you, every second of every day. Yet, we often give Him very little time and speak to Him very little on any day. Our days really are not shared with Him, which means He is left out of much of our day - we suffer for that. Praying without ceasing changes that. How can it work? What could praying without ceasing look like? Some version of this ...

    Imagine you wake up one morning, and like being with your spouse, remember, this entire day is with God. So say hello to Him, thank Him for giving you the day, ask Him for guidance throughout the day and wisdom to walk well and with Him in it ... etc. Then, as you go through your day, just keep talking with Him. This doesn't require bowing or closing your eyes or speaking out loud, although all those can be done. When you get out of bed and shower for the day, thank God for your health, pray for the Holy Spirit to encourage you to improve your fitness ... when you sit down for breakfast, thank God for the meal and remember those who may not have anything to eat that day ... talk to God on your drive to work ... during your day continue to talk to Him - pray for co-workers, customers, etc. - as you interact with people, pray for them - time to and from work is a great time to pray for family, friends, church, prayer requests that others have shared with you. When you're home and with family, just thank God for them, ask Him to help you be a blessing to them. Even just relaxing in a comfortable chair in front of the TV can elicit a, "thank you, God, for times in my life when I can just sit and relax and enjoy simple moments."

    "Praying without ceasing" is simply conversing with God throughout your day, truly taking Him into everything in your day just as if He were physically spending the day with you. He really is spending the day with you, He is always there, but "praying without ceasing" helps to acknowledge that reality and make it shared time.

    I hope this help to flesh out a little more what praying without stopping can look like. It's different for everyone. Even when we strongly build in "praying without ceasing" into our lives, I still encourage private times of focused prayer each day. That is like if your wife spent 24 hours with you, and you would converse throughout, you would still have certain times where the conversation is focused on the two of you, more personal and intimate conversations.

    Again, I hope this is helpful. Try it! It could deepen your relationship with the Lord in a wonderful way.

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