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Monday, June 13, 2016

The Person Who Prays - Unceasing Prayer (part 5)


In the earlier lessons on prayer and the person who prays, we learned several key things from the Bible. We learned prayer is communing with God – speaking and listening. We learned how to approach God without our heart, mind, and soul by recognizing key things about God. Besides these, the Bible teaches us how to pray – petitioning for self, others, and enemies, adoring and thanking God, and confession and repentance. Added to this, we learned about some of the attributes, attitudes, and actions of an effective person of prayer. The first four are:
·         The person has a righteousness which comes from God
·         The person has a belief God has the power to do what is necessary to change things and answer prayers.
·         The person meets God in solitude so he or she is not distracted and does not seek acclaim for his or her piety from other people. God hears in secret and rewards in secret.
·         The person of prayer is watchful and alert
In this week’s lesson from the Bible, we will learn another attribute, attitude, or action of the person of effective prayer. That person will pray ceaselessly. This lesson comes from what Jesus and Paul taught. Ceaseless prayer does more than just activate God’s working for the thing about which a person prays. It changes and grows the person who prays. Ceaseless prayer prepares the person who prays. Finally, it aids in the progress of the Gospel.

Ceaseless Prayer

A person who seeks God in prayer should pray ceaselessly. Jesus taught ceaseless prayer to His disciples and others who followed Him in Luke 18. Paul taught it to the Ephesians, Thessalonians, and Colossians. What did these mean say that taught Christians through the ages to persevere in prayer and pray at all times?

Luke 18:1-8.

In Luke 18:1-8, Jesus instructed His disciples to pray always and not give up. Luke said in this passage Jesus taught that “at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart.” We understand from these words that prayers can and should be made to God any time. People do not have to pray just at meals, bedtime, or in church. That seems easy enough to learn from this passage; yet a deeper message is found here. Luke used a Greek word that translates into English as “ought.” “Ought” comes from the word dei meaning is necessary because it God decreed and established it; and is needed. Jesus taught this in Luke 11:5-10 when He taught His disciples to pray. He told them ask and keep on asking, seek and keep on seeking, and knock and keep on knocking. Jesus taught and commanded His disciples to pray in these passages. Prayer is not an option for Christians. That is the first point in Luke’s passages. The second point is we should pray persistently like the widow woman going incessantly to the judge and like the neighbor going to his neighbor asking for bread. God will answer the prayers of His children who pray with right motives. The Judge will mete out justice and the Provider will give everything needed for life. Pray and pray ceaselessly to the Father.
Jesus ended this passage with a question. He asked, “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” When Jesus Christ returns at the end of the ages to take His followers home to live with Him and the Father eternally, will He find the faith of His followers stayed strong during the calm and the crises? Will the followers have shared the Gospel so faith in Jesus exists when He returns? Prayer is a command. It comes with a promise. Being a child of God means more than getting what we ask from God. It means loving by obeying God in all things. That includes going into the whole world making disciples. Prayer is communing with God – speaking and listening. Listening includes obedience. Are you praying? Are you praying ceaselessly? Are you obeying God so Jesus will find faith on the earth when He returns?
He asked, “Would the returned Christ find faith like this on earth when He returns?” Will people who call themselves believers have continual faith in crisis and calm and still follow Him?

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18.

Paul taught on ceaseless prayer, too. In 1 Thessalonians, Paul wrote to encourage the new converts to Christianity. Most of these converts would have come out of a gentile background though some could have been Jews since a synagogue existed there. In 1Thessalonians 5:12-22, Paul wrote to the Thessalonians about church life. He taught on living in peace, admonishing the unruly, etc.  In verses 16-18, Paul told them, “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” He taught them to pray, thank, and rejoice always and ceaselessly. “Without ceasing” comes from the Greek word adialeiptos and means without intermission, incessantly, without ceasing. With no pause for anything – trials, meals, work, etc. – Paul taught Christians to pray always. Notice, too, he did not tell them to pray if they felt like it. Paul commanded the Christians at Thessalonica to pray. As Jesus did in Luke 11 and 18, he told these new Christians prayer is commanded by God. It permits God’s Spirit to work in a believer, and through and for a believer. Paul mentioned that in 1 Thessalonians 5:19 when he said, “Do not quench the Spirit.” Prayer is commanded by God to grow you more Christlike, to grow your relationship with God, to bring God’s will to pass in and through you, to glorify God, and to praise and thank God. Prayer is commanded so God’s children can commune with Him and His “will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” It is speaking and listening to God and then acting upon what God told His child as a love offering of obedience to Him. “Pray without ceasing,” Paul said. God commands it. He will listen to the selfless prayers of the righteous person.

Ephesians 6:18.

Paul continues to teach on prayer in Ephesians. In Ephesians 6:10-20, Paul taught the believers they could have strength while going through spiritual conflict. In this section of his letter, he taught the Ephesian believers about the armor of God and its purposes. After going through the visible pieces of armor a Roman soldier wore at that time, Paul told them of the greatest part of the armor available to God’s children. He said in Ephesians 6:18, “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints.” Paul makes multiple points in this verse. The first point is we must come toward the Lord with the intimacy we have with Him due to our relationship with Him and petition His help. “Prayer” comes from the Greek word proseuche which means toward or closeness/intimacy with God to pray. We are so intimate with God we commune with and ask from Him our need, give a vow, and thank or praise Him. In Ephesians 6: 10-20, Paul taught the believers to put on the armor of God and in the intimacy and closeness he or she has with God, ask Him to provide safety against spiritual assault.
The second point Paul made in this verse is he told them to petition God at all times, not just at day or night, or good or bad times, but at all times. He used the same words Jesus used in Luke 21:36 when He said, “But keep on the alert at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are about to take place, and to stand firm before the Son of Man.” God will hear and answer the prayers of His children whenever we offer them to Him.
The third point Paul made was that the petitions to God must be made in the Spirit. When a person becomes a child of God through faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and the Savior from the penalty of sin, Jesus gives His Holy Spirit to live in that person. The Spirit within the believer teaches, edifies, rebukes, and corrects. It intercedes for the believer when he or she does not know how to pray, how to put into words what needs to be said (Romans 8:26-27). The Spirit within the believer communes in prayer with God. The believer joins with the Father so the intimacy with God, of which Paul spoke, with the prayers prayed bring about from God the strength and power needed to safeguard the child of God from the attacks of Satan.
Other points in this passage state what we have learned in this Bible study and in the earlier ones. The child of God is to be alert and pray with perseverance. Christians must be alert to what is happening around them and others. They must learn by having spent time with God what is of God and what is of Satan so he or she knows how to pray to God. This prayer to God during spiritual warfare, Paul said, must persevere, be ceaseless, and be persistent. It must be a prayer like Jesus taught in the parable of the importunate widow or the neighbor knocking on his friend’s door late at night for bread to feed travelers. Until God answers, the believer must continue to pray for God’s intervention in the matter. We must petition God night and day every day until the battle is won and God answers, then rejoicing, thanking, and glorifying God must happen in our prayers, words, and actions. Prayer is commanded of God’s children. By it, believers commune with the Father. Through its ceaseless utterance, Christians draw near and develop an intimacy with God, acquire an alertness of what is happening be it evil or good, petition appropriately and through God’s Spirit, and with perseverance, God’s will prevails. God gives the victory, and His children grow in faith in Him. Pray. Pray ceaselessly. The growth in a believer’s life will astound.

Colossians 1:9.

In the final Bible passage of this lesson, Paul taught the Colossians about ceaseless prayer and what it effects in a person. Twice Paul said in this letter he prayed always and did not cease to pray for the Colossians. In verse three, he said they prayed always for them with thanks to God for giving them the truth and saving them from their sins. Prayers to God as we know include thanks. Praying always in thanks shows how we can rejoice always. More than this verse, though, we must look at verse nine. It shows us the depths of ceaseless prayer.
Paul, in Colossians 1:9 said, “For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding.” He continued in later verses saying this will lead to spiritual growth, pleasing God, bearing fruit, being strengthened with God’s might, and giving joyous thanks to the Father for an inheritance in His eternal kingdom. Heresy within the community beset the church at Colossae. From Paul’s letter, the heresy appeared to be an extreme form of Judaism and an early form of Gnosticism. Gnosticism was a belief that sought mystical knowledge to gain salvation. Its adherents believed all matter is corrupt, but a spark of the “true” god’s spirit exists in each person.
By understanding these two heresies helps with understanding what Paul wrote in Colossians 1:9. The most important part of this verse for our current study, though, is Paul said they did not cease to pray for the church at Colossae. This word “pray” is the same word used in Ephesians 6:18. This praying is expressing a wish/desire/need toward God. The act of praying here focused on the person – God - toward whom Paul prayed not toward the person who prayed - Paul. Paul prayed ceaselessly to God, the only One who could bring truth into the situation, to fill the Colossian Christians with the knowledge of Him – His will, spiritual wisdom, and spiritual understanding. Ceaseless praying recognizes that only by God’s hand will the situation be fixed, the person be helped, and the spiritual battle be won. Recognizing the extent and magnitude of God’s power and help needed, instills in a person praying the absolute need for God’s power, might, and wisdom in the situation and each circumstance. This creates the awareness praying must always be ceaseless. Nothing a person says or does on his or her own can remedy any situation. When a believer realizes that, an understanding that ceaseless prayer is necessary for all things, days, and times occurs.
In this passage, Paul proclaimed he prayed to God for the Colossian believers. By his witness at the love and power of God, he taught the Christians there to pray for this and all things, too. Paul modeled the great extent to which prayer could go. He spoke of and taught by example about unending/ceaseless prayer, its necessity, and the depth of God’s love for His children. Paul taught prayer is a necessity for a Christian, not a “last resort” aid.

Relevance and Conclusion

These verses remind us prayer is about being in relationship with the Father, not making prayer just an emergency lifeline. Prayer is communing with God – speaking and listening, listening which brings about obedience to God’s will. Prayer should happen at all times - day and night, good and bad times. Prayer at all times shows persistence like the widow who kept begging the judge for justice; it grows the faith of the person. When God answers prayer, a person’s faith grows. Praying allows the Holy Spirit to work in the believer. From praying, a person can be filled with God’s will in spiritual wisdom and understanding. That person can be made alert and know when something is from God and when not. From the Greek word, we learn to pray focuses on God and not on one’s self. It shifts the focus from one’s wants and needs to the Provider of all things who is greater than the person praying/petitioning God. Prayer for one’s self and experiencing God’s blessing because of it grows a person and fills him or her with the Spirit. That teaches the person to pray for all the saints to grow in the wisdom and understanding of God.
Each of these lessons from the four passages studied teaches us the necessity of ceaseless prayer. It is commanded by God. Ceaseless prayer focuses our sight on Him (develops our communion with Him). It calls Him to work to take care of our needs, Ceaseless prayer changes and grows us and our faith. It prepares us for what will come, and aids in the progress of the Gospel. We realize our focus should not be on our problems and what we need, but upon God who opens His storehouses to give all we need for life now and life eternal. Ceaseless prayer makes us wise to know when we are battling the forces of Satan and should focus more on God and asking Him to make us stand to strong with and for Him. Mostly, we should pray ceaselessly because Jesus commanded and taught it. He said ask and keep on asking, seek and keep on seeking, knock and keep on knocking for if we do these, we shall receive, find, and have the door to God open to us.
What keeps you from praying to God? Do you not believe He is real? Do you not trust He is able to help you? Do you not believe He loves you and wants you to be His child? If you answered yes to the last three questions, you are listening to lies of Satan.
Believe in God.
Even the demons believe in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and tremble (James 2:19).
Believe in God’s power.
God who made heaven and earth in its intricacies, who forms a baby from a sperm and egg, who made the first man and woman out of dirt, and who took Jesus Christ up to heaven after His resurrection, can help you. He wants to help you with anything you need because He loves you.
Believe God loves you.
God sent His only Son, Jesus, to die your death penalty and then rise from the dead to life again so you and all people will not suffer eternal death, but could have eternal life with Him in His kingdom (John 3:16).
God loves you.
Prayer is communing with God. You can commune with God when you confess and repent of your sins. Accept Jesus Christ as you Savior. Believe He is the Son of God. You can commune with God and He commands it. He wants to be in an intimate relationship with you. Pray without ceasing. Praying toward/focusing on God makes your relationship with Him vital and growing.
Receive the righteousness of God. Repent.
Believe in the power of God to effect change.
Pray in solitude. God will hear you.
Be Alert and pray.
Pray to God without ceasing.