"pray continually;" NIV
Short and sweet, this is! Neither a pun nor any tongue-in-cheek disavowal intended--this verse has a message for each of us as members of the Fellowship of The Tattered Knee. What does this two-word command mean to us as House of Prayer leaders and as participants in the Christians In Crisis prayer network? First, let us agree on the power of prayer, for if we cannot agree that prayer is a powerful weapon in our mission, then we should first-off pray that God would show us individually the power that prayer holds. Hudson Taylor, missionary to China, said, "The prayer power has never been tried to its full capacity. If we want to see mighty works of Divine power and grace wrought in the place of weakness, failure and disappointment, let us answer God's standing challenge, 'Call to me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know.'" (Jeremiah 33:3) It has also been said that who is a stranger to prayer, will also be a stranger to power. (Source unknown)
If prayer is powerful, somehow we need to express that power as often and as strongly as an offensive and defensive weapon as we can--in this battle, for Ephesians 6:12 tells us our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. An unused weapon is of no value in this struggle, in our prayer for the persecuted church. Perhaps this verse stayed an important guest in the apostle Paul's thinking as six verses later, he implored, "And 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 saints." Do we find time to pray, each day? As Pastor Wally posed during a presentation made to churches in the Twin Cities in January of this year, could we give up even 10 minutes a day to pray for our persecuted sisters and brothers--cutting short a nap, getting up a little earlier, praying during a quiet lunch at work, etc.? Are we too busy to "pray continually"? A man was once cutting a tree stump with an obviously blunt axe. He was only bruising the bark, as sweat poured from his beaded brow. Someone suggested that he stop for a moment and sharpen the axe, to which he responded, "No way; I'm too busy chopping the tree to stop for anything." If he would only stop for a moment and sharpen the axe, he would slice through the tree with far greater ease. Stop each day, and "sharpen the axe" through prayer. Seek first the Kingdom of God and you will slice through the day with far greater ease. In Colossians 4:2, Paul wrote "Continue in prayer, being watchful and thankful." When we are done with our House Of Prayer meetings and finally get a moment to relax, do we give thought to how we can "continue in prayer" until the next prayer meeting, using the prayer requests that formed the substance of the prayer gathering just ended? Do we "continue steadfast in prayer" in the between-meeting times?
In John Gill's Exposition of the Bible, regarding the passage at hand (1 Thessalonians 5:17), he suggests the following:
"Not that saints should be always on their knees, or ever lifting up their hands, and vocally calling upon God; this is not required of them, and would clash with, and break in upon other parts of religious worship, and the duties of civil life, which are to be attended to, as well as this, and besides would be impracticable; for however willing a spiritual [person] might be to be engaged in this work always, yet the flesh is weak, and would not be able to bear it; and it requires food and drink, sleep and rest, for its refreshment and support; for all which there must be time allowed... But the meaning is, that believers should be daily, and often found in the performance of this duty; do not leave off praying, or cease from it through the prevalence of sin, the temptations of Satan, or through discouragement, because an answer is not immediately had, or through carelessness and negligence, but continue in it, and be often at it... The reason for this rule of praying continually is, because the saints are always needy [emphasis mine], they are always in want of mercies of one kind or another, and therefore believers should continually go to the throne of grace, and there ask for grace and mercy to help them in time of need [emphasis mine]."1
His rationale for praying continually? In our intercession, it is because the needs of the persecuted church come in continually and with often urgent need imbuing their pleas. In our work, it's not about us and our busy schedule, our emotions of the moment, our level of psychological energy--it's about those soliciting our prayers, and it's about service in this way to our heavenly Father.
In Paul's first letter to Timothy, his co-laborer, he instructs Timothy to follow the example of, or to do as the widow does, as she (1 Timothy 5:5) who is really in need and left all alone puts her hope in God and continues night and day to pray and to ask God for help. Throughout the week, as God brings a person we've been praying for, to mind, say a brief prayer for him/her. Hebrews 13:3 exhorts us to "Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering." Let's consider how to accomplish this remembering between the "Goodbye" of our last prayer meeting and the "Hello" of our next. You're important to God, to those for whom we pray, to Christians In Crisis, and to me.
1The New John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible -- Modernized and adapted for the computer by Larry Pierce of Online Bible. All Rights Reserved, Larry Pierce, Winterbourne, Ontario.