One of the key elements of our ministry is prayer. We teach a five-step strategy of discipleship (reaching and teaching our neighbors and co-workers), and prayer is really the foundation, after we come to the understanding that God is sovereign and has put us where we live, work and play to be “on mission” for Him.
But in all honesty, sometimes I am overwhelmed by the need to pray and how to “fit” it into my life. I’m not talking about the conversations with God that we have as we go about our day; I’m speaking of intentionally praying down a list – whether it’s names of people who need Jesus in their life, or specific intercession for needs and requests that others have shared with me. How can I possibly do it justice? There are so many people…so many needs! I often feel like I have failed in my obligation to bring people I love before the Lord.
Thankfully, God’s Word always has an answer. There are literally hundreds of verses about prayer in the Bible, which teach us about prayer: when, why, how, where, and why. But here are three simple instructions straight from scripture, and my thoughts on how to apply them.
Pray persistently, without ceasing.
1 Thessalonians 5:17 – Pray without ceasing.
The Greek word translated “without ceasing” means “continually, without intermission, incessantly.” Have you ever had a child ask for something incessantly? It doesn’t mean that they never speak of anything else; but it is always on their mind, and they never give up asking until they get it. It’s not logical that Paul would be telling us to go into a room and pray continually, never stopping. That’s not possible, and it’s not biblical. Strong’s defines it this way: pray every time an opportunity presents itself, and be in a constant attitude of dependence upon God.
How do we pray without ceasing for our neighbors and co-workers? Every time they come to our mind, every time we see them in the street, or at the grocery store: these are the opportunities that present for prayer. We recognize that these are Spirit-prompted opportunities, and we develop a habit of responding by praying – right then. And as we pray, we are in an attitude of dependence on God to speak to their hearts or meet their needs.
Luke 11:5-10 tells the story of the persistent friend who wakes up his neighbor to borrow some bread! I believe the principle of persistence is the same principle of praying without ceasing. We don’t give up just because we don’t see an immediate answer.
Jesus Himself gives us permission to be persistent in asking God for things: So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you.
Pray secretly and simply.
Matthew 6:6-7 – But when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.
I love this one. God doesn’t need our flowery words. He doesn’t need us to tell Him what the answer should be (He already knows the need). How do we pray simply? We pray in secret. No one to impress. No one is listening except our Father. Sometimes it’s as simple as saying, “Father, here are people who need you”…and just name them, one by one. He recognizes those names! When we lift up their names, we are bringing them right into the throne room, to the One who can answer.
While I do believe in physically going into a room and spending time alone in prayer, we can also “pray in secret” while walking through our neighborhood. Prayer walking doesn’t mean standing on the corner and praying out loud. Speak with God in your heart and mind. God is Spirit, and we worship in spirit and in truth.
Matthew 21:22 – And Jesus answered and said to them, “Truly I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ it will happen. And all things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.”
This verse (and others like it) are difficult to understand. We’ve all prayed for things that didn’t happen. We’ve all asked God for answers that never came. But notice, Jesus doesn’t tell us when we will receive what we ask for, if we’ve prayed in faith, without doubting. He only tells us we will receive.
So what happens to all those prayers that go unanswered? Does God forget them? Does He ignore them? I can’t believe that, and here’s why.
Revelation 5:8; 8:3-4 – When He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. … Another angel came and stood at the altar, holding a golden censer; and much incense was given to him, so that he might add it to the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, went up before God out of the angel’s hand.
I believe every prayer we offer up to God from a faithful, humble, believing heart, is held in heaven, filling the golden bowls of incense. Our prayers are the fragrance of heaven. And those prayers are poured out on the altar when God sees fit to answer. Not one prayer is wasted.
As you commit to pray for your neighbors and co-workers, be encouraged. Don’t let the size of the task overwhelm you.
Pray persistently, without ceasing. Don’t give up, but depend on God’s Spirit to prompt you, and develop a habit of lifting people up as they come to your mind.
Pray simply, in secret. Get rid of any ideas that you don’t have the right words. Talk to God as you would speak with a loving Father.
And pray believing, confident that God hears every prayer, and that your words are filling the halls of heaven with a fragrance that delights Him, and brings Him glory.