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Praying Always

Praying Always

One way we can learn to pray is by observing others pray. In fact, that is exactly how most of us learn to pray. If you do not believe that, listen to expressions common to prayer – but never heard in other places. How do we develop such a special “prayer vocabulary”? By listening to others pray.

Instead of just listening to ourselves, though, let’s listen to some of the early disciples in their prayers. From them, we might learn something about what to pray for as well as how we are to pray.

In Time of Persecution

Soon after Pentecost, the first wave of persecution began. Peter and John were arrested while preaching in the temple after they had healed the man born crippled (Acts 3 -4). When they were brought before the Jewish High Court (the Sanhedrin), they were asked by what authority or in what name they had done this, evidently meaning the preaching. Peter, though, spoke of the power that made the lame man whole. He declared this was by the name of Jesus whom the rulers of Israel had crucified. Jesus, he said, is the stone rejected by the builders that has become the capstone. In fact, he added, there is no other name under heaven by which men must be saved. (Acts 4:8-12).

Not being able to deny the miracle (Everyone knew the man who had been healed, and he was standing right there with the apostles.), no direct action was taken at this time. However, to stop this from going further the Jews warned the apostles not to speak or teach any more in the name of Jesus (4:13-18).

The apostles responded, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20). They were then released, after further threats. On being released, the apostles reported to the church what had transpired.

Then they prayed. When they prayed, the house where they were shook. Do our prayers cause the house to shake?

Their prayer is recorded in Acts 4:24-30. This was not a prayer of complaint, though they did ask why do the nations and authorities rage against the Lord. In the prayer, they recognized the sovereignty of God (though it was defied by the Jewish and Gentile courts). They saw that the coming persecution was a part of God’s plan – and they prayed for boldness to speak the word of the Lord and for more of the mighty works in the name of Jesus for which they had been arrested.

Today, most Christians would be praying for deliverance from persecution; the apostles prayed for courage to face it, even to do that which they knew would provoke it. Why the difference? The apostles were first of all disciples of the Lord – and he had warned them that they would face the same opposition he had endured. To them, it was a normal part of following Jesus; they just prayed for strength and courage to accept it and face it.

Paul’s Prayers for the Ephesians

Consistently, the prayers we read from the early Christians were different from those heard in the average Sunday morning worship assembly. They were different in what they prayed for and in the intensity of  the prayers themselves. This is seen clearly in two different prayers Paul offered for the Ephesian saints.

Ephesians opens with a paragraph of praise to God: Father, Son and Spirit. Then, he offered a prayer of thanksgiving and petition for the church (Ephesians 1:15-20). In this prayer, he thanked God for what he was hearing about the church – their love and faithfulness. Yet, he was not satisfied with their current spiritual attainments. Rather, he asked that they might grow in discipleship. Specifically he asked that God grant them:

The Spirit of wisdom and revelation so they would know him better.

Enlightened eyes to know the hope to which they were called.

Eyes to recognize his riches and the glorious inheritance of the saints.

Knowledge of his power working in them, the same power that raised Jesus from the dead.

Each of these elements of Paul’s prayer contributes to greater discipleship. How different this is from the prayers for all of the physical ailments that grace our ears at each gathering of the saints! Not that we should fail to pray for the sick – but prayers for the physically sick should be subservient to prayers for the spiritual afflictions we face. Paul focused on first things first.

This pattern of prayer is continued in Ephesians 3:14-19. There, he recognized the dependence of the whole family of believers in heaven and on earth on our heavenly Father for our very identity. He prayed that God may strengthen us with power from his Spirit in our inner being so that Christ can live in our hearts through faith. This prayer is truly for our discipleship. The disciple gets his personal identity from the Master who lives again in the person of the disciple.

Paul continued by praying for a mind-stretching knowledge of God’s love to comprehend its width, length, height and depth – and to know this love that surpasses knowledge. As if that were not enough, he prayed that we be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. What that involves is at least suggested in the following verses where he offers full praise to God who is able to do far more than we can even imagine.

Add to this the intensity of prayer that seems to be implied by his charge to pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests (Ephesians 6:18) as you are always alert and always praying for all the saints.

This calls to mind Jesus’ charge to the disciples in Gethsemane to watch and pray so you will not fall into temptation (Matthew 26:41). Had they done this, would they have slept while he prayed?

Epaphras, Paul’s companion, was intense in his prayers for his brethren. Paul said he is always wrestling in prayer for you. The word translated wrestling is the word from which we get agonizing. He agonized in prayer for his brothers. His prayer was that the Colossians stand firm in all of God’s will, be mature, and fully confident (Colossians 4:12-13). In these prayers, Paul said, he is working hard for you. Do we work hard in prayer for our friends that they be faithfully committed to the Lord’s way and mature in all they do?

Paul’s personal request for prayer is also instructive: Pray for me that I may be given the right words to say and that I may say them fearlessly as I should (Ephesians 6:19-20). Remember that he was in chains when this epistle was written (cf. also Ephesians 3:1). Yet, he wanted God’s help in being fearless. (Is this a hint that he was not always as fearless as we sometimes believe?) To get God’s help, he begged his brothers to pray for him.

This prayer request is specific. Paul named the issue that needed prayer. He did not beat around the bush about what was needed the way we sometimes do. We all confess we need prayer – but we do not always say why we need specific prayers at specific times. So we end up praying for one another that the Lord bless us in some undefined way. If it weren’t that the Lord knows our needs even better than we know them ourselves, how would he know what to do for us? More to the point, how will we be able to recognize answered prayer if we are not specific in our requests?

Is one reason the church is weak today simply that we do not pray for the strength and boldness God wants his disciples to have? If we prayed more like disciples, we might act more like disciples.

– (12) The Disciple And The World

– (10) Teach Us To Pray


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