In the sermon this morning, Pastor Todd spoke on the imperative command via Paul that we pray steadfastly.
Using the short text of Colossians 4:2: “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.” (ESV)
Using both this text and Jesus’ commands to his closest disciples while on the Mount of Olives, Pastor Todd made several points about this steadfast prayer that spoke to me.
First, regarding the command (the phrase of the verse is in the imperative mood, grammatically speaking to pray steadfastly, he noted that the life of prayer, is not an easy life.
Indeed, it can be said the easiest part of a life characterized by steadfast prayer is quitting.
Prayer does not seem like work, oftentimes. And when our heads are bowed we’re unaware, in that moment, of the efficacy of our words to change the world and our parts in the great spiritual battle roiling around us.
However, much as prayer can seem like a distraction, or at the very least, something God wants us to do and therefore we better get it done and out of the way before getting on with the real work. We must see, with our spiritual eyes, the effect prayer has on the battle, and with our physical eyes, how that spiritual battle affects the physical world.
If I fail to spend two hours in prayer each morning, the devil gets the victory through the day. I have so much business I cannot get on without spending three hours daily in prayer. ~Martin Luther
George Mueller stated the great fault of the children of God is that they do not continue in prayer, they do not persevere. It’s not about enjoyment, Mueller says:
It is a common temptation of Satan to make us give up the reading of the Word and prayer when our enjoyment is gone; as if it were of no use to read the Scriptures when we do not enjoy them, and as if it were no use to pray when we have no spirit of prayer.
Pastor Todd went on to speak of two key attitudes that are necessary for prayers to be effective both to us, and in the battle for the kingdom of God: watchfulness and thankfulness.
Regarding watchfulness, he mentioned how we normally require children to close their eyes, bow their heads, and fold their hands prior to prayer, as though to shut out or minimize awareness of their surroundings. And perhaps we do this to quiet ourselves physically so that we can concentrate on the spiritual battle.
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12, ESV)
The purpose of this spiritual watchfulness is to protect ourselves from doubting. From the pricks and burns and wounds of the fiery darts the very real and very destructive evil one throws against us when we’re not watchful.
And not just watchfulness in the sense of being aware of the immediate battle, but we are to be aware of the larger scope of the battle.
How often, when we pray, do we ask for circumstances to improve? For John to get over his cold, for Sally to find a new job?
When what really, seriously needs our efforts in prayer in these people’s lives is their faith. We must pray John won’t succumb to the depression that being sick often brings, that he’ll stay constant in his personal spiritual walk, that he’ll not lose heart, or fall into doubt. We must pray Sally doesn’t begin to doubt God’s provision in her life when she is without normal income.
There are much more serious things at stake than a paycheck or the amount of mucus they’re producing.
Watchfulness means being aware of the real issues, the serious issues, the issues of the heart and soul, and the spiritual battle. And also being aware of the broader sweep of God’s plan, and the necessity that those without faith should be brought to it, and those in the faith may not lose it.
Then there is the attitude of thankfulness.
Colossians maintains and consistent theme of thankfulness throughout its few chapters. And for good reason. Thankfulness is important not just to make others feel good, but also for our own spiritual health.
Thankfulness helps us remain humble as we give others and God the recognition they deserve for their acts upon our life, keeping us mindful who is the author of our salvation, and the source of blessings. Humility is a constant necessity and it’s practice is critical to it’s maintenance. Gratitude ought to characterize the Christian life as it ought to characterize the Christian’s prayer.
Thankfulness also enables a proper perspective on things and resources God has blessed us with. When we recognize our resources and possessions as not our own, but entrusted to us by God for the purpose of bringing glory to Him, we are free to use those resources for His glory and the growth of others.
Pastor Todd’s final point was on the necessity of planning for prayer, and how this can help alleviate the doldrums of prayer and the ease of quitting.
Pastor Todd noted his agreement with Pastor John Piper that while spontaneity may seem to be the best source of prayer, in fact, it is the enemy of a real consistent prayer walk. The opposite of careful planning is not wonderful spontaneity, it is the rut. The unplanned spiritual life sinks to the lowest common factor.
Not that a rigorous regimen of prayers is necessary, more that a set of conditions are beneficial to maintain a healthy, spiritually rewarding, and growing habit of prayer.
Setting aside a concrete time for communing with the Lord, and finding a regular place, free from as much distraction as possible.
A notebook handy for writing down distracting thoughts enables you to push aside those thoughts, knowing they’re saved for when they’ll no longer be a distraction.
And that same notebook, or some other method of recording things you’ve prayer for, which you can then review and see exactly how God worked and answered your prayers, helps us to keep the broader perspective of God’s work through our small voices and willing hearts.
When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD. When it passed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial forever. (Joshua 4:6b-7, ESV)
God knew the importance of a reminder of His work. Our memories are short and our hearts prone to wander. When we make the effort to record, first our need, and then His merciful provision, we have a record of God. We have our own, first-hand account, of God working in this world because of His glory and because we asked Him to as our Father.