Last week we began a series of messages called Ancient Practices. We were challenged to examine our modern day lives in light of the ancient words of Jesus (Matt.28:18-20) and what it means to be his disciples and follow Him wholeheartedly. We learnt that being a true disciple means we are experiencing genuine personal transformation
1. Through life’s circumstances, various trials and challenges all which develop character in us (Jam.1:2-4)
2. Through the Holy Spirit who lives within us and is readily available to help us move towards who Jesus is and what He would do (2 Cor.3:18. Gal.5:22-23. Jn.15:8)
3. Through certain spiritual practices (disciplines) that we engage in, so we can impact our world for Christ. Over the next few weeks we will be unpacking some of these spiritual practices.
1 Thess 5:17 says pray continually (without ceasing) (Eph 6:18) (Phil 1:4)
The bible says we are to pray constantly, pray always, and pray without ceasing. What does it mean to pray without ceasing or constantly? It’s certainly not this religious notion that we are to pray every waking moment and do nothing else. Constant prayer is keeping company with God.
Read Eph 1:4-5. It’s a relationship not a ritual. We need to remember that prayer is not a form or ritual but its keeping company with God who invites us into a personal relationship with Him through Jesus. Often the human presupposition is that the key to acceptance with God is through ritual performance; tick a list of do’s and don’ts. In contrast to this the bible tells us that when we receive Christ we have a relationship/friendship with God. Jesus has revealed the Father to us, so now prayer should be an ongoing (constant) conversation, a dialogue between us and God. Prayer should be a delight not a duty.
This relationship has features that are common with all close friendships, where two people share their hearts; there is openness, honesty, moments of ecstasy, joy, expectation, irritation, disappointment, like in any friendship. This analogy of friendship with God has biblical roots Adam (Gen3:8); Enoch (Gen 5:24); Abraham (Gen 18); Moses (Num 11&14); David (Ps119, 5, 51); Jesus (Jn 5:19) and Paul (Phil 3:8) too who caught and lived out of this revelation of knowing & loving Christ fully. He didn’t just have intellectual apprehension about God. He experienced Christ and he prayed for everyone around him that their hearts may capture the greatness of God’s love for them because if this revelation could seep into their soul, lay hold of their minds, nothing of the temporal things they were experiencing, pressures or temptation, will cause them to drift away from God. We need to capture this with all our hearts that the strength and consistency of our prayer life will be determined by how we see God.
A key reason why this relationship with God can at times become hollow, even though many do start out genuinely loving God, is because over time they start to view prayer as a means of getting something from God rather than feeding that relationship. The only time they turn to God is during a crisis or when they desperately need something e.g. a job or financial blessing etc. This becomes a love of convenience and when God doesn’t answer that prayer or doesn’t come through the way one would expect, they feel God has abandoned them or doesn’t love them anymore and therefore stops focusing on Him and even at times withdraw from Him.
Constant Prayer is more than just having our prayers answered. It’s loving God, growing in intimacy with him, having this ongoing conversation with Him, enjoying His Presence and it’s also partnering with him along life’s journey knowing that He is ever Present with us through good days and bad days.
The Practice of Constant Prayer
There are a couple of ways we can practice constant prayer in our lives.
Firstly, learn to be God-conscious throughout the day. (Is 40:29-31) He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak…but those who HOPE (WAIT) in the lord will renew their strength.
Wait means to expect, to look for and hope in Him. It’s that Vine-Branch connectedness, an active drawing on his strength, pulling on his life throughout the day. It’s an inner disposition of waiting expectantly for God. It’s a soul attitude, a lifting up of our mind to God. Throughout the day intentionally turn your thoughts towards God. Our minds have the potential to attend to more than one thing at once. It’s possible to give God attention even while doing something else. Cultivate this habitual mental orientation towards God.
Jesus demonstrated this in his earthly life. He had so many things to attend to throughout the day yet he was conscious of the Father, mind was on the Father. Whilst he is talking with his disciples in the midst of conversation he says “Thank you Father, you did this to show them your power/glory” His inner channel was consistently open to God. Likewise learn to focus on a particular aspect of God that is special to you. Sum up stories, phrases from the bible that mean something to you. Look for him throughout the day. He is already present.
The pace of life may not necessarily slow down. Outside pressures will always be there. However this outside activity shouldn’t rob us of ‘waiting’ on the inside. Whilst doing many things during the day learn to look for Him, absorb his love, and break into spontaneous conversation. “Father, thank you for your love”, “Father I sense you are here”.
Secondly, learn to practice solitude. (Ps46:10 be still & know I am God)
Three or four times a week learn to practice solitude with God. Latin imperative for ‘be still’ is vacate. Simon Tugwell explains “God invites us to take a vacation/holiday with him. We need to intentionally pull away from the everyday activity and find a place to focus on God in quiet contemplation. Our day modern life with all its many commitments and distractions conspires against. All of these eventually crowd out our love for God and we become weary, our lives become a blur, outside voices & demands take over. We need to pull aside intentionally”.
In medieval times and in the monasteries, the chiming of a church bell would cause all who heard it to stop their activities and say the prescribed prayer. It forced people to remember God. Other examples: devout Jews pulled aside three times a day to pray; early Christians and Jesus himself would flee a crowd of needy people in order to spend time with God. He would withdraw to an isolated place to pray, to get refocused, and spiritually recharged. We too need to respond to the nudges of the Holy Spirit within us constantly inviting us to spend time with God, get aside in quiet contemplation. This helps us to protect our inner space as we learn to tune out distractions, other voices.
An example of David practicing solitude (Psalm 19) David strumming a harp, singing alone, the only audience was some sheep dozing off. He sits there meditating on the greatness of God in the Judean wilderness.
Reflect on the greatness of God (Psalm 19:1-4) Reflect on God, his attributes. Begin with God, acknowledge who He is. Keep a deliberate focus on Him. Praise Him for who He is. Set your inner compass right, find your NORTH.
Interact with God’s Word (Psalm 19:7-11). Let God’s word convert your soul. Evaluate your life in light of the word. Make an honest assessment of your relationship with God. Look at your activities (time & money most spent). Look at your anxieties (what is taking up your head-space). These will indicate what your priorities are. Let the word shape your convictions. Journal what God speaks to you.
Invite a heart search (Psalm 19:12-14) David asks God to deal with his heart. Be honest. Admit your failures, weaknesses, hurts, surrender any negative emotions. He responds to our honesty with mercy. Consciously ask the Holy Spirit to weed out these things from your heart, remove any splinters from your soul. Take time to respond to the inflow of God’s healing power. Unburden your heart. Confusion, fear, cross-roads, share them with God.
Practice solitude with God on a regular basis. We need to create space and time in the midst of busyness and a technologically advanced crazy world. Just as any physical exercise we engage in requires discipline and consistency to produce optimum results so it is with our spiritual lives. Consistently spending quality time with God will strengthen your spiritual faculties. You will find your spirit sharper, more sensitive to hearing the voice of God.
Constant Prayer is not another thing to do on your list
• It’s a lifestyle of walking in close companionship, intimacy with God.
• It’s learning to be God-conscious throughout the day by having a habitual mental orientation towards Him. Look for Him throughout the day, break into spontaneous conversation with Him.
• It’s learning to practice solitude a few times a week, engaging in quiet contemplation, reflection and journaling.
Sample Discussion Questions
1. Discuss what constant prayer means to you?
2. Has unanswered prayer or anything else adversely affected your relationship with God?
3. How can “learning to look for Him” in your day happen for you?
4. What would you change in your schedule to “learn to practice solitude”?
5. How will this spiritual practice of constant prayer impact your life as a follower of Christ?