Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks
in all circumstances.
1 Thessalonians 5:16–18
Our Lord gave the parable of the widow and the unjust judge to teach us that we should always pray and not give up (Luke 18:1–5). As the widow persevered in seeking one particular thing, the parable seems to refer to persevering prayer for a particular blessing when God seems to delay or appears to refuse. The words in the Epistles, which speak of continuing instant in prayer, continuing in prayer and watching in the same, of praying always in the Spirit, appear to refer more to the whole life being one of prayer. As the soul fills with longing for the manifestation of God’s glory to us and in us, through us and around us, and with the confidence that He hears the prayers of His children, the inner life of the soul is continually rising upward in dependence and faith, in longing desire and trustful expectation.
What is needed to live such a life of prayer? The first thing is undoubtedly the entire sacrifice of one’s life to God’s kingdom and glory. He who seeks to pray without ceasing simply because he wants to be very pious and good, will never attain to it. It is by forgetting oneself and yielding one’s life to live for God and His honor that the heart is enlarged to know the light of God and His will. It is the recognition that everything around us needs God’s help and blessing; that all adversity is an opportunity for His being glorified. Because everything is weighed and tested by the one thing that fills the heart—the glory of God—and because the soul has learned that only what is of God can honor Him, the whole life becomes one of looking up, of crying from the inmost heart for God to prove His power and love and show forth His glory. The believer awakens to the consciousness that he is one of the watchmen on Zion’s walls, one of the Lord’s remembrancers, whose call really does touch and move the King in heaven to do what would otherwise not be done. He understands how real Paul’s exhortation was: ‘‘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’’ (Ephesians 6:18), and ‘‘Devote yourselves to prayer . . . and pray for us, too’’ (Colossians 4:2–3). To forget oneself, to live for God and His kingdom among men, is the way to learn to pray without ceasing.
This life devoted to God must be accompanied by the deep confidence that our prayer is effective. In His prayer lessons, our Lord insisted upon nothing so much as faith in God as a Father who most certainly does what we ask. ‘‘Ask and you will receive’’ (John 16:24); to count confidently on an answer is with Him the beginning and the end of His teaching (compare Matthew 7:8 and John 16:24). In proportion as this assurance masters us, and it becomes a settled thing that our prayers count, and that God does what we ask, we dare not neglect the use of this wonderful power. The soul turns wholly to God, and our life becomes a prayer. We see that the Lord takes time because we, and all around us, are creatures of time, under the law of growth. Knowing that not one prayer of faith will be lost, that there is sometimes a need for the storing up and accumulating of prayer, but recognizing that persevering prayer is irresistible, prayer becomes the quiet, persistent living of our life of desire and faith in the presence of our God.
Let us no longer by our human reasoning limit and weaken such free and sure promises of the living God, robbing them of their power and ourselves of the wonderful confidence they are meant to inspire. Not in God, not in His secret will, not in the limitations of His promises, but in us is the hindrance. We are not what we should be to obtain the promise. Let us open our whole heart to God’s words of promise in all their simplicity and truth. They will search us and humble us. They will lift us up and make us glad and strong. To the faith that knows it gets what it asks, prayer is not work or a burden but a joy and a triumph. It becomes second nature.
This union of strong desire and firm confidence is nothing but the life of the Holy Spirit within us. The Spirit dwells in us, hides himself in the depths of our being, and stirs our desire after the unseen and the divine, after God himself. Whether in groanings that cannot be uttered, or in clear and conscious assurance; whether in special petitions for the deeper revelation of Christ to us, or in pleadings for a soul, a work, the church, or the world, prayer is always and only the work of the Holy Spirit. He draws out the heart to thirst for God, to long for His being made known and glorified.
Where the child of God truly lives and walks in the Spirit, where he is not content to remain carnal, but seeks to be spiritual, in everything a fit organ for the divine Spirit to reveal the life of Christ and Christ himself, there the never-ceasing intercession life of the blessed Son is revealed and then repeats itself in our experience. Because it is the Spirit of Christ who prays in us, our prayer must be heard; because it is we who pray in the Spirit, there is need of time, and patience, and continual renewing of the prayer until every obstacle is conquered and the harmony between God’s Spirit and ours is perfect.
But the most important thing we need for such a life of unceasing prayer is to know that Jesus teaches us to pray. We have begun to understand a little of what His teaching is. It is not the communication of new thoughts or views, not the discovery of failure or error, not the stirring up of desire and faith—however important all of this is—but by receiving us into the fellowship of His own prayer life before the Father, Jesus teaches to pray.
It was the sight of Jesus praying that stirred up their desire, that made the disciples long for and ask to be taught how to pray. It is the faith of the ever-praying Jesus, to whom belongs the power to pray, that teaches us to pray. It is because He who prays is our Head and our Life. All He has is ours and is given to us when we give ourselves to Him. By His blood He leads us into the immediate presence of God. The inner sanctuary is our home; we dwell there. He that lives so near to God, and knows that He has been brought near to bless those who are far away, cannot help but pray. Christ makes us partakers with himself of His prayer power and prayer life. We understand then that our true aim must not be to work more, or to pray enough to keep the work on track, but to pray more and then work enough for the power and blessing obtained in prayer to find its way through us to others. It is Christ who ever lives to pray, who saves and reigns. He communicates His prayer life to us. He maintains it in us if we trust Him. He is the strength of our praying without ceasing. Christ teaches us to pray by showing how He does it, by doing it in us, by leading us to do it through Him and as He does. Christ is the life and the strength of a never-ceasing prayer life.
The sight of our ever-praying Lord as our life enables us to pray without ceasing. Because His priesthood is the power of an endless life, that resurrection life that never fades and never fails, and because His life is our life, praying without ceasing can become to us nothing less than the joy of heaven. So the apostle says, ‘‘Be joyful always; pray continually ; give thanks in all circumstances’’ (1 Thessalonians 5:16–18). Borne up between the never-ceasing joy and the never-ceasing praise, never-ceasing prayer is the manifestation of the power of eternal life. The union between the Vine and the branch is a prayer union. The highest conformity to Christ, the most blessed participation in the glory of His heavenly life is that we take part in His work of intercession. In the experience of our union with Him, praying without ceasing becomes not only a possibility but also a reality, the holiest and most blessed part of our fellowship with God. We make our abode within the veil in the presence of the Father. What the Father says, we do; what the Son says, the Father does. Praying without ceasing is the earthly manifestation of heaven come down, the foretaste of the life where they do not rest day or night in the song of worship and adoration.
Father, with my whole heart I praise you for this wondrous life of never-ceasing prayer, never-ceasing fellowship, never-ceasing answers, and never-ceasing experience of my oneness with Him who ever lives to pray. God, help me to dwell and walk in the presence of your glory always so that prayer may be the spontaneous expression of my life with you.
Blessed Savior, with my whole heart I praise you that you came from heaven to share with me in my needs and the cries of my heart, that I might share with you in your all-prevailing intercession. And I thank you that you have taken me into the school of prayer to teach the blessedness and the power of a life that is prayer. Thank you for taking me up into the fellowship of your life of intercession, so that through me your blessings may be dispensed to those around me.
Holy Spirit, with deep reverence I thank you for your work in me. Through you I am allowed to share in the intimate relationship between the Son and the Father, and enter into the fellowship of the life and love of the Trinity. Spirit of God, perfect your work in me; bring me into perfect union with Christ my Intercessor. Let your constant indwelling make my life one of constant intercession so that I may glorify you on earth and bless others with the blessing you have given me. Amen.