Thessalonians 5 v 17 Pray without ceasing
There are 4 elements of Public Worship that can be clearly identified in the verses that appear towards the end of Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians.
1. We should be Joyful Christians in worship v 16 2. We should be Prayerful Christians in worship v 17 3. We should be thankful Christians in worship v 18 4. We should be attentive Christians in Worship v 19 – 22
There is a pattern of the regulation for worship that the Lord God has put in place for us to conduct and participate in worship that pleases Him. Joyful praise; sincere prayer; humble thanksgiving and intelligent and attentive listening to the Word of God read and preached.
We considered the first of these last week –
1. Joy in our Corporate Worship to the Lord.
Paul is not issuing an order to God’s people to be happy – but he invites them to be joyful in Public worship. This has ever been the standard for Christians to worship – to worship with the whole heart – in spirit and in truth. There was more to say about Christian rejoicing.
2. Joy in our Christian Walk with the Lord.
Joy was especially a feature of early New Testament Christianity. Typically the good news of the Gospel brought joy to those who received it. It has been suggested that it was the presence of radiant joy in these believers that attracted many in the pagan world to the early Christians and their saviour.
So Paul’s command is to demonstrate joy at all times and in all circumstances. Joy has its origin in the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and we spent time thinking about several of the aspects of the life of the Lord Jesus Christ related to joy –
1. His Incarnation 2. His Power 3. His Death 4. His Resurrection 5. His Ultimate Triumph
Other causes for our joy were our Salvation, our individual enrolment in Heaven the Hope of the Glory of God and our Rewards in heaven.
We concluded that no one can take our joy from us.
Joyful praise then is an indispensable element of our Public Worship – and it is followed by the next imperative –
Pray without ceasing.
This morning we will continue the pattern that we established last week – to speak first about public prayer in worship and then to speak of the prayer life of the Christian believer. We will think about it with these headings –
1. Worshipful Prayer. 2. What is Prayer? 3. What does it mean to Pray without Ceasing?
1. Worshipful Prayer.
What are we doing as we assemble here week by week? Is this building a House of Prayer? How much time do we spend praying in it?
From the very beginning of the New Testament church of the Lord Jesus Christ PRAYER was a feature of the church’s life.
Acts 2 v 42 And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.
There are several texts in the New Testament that are exhortations and instructions to the assembled church to pray –
Ephesians 6 v 18 Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints;
Philippians 4 v 6 which we read earlier –
6 Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.
Colossians 4 v 2 Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving;
Jude v 20 But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost,
1 Timothy 2 v 1 I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; 2 For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. 3 For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; 4 Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.
This first verse of 1 Timothy 2 gives us the main elements of prayer in public worship
Supplication this is a petition for a definite need in a concrete situation.
Prayer, is used more generally for reverent and worshipful address to God reflecting a more general need to state our dependency upon God for all good.
Intercession means to “fall in with a person, to draw near to someone so as to speak with him personally”. It denotes freedom of access and related generally to a technical term for petition offered to a governor or King. Intercession can be described as “a confident interview which is in the interest of others”. We speak to God about men and their souls.
Thanksgiving expresses that vital element of gratitude to God for everything, without which no prayer would be complete.
The Church in the first century knew how to pray.
They prayed for guidance in the choice of a successor to Judas – Acts 1;
They interceded fervently on Peter’s behalf when he was imprisoned which resulted in his freedom – Acts 12.
The Church at Antioch prayed about sending Paul and Barnabas to unevangelised fields of service Acts 13.
As we read in 1 Timothy 2 they prayed for people outside the church, including the God appointed civil authorities.
The church in its worship was following the Lord Jesus Christ and His instructions in
Luke 18 v 1 And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint;
He was saying to His church in every age that prayer must be prominent in our church life.
Before I was converted I had no experience of a Church Prayer Meeting – it did not happen in the Methodist Church where I grew up. Sunday Services, Sunday School and Social teas, jumble sales, games on midweek youth club nights were all that I can remember. But a meeting specifically for prayer – what was that?
A few weeks following my coming to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ I found myself invited to a meeting of service Christians – Army and Air Force – on a Saturday night. A handful of Officers and men gathered to pray. I used to travel on the same service bus that my friends and colleagues used to go to the Garrison Disco – only I went to the Prayer Meeting instead. Younger people today may find that an incredible choice to make – dancing and drinking, or sitting and praying! But as a young Christian, who in previous years would have made a different choice – there would have been no choice – I was drawn to the Lord’s people and this new experience of spirit led prayer in a Church hall. I did not know my Bible very well. I did not know these words of the saviour in Luke 18 v 1 – but He drew me to delight in those Saturday prayer meetings.
My friends do you have problems with prayer meetings? We meet for prayer on Sundays and Tuesdays and at other times besides the prayers in Sunday Worship and at the Lord’s Table. Are there good reasons for some members not to attend the POWER HOUSE of the Church? We all have the opportunity to be involved with speaking to the Lord God together at our prayer meetings. But some friends are persistently absent from the Church’s times of prayer. Some it seems have no desire to pray with other believers. Some cannot organise their lives to pray with other believers. Some it seems have a problem about praying with other believers. Perhaps these words of the saviour in Luke 18 v 1 do not apply to some –
that men (meaning human beings) ought always to pray, and not to faint;
My friends we ALL ought to be at the prayer meetings if we can! The need of the hour, of the times is for prayer! Millions are going to hell! Millions mock our saviour; millions are ignoring the plain fact that they will one day face God as their judge. The question is HOW CAN WE NOT PRAY in times of such crisis? People are not praying for themselves – we need to pray for them – that God will open their eyes so that one day they WILL pray for themselves and call upon the Lord God for Salvation!
Have you done that? Have you called out to the Lord to save you? Have you realised that you are a lost sinner and that your sin condemns you? Have you heard of the Lord Jesus Christ who came to die for sinners; who came to reconcile sinners to God by dying on the cross? Then see your need to pray – to speak to God about yourself – to confess to Him your sin and plead for His forgiveness and mercy. Plead for His help so that you repent of your sin, turning from sin to Christ. God hears the prayer of a repentant sinner. Will you pray my friend? Will you pray?
Moving on from ‘Prayer in Public Worship’ we return to Paul’s imperative as it applies to individual Christians –
PRAY WITHOUT CEASING.
First it would be sensible to ask
2. What is Prayer?
What a question! But what IS prayer? Is it sinking to one’s knees? Sitting down doing one’s devotions? Standing or sitting in Church while someone else prays?
Prayer is fellowship with God. Prayer is a specific act of speaking to God. It can be corporate – as a body, an assembly, a group of believing Christians – as we have been considering with regards to corporate worship.
Or prayer can be individual speaking to God by a single believer alone with the Lord in conversation with Him.
The Lord Jesus Christ taught His disciples to pray. We read of it in Matthew 6 v 5
And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. 6 But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.
Prayer is fellowship with the Living God in secret. And the Lord Jesus gave us the pattern prayer to get us going –
Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen. (Matthew 6 v 9 – 13)
Prayer is an expression of utter dependence upon God. And we will develop this definition of prayer in a few moments.
Prayer is intercession. We should be praying for our fellow Church Members; for the true Church of the Lord Jesus Christ throughout the world; for the ministers of the Gospel and for the church’s adherence to the truth of God’s word. We should be praying for our nation, parliament and government, and for a just free and compassionate society; for world mission especially for places that are resistant to the gospel; for the poor, oppressed, persecuted, hungry, homeless and sick. It has been suggested that perhaps the reason for the comparatively slow progress towards world evangelisation is due to the prayerlessness of the people of God? (John Stott.)
However we must adhere to the text that we have before us this morning in verse 17 and answer our second question in our third heading –
3. What does it mean to Pray without Ceasing?
The first thing to say is this –
Prayer without ceasing is impossible in any formal sense of the command. Because
All of us have to eat although there are such occasions as prayer breakfasts, lunches and suppers.
We all have to sleep.
We all have to engage in some form of labour every day. Part of life is talking with others and listening to others.
But Paul tells us to pray without ceasing.
What could he be meaning?
William Hendriksen says that “Pray without ceasing means that there must be no decline in the regularity of the habit of “taking hold of God” in the midst of all circumstances of life.”
Leon Morris puts it like this “Prayer without ceasing is the continuing expression of dependence on God for everything.”
And just as verse 16 proclaimed that we are to be continually rejoicing despite our circumstances – now we are called to be continually prayerful IN all of our circumstances.
So the 2 are similar. Last week we observed that we are not always happy, not always emotionally tranquil and at peace – but always we can be joyful – because joy does not depend on our circumstances – it depends on the person and presence of Christ in our souls and the fruit of that union – which produces continual joy!
So it is with prayer. We can pray in every circumstance.
Prayer turns our thoughts away from ourselves and our puny deeds to the great God who has wrought a marvellous salvation for us in the Lord Jesus Christ.
This is the very nature of prayer – dependence on God in the Lord Jesus Christ and expressing, constantly, by our whole disposition, as well as our words, that we acknowledge this dependence.
My friends we believe that the Bible teaches our utter inability to bring about our own salvation. We were unable to initiate an act whereby we trusted Christ – it was he who had to wake us up – to quicken us and impart life to us. For the putting away of our sins, the atonement by the Lord Jesus Christ the Son of God was necessary. It was wrought on our behalf by Him who was sinless becoming sin for us the sinful. But more than this we are now unable, without faith, to live out our Christian lives from day to day. We need daily faith in the Lord, daily faith expressed in daily dependence on Him. For us to live a dedicated life we need the power of the Holy Spirit who indwells us, and His power alone.
All along the way we experience our own insufficiency to live to please and serve God. We simply cannot do it alone. Therefore we are dependent utterly on God for everything.
Praying without ceasing is the continuing expression of this dependence.
Please forgive the simplicity of the illustration – but we Christians are all babies! Think about a baby. A baby is totally dependent on his parents to feed, clothe, protect him and keep him warm. When he is hungry he has a way of expressing his dependence on his parent usually the mother, that his little tummy is empty!
When he is cold he has the same mechanism for expressing his dependence on someone to make him warm.
And when he feels frightened he uses again the same system of alerting the one on whom he is totally dependent to ensure his safety and receive reassurance – in the form of cuddles and soothing sounds.
A baby’s cries are the baby’s prayers of dependence!
Babies do not go off duty – ask any new father and mother. The dependence and its means of expression is a 24 hour dependence. Some babies pray without ceasing!
Believers are exhorted to do the same! Paul is saying – be a baby in your dependence on the Lord your God.
But you may suggest to me that the illustration breaks down – because babies grow and mature and learn INDEPENDENCE. What now of the cry of dependence?
This now is the maturity of prayer – when cries are not only self orientated but they become cries for the needs of others. We are not only dependent on God for our own needs, but also for the needs of our families, fellow members and if we so choose to express it, the needs of the world.
But even in maturity we cannot achieve anything worthwhile in our own strength – yet we have all that we need. This will keep us in a spirit of prayer – dependent prayer. Living in a constant attitude of prayer.
Prayer is listening as well as speaking to God. Dependency includes both aspects.
For example think of a young mother who has come to the end of a tiring day with her baby. She goes to bed early. Later on her husband enters the bedroom, gets ready for bed and asks her a question. She neither answers nor stirs. The husband turns the radio on low to hear the midnight news – but still his wife does not stir. But then, at 2 am in the morning the baby lets out a tiny whimper. INSTANTLY the young mother is awake. All night long she had been listening carefully for her child, even though her mind had been dead to the rest of the world.
So to pray without ceasing is to be listening for God and communicating with Him, even when you are involved in other matters – duties, conversations, and even sleep. Prayer is an attitude as a well as a specific act.
It is helpful to think about a Biblical example of someone who lived in a constant attitude of prayer.
Samuel the last of the Judges of Israel was such a man.
1 Samuel 3 v 1 – 10.
1 And the child Samuel ministered unto the LORD before Eli. And the word of the LORD was precious in those days; there was no open vision. 2 And it came to pass at that time, when Eli was laid down in his place, and his eyes began to wax dim, that he could not see; 3 And ere the lamp of God went out in the temple of the LORD, where the ark of God was, and Samuel was laid down to sleep; 4 That the LORD called Samuel: and he answered, Here am I. 5 And he ran unto Eli, and said, Here am I; for thou calledst me. And he said, I called not; lie down again. And he went and lay down. 6 And the LORD called yet again, Samuel. And Samuel arose and went to Eli, and said, Here am I; for thou didst call me. And he answered, I called not, my son; lie down again. 7 Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, neither was the word of the LORD yet revealed unto him. 8 And the LORD called Samuel again the third time. And he arose and went to Eli, and said, Here am I; for thou didst call me. And Eli perceived that the LORD had called the child. 9 Therefore Eli said unto Samuel, Go, lie down: and it shall be, if he call thee, that thou shalt say, Speak, LORD; for thy servant heareth. So Samuel went and lay down in his place. 10 And the LORD came, and stood, and called as at other times, Samuel, Samuel. Then Samuel answered, Speak; for thy servant heareth.
This is where it all started for Samuel. 4 times the Lord God spoke to Samuel while he lay on his bed. Like the young mother listening for the cries of her baby even in her sleep Samuel had ears for the Lord. Many of us sleep through our prayers and even sleep instead of praying.
But Samuel jumped out of bed when it was time to listen to and talk to the Lord God. Samuel had been nurtured in prayer. His mother was a praying woman. And Eli the priest was a praying man.
Samuel was Victorious in Prayer. In 1 Samuel 7 we find him calling the people to turn from their idols.
3 And Samuel spake unto all the house of Israel, saying, If ye do return unto the LORD with all your hearts, then put away the strange gods and Ashtaroth from among you, and prepare your hearts unto the LORD, and serve him only: and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines. 4 Then the children of Israel did put away Baalim and Ashtaroth, and served the LORD only. 5 And Samuel said, Gather all Israel to Mizpeh, and I will pray for you unto the LORD.
A great revival followed as the people fasted and confessed their sins.
After this the Philistines heard about the revival and thought that the Israelites were gathering to make war against them. They did not understand prayer meetings! So they attacked! Satan hates revival in a soul. See what the people said then to Samuel –
8 And the children of Israel said to Samuel, Cease not to cry unto the LORD our God for us, that he will save us out of the hand of the Philistines. 9 And Samuel took a sucking lamb, and offered it for a burnt offering wholly unto the LORD: and Samuel cried unto the LORD for Israel; and the LORD heard him.
While he prayed Samuel offered a sacrifice to the Lord. This was how important he saw the presentation of prayer appealing to a sacrifice.
When we pray we pray through the Lord Jesus Christ. We are presenting our prayers in His name who was sacrificed for our sins of the cross.
People say that they pray today. My friends I am so uneasy when I hear someone praying to God but abruptly end their prayer with an AMEN. No mention of the Name of Jesus Christ – just an amen. Prayer does not have its own intrinsic power – it is only powerful when offered in the name and trusting in the merits of the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ. Samuel prayed offering a sacrifice. We pray appealing on the basis of the once for all sacrifice of our saviour.
The result of Samuel’s prayer is in v 10.
Samuel was persuasive in prayer. It was a beautiful summer’s day during the wheat harvest. Turn on to 1 Samuel 12 v 17 – 18 to see what happened after Israel had chosen a Human king to lead them.
17 Is it not wheat harvest to day? I will call unto the LORD, and he shall send thunder and rain; that ye may perceive and see that your wickedness is great, which ye have done in the sight of the LORD, in asking you a king. 18 So Samuel called unto the LORD; and the LORD sent thunder and rain that day: and all the people greatly feared the LORD and Samuel.
The Thunder and lightning were striking visual aids that illustrated the sin of Israel. Samuel’s prayer brought results. The rain came down, the harvest was ruined – the people got the message and they confessed their guilt before God. Conviction descended upon them. Many people in our day need to feel this conviction of sin for what they are doing in defence of God. But as much as we preach to them and warn them of the wrath to come if we do not pray FOR THEM then neither preaching nor warning will pierce their hearts. Of course we cannot call down thunder – but our continual prayers for our neighbours and families and work colleagues can be a tool that the Lord God uses for persuading people of their need to repent and turn to the Lord.
Samuel was loving in Prayer. Just before King Saul was crowned Samuel gave his retirement speech. He refused to bear a grudge against the people for choosing a King. Notice what he says in 1 Samuel 12 v 23
Moreover as for me, God forbid that I should sin against the LORD in ceasing to pray for you: but I will teach you the good and the right way:
Another example of Samuel’s love in prayer is 1 Samuel 15:10 – 11.
10 Then came the word of the LORD unto Samuel, saying, 11 It repenteth me that I have set up Saul to be king: for he is turned back from following me, and hath not performed my commandments. And it grieved Samuel; and he cried unto the LORD all night.
Samuel could have said “I am glad that Saul is being rejected – I will be the judge in charge again – that will show these unruly people!”
But he did not – he prayed for Saul all night, for God to be merciful to him.
Do we pray for people like this? Are we concerned that there are those whom we know who will be rejected on judgement day? Does the thought of our worst enemy going to hell cheer us, or does it break our hearts?
Are we concerned for the lost? Or have we lost our concern?
Samuel shows us that his life was lived in an attitude of prayer. He saturated every area of his life with prayer to God, appealing to God, considering God in every decision and living in God’s presence. What a challenge for each of us who are Christians this morning! May we be such people – who pray without ceasing. Finally
Non praying Christians are an anomaly.
Perhaps we have slipped in this area. God is willing to help us to change. But are we willing to be those who learn how to pray without ceasing? and then to maintain a life of satisfying unceasing fellowship with the Lord God in the person of His dear son, our saviour the Lord Jesus Christ? May it be so for each of us – for Jesus sake!