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What to Pray for, 1: Pray without Ceasing (Col. 1:9-13)

The Heart of Praying without Ceasing

A Sense of Need

It may seem strange to consider this one little line, “Do not cease to pray for you.” It is a common statement in Paul’s letters, but he did not use “I’m praying for you” as conversational filler; he meant it. He did not know the Colossians personally, but he prayed for them always. In 1 Thessalonians 5:18, the Spirit commands us to do the same: “Pray without ceasing.” And specifically, we are to pray for one another always. It is impossible to exaggerate our weakness because we do not pray, do not pray in faith, do not pray trusting the Father’s love and in our Savior’s intercession. The Lord mightily blesses when we seek him day and night, turn our face to him, and not our backs, as Jeremiah lamented. If we had any sense of our need, we would pray. If your arm was suddenly trapped in a wood shredder, or your foot on an escalator, or your child in a burning house, you would pray. You would pray urgently while you are helping. If you could not breathe because of illness, you would pray, asking the Lord to bring you to heaven by his grace, ease your lungs, or give patience in affliction – or all of them. And yet, Satan is hounding, the wicked scheming against Jesus Christ, and the old man of sin trying us, and we sometimes can barely mutter a few syllables in prayer. Or what is worse, we feel our need but clam up. We see others struggling, and we do not immediately drop to our knees and pray for them. All of the needs we know of in the world, all the calamities we see, the afflictions that weigh us down, the absurdity that infuriates us, and the wickedness that fill us with the horror are our Father’s way of saying, “Calm down, child. Seek my face. I am the Lord of all. I am the Lord of your need. I have brought this into your life so that you seek my strength, stop relying upon yours, and repent of your sulking and complaining. This is my world. I have made you. I am Lord of your life. Seek my face.”

An Expectation of Mercy

But it is not only a sense of need that should lead us to pray always. It is true that life never lets up, for the wheels of God’s providence are constantly active, testing his people, judging his enemies, and advancing his purposes. We pray always because God’s mercy endures forever, and our Father promises to give us mercy always. His mercy is compassion in our weakness and need. It is also forgiveness when we sin. It is sympathy that comforts and strengthens, faithfulness that supplies every need, and mutual burden-bearing so that we hold up one another’s arms, as Aaron and Hur upheld Moses’s. The more we know God as our merciful God and Father, we will continue praying. The well of his mercy never runs dry. The more we know Jesus Christ as our merciful and faithful high priest, the more we will pray always, for his arm never grows weary of helping us or his heart cold toward our cries. The more we trust and desire the Holy Spirit’s wise help and comfort, his intercession and strength, the more we shall pray. Along with knowing and doing God’s will revealed in his word, nothing is more important than that we pray without ceasing. 

An Assurance of Adoption

But how, you ask, can we be certain of God’s help? Why would he hear us and help us? If he cared, why would these calamities be happening in our lives? Why bring trouble to us in the first place, or ordain that we live in a fallen world? If he is going to create us, why put us through all this? We would have to be God to understand these things, and it is a proud vanity that demands answers in matters that are too high for us (Ps. 131:1-2). It is enough for us to know that God ordained that through our sin, suffering, and trials, we learn that he is our Father in the Lord Jesus Christ. It is through the glories of salvation by his grace that we come to know the privilege and glory of being loved by him, saved by his Beloved Son, and sealed and indwelled by his Spirit. In the furnace of affliction, especially long trials, we come to know ourselves and come to know him in his power and grace. And, to know him is everlasting life (John 17:3). To know that he is our Father, that he invites us to cast our burdens upon him, and that he brings trials to expose our pride so that he might become our boast, this should be enough for us. It is enough for faith. Faith rests in our Father, through the Son, by the Spirit. Faith rests and rejoices in the one, true God. Faith cries; faith is sometimes baffled and cries, “Lord, I believe, but help my unbelief.” But in the end, faith trusts God our Father. Faith prays without ceasing. We come to him continually, wait upon him, seek his strength, and rest quietly in his love, his wisdom, and his providence.

The Practice of Praying without Ceasing

Regularity, Spontaneity, Fervency in Prayer

To encourage us to pray always, we need, first, to have regular times that we pray. David once wrote that “evening, morning, and noon will I pray, and cry aloud” (Ps. 55:17). Each evening we should praise the Lord for his lovingkindness. At noon we should renew our love and confess our need of him and our sins where we have strayed from him. In the morning we should praise him for preserving us during the night, for loving us so faithfully, and commit each day’s need to him. The habit of regularity in prayer will help establish the habit of spontaneity in prayer. If a need arises, stop and seek the Lord’s help, like Nehemiah, if only a sentence or two. If a blessing comes, thank the Lord immediately for it, or you will forget his grace and lose his blessing. Every new task or sudden crisis, commit it to the Lord – whether a soldier under fire, a collapse in financial markets, an injury on the job, a sudden loss of income and position. There is no place we do not need the Lord. The more we feel this, the more fervent we shall be. Cold and lifeless prayers do not edify the soul or glorify God. It is the “fervent” prayer of a righteous man that avails much (James 5:17). Fervency is not emotionalism. It is prayer born from a sense of need, an expectation of mercy, and the habit of coming to the Lord constantly. Fervency can be quiet, for the soul’s sincerity is not found in its noise but in its strong desire for the Lord, recognition that he is our only helper, and assurance that we can come boldly to his throne of grace.

Faith and Obedience in Prayer

We should pray without ceasing not because we earn brownie points with the Lord by many prayers. Right praying is not talking out loud and rambling on with the Lord. Right prayer takes God at his word that he is our Father. Right prayer comes to him as he has revealed himself – the rewarder of those who diligently seek him (Heb. 11:6). He wants to hear and answer us. His answers are wiser than our requests, to be sure, but as our Father, he knows we are children. We know nothing about anything as we should know it. We do not even know how to pray aright and often ask for things from a selfish, lustful, and angry heart (Rom. 8:26; James 4:3). Despite our weakness, we pray without ceasing because faith always cries to Father, through the Savior, by the help of Intercessor. Where there is faith in God, there will be prayer, more prayer, more believing prayer. These are duties. God commands us to cry to him and to cast our burden upon him. He commands us to pray always for one another. We forget this. Not to pray is disobedience. It is foolish and weakening, to be sure. It is also a sin, and like all other sins, we must ask the Lord to give us grace to repent. As we all walk more faithfully in this, we join the praying throngs on earth who are giving God no rest until he blesses the kingdom of his Son to grow and fill the earth. This sort of praying is the way he builds his church and honors his Son. The more we pray and pray corporately, the more the true kingdom of Jesus Christ grows in our midst – not rituals and politics and preferences but God’s glory, Christ’s humility, and the Spirit’s power.

Promise-Guided, God-Centered Prayer

If we are not accustomed to “praying always” for one another, it might seem like a very difficult command. One reason for this is relational – with the Lord. The more distantly we know him, the less inclined we will be to praying. A close walk with the Lord and constancy in prayer are inseparable twins. As we learn of him, we have his word to guide our desires. Praying without ceasing is not keeping up a current wish list with the Lord. His promises become our ardent wishes. He promises to make his Son’s kingdom the highest (Isa. 9:7; Dan. 2:42). We want and pray for this, for we love our Savior and want him to be glorified. Holiness is his will for us (1 Thess. 4:3), and we want to please him, so we pray for holiness. We want other believers to be holy, our family members to be holy. God’s word thus guides our praying without ceasing, especially his promises. For it is through prayer that we dig up the treasures of God’s promises, as Calvin once said of prayer. Turn every one of the Lord’s precepts into petitions for grace. Let the histories, narratives, and biographies in Scripture guide your expectations and petitions for the Lord’s working in his people and churches, and in their individual characters. Let his promises stimulate you constantly to ask, seek, knock. Know God and know his word. Make him your lifetime commitment – Him. And then, you will grow in this heavenly practice of praying without ceasing. He will be more real to you, for you will have eaten more of his heavenly food and less of the world’s poison that takes away your appetite for the Lord, his cross, and his kingdom.

The Desire to Pray without Ceasing

Hungering and Thirsting for God

Most of us will readily admit our need for more regular, fervent, and Bible prayer. Rather than make excuses, we should remember this about our lives. The Lord is the only one who can really help us. I mean this without exaggeration. Other people might be able to give you a little encouragement or direction, but you have been made for the Lord. He created you for his fellowship, to be in a relationship of loving, open dependence upon him, in which you look to him for every need and he supplies all your needs. Say and believe with Asaph: “Whom have I in heaven but you, and there is no one on earth I desire beside you. My flesh and my heart fail, but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion forever” (Ps. 73:25-26).It is by believing prayer that this desire is fleshed out, realized, even provisionally fulfilled, according to God’s wise working in us. Along with his word, prayer is the time we are closest to him, most in his presence, and helped by his Spirit.

As you grow in your desire for God, prayer will come more natural and fervent and regular. Why is this? Desire for this world, selfishness and self-absorption, are prayer killers because they separate us from the Lord and enfold us upon ourselves. They interrupt our fellowship with him, our sense of his love for us, and the privilege of walking with him, which we do chiefly in prayer. We cannot love him and the world, him and ourselves, him and our lives in this world. Get a desire for the Lord, and he will give you a spirit of supplication. The way to get a desire for him is to repent of our worldly desires and ask him to help us desire him. Then, we must learn of him, believe his word, obey his word, and flee our sins. We do so depending upon the power of Jesus Christ. If you are in the grip of a sin, still loving it, hating to let it go, ask the Lord Jesus to come and free you. Ask him to deliver you from the love of sinning. He never healed anyone who came to him and said, “Heal me, because that fellow over there is miserable and loves his sins.” He heals us when we come to him confessing our own wickedness and need of his delivering grace.

Love One Another with a Pure Heart Fervently

Do not miss this – prayer is not a private adventure in which we are spiritually consumed with ourselves and our own needs. Praying always was “for them.” There are so many needs in the body of Christ, many silent yet intense cries for help. If our eyes and ears are opened to what others are experiencing and the burdens they carry, we will pray for them – if we love them. And the more fervent our love, the more fervently we will pray – that the Lord will guide our brothers and sisters, protect and provide for them, bring them to repentance, restore them to the right way, heal them, and use them to glorify his grace in the world. “I have prayed for you” was our Lord’s encouragement to Peter. Yes, he prayed for himself, but as our Mediator, our Lord cannot think of himself without thinking of us. Our names are engraved upon his hands. He carries our needs in his heart. He loves us fervently this very moment, is planning good for us, and is praying for us that our faith does not fail but that we overcome the world. If our hearts are cold toward one another, prayer will suffer. We will be suspicious rather than tender. We will be fault-finders and nitpickers, or indifferent and cold, rather than pouring out our hearts for one another before the throne of grace. Begin by praying for every member of your home daily, specifically. Pray his promises for them. Then, move out into your circle of friends.

Walking as He Walked

Our Savior is doing this now. He is praying for each one of us (Heb. 7:25). He carries our burdens upon his heart to his Father. Will we join him? To walk as he walked is our high calling. He often spent nights in prayer. He loved communion with his Father. He taught us this about prayer – it is not a self-oriented spiritual exercise but the chief way we bring ourselves into the sphere of God’s presence and providence, our Father’s love. It is the way we obtain strength for the battle so that instead of giving up, we persevere. It is also the path to perseverance with joy. He did not go to the cross grumbling. He would not have us do so, but by prayer to obtain strength to carry them with purpose and joy. Now, pray for one another always. Pray constantly for those with whom you are at odds or whom you believe have done you some injury. You have done the Lord Jesus great injury, but he died for you and prays for you. It is very hard to harbor bitterness against someone you are praying for constantly. If you are fervent for your sister’s need before the throne of grace, rivalry and envy will be killed. Praying without ceasing is the way he walked, and it is the chief way he overcame the world. Calvary occurred because of the prayer war in Gethsemane. It will be the same with us as with our Lord.

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