Why Should We Be Committed to Prayer?
September 10, 2023

Why Should We Be Committed to Prayer?

Preacher:
Passage: 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Simple Prayer

Whenever we call out to God – whenever we speak to him – we call this prayer. And Christian prayer usually isn’t flashy or spectacular in appearance. It isn’t all that entertaining. Prayer seldom brings instant gratification or immediate results. In many ways, prayer seems very ordinary.

And in one sense, prayer is ordinary. Some people may think that’s a shortcoming, but the ordinary-ness of prayer is actually a gift! When you pray, you don’t need to hire a professional scriptwriter. You don’t need to plan a formal event. You don’t need to reserve a special venue. Prayer is something that can be woven into the daily fabric of your life – any place, any time. The ordinariness of prayer means that it’s doable. We can all pray.

But even though prayer looks like a simple four-door sedan at first glance, there’s a powerful engine under the hood. Ordinary prayer is an extraordinary gift.  It’s extraordinary that we’re invited to communicate with the Timeless, Pure Being who invented the Universe. It’s extraordinary that the God we’re calling to is so kind, he lets our grungy, unimpressive prayers stagger into his throne room. It’s extraordinary that he looks upon our words with favor – that he responds to them with action.

So tonight, from this short passage of Scripture, I want to encourage you to remain committed to prayer. Because the Bible here tells us that God wants His people to joyfully pray. As we work through the text I want to answer four questions: How Should We Pray? When Should We Pray? Why Should We Pray? And finally, Who Should Pray?

How Should We Pray?

So first, How Should We Pray? You’ll notice there are three commands in our text that are given in rapid-fire succession – these three stand together: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, [and] give thanks in all circumstances.” Rejoice – Pray – Give Thanks.

The first command – Rejoice – doesn’t just deal with an action we need to perform. It deals with the attitude of our hearts. Christians are urged to have an attitude of rejoicing – of being joyful – in the context of our praying. Now, the Bible isn’t just saying we should put on a plastic mask with a fake smile and pretend like everything in life is great. Instead, we’re told to rejoice because Christians have real reasons for everlasting, undying joy.

We see one of these reasons just a few verses earlier – look with me back at verses 9-10: “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we would live with him.” We were once without Christ – we deserved God’s wrath and the penalty of God’s justice for our narcissism and corrupt desires. But Jesus died in the place of sinners in order to secure eternal life for everyone who turns to him.

So our joy isn’t just a vapor of wishful thinking. Christian joy is rooted in truth – it’s a precious fruit harvested from the tree of Christ’s suffering. We are commanded to have joy because we have reason for joy.

But with all our misplaced desires, our distractions, and our difficulties living in a fallen world, having this joy isn’t easy. Feeling joyful isn’t automatic, which is why we need God’s Word to remind us: Rejoice! Otherwise, we’re often tempted toward pessimism or despair or self-pity. And these things are enemies to prayer. Because if we’re convinced we’ll fail – if we’re convinced there’s no hope – if we’re convinced that everyone should focus on feeling sorry for us, we’ll struggle to see the point of praying. But we’re urged here – Rejoice! Fight for joy! Because when we delight ourselves in the greatness of who God is and what He’s done – we’ll remember the goodness and power and worthiness of the one we pray to.

So how should we pray? We should pray with joy.

But in these three commands we see something else. When we’re told here: Rejoice – Pray – Give Thanks, we actually see here three different categories of prayer. We often refer to all these things as Prayer – but the command to rejoice here means we should delight ourselves in God and adore him. The command to pray in this verse specifically means we should petition God – and request what we need from Him. And the command to give thanks means that our prayers should also include words of gratitude.

So when it comes to how we pray, let this be an encouragement to you – pray with variety. Pray in all the ways God encourages his people to pray – rejoicing, making requests, and giving thanks.

When Should We Pray?

And it makes sense to ask next – when should we pray in these ways? This brings us to the second question that the text deals with: When should we pray?

Look again at verse 16. You’ll see that all three of these commands tells us something about when we should engage in these prayerful activities – Always, without ceasing, in all circumstances.

These three phrases teach us that there should be a constancy to our prayers. This doesn’t mean you need to retreat from the world and join a monastery – it doesn’t mean that every second of every minute of every day you need to be kneeling in your prayer closet. Instead, the text is saying that prayer should be a regular part of our lives – that prayer is something we should persist in without giving up.

Because, frankly, it isn’t easy to maintain a life of prayer. This letter was written to a group of new Christians living under the constant threat of persecution. They were tempted to give in to depression – to despair – to doubt. It isn’t easy to persevere in prayer.

And you and I know this. When we’re prosperous, when we’re anxious, when we’re tired, when we’re sinning against God, when we’ve just lost something that was precious to us, and we’re in the abyss of misery, it can be a real struggle to lift our hands in prayer. But God’s Word tells us here that prayer is precisely the right thing to be doing in all those situations – even when it feels hard or unnatural. Every time – any time – is the right time to pray.

Why Should We Pray?

But if prayer is so difficult and so unnatural to us, why should we bother? This brings us to the third question – Why should we pray?

The second half of verse 18 tells us: It’s because “this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” At a very basic level, we should pray because that’s what Almighty God tells us to do – it’s his will for us.

We don’t have to be concerned that God will be unavailable, or annoyed, or indifferent – God is the one sending out the proclamation. The apostle Paul is the king’s herald: Come at any time! Come soon! Come often! Bring your blessings, your burdens, your praises and your problems. The gates are open! The King is ready to listen! He wants us to come!

But notice, we can say more here. The text says this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. In other words, being in Christ Jesus is relevant for our prayer life.

We were once at odds with God – estranged from him – we weren’t on speaking terms. But in Christ God has welcomed us back into friendship, and he views us with favor. Why should we pray, then? Because in Christ we know that our prayers are accepted by God. In Christ, we are able to cultivate closer fellowship with the God who made us and saved us through prayer. In Christ, we are given a steady hand of grace that leads us along the straight and narrow path as we pray. The opportunity to pray is granted to us in Christ. Why would we leave such a valuable parcel unopened? Why would we leave our best tools unused? Prayer is good for us – God uses prayer to apply his grace and kindness to us – and that’s why God wants us to do it.

So we pray, not just out of duty – not just because we’re obligated to. No, prayer is a privilege. Prayer isn’t our gift to God. Prayer is God’s gift to us.

Who Should Pray?

The fourth and final question answered by this text is who should pray. We could, of course, say that these instructions are for the Christians who lived in the city of Thessalonica 2,000 years ago. And that would be true. But these words weren’t just written for them. They were written for all of Christ’s Church – for hundreds of millions, throughout the centuries, across every country and continent – extending even to us. It’s not only God’s will that the Thessalonian church would rejoice, pray, and give thanks. It is God’s will in Christ Jesus for us.

And I want to emphasize here – this isn’t just an activity for individuals. It’s clearly right for you and I to go off alone and pray – Christ himself, set an example of prayer for us like this. He went off into desolate places to spend time alone with His Father. But the grammar here suggests that prayer isn’t just for each of us. It’s for all of us – together – as a body. Just as Jesus taught his disciples to pray – not MY Father who is in heaven, but OUR Father who is in heaven. It is God’s will for us, collectively, to pray – to be a people of prayer.

This is why we take time to pray when we gather. This is why, someday, when Fellowship Reformed Church starts public worship services, Lord willing, we will take time to pray as a gathered people. God has given prayer to His church. We pray with each other. We pray for each other. God’s people pray together.

So how should we pray? With joy and variety. When should we pray? In all seasons without giving up. Why should we pray? Because God has given us prayer as a good gift in Christ. And who should pray? You and I all should – both in solitude and in solidarity.

So let’s make good use of this gift and pray together:

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