29 December 2023

Never stop praying: An impossible goal?

Ivan Radford

A photo of praying hands

Ivan Radford considers what seems to be an impossible goal.

'Not my brother, not my sister, but it’s me, O Lord,/ Standin’ in the need of prayer.’ The song ‘Standin’ in the Need of Prayer’ will be familiar to many Salvationists, and it perhaps sheds light on how we can often think about prayer.

The lyrics could be referring to our own personal need to pray for ourselves, in response to whatever stress or difficult time we’re facing. They could be referring to a routine of intercessory prayers on behalf of other people, as we pray for God to be with someone else in whatever problem they’re experiencing.

In both those scenarios, praying can often be a reaction to a situation – when we have trials and temptations, we take them to the Lord in prayer.

There is, of course, nothing wrong in seeking God’s support and help when in distress – rooting ourselves in God’s strength is the only way to journey through this world, and he’s always there to comfort, heal and carry us. But what if prayer were a more proactive part of your life? As Corrie ten Boom once put it: ‘Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tyre?’ Do you let prayer guide you, or do you let your circumstances guide your prayers?

1 Thessalonians 5:17 takes this to the logical extreme, with a simple order: ‘Never stop praying’ (New Living Translation). Those three words can seem like an impossible ask, an impractical goal in a life where we’re often too busy to pause and spend time in prayer. But that short, direct verse becomes more achievable when put into context of the three words that precede it: ‘Always be joyful’ (v16 NLT).

Of course, Paul isn’t saying that Christians must always be happy and cheerful, but rather that they should live in the joyful peace that comes with knowing God. In verse 18, he elaborates further, by adding the instruction to ‘be thankful in all circumstances’ (NLT).

There is one thing that we can always be thankful for: that God is with us. In whatever situation or problem we face, God is there. He’s not there because we pray after the fact and ask him to be there: God is already with us.

He’s with us when we wake up in the morning and go to bed at night. He’s there ahead of us, working in whatever situation or problem that awaits us. He even knows our very thoughts before we speak them – and yet still he loves us so much that he wants us to pray and tell him everything anyway.

If you begin every day in that hope, in that certainty, isn’t that something to be thankful for? If your starting point is knowing that God is already with you, that God already has you in his hands, isn’t that a reason to be joyful no matter what happens, even when you wake up on the wrong side of the bed?

If you’re always thanking God for the fact that he’s already by your side, then everything you do can become a prayerful act of faith – you can walk, talk and live wrapped in that prayer of thanks.

That means you can enter any situation not just praying to God for help later, but praying for his guidance beforehand. Rather than asking God what he can do for you, you can begin to ask God what you can do for him – because in every situation, he’s already there, waiting for you to join him in his work.

If you can do that, prayer stops being your spare tyre and becomes your steering wheel. And that’s something we’re all standing in the need of every day.

Written by

A photo of Ivan Radford.

Ivan Radford

Managing Editor, Salvationist

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