Pray without Ceasing

define-church

The bulk of last week was devoted to creating a definition of the Church. After looking at church discipline within the community of disciples, leadership and preaching, and serving & the sacraments, we’ve gotten to this definition:

A Church is a community of disciples led by biblically qualified men who preach and teach God’s Word, who are equipped to do ministry, using their spiritual gifts for the benefit of others; who regularly practice the sacraments of communion and baptism; who practice church discipline as guided by the teaching of Scripture, under the authority of Jesus Christ.

While this is an adequate definition, there’s one thing missing—Prayer.

And the Church is to pray unceasingly.

First Thessalonians 5:17 tells us that we are to, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

It is the will of God that we rejoice always, in all circumstances. To give thanks in all circumstances. And so we pray in all circumstances; we “pray without ceasing,” as Paul wrote.

So what does that look like?

It means that we pray for our leaders—that they would be guided by the Holy Spirit, that they would remain faithful to Scripture and to Jesus.

We pray that God would provide us with opportunities to share our faith with others, and the words to speak when we need them—to be a faithful witness.

We thank God that we woke up today, because it means there’s still more to accomplish.

We pray as we read the Scriptures that the Holy Spirit would instruct us, convict us and keep us focused on the words He inspired.

We pray for the salvation of our friends who do not know Jesus, and for the perseverance of those that do.

We thank God for our children, our spouses, our parents, our jobs.

We pray in every aspect of our lives, not as if we were asking, “God, do you want me to have chicken or beef?” but as a reminder that God gives all things, creates all things, and works all things for our good and His glory.

A church that prays without ceasing is a church that worships Jesus wholeheartedly. Prayer, ultimately, aligns our hearts to God’s will. When we pray, we’re saying, “God, I don’t want what you don’t want—I want Your will and Yours alone to be done. Change me, break me, make me more like Jesus.” And as we pray, God is faithful to answer.

So, through prayer, we are prepared to be receptive to the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives, individually and corporately. Through prayer, our minds are prepared to hear from the Word of God. Through prayer, our minds are prepared to hear from God as we study and make decisions. And through prayer, our actions are empowered as we rely on the Holy Spirit to do ministry.

It’s about humility. It’s understanding that we can’t be good enough to do what God wants on our own. We’re not good enough, we’re not smart enough, and dog-gone-it, people don’t like us that much.

That’s why the church, if it doesn’t rely on the Holy Spirit to do ministry, if it doesn’t study the Bible, if it doesn’t desire to hear from God and be transformed by Him… when it fails to do these things, it ceases to be the church.

We are insufficient on our own.

But God is totally sufficient. And so we pray. Not simply because we have to, but because we get to. In doing so, God changes us, breaks us, and makes us more like Jesus.

God makes the church the Church.

We will still stumble. We won’t get everything right. We won’t be pretty and perfect.

But we will persevere.

And that is always worth rejoicing over.

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  • Wes

    Aaron,

    You talk much about “God’s Will”, but you never give definition to it. I’m curious: what is your definition of “God’s Will”? You say that we should be praying for it as if life’s a puzzle to figure out and God is the one that tells you how and where to place the pieces, but, on the other hand, you say praying for things like “beef or chicken” isn’t accurate.

    What, then, is “God’s Will” and why should we be praying for it?

    • http://hardwords.wordpress.com Aaron Armstrong

      Hey Wes,

      This is a great question and I really appreciate you asking it. The most concise definition would be in 1 Thessalonians 4:3, which says, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification [or your holiness].” There’s a lot of room to play in there, but it’s really the clearest answer we’ve been given.

      One of the things I’ve noticed (and have been guilty of) is that prayer can be treated as a tool to ferret out God’s hidden will (because there’s some things He’s chosen not to tell us–see Deut. 29:29), as opposed to asking Him to empower us to live out His revealed will. But this just leads to a sense of hopelessness, rather than confidence (which is why the “beef or chicken” prayer can be unhelpful).

      That’s why I believe we should be always praying for God’s will to be done–because it leads to each of us growing in holiness as we are empowered to serve, given understanding when studying the Bible, and given wisdom in decision making (among all the other areas of our lives).

      Thanks again, Wes. Have a great day.

  • Wes

    Aaron,

    Thanks for the response.

    No offense, but your answer is kind of gray. It’s too vague to be effective in defining God’s Will.

    I think you did a great job of touching on it though. The 1 Thessalonians verse is a boiled down approach to the overall definition, but I think it’s a little less broad than you seem to think.

    By deduction, I think we can trace this verses’ meaning back to the OT; specifically the entirety of the books of Exodus and Leviticus. God says “Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy.” (Leviticus 19:2). And so what do we know about God that makes him holy? As I said in another post on here, God has shown us his design of the original universe he created in Jesus. Jesus embodies all that this place was supposed to be. And God apparently created this universe to his liking. He tells us so in the Creation Story. We know from various biblical and non-biblical accounts that God doesn’t forsake us, nor does he lose faith in us, nor does he hate us or wish bad things on us (no matter what some may say). God is a loving being.

    And, likewise, he wants us to be loving as well. Jesus tells us that the greatest commandment is: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

    And, truly enough, every commandment he gives us are actually hinged on two thoughts: love God; love your neighbor. Look at each of the ten commandments found in Exodus 20. Each falls under either of the categories. Look also to several passages in Leviticus that encourage the builders of houses to build parapets on top of their roofs (presumably to keep the homeless that sleep there from falling off while sleeping), and the farmers to let whatever crop falls to the ground to remain there in order to feed the needy as they walk through the fields.

    The Bible runs rampant with good-doings encouraged by God. And they’re all linked to his commandments. And his commandments are linked to his character as He Himself is a loving God. And he, obviously, is linked to His own will.

    To conclude, I’m led to believe that God’s will for us humans in this fallen world is to love one another; love all as best we can and in all aspects of life. It matters not what else we do with our lives. Love is the key. We can go to college for molecular biology or for social work or not even go at all. We can choose to have a chicken fillet or a roast beef sandwich for lunch. We can choose not to take the low paying job, but rather the high paying job. We can choose not to attend an institutionalized church every Sunday morning. We can choose to sit on our fat butts and play Xbox all day long. None of it matters nearly as much as loving each other and building them up.

    The thing we need God’s help with is deciphering whether the things we want to do obstruct us from loving each other.

    • http://hardwords.wordpress.com Aaron Armstrong

      No offense taken at all, and I really appreciate your last statement in particular: “The thing we need God’s help with is deciphering whether the things we want to do obstruct us from loving each other.” Nicely said.