REDISCOVERING THE ANCIENT PATH—Week of September 19, 2021
Pray Daily: 1 Thess. 5:17
We are in Week 33 of our examination of Benedict Nursia’s rules for Christian formation. This week we are examining Rule 4.56: Pray Daily. This rule of Christian formation may feel to some like a “Well, duh” moment. Of course, we should be devoted to prayer. Of course, prayer should be an important part of our lives, and for some of us, it is. But if you are anything like me, this is a discipline with which you struggle. Prayer is something that happens in spurts—it is something we struggle to take up and that we easily lay aside. It may even be a source of guilt and shame in our lives. I know that I personally have struggled with guilt over my prayerlessness. Even as I write this blog, I am struggling with feelings of trepidation and inadequacy in addressing this topic.
One thing that brings me comfort as we address prayer is that I know this shame and guilt is not what God desires for us. God doesn’t want prayer to be difficult or burdensome. In fact, though prayer is considered a spiritual discipline, I think calling it a “spiritual discipline” almost does prayer a disservice because it can open the door to a legalistic view of prayer. Think of it this way: there are lots of religions around the world that are very strict and disciplined in their prayers. Failure to acknowledge the deity at specific times of the day in very specific ways can have dire spiritual consequences. The same was true of the pagan religions in Paul’s day. Thus, I think that a better way to describe the kind of prayer of which Paul is speaking in 1 Thess. 5:17 is more of an intentional prayer life than a discipline. Paul is certainly calling believers to a lifestyle of prayer, but it is a lifestyle that is rooted in purposefulness rather than ritual. The Greek word that is translated “without ceasing” carries the connotation of constantly recurring as opposed to continuously occurring. Rather than ritualistic incantations meant to invoke the favor of a deity, our prayers are to be a purposeful communication with a loving Father who stands ready to provide us with comfort and wisdom no matter what circumstance we might face on a given day. When taken in context with the surrounding verses, this kind of prayer is part of a threefold cord that binds us to the heart of God. The first part of the cord is a joy that transcends circumstances and that is our constant state of being. The second part, as we’ve discussed, is a purposeful prayer life that keeps us looking to God as the source of our wisdom, comfort, and strength. The final strand of the cord is thankfulness, for it is thankfulness that reminds us of the reason for our joy, and it is thankfulness that helps us see prayer as a privilege and blessing rather than a burdensome ritual.
God understands that in our flesh, prayer is not natural. God understands that every time we step into prayer, we step into a spiritual battlefield—we step into a war for our attention and affections. God understands this struggle, and he doesn’t judge us for it. The guilt and shame we feel over prayer are not from him; they’re from the enemy. Our Father does not stand in condemnation of our prayerlessness. Rather, he stands in anticipation of that day when we accept his invitation to commune with him and discover for ourselves the joy and comfort that comes from a life of purposeful prayer.
- Do you struggle with prayer? If so, has that struggle come with feelings of guilt or shame?
- What are the major impediments to prayer for you? What steps can you take to remove those obstacles?
- Discuss the threefold cord of 1 Thess. 5:16-18. How do these three commands interact with one another? How do they draw us to the heart of God?