Thursday, September 29, 2011

Different Kinds of Prayer

(1 Thessalonians 5:17 NKJV) PRAY WITHOUT CEASING!
I grew up with an uneasy awareness of the command to "Pray without ceasing."  Over the years my prayer life has gone through many stages - it has grown up with me.  Still, I feel uneasy about praying without ceasing.  No doubt part of that is my American style rationality.  I read, "pray without ceasing" and think it means pray constantly without break or interruption.  

But it can't mean that we should spend all of our time, everyday, without stopping in a private place in full-fledged heart-felt and focused prayer.  I know that because the Gospel accounts reveal that this was not how Jesus prayed.  Jesus spent time praying that way.  But at other times he prayed in other ways.

There are different kinds of prayer.

There is intense, private and extended prayer.  For this kind of prayer Jesus taught that we should go to a private place.
(Matthew 6:6 NKJV) But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.
In this same passage Jesus condemns those who make long prayers in public.  Such people are evidently praying in public in a way that should be reserved for private.  And they are praying to be heard by (and praised by) other people, rather than focusing on God.

Jesus himself spent extended times in private prayer by withdrawing to a remote place.
(Mark 1:35 NKJV) ¶ Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed.
(Matthew 14:23 NKJV) And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. Now when evening came, He was alone there. 
But Jesus didn't spend all of His time in this kind of prayer.  He had a busy life - so much so that at times he didn't have time to eat (Mark 6:31.)  But Jesus obeyed the command to "pray without ceasing" by engaging in other kinds of prayer.

Jesus prayed in public in John 11:41-42.  This prayer is brief - only two sentences.  He prays to point people's attention to God the Father and His involvement in the miracle Jesus is about to do.

Jesus prayed when he was serving food to people in Matthew 15:36; 26:27; Mark 8:6; Luke 2:38; 22:17, 19.  We don't know much about these prayers, except that he "gave thanks."

Jesus prayed in the intimate group of the disciples.  In John 17:1-26 Jesus' prayer was largely about the disciples and their continuing ministry after Jesus' crucifixion.

Jesus prayed alone when his ordeal on Calvary was imminent.

(Luke 22:41–44 NKJV) And He was withdrawn from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and prayed,
42 saying, “Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.”
43 Then an angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him.
44 And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.
This was a time of intense and earnest prayer that reflected the difficulty of the task before him.  This prayer was not completely private or solo.  Jesus had urged the disciples to pray at the same time, for themselves as well as for him.  I would call this parallel prayer.
(Luke 22:45–46 NKJV) When He rose up from prayer, and had come to His disciples, He found them sleeping from sorrow.
46 Then He said to them, “Why do you sleep? Rise and pray, lest you enter into temptation.”
This is not an exhaustive list.  My point is that there are different kinds of prayer in our lives.  The different situations we face day to day and throughout each day call for different kinds of prayer.  The command to pray without ceasing means that we should respond to each situation and opportunity with the kind of prayer that is appropriate.  We should be like Jesus - people who are in constant contact with God as we go through our days.
(Ephesians 6:18 NKJV) praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints— 


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