Prayers That Never End
I Thessalonians 5:16-18
First Baptist Church Laurens
November 11, 2018
I enjoyed a recent travel article about the welcome signs that greet us when traveling between the 50 states. In the article, the writer of the piece ranked his five favorite state welcome signs. Among his favorites were the welcome signs in Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska and Colorado. In the number one spot, he chose Utah as the state with the best signs (can you detect a West of the Mississippi bias here?!?).
Two big things stood out for him about the state signs that welcome a person to Utah. On the one hand, he appreciated the fact that the signs were new and up to date. They include contemporary graphics and colors. On the other hand, what really impressed him and what propelled Utah into the top spot was the fact that the signs that are at the various entry points to Utah are all different. In other words, the region of Utah that you are entering dictates the welcome sign. If you are entering in the part of Utah where dinosaurs have been found there is a dinosaur on the sign. If you are entering in the part of the state where the ski resorts are located there is a skier on the sign. And, if you are entering Utah near Zion National Park, a famous scene from the park is featured on the sign. In essence, the signs that welcome you offer a sense of what is ahead. They prepare you for what is just down the road. (These Are the Five Best State Welcome Signs, Chris O’Neill, autotrader.com, July 2017)
In these three little verse that we are focusing on in I Thessalonians 5, Paul helps us to prepare for what is ahead too. Paul doesn’t help us by giving us a picture of what we are going to encounter like the state signs of Utah do. Instead, Paul helps prepare us for what is ahead by reminding us of the attitudes that we should have and carry with us as we travel into the places we will go and into the interactions we will have with the people that we will meet. All three of these attitudes seek to help us to enter into each day and into each moment of our lives with gratitude and hopefulness rather than with disregard and pessimism.
Last week, we talked about the first of these attitudes as Paul calls us to rejoice always or to be someone who greets all occasions with gladness and hopefulness. Next week we will focus on being someone who gives thanks in all circumstances which invites us to recognize that even the hardest moments can be occasions for thanksgiving. Both of these perspectives – that of rejoicing always and giving thanks in all circumstances – seem rather self explanatory. In other words, we can understand how being a person who enters each life moment with an attitude of joy or thankfulness can make a dramatic difference.
Those two ideas make sense. Yet, how is it that Paul’s middle challenge that we live as people who pray without ceasing can be equally helpful or beneficial in this regard? How can constant and never ending prayers fashion us as people with the ability to walk into any situation in our lives with the right attitude and with our best foot forward?
I think there are two things to consider about the idea of prayer without ceasing that makes this the perfect third component in our attempt to be prepared in the best possible way as God’s people for the road ahead in our lives. First, it is important to remember that prayer is just as much about us as it is about God. Prayer is a two way street. Prayer is certainly about our ability to share the deepest desires and longings of our heart with God and to seek God’s help. But, at the same time, prayer is also about our willingness to allow God to share God’s deepest desires and longings with us. Life lived immersed in the discipline of prayer opens us up to hearing what God wants to say to us about the people we will meet and the moments of our lives. Pray allows us to understand God’s perspective on how we should approach each conversation and how we should act in each situation. Prayer, when it becomes a way for us to hear God’s perspective, allows us to have the mind of Christ in us as we are live through the moments of our day.
Second, at the same time, it is also important to recognize here that Paul is calling us to enter a way of praying that is very different for most of us in which our prayers don’t just occur occasionally. Paul invites us to move beyond only praying at the beginning of our day, at the end of our day, only at church, just before we eat or only on Saturdays at 3:30 when our team is down by two touchdowns. Rather, the challenge here is for us to attack life in a way that feels like an ongoing conversation with God. The challenge here is to live throughout the day with prayer as our first action as we enter into each new situation, each new conversation, each new experience. We enter by inviting God’s direction, asking for God’s perspective and opening ourselves up to God’s way of seeing things as we ask God how God wants us to honor Him in this moment.
When prayer is our first breath in each element of the day and when prayer in those moments is centered on how God wants to use us rather than on how we want to manipulate God, our prayers become a never ending, on going stream that permeates our lives and that allows us to enter into what is ahead as prepared as we can possible be.
This past Spring was a hard season in my life. For the first time ever, I was given a Senior Coffee Discount at Chick Fil A, which by the way, I checked and they award to you once you reach 50. So, while they were early, they were not as far off as I had first feared. As bad as that act of aggression was by Chick Fil A, what might have been worse was having to go and be fitted for my first pair of bi-focals. They call them transition lenses these days which is to say that they offer more of a seamless movement from help with near sighted issues to far sighted issues and vice versa.
When you first get transition lenses it doesn’t feel so good. It is a very different feel from traditional lenses and the transition lenses can make you dizzy or cause you to have a headache. As a matter of fact, a member of our extended family took her pair back and went back to her old pair of glasses. She simply could not make the adjustment. But, generally speaking, if you just hang in there and give it a few days, you adjust and suddenly without thinking this twin set of lenses rolled into one makes an amazing difference for those who struggle to see well both near and far away.
Let’s be honest, none of us see very well when it comes to this life we live from a spiritual perspective. We all enter into most moments and situations with a cloudy, blurry perspective when we try to see things on our own. Yet, even as people of faith, we are just stubborn and we keep trying to see people and moments in our days accurately, on our own.
And, lets also be honest – learning to pray the right way, as a two way street not a one way monologue, and reaching a place of pray throughout the day, is an adjustment. At first it may feel funny, different, new. Our temptation will be to give up and go right back to our old ways where we pray once and where we do all of the talking. But, if we will hang in there and stick with it, over time, we will begin to see in amazing new ways through these twin lenses. On the one hand, we’ll have the lens of not only what we need God to do in the affairs of our lives but what God needs us to do and how God wants us to approach people and moments. On the other hand, we’ll have the lens of prayer as a conversation that is ongoing and a part of every moment, every occasion rather than just once or twice or here or there.
Again, we’ll see better, more clearly, well. Life will change, for us and for others as we rejoice always, give thanks in all circumstances and as we pray, without ceasing. Life will be clearer, hopeful, better lived. Amen.