By EFC prayer ambassador Roger Helland. Watch a video version.
As we enter 2021, many people are deeply discouraged with the relentless Covid-19 challenges. We may feel like modern-day hermits caved up in a home-based online world, forced to do our jobs, school our children and lead our churches through Zoom and YouTube. For many, prayer has finally become an essential service.
This morning I briefly checked Facebook as I was to write this article to follow my previous one, The problem of prioritizing prayer. Two friends captured my attention and set my direction as they both posted: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-19 ESV).
We know these verses, but do we live them? Perhaps we sometimes prefer a flyover rather than landing on them?
Theologian John Calvin declared, “Prayer is the chief exercise of faith, and by which we daily receive God’s benefits.” What do you think of that?
Recently, I surveyed a dozen prayer leaders across Canada. I asked: 1) What are top challenges that hinder prayer? 2) What are top ways to cultivate prayer?
Top challenges, they replied, are:
- reliance on human ability
- not a priority and not engrained in the ethos of churches
These can flatten our spiritual vitality and dull our zeal and the Spirit’s radiance in our lives. One leader replied, “For many, prayer is an agenda item rather than a strategic resource to advance God’s kingdom.”
Top ways to cultivate prayer, they responded, are:
- reset our priorities to pray
- learn to pray (especially the Lord’s prayer)
- seek God’s presence
- renew our love for Jesus and abide in him.
What are top challenges that hinder your prayer? What are top ways to help you cultivate prayer?
The Thessalonians verses above also suggest some excellent ways to cultivate prayer. Notice how unceasing prayer is sandwiched between rejoicing and thanksgiving. This is a call for us to daily notice and marvel at God’s goodness and glory in His creation and care.
We can shout to God when we see an immaculate blue sky, shimmering white snow and majestic mountains or sun-drenched prairies. We can give God a thumbs up when we inhale the brisk dawn air or savour a Starbucks dark roast. We can praise God for ways we can still connect and pray with people, for example on social media. Thank him and pray for family, friends and first-line workers.
And in all circumstances! Why? Because it’s His will for us in Christ Jesus!
The central appeal is to pray without ceasing, that is, without intermission. Understand prayer as your ongoing communication and communion with God, and as the oxygen of your soul. The goal is to stay in continuous contact with God. He’s always online, ready for you to enjoy facetime with Him as you “seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence [face] continually” (Psalm 105:4).
The last phrase, “Do not quench the Spirit” literally means “Do not put out the Spirit’s fire!” This is vital to help us cultivate prayer if we consider it a call to continually widen our openness to the Holy Spirit. He prays with us and for us to Jesus. When we become frigid with fear or frustration, we are instead invited to welcome the fire of His presence.
I experienced that fire in several Zoom prayer times last year – the aura of the Spirit’s presence was tangible. Drawn into a sacred zone, people became speechless and motionless and left the meetings with an afterglow.
Another example: Last fall I prayed and marveled through two Psalms per day for 75 days. Those 150 Psalms inflamed my life of prayer! The Spirit seized my heart and transported me into an enchanted world bursting with praise and pleas that spotlight God’s creative might, steadfast love and stately kingship.
How might you delight in God non-stop, pray continually, and stoke the Spirit’s fire in your life and church?
For starters, why not praise and pray through Psalm 138. Recently, I was in a Zoom prayer time when others prayed through this psalm. Thrilling! After this psalm prayer, you may want to watch this sung version. To continually swell with joy and thank God for His magnificent goodness and glory – ablaze with the Spirit’s presence – fuels unceasing prayer.
My passion is to stimulate spiritual renewal – that all of us would seek and experience God’s presence and holiness, through prayer and the fear of God, and revival fire. I’m up early every morning to tend my fire. I place myself in the presence of God to cultivate continuous prayer while I read Scripture and journal.
Here’s the image that I carry into my day, “Fire shall be kept burning on the altar continually; it shall not go out” (Leviticus 6:13). In August 1727, this verse ignited repentance and renewal among the Moravians and inspired them to pray continually 24/7 for a century. May we all be living altars on which the Spirit-ual fire of ceaseless prayer continually burns.
Author: Roger Helland