Meditations in Romans, Ch.12: 11: Maintaining the Faith (4)
Rom 12:11,12 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.
We continue considering the second group of four mini-exhortations which move to our relationship with the Lord. The first of those exhortations was about zeal, fervour and serving God, the second mini-exhortation was about being, “Be joyful in hope,” and the third was about being “patient in affliction”
Which brings us to the fourth of this little group: “(Be) faithful in prayer.” How simple and yet how dynamic! But that is true of each of these four, just a few words but they say so much. The first thing that strikes me about this, and although it is true of each of them, I realise I don’t think I have picked it up yet, is that this needs saying. The reality is that for each of these things we can flag and so need Paul’s encouragement to keep on with them. How easy it is to let zeal flag under the materialistic and atheistic pressures of life in the modern West. How easy it is to lose hope, to be frustrated, angry and jaded in affliction, and now, to give up on prayer.
Prayer, as I have found myself saying so many times when writing these meditations, is something much spoken about but so often so little done. Prayer is one of the greatest mysteries in the Christian life. Why pray when God knows every word you speak even before you utter them? The simple answer is that fathers like hearing their children even when they know exactly what they are going to ask for. Why pray when we have a sovereign God who is all powerful and can do what He likes? Why should we dare tell the all-wise God what He ought to do? The answer seems to be because we need to talk out things before the Lord, to come in line with His will. As we pray so we come to a realization of what it is He wants. I find that when I start thinking about it, I have so many questions. For example, if I don’t pray will God stop moving? I’m sure the answer is no. Then there is will the prayers of five hundred people be more effective than if five people pray? That raises the question, what does ‘effective’ mean? What is effective prayer? The answer the scripture seems to tell me is that which is in line with His will and starts its life in heaven.
So yes, we can have lots of questions and often few answers, but at the end of the day there is something inside me (the Holy Spirit!) that makes it seem natural at times to want to talk to God. However the fact that Paul feels it is necessary to encourage us to be “faithful in prayer” suggests that it is so easy not to pray that our ‘natural’ tendency will be to stop praying. So, for a moment, let’s consider some of the New Testament exhortations to pray. If we pray for no other reason that we’re told to, that’s not too bad.
The Gospels start off with the challenging, “But I tell you: Love your enemiesI and pray for those who persecute you,” (Mt 5:44) and when Jesus says, “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites,” (Mt 6:5) he is speaking to a culture that does pray. Prayer was clearly a part of the culture of the people of God. “After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray,” (Mt 14:23) is just one example of the fact that Jesus prayed on his own sometimes. “Then little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them,” (Mt 19:13) is an example of a practice of Jesus, to pray over others. Into Acts we find, “About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray,” (Acts 10:9) which shows us that Peter seems to have maintained it as a regular practice. Later we find, “All the disciples and their wives and children accompanied us out of the city, and there on the beach we knelt to pray,” (Acts 21:5) which suggests that before setting off on a further leg of his journey, Paul and his companions prayed (and perhaps for those they were leaving). Paul wrote to the church at Rome, “his Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you in my prayers at all times,” (Rom 1:9) which is quite amazing because he had never been there yet.
In Paul’s letters, prayer is a frequent subject: “We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us.” (Rom 8:26) “if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my mind.” (1 Cor 14:14,15) “pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.” (Eph 6:18) “pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances.” (1 Thes 5:17,18)
In James’ letter we also find, “Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up.” (Jas 5:13-15)
Peter in his first letter taught, “Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray.” (1 Pet 4:7) John in his first letter taught, “If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life.” (1 Jn 5:16) Jude in his letter taught, “But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit.” (Jude 20)
So prayer may be a mystery but it was taught by Jesus and his apostles and they all did it. For whatever the reasons may be to pray, apart from simple obedience to Scripture, the Biblical teaching is pray. Satan, the world, sin, tiredness etc. etc. will suggest we don’t pray which is why Paul now exhorts us – be faithful in prayer, i.e. keep at it, do it!