I have preached a lot on the subject of prayer recently- it has come up in a number of passages that we have covered as a church. My sense is that it is probably an area where we fall short compared with Christians of a previous generation. I continue to be struck by CH Spurgeon’s comment on how he was sustained when arriving as a young pastor in London at the age of 19: “I cannot forget how earnestly they prayed…We had prayer meetings that moved our very souls.”
My most concentrated teaching on prayer recently was when I was asked to preach on Colossians 4:2-4 at Wheatley Community Church. In that section you get Paul’s teaching “Be devoted to prayer being watchful…”
There are different ways of taking the phrase “being watchful” but it seems to me a safe assumption that Paul is imitating the command of Jesus to his disciples in Gethsemane- “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41). There is obviously lots going on in Gethsemane but one of the things that is happening is that Jesus is exemplifying the path of discipleship. It is a moment of temptation for the Lord. Will He stick to the plan agreed with His Father that means going to the cross? How does He handle this? He watches and prays. And as the disciples face their own temptation- to abandon their Lord- He calls them to the same path. Sadly they fail- the flesh is weak and so they succumb to sleep.
I don’t know about you but my sinful nature is such that it is vital that I watch and pray. Because otherwise there is any amount of anxiety, lust, pride and selfishness that can run riot. Jesus’ command feels as relevant to me as to those first disciples.
The same thought struck me last week. In my homegroup we were doing a fairly rapid skim through Psalms 3-5. We were noting that in each of the Psalms David had a degree of desperation that caused him to cry to the Lord, largely caused by the enemies that he was facing. One or two of us noted that we struggle to pray like David because we don’t feel as though we are in the same difficulties. Often life feels relatively comfortable. However, the group came alive when we pondered the question of what the equivalent of the enemies would be for us. As we did that we realised that we daily have foes causing us to doubt God’s redemption (3:2), encouraging us towards other gods (4:2) and telling us lies (5:9). Satan and his forces do that constantly and our sinful nature co-operates with him. We are in as much of a battle as David was- which means like him we need to cry for help (5:2) and lay our requests before Him in the morning (5:3).
Why don’t we pray? There are many reasons but, perhaps, one of them is that we are blind to the battle we are engaged in. We have lost the sense that a previous generation had when they sang: “I need Thee every hour; stay Thou near by; Temptations lose their power when Thou are nigh; I need Thee, O I need Thee! Every hour I need Thee…”
One of my resolutions coming out of this is that I need to think through the day in the morning and spot likely temptations. Of course not all are predictable- but many are. That may be one way of imitating David who cried to God in the midst of the battle and, above all, obeying and learning from the Lord Jesus who still tells us to watch and pray that we may not fall into temptation.