Pray. Request. Stay Alert. Persevere.
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 6:18d (Holman) . . .with every prayer. . .
“Every prayer” is prayer in all its many facets. We pray “at all times,” in all circumstances, and must pray “with every prayer,” in many different ways. Variety in situations requires variety in prayer. As our interaction with people has variety–it is not all asking, all telling, all laughing, all crying, all verbal–thus it is with God.
Since prayer is effective in many forms, we should use every method and approach in prayer. Some prayers are spoken or sung, others are silent, being desires or thoughts of love directed to God. Solomon offered a long prayer at the dedication of the temple (2 Chronicles 6:12-42). Nehemiah offered a short prayer before the king (Nehemiah 2:4). We can cry in panic, as in Peter’s, “Lord, save me!” We can talk solely for pleasure, as in, “Lord, I love you. I enjoy you.”
Be versatile, learn to use “every prayer.” Thanksgivings have to be offered; pray often, “Thank you, Lord.” Confessions need to be made; say often, “I have sinned.” Make requests for ourselves, and present intercessions on behalf of others.
“Every prayer” covers all settings. Public prayers in corporate worship teach and inspire others to pray. We pray in our social lives, enhancing the fellowship we enjoy with other Christians. We pray in our home lives at the family altar and at meals. We have private prayer, prayers of the closet, when we are alone with God.
These times of secret prayer will make or break our over-all prayer life. My own private prayer time, having often vacillated between the extremes of joyful ups and painful downs, has evolved over the years. Daily Bible reading eventually became easy for me, but daily private prayer time continues to be difficult.
I did it for years first thing in the morning, but often found myself groggy or too preoccupied with the day’s upcoming schedule to give God my best. I have tried doing it at night, before falling asleep, in preparation for the next day. I now do daily Bible reading in my insomnia hours of the night, and do prayer usually before heading to work. I urge us, find what works best for you, when your mind is its sharpest, and then stay with it. God deserves our best.
Hudson Taylor, one of Christian history’s greatest missionaries, was always pressed about with people wanting to have access to him. It was hard for him to have private time with God in prayer and Bible reading, but he knew it was vital.
People who worked with him told of how they would hear a match struck at 2 a.m. and then long see the flicker of candlelight. However weary he was, Hudson Taylor’s time with God was from 2 to 4 a.m., for only then could he be undisturbed before God. E. M. Bounds, famous prayer champion and Methodist Pastor, prayed from 4 to 7 AM every day. George Mueller, considered by many to be the most powerful pray-er of the modern era, would spend 15 to 30 minutes on his knees reading the Bible; he said after this he “only then began really to pray.”
With God’s help, give yourself to developing an effective private prayer and Bible reading time. Without it, all else in preparation for Christian living is vain. Private prayer is vital. I remind us, in the private place of prayer, in the garden, Christ prayed while Peter slept. Later, in the palace, Christ was faithful and Peter fell. Let secret prayer be the reservoir from which “every prayer” flows.
Eph. 6:18e . . .and request, . . .
Whereas “every prayer” is more general, denoting prayer in its many varied forms and methods, “request” is specific, referring to definite petitions. In light of our context, Christian warfare, we are probably safe to assume Paul was thinking primarily of specific requests made in times of temptation.
We believers must display outward godliness, for if we fail in behavior, our witness dwindles in effectiveness. Be unselfish. For the sake of Christ, believers, and the lost, strive for holiness. In every conflict of our spiritual warfare, since we need the victory only God can provide, never be afraid or timid to make specific requests for yourself. Note my emphasis on “specific” requests. Pray in such a way that we can know whether or not God has granted our “request.” Specific requests allow God to answer specifically, and thus gain appropriate glory.
Eph. 6:18f . . .and stay alert in this. . .
All armor in the world cannot protect a soldier who is asleep. “Stay alert.” Being attentive and vigilant bespeaks prayer by intent, the result of effort and inconvenience to self, “the sort of prayer about which trouble is taken” (Gore). “Stay alert”, even to the loss of sleep if necessary. Our conflict with temptation is lifelong. The necessity for constant vigilance in prayer never ceases. Never be careless. “Stay alert”, take every opportunity, and improve every chance, to pray.
Watch not only for occasions to pray, but also for the answer, as we do when we send a text, email, or letter to someone we love. If we lose interest in the response to our prayer, do not expect God to be overly concerned about it.
In Gethsemane, Jesus warned the disciples, “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation” (Matthew 26:41a). Failure to “stay alert” leads to disaster, “for the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41b). Like Peter, James, and John, we, too, often sleep when we should be staying alert and praying.
Eph. 6:18g (Holman) . . .with all perseverance. . .
God delights in persistence. It shows we are serious, mean business; earnest, not dabbling. God always answers our requests. He says yes, no, or wait.
The latter brings “perseverance” into play. “Yes” excites and encourages us. As God grants specific requests, we are uplifted. “No” develops in us a submissive spirit. Often, the greatest miracles in prayer are those wrought in the hearts of the ones praying. Prayer usually changes not only things, but also the one who prays.
“Wait” spurs “perseverance,” keeps us depending on, and thus focused on, Him. In “wait,” God conveys a priceless blessing, His very self, to His children.
Let me illustrate. If I asked everyone in this room who had been praying for a particular matter for over 20 years to stand, I would quickly have to tell them to sit. If they stood very long, thus forced to dwell on their prayer request, their eyes would fill with tears, their chins quiver, and eventually they would begin to weep.
Why? Because if they have prayed for a matter that long, it is obviously the apple of their eye, the yearning of their essence. The very thing that has kept them faithful in prayer so long is the burden of their desire. Yes, it is painful, we will not deny it, and grief is never fun, but can we not also see God has used this very pain to keep our minds focused on Him, thereby keeping our hearts riveted to His?
God often denies us the burning desire of our heart because He knows this is the only way He can keep us close to Himself, thereby sparing us much worse pain. The thing that keeps us focused on God may actually be sparing us from much greater pains and burdens that would come if we ever did backslide.
If we truly desire to know God in all His fullness, expect to hear “wait” often and long. Live “with all perseverance.” It encourages regularity in prayer and turns it into a habit. Desire delayed helps us stay faithful in prayer a long time.
“All perseverance” is needed not as much to influence God to act as to cause spiritual changes for the better to happen in us. If we wait aright, if we persevere with a yielded spirit, and God finally says no, we will by the process have become vessels more submissive than ever. If God finally says yes, the delay makes the answer even sweeter, and thus God receives even greater love and honor from us.
Whether the answer is ultimately yes or no, we must persist, notwithstanding any discouragement. We are not to give up or be depressed when answers are long in coming. Only God knows when the time is right to answer a prayer. Our duty is to keep on praying, trusting God to answer in His own time and way.
A lady once handed me a written prayer request, asking me to join her in praying her children would return to God. She wrote at the end of her request, “I will never give up.” This perfectly illustrates praying “with all perseverance.”
A mother in our church recently asked me to pray for her wayward son. When I replied that this breaks my heart, she replied, “It is indeed heart breaking, but I will always have hope.” This is what it takes to pray “with all perseverance.”