Readings: Jeremiah 31:27-34; 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5; Luke 18:1-8
Dear sisters and brothers in Christ Jesus,
Today Jesus admonishes us to pray always and never give up.
Prayer is a hallmark of Christian faith practice. We are waiting for the full manifestation of God’s Kingdom, and this is the reason for Jesus today to exhort us to pray always (Luke 18:1). At other occasions he admonishes us to be on the watch by praying (Luke 21:36), and to be alert! “You do not know when that time will come (Mark 13:33).
Also the apostles exhorts us to pray incessantly: “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 4:7) We should pray when we are in a spiritual conflict; it’s through prayer that we put on the armour of God so that we will stand against the devil’s schemes. ”And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.” (Ephesians 6).
How should we practice incessant prayer? On the personal level we may somehow have a prayerful awareness in the middle of ordinary life, and thus often communicate with God. This prayerful awareness all day long is the same as living in never ending prayer even though we do not speak out loudly or think prayers all the time. We just know that our life is walking with Jesus. The prayerful awareness means that conscious contact with God can be made at every moment.
As a help to have this prayerful awareness it’s good to have specific more or less fixed times for prayer during the day. The first church in Jerusalem as well as the early church had prayer times several times every day, but most importantly at evening and at morning. In Acts 2 we read:
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
And from Acts 3 we know that it was for the appointed prayers in the Temple that the apostles met in the temple courts:
1One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer—at three in the afternoon.
The apostles knew that it pleased God to receive the prayers of his people, since God had ordered the prayer times in his Law (cf. e.g. Numbers 28:1–8). Outside Jerusalem there was no Temple, but this didn’t hinder the first generation of Christians to assemble for prayer, e.g 1 Corinthians 14:26-33. And the purpose was to make “petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving … for all people for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:1-4).
These daily prayer times, especially evening and morning, has set the pattern for the daily prayer life of the church and of individual Christians up to now – not the least in Orthodox, Catholic and Anglican churches – and we also do so on weekdays in Christ Temple: Morning, Midday and Evening.
These fixed hours for prayer set the pattern for our daily prayerful awareness of being in God’s presence.
Another help for this incessant prayer is to use short prayers that are easy to remember. You may change Bible verses that contain Christ’s promises into short prayers. As an example you may have read Romans 8.38-39:
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
You may want to remember this promise. To do so you extract the essence of the promise and make it into a short prayer:
power on earth
can separate me from the love of God
that is in Christ Jesus.
God, I thank you!
Now you have a short prayer that you may use at any time and in any place, even the most stressing situations as you need to affirm your contact with Jesus Christ
Such a short prayer is a kind of affirmation.
Athanasios the great Egyptian church father told this story that may illustrate the use of affirmative prayers: Christians sometimes are like the citizens in a city that is besieged by enemies. The enemy scorns the citizens and threatens them so that they lose heart and feel despair and hopelessness. But the king has a secret way into the city, and he raises his banner. Now the enemy is discouraged and flees from the presence of the king. Our affirmative prayer is like the banner of the king.
You affirm the presence of Christ or God as well as your confidence in God-in-Christ to God himself, to yourself, and you confront every life-threatening power. Thereby reality often is experienced in a new way consistent to the content of your affirmation. This kind of short prayers helps us into the experience that Christ is with us always – even unto the ends of the earth and the end of times.
The difficulties we experience these days in Hong Kong, the despair and hopelessness call for a prayerful presence in the city we love. We may not be able to change much but praying we carry Christ in our hearts to the City. He is among us; he is with us and in us, and thus he is present in the city. We represent the Kingdom of God into the rule of chaos, despair, violence, suppression. We will not surrender to hopelessness as the one who wrote this graffiti: “Give us freedom, or burn with us.” With our prayer and affirmation of faith in Christ’s promise to be with us always, we will keep the door open for people to choose life, to hope rather than the burning fire of Ragnarök.
No power on earth,
political oppression, no use of force, no desperate violence
can separate Hong Kongers from the love of God
that is in Christ Jesus.
God, we thank you!
I hope these thoughts may help you to pray always and never give up.
Glory be to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit
as it was in the beginning, now is, and ever shall be. Amen