We sometimes think of prayer as an activity – a spiritual discipline if you like – which we may do for a certain length of time. Yet, the Apostle Paul encourages us to:
pray without ceasing,
1 Thessalonians 5:17 (ESV)
So how do we do that? Are we to quit our jobs and just spend our entire lives praying? I do not think so. In fact, I think Paul was instructing us to pray in the moment, while doing whatever other activities we needed to do.
Nehemiah did this.
In the month of Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was before him, I took up the wine and gave it to the king. Now I had not been sad in his presence. 2 And the king said to me, “Why is your face sad, seeing you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of the heart.” Then I was very much afraid. 3 I said to the king, “Let the king live forever! Why should not my face be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers’ graves, lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?” 4 Then the king said to me, “What are you requesting?” So I prayed to the God of heaven. 5 And I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ graves, that I may rebuild it.”
Nehemiah 2:1-5 (ESV)
There is much going on here, so I will try to explain. These events occur after the nation of Israel has been led into captivity. Nehemiah is essentially asking to return and begin to rebuild the city of Jerusalem.
He appears before the king to serve him yet clearly the king recognises that Nehemiah is sad. Nehemiah is afraid because you dare not appear before the king with a downcast face. You could lose your head for such a thing!
The king questions Nehemiah, and he shares the reason for his sadness. In verse 4, the king asks what he wants. What does Nehemiah do? He does not blurt out his request, but instead it tells us he prays first. Clearly he did not stand there and hold a prayer evening before making the request. He has only a split second before answering the king. His prayer cannot have been more than a simple “Help me!”
There are definitely times when we need to dedicate a set amount of time to God in prayer. But there are also times when we need to pray in the moment, and simply ask for help.
How much trouble could be avoid if we do this? Imagine the time and energy we could save, or the pain we could avoid, if we just took a moment to pray before opening our mouths. Think of the bullets we could dodge by just asking God what He thinks before we commit and make a decision.
I’ll tell you a silly story, but hope it illustrates the point.
Many years ago, I bought a CD… That alone should tell you how long ago it was! I hope no one reading this does not know what a CD is…!
Anyway, as I was waiting in line to pay for the CD, I got a sense that I shouldn’t buy it. Not that it was sinful but just a gentle nudge inside. I ignored it. And do you know, I never once enjoyed listening to that CD? I recognise now that God was trying to tell me that in advance. if only I had followed Nehemiah’s example and just checked in with God first. I could have saved the money and not wasted the time.
What decisions do you make without praying about them first? Now you have a brain and God wants us to use it. No need to pray about whether you should get and go to work, as that’s a given. But we make a mistake thinking we know it all and can run our lives better than God can.
Pray in the moment. If you are in a conversation which is in danger of becoming an argument, take a moment to pray before you say the next thing which may inflame things.
Pray without ceasing. That does not mean pray instead of doing other things, but while doing other things. The Holy Spirit lives inside of us and wants to be our Guide throughout life. He won’t shout or raise His voice over the din of our everyday lives, so we need to take moments to check in with Him and listen.
What traps or trouble might you avoid today by doing this? Ask the Holy Spirit to remind you continually to pray, and offer up prayers in the moments of your day.