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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at Life BPC 8am & 11am Svc, 2014-09-28

Text: 1 Thessalonians 5:17

What is the difference between a mobile phone and a fire extinguisher? We all use mobile phones very frequently. I think most of us here have a mobile phone and we bring it everywhere we go. But how many of us here would bring a fire extinguisher everywhere we go? How many of us even know where the extinguishers are located in this building? Hardly anyone. That is because they are used only in emergencies. It is only when a fire breaks out that we start looking frantically for one.

This, unfortunately, is the way that prayer is often treated – it is hardly used because many regard prayer as something that is used only in emergencies. Do we treat prayer like that? Is it something that we do only in desperate situations where there is no way out, except to cry out to God for help? In this morning’s sermon we will see that prayer is meant for greater things than that. And for this reason we ought to pray without ceasing, as our text in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 tells us.

But first we need to know what prayer is all about. The Shorter Catechism defines prayer as, “… an offering up of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies.” Praying without ceasing does not mean doing this continually without any break. It does not mean non-stop praying, 24 hours a day and 7 days a week – or else we can’t do anything else like work, study, eat and sleep. Praying without ceasing means praying frequently and persistently, even in the midst of our daily activities. And when we understand what prayer is meant for, we will be able to see why we ought to pray like this.

I. Prayer Grants Privileged Access to God.

Why should this access be so desirable to us? Well, it is because it brings us to our great Creator who is infinite, eternal and unchangeable in His being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth. What an awesome privilege it is to have unlimited access to the Almighty God Himself. God is also the ultimate source of everything, including joy. The verse just before our text reads, “Rejoice evermore.” In last week’s sermon we had seen that this joy comes from God Himself. In His presence is fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11). Prayer gives us unlimited access to this joy from God.

Prayer is also the only means by which we can experience the peace that comes from God. This peace is mentioned at the very beginning of the epistle – “Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.”In 1 Thessalonians 5:23, He is called the God of peace. This is a peace that passes all understanding, a blessed peace that guards our hearts and minds through Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6,7). It is only by prayer that we can experience this wonderful peace of God. Prayer grants us privileged access to God who is our source of joy and peace.

But how often do we make use of this privileged access? Nowadays long-distance communication has become so convenient and easy that we often just take it for granted. With the use of high-speed fibre-optic cables and satellite transmission, we can have a meaningful conversation with someone on the other side of the world by phone, email, skype or SMS. What a tremendous difference this is from those olden days when it took days or weeks to communicate with people overseas by airmail or sea mail.

If we appreciate the easy access that modern communication provides, then we ought to appreciate even more the amazing way of access that Christ has opened for us. Prayer is infinitely better than any mobile phone subscription plan – it has the fastest speed and the widest coverage, it never breaks down and we don’t have to pay a cent for it. But though this excellent access to God is free, it was purchased for us by Christ at great cost to Himself. Our Lord Jesus had to suffer and die on the cross so that we can come boldly to God’s throne of grace. At the moment when the price was fully paid by Christ on that cross, the huge veil in the temple that separates man from God was torn asunder from top to bottom. This gives us unlimited access to God’s presence. Since such a great price has been paid for it, how can we not treasure this access to God? Surely we should make full use of it as often as we can, through unceasing prayer. Let us therefore enjoy fully the close walk with God that we can have every day of our life!  

Many believers have testified about how wonderful it is to spend time with God in their prayers. In fact some of the best hymns were written by them. One hymn by the blind writer, Fanny Crosby, contains these words, “Oh the pure delight of a single hour that before Thy throne I spend, when I kneel in prayer and with Thee, my God, I commune as friend with friend.”

Such close communion with God arises naturally from our parent-child relationship with Him. In 1 Thessalonians God is called ‘our Father’ no less than 4 times (1:1,3; 3:11,13). As God’s children we love to cry out to Him, ‘Abba, Father’ because He has given us the Spirit of adoption to dwell in our hearts (Romans 8:15). Such a blessed communion that we can enjoy with our loving heavenly Father, should move us to pray a lot more than we do now.

Such close communion is also the natural outcome of having God with us at all times. It is always so comforting to know that God is present with us and will never leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). Even when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death we will fear no evil, for we know that He is with us. How is it then that we hardly communicate with Him, when we know this?

If a loved one accompanies you on a trip overseas, would you not have much conversation with him or her? It would be very strange to have little communication with someone who sits beside you during all your flights and bus journeys, shares the same hotel room with you and eats at the same table with you. And yet isn’t this what we often do to the Lord who is with us? Think of the number of conversations that you have with Him throughout the day, and then compare that with the number of emails, SMSes and phone calls that you make regularly every day. I think we all can see that we ought to be praying a lot more because of who God is to us – He is none other than our dear Father who loves us and never leaves us.

Therefore please make time to pray no matter how busy you are. Make your daily time with God a priority in your life. Samuel Chadwick said, “The one concern of the devil is to keep Christians from praying. He fears nothing from prayerless studies, prayerless work, and prayerless religion. He laughs at our toil, mocks at our wisdom, but trembles when we pray.” One way that Satan keeps us from praying is by encouraging us to take on more and more work and to become engaged in so many pursuits that we hardly have any time left to pray. And when we do pray, he presents plenty of distractions so that our minds would wander away and we can’t concentrate on praying. To prevent this from happening we must discipline ourselves to pray until it becomes a personal habit, and then we must allow nothing to change this habit.

One person who did this was Daniel. He made it a habit to pray three times day, despite his busy schedule as a very high ranking official in the Persian empire. He allowed nothing to change his praying habit– even a royal decree that outlawed praying to anyone but the king. Though at risk of being arrested and executed, he carried on praying as he did before – kneeling three times a day, with his windows open to face Jerusalem. Why did he not pray silently in his heart? Because he believed that nothing should ever change his habit of praying. He treasured his close fellowship with God so much that he refused to allow anything to affect it in any way. For doing this, Daniel was arrested and thrown into a lion’s den. But God delivered him in a marvelous way.

Let us learn to be like Daniel. Whether you are busy, or have more responsibilities, or on travel, maintain your prayer life. One example is the habit of saying grace before meals – would you do it in public, or if you are having a meal with a non-Christian – what if he were someone important, like the prime minister? If you are accustomed to begin each day with prayer, keep on doing it. Don’t let tiredness or sleep rob you of your daily appointment with the Lord. If you are accustomed to end your day at God’s throne of grace, then maintain this practice even if you are tired and you just wish to go to bed early.

Be convinced that everything else can wait, but that precious time when you commune with God each day through reading His Word and praying must always be kept. Your spiritual batteries need to be recharged daily. Think of your prayer life as spiritual breathing – when you stop breathing, your brain will be deprived of oxygen supply and you will be dead after four minutes. When you stop praying, your soul will soon be deprived of God’s sustaining grace and you will become very dry and weak spiritually and may even become dead before long.

So please don’t let this lifeline to God be cut off. Cultivate the attitude of constant dependence on Him in your daily life. That attitude is reflected by unceasing prayer – talking with God as you work, as you travel, and even as you exercise. Praise God in your heart as you walk to your office and behold the trees and flowers along the path. Give thanks to God when you leave the office at the end of the day. Cry out to Him for help when temptation comes. You don’t need to make long verbose prayers. The shortest silent prayers straight from the heart (e.g. “Lord! Help me”) can work wonders. And whenever you encounter a problem, commit it to the Lord first before you attempt to solve it. Prayer ought to be your first resort, not your last one. Before you make a presentation or conduct an interview, pray. Whenever you feel like worrying, pray. Students, before you take a test or exam, pray. Parents, when your child leaves home for school, pray for him. The Lord wants you to cast all your cares upon Him, for He cares for you (1 Peter 5:7). No matter is ever too small to bring to God’s attention, for even the very hairs of your head are all numbered (Luke 12:7).

I remember one incident just after our church camp in Awana four years ago. The coach that I was in on the way back to Singapore ran into some difficulties just after clearing the Woodlands checkpoint – the driver could not engage the gears and the coach slowed down to a standstill on the road shoulder. We were stranded. How would we get back to church? Well I prayed in my heart for God’s help and I believe many others in the coach were also praying at that moment. Then the driver turned off the engine and started it up again, and praise God he could engage up to the 3rdgear (The 4th gear was defective) and get the coach to move again. And we were singing joyfully to the Lord all the way back here to church. And just before we disembarked from the coach we all gave thanks to God in prayer.

And so, let us develop the habit of praying about every matter, great or small. In that way we will make full use of the privileged access that we have to God’s throne of grace. Now we go on to see that besides granting us this access to God,

II. Prayer Brings Powerful Assistance from God

We seek this powerful assistance not to fulfill our own selfish desires but to do God’s will. This must always be our goal in every prayer we make, lest we think that we can use God to get anything that we want. Prayer is God’s appointed means for carrying out His work on earth. This is true even in our service to others, as our service will yield results only through God. You will notice that in our scripture text the three injunctions to rejoice, pray and give thanks come immediately after Paul instructed the Thessalonians about serving others in vv.14-15. They were told to warn the unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient with all men and to keep doing good to all men. Well, all these deeds of service need to be done with prayer.

You may remember that in the message on this that was preached by Elder Chin two weeks ago, we learned that it is not our job to change people – only God can do that. Only God can make them respond to the warning, comfort and support we give. Therefore we should pray that God will be gracious to work in their hearts so that they will respond well. In fact unceasing prayer for them is the best help you can give. It is the means that God uses to change the hearts and lives of people.

Many Christian parents do their very best to raise their children in a godly home environment. They inculcate biblical values in them from young, have regular family devotions and ensure that their children attend church and Sunday school regularly. But not all their children respond the same way to such upbringing. Some choose to go astray and become wayward.

One of them was Augustine, a 4th century theologian. Augustine was 17 years old when his father died, and he was a terrible son who brought a lot of heartache to his widowed mother, Monica. Although she had raised him well in the Christian faith, Augustine turned out to be lazy, went astray and indulged in wine, women and song. Monica was especially disheartened when he got involved in a Persian cult.

But Monica never gave up praying for her wayward son. For 17 years she would fast, cry and beg God daily for her son’s salvation. Her prayers were answered one day when Augustine was not only saved, but he was also consecrated to the Lord’s service and went to become one of the greatest church leaders in his day. If you have a child who has become wayward, please don’t give up praying for him. God can change his heart, mind and will in His good time.

This is also true of all our evangelistic efforts. While we ought to do everything we can to witness to our loved ones, friends and colleagues, our witness becomes effective only with God’s power. Hence we need to keep praying for their salvation. In our study of Thessalonians we have seen how much Paul laboured for their salvation and for their spiritual growth. But what is more important was how he prayed for them. This is mentioned several times in 1 Thessalonians:

1 Thessalonians 1:2 – “We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers.”  1 Thessalonians 3:9-10 – “For what thanks can we render to God again for you, for all the joy wherewith we joy for your sakes before our God; Night and day praying exceedingly that we might see your face, and might perfect that which is lacking in your faith?” And then Paul ends this epistle with a prayer for their welfare - 1 Thessalonians 5:23 – “And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” In fact, in almost all his epistles, Paul mentioned how he prayed for those he wrote to.

Here is the way that you can be most effective for Christ in your prayer life – Keep praying for the work of witnessing to the lost. Unceasing prayer provides opportunities for the Gospel to reach the lost effectively. In fact prayer is most essential for this work of the Lord, and it is one important way that you can continue to serve the Lord even when you are old and unable to be active in any church ministry. Though you may be physically weak and even bed-ridden, your prayers can still be powerful to open doors of opportunity for the Gospel to reach the lost.

A veteran missionary once told me that he attributes the success of his ministry to the prayers made by a dear aunt in his home country. Although this aunt had never been to the mission field, and was confined to her room all the time because of the infirmities of her age, she knew all about his ministry, and even all his coworkers and native Christians who had come to know Christ through his ministry through receiving his regular reports. All their names were written in her Bible, which she used daily in her devotions. She prayed for all of them as if she knew them personally, and thus she served the Lord effectively even from the confines of her bedroom.

Please make it a point to pray also for all who preach and teach the Word of God in Life Church, so that we may be able to make the message clear and profitable to those who hear it. In 1 Thessalonians 5:25 Paul asked the Thessalonians to pray for him. He said, “Brethren, pray for us.” He made the same request in several other epistles -Colossians 4:3,4 – “Withal praying also for us, that God would open unto us a door of utterance, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in bonds:  That I may make it manifest, as I ought to speak.” Look also at Romans 15:30,31 – “Now I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ's sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that ye strive together with me in your prayers to God for me; That I may be delivered from them that do not believe in Judaea; and that my service which I have for Jerusalem may be accepted of the saints”

If Paul the great apostle, preacher and missionary needed others to pray for him in the Lord’s work, how much more do we need your prayers! So let me say this now with all earnestness: Please pray for us! Without your prayers for us who preach the Word, all our preaching will be powerless. We may put in our very best efforts to prepare every sermon, drawing out the meaning of every passage, and how it is to be applied. But what will all that avail if you do not pray for us? You may give us very good suggestions on how to improve our preaching to make it more impactful, and we certainly welcome that, but if you really want us to preach and teach better the most important thing that you can do is to pray for us. Your prayers will have a great impact on the quality and outcome of the preaching and teaching ministry of the church. So please pray for us!

Besides that, keep praying for the needs of our church and our members. You can use the church prayer bulletin in your daily intercession – and focus your prayers on just 2-3 items a day. Better still, come for our church prayer meeting on Tuesday night. What we need is to have more intercessors for this power house of the church. Praying together with others will also give you more confidence to pray publicly. You will also be greatly encouraged through the testimonies of answered prayers shared at the prayer meeting. And when God answers prayer, you may be surprised to find that it far exceeds all that we ask or think!

Some years ago, one sister shared at our prayer meeting how she and her husband had prayed for 30 years for the salvation of his mother. They had shared the Gospel with her many times but had always received the same negative response. But one day, when they did this again, they were utterly amazed that she wanted to believe in Christ for salvation. It took them completely by surprise.

There are many interesting examples in the Bible of such wonderful surprises. When Isaac prayed for his wife to conceive, God surprised him by giving him twins. When Hannah prayed for son, God surprised her by giving her one who became one of the greatest prophets of Israel – for Samuel had the distinction of anointing the first two kings of Israel. When Cornelius prayed, God surprised him by sending the apostle Peter to his home and giving the Holy Spirit to every member of his household (Acts 10). When the disciples prayed for Peter’s release from prison, God surprised them by bringing Peter right to their doorstep (Acts 12:12-16).

Here is a testimony of George Mueller’s prayer for the salvation of his friends. “In November, 1844, I began to pray for the conversion of five individuals. I prayed every day without a single intermission, whether sick or in health, on the land or on the sea, and whatever the pressure of my engagements might be. Eighteen months elapsed before the first was converted. I thanked God and prayed on for the others. Five years elapsed, and then the second was converted. I thanked God for the second, and prayed on for the other three. Day by day I continued to pray for them, and six years passed before the third was converted. I thanked God for the three and went on praying for the other two.” Finally, a few months after George Mueller’s death, God brought the remaining two into His fold. Thus we see that his unceasing prayer for 52 years was not in vain. Who knows what unexpected answers God may have in store for you if you would only persevere in prayer! So please do not be discouraged when the answer has not yet come. Keep on praying without ceasing! Learn to be persistent and consistent in your praying. Keep asking, seeking and knocking fervently at the throne of grace until you receive the answer from God.

Remember how Jacob wrestled with God at Peniel and refused to let Him go (Genesis 32:24-28). He held on to Him tightly despite suffering the agony of a dislocated hip joint and said, “I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.” In the end, God blessed Jacob and said to him, “as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hastprevailed.” What God wants to find in us is not just faith to look to Him in prayer, but faith to prevail with Him in prayer. May the Lord help us all to pray without ceasing!

 

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

October 15 & 22 - The Cost of Discipleship

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 16:25