We’re all going through a tough time with this lockdown. Parents will be home schooling for two more months. Travel is restricted. Our grandchildren on the central coast seem to be as far away as those in France. There are extra restrictions. People are isolated, which can increase anxiety, fear and depression. People are working from home. Many businesses must be struggling to survive with reduced cash flow. There is reduced family income. Some are unemployed. There is a reduction in some health services. But our needs are increased because of the stress. No visitors are allowed in hospitals and nursing homes. Other services are reduced. Churches can’t meet as usual. And households are spending extended time together without relief. It’s a bit like 1984 with government surveillance and propaganda. How do we get through such tough times? Is social media the answer? Can prayer help us trust God in times like this?
When Saul tied to kill David over an extended period of time, David prayed, and God protected him. Some of his prayers are in the book of Psalms. Nehemiah prayed – it’s mentioned in 8 verses in the book of Nehemiah. When Paul and Silas were imprisoned for preaching in Philippi, they were “praying and singing hymns to God” at midnight (Acts 16:25).
It’s clear in the Bible that God’s people pray. It’s mentioned in 367 verses in the NIV Bible (316 in ESV, 357 in CSB, 408 in NET, and 436 in NLT). And prayer is mentioned in 54 verses in Paul’s letters.
Why do we pray? Because it is commanded in the Bible. And Jesus and the apostles modelled prayer – they prayed regularly. There are five passages where Paul commanded Christians to pray.
- When Paul wrote to a young church that was being persecuted, he commanded them to fix their attitudes, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Th. 5:17ESV). Or “Pray constantly” (CSB, NET). Or “Pray continually” (NIV). Or “Never stop praying” (NLT). It means, don’t give up praying. Always be willing and ready to pray. Pray regularly. Be persistent in prayer. Cultivate a sense of dependence on God.
- When he wrote about the behavior of Christians in the church, Paul commanded them, “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer” (Rom. 12:12NIV). Or “be persistent in prayer” (CSB, NET). Or “Be constant in prayer” (ESV). Or “keep on praying” (NLT). Persevere in prayer. An effort is required to maintain the habit of prayer.
- When describing a Christian’s weapons for spiritual warfare, Paul commanded, “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” (Eph. 6:18-20). Part of the armor of God in the spiritual battle is to pray with the help of the Holy Spirit. We need to pray when we are in a spiritual war. And pray for spiritual problems more than for physical ones. While Paul is in gaol for preaching the gospel, he asks for prayer to keep on preaching the gospel!
- When Paul addresses the everyday life of a Christian (their family, work, and witness), he includes their prayer life: “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should” (Col. 4:2-4). Be devoted to prayer like a tax collector is devoted to collecting taxes (Rom. 13:6). Be alert to the importance of prayer. Be grateful and thankful when we pray. Thank God for His providential care. While Paul is in gaol for preaching the gospel, he asks for prayer for God to open up opportunities to preach the gospel again!
- When Paul addresses how to deal with broken relationships, he includes, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6-7ESV). Place the situation in God’s hands. Trust in His sovereignty. We can pray about anything. Once again, it’s with thanksgiving. Prayer is the way to alleviate worry. If we have given our problem to the Lord, we can have peace.
Tough times are a test of our Christian faith. They are part of our spiritual battle. Prayer is one of the ways to get through difficult times. There are five principles about prayer in the passages we read from Paul:
– Always be ready to pray (in any time, and any situation).
– Don’t give up on prayer (that’s giving up on God).
– Hand your problems and worries to God in prayer (that’s sharing your concerns).
– Be grateful and thankful when we pray (remember all that God does for us).
– Pray for the spread of the gospel message (that’s the only lasting hope).
These are commands or imperatives. Prayer is not optional. Christians are commanded to pray. They are some of the commands given to Christians in the New Testament. The Israelites were given commands in the Old Testament, which was the law of Moses. They flourished when they obeyed, like when under Joshua they captured and settled in Canaan. But they suffered when they disobeyed, like when they were invaded and taken into exile by the Assyrians and the Babylonians.
Giving up on praying would be like not speaking to your spouse or others in your household. And if it was ongoing, it would be like being divorced or being estranged from your best friend. Or like having a permanent strict COVID lockdown.
So the Bible commands us to pray. God commands us to pray. Prayer taps into the power of God. It maintains our relationship with God. Prayer is an act of dependence on God for whatever we might be facing.
Prayer is mandatory for believers. In difficult times like lockdowns we should bring our needs to God in prayer. It is important to realize our dependence on God and express it through prayer. Only those who see the big picture, that God is at work even in our trying times, can suffer gladly (Rom. 5:3). Let’s start praying today!
Link to extended article on this topic: Why pray in trials and difficult times?