By Pastor Glenn Pease
Bernie May, the United States Division Director of Wycliffe Bible Translators, for many years tells of his conflict with other Christians in a major book publishing deal. Chet Bitterman was shot to death by a terrorist group in Columbia, because they wanted the Bible translation he was doing to be stopped. Steve Ester wrote the book Called To Die about this 20th century martyr. 40,000 copies were ordered from Zondervan. Everything was going great until Christians in Columbia saw the jacket that was to cover the book. They sent an urgent message to Bernie that the language made the book more exciting to American buyers, but it could provoke the terrorist down there to more violence. Murders and bombings could be the result.
Bernie got on the phone to Zondervan and said the wording had to be changed. The editor said it was impossible for the jackets were printed and scheduled to be bound the next day. And argument developed over rights. The editor insisted on his right to print the cover, and Bernie insisted on his right to protect the people who could be hurt. They were unable to resolve their differences, and so they agreed to let the president of Zondervan hear their problem and decide. That night Bernie could not sleep, for he hated conflict with other Christians. The next morning the president of Zondervan called and said he understood his problem and would scrap the jacket and start over. He thanked him and hung up, and sat there amazed. A major conflict had been settled.
The phone rang again. It was Cora Frederick a multiple sclerosis victim confined to a wheel chair. She said she woke at 5 A. M. and felt a need to pray for him. She had been praying intensely for hours, and then she felt a sense a praise that the crisis had passed. Bernie could hardly believe his ears. He told her of the impossible situation that had just been resolved. Cora laughed and said, “Before I came down with M S I never had time to pray. Now God has called me into this ministry of intercession. I’m just thankful I can have a place in the ministry.” This true story illustrates so perfectly our theme, for we see here the conflict between seeking the power of busyness and the power of prayer.
The Christian editor of a major Christian publishing company was seeking the power of busyness. He had a job to do to make money for his company, and he was not going to waste time and resources because of some supposed fear. His busyness blinded him to the more vital concerns of the lives and security of other Christians. Cora was in the same boat, and she was too busy to pray until her ability to be busy had been taken away. Then she had to learn of the power of prayer. God used her prayer power to do what busyness could not do, and the story had a happy ending. This conflict between busyness and prayer power is one that every Christian faces.
Dr. James Denison, pastor of First Baptist Church of Midland, Texas wrote this prayer that deals with the conflict between busyness and prayer.
“Lord, forgive me-I’ve failed you again.
Some believers wouldn’t consider it a failure, but I know better.
It’s not prayerlessness, nor evil thoughts or vain imagination.
No, I’ve failed you in a much more subtle way.
I’ve become the ugliest of all things-a busy person.
It’s okay for a while. The long hours, the constant pressure-
Administration, decision-making, unrealistic expectations, relentless demands..
I loved what I was doing. I was committed, creative, energetic...
Like a quick-change artist I switched hats, changed roles,
Tried to be all things to all people.
There was not time for solitude or day dreaming.
Too many deadlines had to be met.
It was exciting and demanding.
I was out to change the world.
But there was not rhythm in my life.
No balance between work and rest, worship and play.
Now I’m not just a busy man. I’m an angry man, too.
I’m tempted to resent the people I love and to dread
The responsibilities I’m committed to.
Forgive me, Lord, for working too hard and playing too little.
Let me become a child again, at least for a time each day.
Help me, Lord, for I am a busy person.”
Our culture equates busyness and success, and so Christians feel they need to be busy to be successful. The problem is that too much of a good thing becomes a bad thing. Jesus was busy and under enormous pressure to minister to the needs of the crowds that came to Him continually. He had a hard time getting away from the pressure, and was sometimes so totally exhausted that He fell asleep, even when in a boat in a dangerous storm. But Jesus fought for balance. He escaped to commune with His heavenly Father early in the morning. He made a time for the quiet and reflective side of life. There are 40 times in the Gospels where His prayer life is mentioned. The disciples knew He had a power in prayer that they did not have, and that is why they asked Him to teach them to pray.
Jesus rebuked Martha for being too one sided and just being busy, busy, busy. He commended Mary for her balance in learning to let go of the active side of life, and just quietly reflecting, listening, and growing in the inner life. The Christ like life is the balance life where the power of busyness is balanced out by the power of prayer. Busyness is what you can do for God, and that is good, but prayer gets you involved in what God can do for you, and that is better.
In our text Paul ends this marvelous letter to the Ephesians with a focus on the need to be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. We need the Lord’s power because we are fighting battles of spiritual warfare, and the weapons of the flesh will not be effective. If all you have going for you is the busyness of the flesh, you will suffer many defeats and celebrate few victories, for your armory lacks the fire power needed to overcome the forces of evil. You need to put on the whole armor of God, and after Paul lists this armor he concluded in verse 18, “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 saints.”
Then Paul goes on in the next two verses seeking for personal prayer support. “Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, 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.” Paul, the great Apostle, every busy in reaching the world for Christ in these few verses reveals where his power lies. He is not filled with any illusion that his success is due to his busyness, but rather that every victory he has is due to the power of prayer.
Twice he prays that he will be fearless in his preaching the Gospel. It is clear that Paul had the same problem we all have, which is the fear of man. We do not witness for fear people will think we are some kind of religious fanatic. We fear to be rejected and ridiculed. We fear to be different. Paul had these fears also, and he needed the power of prayer to overcome them. Without the support of other Christians in prayer Paul felt he could not be what God called him to be. Paul was a busy man, but he was also a man of prayer. He recognized the source of his power was in prayer and not busyness. He knew this was true for all Christians, and that is why he urges them to be prayer warriors, for even all the armor of God will not be adequate for victory without prayer.
The armor does not make you independent of God so that you can win the battle on your own. It just makes you a more useful soldier of the cross if you are empowered by prayer. Calvin said on this verse, “Having put armor on the Ephesians, he now enjoins them to fight by prayer. This is the true method. To call upon God is the chief exercise of faith and hope, and it is in this way that we obtain from God every blessing.”
Prayer is like the wall switch. You flick it and power flows to produce light and energy for many uses. The power is there, but it will not do anything until there is a connection. So it is with the power of God. God is always present and His power is always available. There has to be a contact for it to flow, and prayer is that contact. That is why the Christian needs to pray without ceasing, for every step of life calls for power to be like Christ, and to be fulfilling God’s dream.
Note the emphasis of Paul in this verse on the word all. Pray on all occasions, and not just some, or even most, but all occasions, and with all kinds of prayers. Not just petition, but intercession, confession, adoration, and all kinds of requests. We are not to be specialists in prayer, but generalists, and using every form of prayer on all occasions. And also not just for some, but for all the saints. In other words, if we take these alls of Paul seriously, we are to be in a constant state of prayer at all times, and praying for everyone who comes into our awareness. We are to be prayer fanatics recognizing that all our busyness will not achieve a thing without the power of God. Paul says to pray always, and in every way you can think of, and for everyone you can think of.
Let’s be honest and recognize that this is not the way the majority of Christians operate, and this includes Christian leaders. We are just too busy for this kind of prayer life. Thomas Merton, a leading author who has devoted his life to spiritual contemplation, laments the fact that Christians are more a part of the culture than a part of the kingdom of God. He writes, “Those who are caught in the machinery of power take no joy except in activity and change-the whirring of the machine! Whenever an occasion for action presents itself, they are compelled to act; they cannot help themselves. They are inexorably moved, like the machine of which they are a part. Prisoners in the world of objects, they have no choice but to submit to the demands of matter! They are pressed down and crushed by external forces, fashion, the market, events, and public opinion. Never in a whole lifetime do they recover their right mind! The active life! What a pity!”
This reality not only hurts our relationship to God, but it hurts the family. We don’t have time to talk to God; no time to talk to mates and children. Communication dies in the world of busyness, and the end result is a breakdown in all relationships, and everyone is the weaker for it. We get addicted to busyness. We learn to love the excitement in being in a hurry with many things to do and places to be. We are like people on drugs, and we can’t see how destructive this is to the relationships that mean the most to us. The balanced life with a focus on prayer and contemplation will not only enrich your relationship with God, but with all whom you love.
If you are praying for your mate and your children frequently, this is going to alter your behavior so that you do not neglect these relationships. Prayer empowers your activities. If you are praying for your children to have a happy home life experience, you are going to give up something else to see that they get your attention, and actions on their behalf. Pray on all occasions says Paul. When you come to church do you come praying for God to meet a need, or is it just another part of your busy life that you have to get through? Your prayer will empower your experience, or lack of prayer will weaken your experience of worship.
Ann Ortland in her book Up With Worship writes, “Christian, it’s up to you, when you come to church, to worship. Nobody can do it for you. All those helps-hymns, prayers, sermons-lead you to the water, but they can’t make you drink. You, personally, must lift your heart to God. How can I please you today, Father?” Worship is not a passive thing that you wait to happen to you. It is active, and only you can do it. Pray that you will be empowered to worship. A prayerful spirit will enable you to worship even if the music is not to your taste, and the message does not fit your life at the moment. Prayer is the key to making every occasion one for fulfilling the will of God.
It is popular to say that prayer changes things, but that can be misleading. Prayer does not always change things at all, but it can change you, and this is the key to being what God wants you to be. Prayer will not change the fact that you live in a fallen world where the news will be filled with sin and folly of man. You won’t be able to pray that away, but you can by prayer make sure you are not a part of the bad news. Prayer will not change the fact that you have limited resources in time, talent, and treasure. But prayer can change how you use what you have so that it is used wisely for God’s glory. Prayer may not change the behavior of your neighbor, or your boss, or anyone else who is adding negative pressure to your life, but it can change how you respond to them, and this can be a great victory.
The point is, it is prayer that can always have a positive impact when you are open to interchange regardless of what external circumstances are. Paul does not pray that God will make the world of His listeners less harsh and critical, but that He will be bold in spite of what they will do. His prayer is for inner change in himself, and not for outer change in the world. He knows it is futile to pray that the world will not be the world so that even a chicken-livered, yellow belly, wimp of a Christian can tell the world they are lost without a Savior. His prayer is that he would be a fearless proclaimer of the truth even though he be stoned for his audacity. Prayer may not change things, but it changes me is Paul’s point, and that is why we never cease to pray on all occasions, for we need to be constantly adapting and changing ourselves.
The most important part of the present ministry of Jesus at the right hand of the Father is His intercession for us. He finished His work on earth with His death on the cross for all sin, and His resurrection to conquer death and liberate all people so that all can have eternal life. But His work is not done in heaven, for there He prays for His body the church to carry on His work on earth. Heb. 7:25 says, “Therefore He is able to save completely those who come to God through Him, because He always lives to intercede for them.”
We all need saving more and more. We need to be saved from our sin, and the painful past and all of its consequences. We need to be saved from bondage to our comfort zones. We need to be saved from our prejudices. We need to be saved from our narrow vision that robs us of being world class Christians. We need saving from all the busyness that keeps us from God’s best. How are we being so saved? By the prayers of our Great Intercessor the Lord Jesus we are saved. When we join our prayers to His the channel is open, and we can experience the flow of God’s power to change our spirit and behavior to conform to that of Christ.
Prayer is how we are saved in the first place. We pray and ask God to save us, and for Christ to enter our lives as Lord and Savior. The sinner’s prayer, “God be merciful to me a sinner,” is the beginning of our walk with God. But that is just the beginning. We are then to continue to pray for wisdom, guidance, forgiveness, protection, and as Paul says, on every occasion for everything under the sun, and for all the saints. Prayer is not to be a minor part of the Christian life-a mere, in the sentence of life that is not missed if omitted. It is to be the verb in the sentence of life that empowers the whole sentence, and which gives it movement and life. James 4:2, “You do not have because you do not ask God…” God wants to supply all our needs, but we stick with busyness rather than seek to meet our needs in prayer.
Heb. 4:16 says, “Let us come boldly unto the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” The power you need to meet every need is available if you make the contact, and you do this by the power of prayer. No wonder Paul is a prayer fanatic. He knows that all the busyness in the world will not make God’s dreams for us come true without the power of prayer. Pray on all occasions says Paul, and Dr. Ernest DeWitt Burton expanded on those words to say:
“Pray in the morning and in wakeful watches of the night;
Pray on your knees in the silence of our own chamber, in
the noisy solitude of the thronging streets where cross the
crowded ways of life, and in the great congregation; pray
in the language of the ages, in the language of childhood’s
prayer, and in the spontaneous utterance of gratitude or
desire; pray for ourselves, for our friends and companions,
for the nations across the seas, and for the coming of God’s
kingdom in all the earth.
“Pray for the possible and the impossible, and the possible
impossible, for with God all things are possible. Pray,
encouraged by the answer to our prayer and undiscouraged
by petitions that in divine wisdom and grace are ungranted;
pray undeterred by our inability to trace out a possible course
of cause and effect between our desire and its fulfillment.
Pray, for all that in the consciousness of God’s presence we
desire, but always most earnestly, pray that His will, not ours,
Obey the impulse to pray, and cultivate the habit of praying,
till every thought is touched with prayer and we live in the
atmosphere of prayer and in the consciousness of God.”
There are thousands of books on prayer. It is one of the largest sections you will find in any theological library. The Bible is loaded with prayers and admonitions to pray. We are to pray without ceasing, and yet the fact is, it is confessed by clergy and layman alike to be an area of weakness in their Christian life. Dick Eastman called his book on prayer-No Easy Road. Some poet put it-
There’s no easy path to glory.
There’s no easy road to fame.
Prayer, no matter how you view it,
Is no simple parlor game.
But it’s prizes call for fighting,
For endurance and for grit;
For a rugged “I can do it”
And some “Don’t know when to quit.”
E. M. Bounds, whose books on prayer have been printed by the millions writes, “Spiritual work is taxing work, and men are loath to do it. Praying, true praying costs an out lay of serious attention and of time, which flesh and blood do not relish.” In comparison it is easy to be busy, and to try and fulfill God’s dream by the exercise of your own energy. But this is in reality a barrier to God’s best. Let us join the disciples and make it our prayer, Lord teach us to pray that we might empower our activities with prayer.