It takes less than ten minutes to register for a marathon, two days to receive your new running shoes from the online retailer, and an hour to visit the sporting goods store for head-to-toe branded gear. In a matter of days, you can transform yourself into an athlete, or at least the image of one. But none of these external changes will prepare your body to endure 26.2 grueling miles. For that you need three to twelve months of training. Perseverance and endurance cannot be bought or delivered. Neither can a thankful heart and a prayerful spirit.
In America, we set aside one day a year to express thankfulness for God's blessings. But one day is not enough. We also set aside one day a week to pray together as a church body. But once a week is not enough to develop the endurance necessary to persevere in prayer. And if we cannot persevere in thanksgiving and prayer, we cannot persevere through the difficulties of life. For God has given us thankfulness and prayer as weapons of endurance.
Perseverance and endurance cannot be bought or delivered. Neither can a thankful heart and a prayerful spirit.
THE LIFE-BREATH OF GOD'S WARRIOR
Take a look at Paul's image of a soldier in Ephesians 6. He is bedecked from head to toe in armor. And this armor is good because it is from God. The belt of Truth readies him for battle. The breastplate of righteousness protects his heart. The helmet of salvation preserves his life. And yet, as in the physical world, this spiritual armor does not overcome a lack of conditioning. Note how Paul ends his list of armored elements: "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" (Ephesians 6:18). While we should not engage in life's spiritual battle without armor, how much more essential is prayer! Prayer is the breath of the warrior. The prayerless Christian is a soldier who is dressed in shining armor but can't make it up the hill without gasping for air. Just as the soldier needs physical conditioning, so we need spiritual conditioning in prayer.
PRACTICING PRAYER ACCORDING TO SCRIPTURE
This is a radically different form of prayer than our common American conception of it. We live in a culture whose motto directly contradicts Paul's charge to the Thessalonians: "Whine always, desire without ceasing, complain in all circumstances . . ." This has influenced our prayer life within the church. We turn prayer into a heavenly complaint desk where we ask to "speak to the manager." We treat prayer like filling out an Amazon wish list or a godly GoFundMe. But this is not Biblical prayer. Prayer is the realignment of our warped passions and priorities so they can reflect God's passions and priorities. Prayer is the process of developing our perseverance and endurance to follow God for a lifetime.
Jesus is the primary example of this prayerful conditioning. What enabled Jesus on the night He was betrayed to pray, ". . . yet not my will, but yours be done" (Luke 22:42)? What empowered Him to ask forgiveness for His executioners from the cross? Jesus prepared for those moments by withdrawing to pray throughout His life and ministry. Luke tells us that Jesus "often withdrew to lonely places and prayed" (Luke 5:16), that He prayed all night before choosing His disciples (see Luke 6:12), that He was praying when Peter confessed Him as Christ (see Luke 9:18), that His praying prompted the disciples to request instruction in prayer (see Luke 11:1). Prayer was the life-breath of Jesus' ministry. Why do we think we can live without it?
FREEDOM THROUGH HUMBLE, PERSEVERING PRAYER
What if we would follow Jesus into the school of prayer and thanksgiving? What if we would heed Paul's charge to rejoice always and pray without ceasing? We would treat prayer not as a request hotline but as a relational connection. We would stop asking, "God, when will You answer my prayer?" and start asking, "God, will You help me pray according to Your design?" We would find legalism's grip loosen, and the Gospel's freedom take hold in our hearts. We would lift our eyes from what we don't have to what we already have in Christ. We would breathe deeply of thankfulness and run boldly into the path God has laid out for us. Let it be so. Amen.