Jesus’ earthly ministry was remarkably brief, barely three years long. Yet in those three years, as must have been true in His earlier life, He spent a great amount of time in prayer. The Gospels report that Jesus habitually rose early in the morning, often before daybreak, to commune with His Father. In the evening He would frequently go to the Mount of Olives or some other quiet spot to pray, usually alone. Prayer was the spiritual air that Jesus breathed every day of His life. He practiced an unending communion between Himself and the Father.
He urged His disciples to do the same. He said, “Keep on the alert at all times, praying in order that you may have strength to escape all these things that are about to take place” (Luke 21:36).
The early church learned that lesson and carried on Christ’s commitment to continual, unceasing prayer. Even before the Day of Pentecost, the 12 disciples gathered in the Upper Room “with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer” (Acts 1:14). That didn’t change even when 3,000 were added to their number on the Day of Pentecost (2:42). When the apostles were led to structure the church so that ministry could be accomplished effectively, they said, “We will devote ourselves to prayer, and to the ministry of the Word” (6:4).
Throughout his life, the Apostle Paul exemplified this commitment to prayer. Read the benedictions to many of his epistles and you’ll discover that praying for his fellow believers was his daily practice. To the Roman believers he said, “God … is my witness as to how unceasingly I make mention of you, always in my prayers making request” (Rom. 1:9–10; cf. 1 Cor. 1:4; Eph. 5:20; Phil. 1:4; Col. 1:3; 1 Thes. 1:2; 2 Thes. 1:3, 11; Phile. 4). His prayers for believers often occupied him both “night and day” (1 Thes. 3:10; 2 Tim. 1:3).
Because he prayed for them so continually, Paul was able to exhort his readers to pray that way as well. He urged the Thessalonians to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thes. 5:17). He commanded the Philippians to stop being anxious and instead, “in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (4:6). He encouraged the Colossians to “devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving” (4:2; cf. Rom. 12:12). And to help the Ephesians arm themselves to combat the spiritual darkness in the world around them, he said, “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints” (Eph. 6:18). Unceasing, incessant prayer is essential to the vitality of a believer’s relationship to the Lord and his ability to function in the world.
John F. MacArthur Jr., Alone with God, MacArthur Study Series (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1995), 13–14.
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