Serious praying

by Michael E. Brooks

“Now the end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers” (1 Peter 4:7).

Another of our visits to Bangladesh nears its end. As so often seems to happen, there is unrest and violence in this part of the world. It concerns us as we approach the time that we will be traveling and thus be more exposed and vulnerable.

Such concerns tend to concentrate our attention on matters of safety, and also to encourage us to extra prayers for God’s watchful care.

Peter reminds us that we are always near the end. Our lives are brief and may end at any time. Even more importantly, Jesus will return to this world in judgment and no one knows just when that will come (Matthew 24:36).

This world will pass away, and there will be a new heaven and a new earth (2 Peter 3:10-13). This awareness affects the way we live (2 Peter 3:11). It also affects the way we pray (1 Peter 4:7).

Two words in the text printed above are worthy of special attention. The first is “be serious.” The Greek-English lexicon offers “sensible,” “reasonable,” and “of sound mind” as synonyms.

The idea is that one must think in a rational, logical or sensible way. Peter applies this to our awareness of the imminent return of Jesus. If he is really coming, and all things are really going to end, how should we act? How should we think? How should we pray?

The second important word is translated “watchful” in the New King James translation. It is often translated as “sober” in the New Testament (1 Thessalonians 5:6, 8; 2 Timothy 4:5; 1 Peter 1:13; 5:8).

The lexicons also suggest “self-control.” The idea is that the Christian, aware of the possible immediate return of Jesus, exercises self-discipline so as to always be ready for that time.

It is especially interesting that Peter exhorts us to have those qualities especially in our prayers. We are to pray sensible prayers. We are to pray disciplined prayers.

He probably meant that we are to exercise those qualities by remembering to pray. But he also meant that our prayers themselves should be a reflection of those characteristics within us.

Prayer is serious business. It is not to be engaged in lightly or carelessly. We are asking for the attention of the almighty ruler of the universe. That is not given negligently.

I have read descriptions of sessions of the Supreme Court in the United States. According to those, each side of a case is given a very limited time to present the arguments in favor of the verdict he desires.

Frequently lawyers are interrupted even before that short time is exhausted. Lawyers practicing before this court quickly learn to speak concisely and clearly, limiting their words only to those which are most important and which are most helpful to their cause.

This is not to suggest that we should pray less, or more briefly. Rather we are urged to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). But it does illustrate the need to think carefully about what we say and to approach the throne of God as an important opportunity.

Prayer seems so easy, so routine, that we may become careless and negligent in its practice. Let that not be.

We must instead be sensible and watchful as we live, going frequently and carefully to God in prayer that we may ask for his help.


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