Vol. 5, No. 5
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James gives two reasons why we may not get what we need in this life. He says, "Ye have not because ye ask not. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that he may spend it in your pleasures" (James 4:2-3). Often we do not ask for the things we need, for what we need and what we want are two different things. We fail to get the things we need because, not realizing what they are, we do not ask for them.
Another reason James gives for not getting what we need is that we ask amiss. As long as we conceive of prayer as a sort of exercise in pushing a button to call a Cosmic Bell Boy to do our bidding, we are asking amiss, regardless of the thing for which we ask. Rather, prayer should be a means of so attuning our souls to God and his will that it is a time when he molds our lives so that his will becomes ours. It is not merely a matter of tacking on some words, "Thy will, not mine be done," but a matter of so adjusting our lives and thinking that his will actually becomes ours. As Jesus put it, "I do always the things that are pleasing to Him." Our prayer, then, is primarily a matter of opening our hearts to God in such a fashion that we may have the wisdom and insight into what his will is in that particular situation, and praying that we may be used to accomplish that will.
Surely, each of you can see the difference in the attitude of one who says, "God, this is what I want, and I hope you will see fit to give it to me" and "God, this is what I think you want. If it is I hope you will allow me to work with you to accomplish it."
Practically every commentator that I remember saying anything about 1 Thessalonians 5:17 where Paul said, "Pray without ceasing," has made a comment something like this, "Of course he does not mean that we are to be muttering prayers constantly, but that we are to be in a prayerful attitude at all times."
While my limited knowledge and ability makes me hesitate to take issue with more learned and astute brethren, I feel impelled to make some remarks about that conclusion, as innocuous as it may seem. I agree that it does not mean that we are to be muttering, or just uttering, prayers constantly, but that it means "be in a prayerful attitude at all times" I deny (although I do not have any objection to a person doing that, or teaching that it is a good thing -- whatever it may mean).
In order to make clearer my objection to the claim that this is the meaning, let me ask a few questions. If we had translated the positive statement into a negative form and instead of saying, "Pray without ceasing" had said, "Do not stop praying" would you agree that the meaning of those two expressions is about the same? Now suppose we said of a person, "He has stopped attending church services," or "He has stopped giving," or "He has stopped taking the Lord's Supper." Would it not be appropriate to admonish a person, "Do not stop doing those things"?
If the Bible said, "Do not stop attending the assembly" (See Hebrews 10:25) would you conclude that an adequate exegesis of that passage would be, "That does not mean to assemble all the time, but it means have an assembling attitude?" If we were admonished to "Do not stop giving," would you think some brilliant scholar should inform us that it does not mean to constantly give every minute of the day, but its real meaning is, "Have a giving attitude at all times?" Perhaps no one assumes that an admonition to not stop partaking of the Lord's Supper would mean, "Eat and drink every minute of every day," but I am strongly convinced that NO ONE would assert that it merely means, "Be in a partaking attitude at all times."
May I suggest that the expression, "Pray without ceasing" should be treated the same way. Although I think I would have no objection to a person being "in a praying attitude" or "in a giving attitude," or in "an assembling attitude" at all times, if I knew what that meant, it should not be too hard to see that it is far easier to make sense of all these similar expressions if we understand them to mean, "Do these things with the proper consistency and regularity." "Pray" does not mean "be in a praying attitude" any more than "give" means "be in a giving attitude."