Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. (verse 2)
Prayer. It’s foundational in following Jesus. His teaching makes it clear. “Ask, seek, knock,” he says, inviting us to lay our requests before the Father who faithfully listens and lovingly responds. “You should always pray and not give up,”Jesus continues, stretching us to engage fully with time and faith. Indeed, his own life of prayer so captivated his disciples that they cried out, “Teach us to pray,”eager to enter in. The model prayer they received trains us still.
But the challenge is ongoing. So, Paul gives us further instruction packed into this concise verse, laying out three postures for prayer that deepen our engagement.
“Devote yourselves.” This is the very posture of the early church immediately after the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost. “They devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer”(Acts 2:42). Filled with the Spirit of God, with focused passion, commitment and perseverance, they pressed forward in the new life the Lord empowered. Earlier, this same word described the constant prayer of the disciples and others (120 in number) as they eagerly anticipated the Spirit’s coming (Acts 1:14). Later, the word will describe the Apostles’ choice to put aside other tasks and give their “attention to prayer and the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4). More mundanely, it’s used of the boat standing “ready” for Jesus on the shore of Galilee (Mark 3:9), and of the soldier who was the dedicated attendant for Cornelius (Acts 10:7). In each instance, the word implies focused attention. Someone (or something) is set aside for a focused purpose.
Treat prayer like that, Paul says. It’s your calling – not a periodic extra that supplements your main duty, but rather something that is absolutely central to life in Christ. Press into it.
“Being watchful.” This is the word Jesus uses in the parable of the servants who are left in charge of a great house (Mark 13:34, 35, 37). Each is assigned a task and told to “keep watch,” for they don’t know the hour their master will return. Be vigilant like that for the second coming, Jesus says. Be alert, watching. Much is at stake. Don’t miss the hour.
Later, at Gethsemane, Jesus gave the same command to Peter, James, and John, three times over, as he urged them to stand with him in prayer. “Keep watch.”They, of course, failed the task. But now Paul uses that same word to call us to pray. We realize that for us, too, prayer is active service for Jesus, as if we ourselves were in that Garden. So, be alert. Don’t doze off. Keep pressing in.
“Thankful.” This posture changes the atmosphere. It ensures we do more than simply plead for answers when we enter prayer. Instead, we keep eyes open to what the Lord has already done, knowing he so often answers even before we call. When we see it, we rejoice, but when we miss it, we don’t – so, prayer goes flat. We need the enlivening spark of gratitude, for thankfulness connects us with Jesus. The nine lepers who were healed, but unthankful, went their way and missed any further encounter. But the one who was thankful, turned back to express it, and found himself face to face with Jesus. That’s where we need to be. It’s the necessary posture of prayer. So, attend to the workings of God. Turn them to praise. Write them in your journal. Review them often. And let thankfulness arise.
Devoted. Watchful. Thankful. Three prayer postures squeezed into this one verse. Embrace them.
Lord Jesus, you have called me to pray. I confess I so often find it difficult. Like the disciples, I cry out, “Teach me to pray,” and I find in this verse these three postures. Strengthen them in me. Enroll me in an ongoing practicum. To your glory. Amen.
Reflect: Take one of these postures and embrace it today. Consider what it means. Take the practical steps. See what you learn.
Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash