By Russ Ramsey
Though not specifically called out as a piece of armor, prayer is essential to moving from self-sufficiency to dependence on the Holy Spirit. Everything else in this passage is equipped through the powerful resource of prayer.
Prayer is one of our best weapons in spiritual warfare. How often should we pray? 1 Thessalonians 5:17 is short and to the point: “pray constantly.” What does that even mean? You may be thinking, in the words of John McEnroe, “You cannot be serious!” The verb in that verse is called a “customary present”—an ongoing regularity. In other words, it means, “pray regularly and don’t stop praying regularly.” Normalize prayer as a part of your day.
The command is also directional. The command to pray describes both an action and a directional posture—to always be in a posture of leaning into the reality of the nearness of God.
What is prayer? Libraries have been written on the subject, and the constraints of time limit us here—but let me offer a few basics.
Prayer, of course, is when we talk to God. Most formal prayers in Scripture include these five elements: an address to God, a description of a situation, a confession of sin or need, a request, and a praise.
Not all prayers are formal. Some prayers are quick, in-the-moment responses. Others are put down in writing, during a time set aside just for prayer and the study of Scripture. Prayer can take many forms. Prayer recognizes God is aware of what we’re thinking and experiencing. Prayer doesn’t invite God’s presence or cause it. It acknowledges His presence whether we sense it or not. God knows our every passing thought. Prayer is the practice of directing every thought in a Godward way. It is an ongoing conversation. But prayer is not something we do simply to get a response. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, “Prayer, in many ways, is the supreme expression of our faith in God.” We pray to know Him.
So in summary, what is prayer for? It brings us into the presence of God in an intentional, relational way. This is why we practice the art of prayer. And the more we practice, the better we’ll become at doing it. This is one of the great rewards of following Jesus Christ over time—we develop skills for communing with Him, like an artist with his paints and canvas, or a sculptor with her hammer and chisel, or a baseball player with his or her ball and glove. And here’s the good news: practice leads to familiarity, and familiarity leads to intimacy.