“Pray without ceasing.”
(1 Thessalonians 5:17)
While I was in Haiti last week, I took everybody’s advice, and I stayed well hydrated. Haiti is hot, there’s no way around that. It’s in the Caribbean, so it’s got the warm ocean wind and the sun beating down directly overhead. Add to that, I went at the end of August and first of September, when it’s already hot (usually) in Northern Iowa – so, yeah, staying hydrated was important for a successful mission trip. I went through at least 6 large bottles of water per day, sometimes adding electrolytes to the bottle just for good measure. I even had a couple of Coconuts, the milk and meat of the Coconut having tremendous restorative properties. All in all, I stayed hydrated, and therefore stayed pretty healthy.
Then I came home. Back in the states, its cooler. I’m not working as hard physically. Don’t get me wrong; while I greatly enjoyed cutting metal and welding to help make beds and desks for the orphanages, I much prefer my study, with my cushioned leather chair, my books and keyboard, and, best of all, the air-conditioning. And yet, Monday afternoon, my first full day back in the office, I found I was sluggish and having stomach troubles.
That’s when it hit me, I hadn’t had any water all day. There was the cup of coffee early in the morning, but other than that, no fluids all day long. I had gone from almost 200 fl. oz. of water a day in Haiti to about 6 fl. oz. in Iowa. I was unintentionally dehydrating myself. Why would I think that if I needed so much water there, I wouldn’t need any here?
And then I got to thinking, what else was I doing in Haiti that I quit doing as soon as I got home? The answer was rather disturbing. I had stopped praying.
I hadn’t stopped altogether. I still woke up and prayed as part of my daily devotion. I prayed at meal-time, and at the end of the day before going to bed. I would say a prayer, when prompted, too, for those who asked for prayer. But I wasn’t praying, unceasingly praying, like I was in Haiti.
When I was in Haiti, I was out of my comfort zone. I didn’t speak the language, I was unsure of my surroundings, and I was there to do work and ministry in a way that is vastly different from my day-to-day work and ministry here. So while I was in Haiti, I was dependent upon prayer.
I wasn’t obvious about it. I wasn’t closing my eyes and bowing my head every minute. But I was still praying. Before every conversation, before heading out to a new destination, before and during every encounter, I was going to God in prayer. I was praying for His wisdom to guide me, His hand to guard me, His love to be seen through me, His name to be glorified in me. I was praying that all that I would do would help to promote the Gospel of my Savior, Jesus Christ. I lived and breathed in prayer while in Haiti.
So why did I stop when I got home? I was comfortable here. I spoke the language, I knew North from South, I could easily hold a conversation with those around me. I didn’t see my day to day living as mission, nor did I see myself as needing God’s wisdom, God’s protection, God’s grace every minute of the day. I did not need God (or so I thought), so why should I pray?
In the story of the Transfiguration (Mark 9), Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up the mountain to pray. While they are praying, Jesus is transfigured so that he shone white, brighter than the sun. Beside Him were Moses and Elijah, and from the clouds came the voice of God saying, “This is my Son, whom I love, listen to Him.” All of this happened while they were there to pray.
When they came down from the mountain, though, they met up with the rest of the disciples, and there was a crowd there arguing with them. Apparently, a man had brought his son to the disciples to be healed, but the disciples were unable to heal him. Jesus rebuked the disciples, and the crowd, for their faithlessness, then He healed the child. When the disciples asked Him why they couldn’t heal the boy, Jesus said, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”
I’m guessing the disciples were thinking they had seen Jesus heal other before, all they needed to do was follow His example. They had even done some miraculous healing, so if they just followed the right procedure, all would go well. And they failed.
So often we get to where we think we have all the answers, that we know how to do what needs to be done. We follow the steps laid out before us, we do the right things, say the nice things, and all will go well. And yet when the world comes to us demanding a sign, wanting to know why our faith should matter, we find our formula falls short, our plan is powerless – because we have not prayed.
Shouldn’t we treat every day, every moment, like we’re strangers in a strange land, pilgrims through this world? Shouldn’t our language, our custom, our service, be so radically different from the rest of the world’s that we are constantly in need of the sovereign hand of God to guide us and protect us, the Spirit of God to move our lips in praise and powerful witness to Jesus Christ.
A life without prayer is a life without faith, without trust in the gracious hand of God. A life without prayer is a life that is blind to the reality of our great need for God’s goodness, mercy, and love. A life without prayer is a not a life at all.
I am reminded of the old hymn which draws us back to a life of absolute dependence on God:
I need thee every hour, most gracious Lord; no tender voice like thine can peace afford.
I need thee every hour, stay thou nearby; temptations lose their power when thou art nigh.
I need thee every hour in joy or in pain; come quickly and abide or life is in vain.
I need thee every hour, most Holy One; O make me thine indeed, thou blessed Son!
I need thee, O I need thee, every hour I need thee;
O bless me now, my Savior, I come to thee!