How “Online” Is Your Prayer Life?
Last summer, Wired magazine featured an article entitled, “UK now spends more time online each day than sleeping” (August 4, 2016). The article begins, “The average adult in the UK spends nearly nine hours of each day on media and communication, outstripping even the amount of time spent sleeping or doing other vital tasks. Over 80 per cent of respondents to the study said the internet makes communicating easier, but a majority also conceded that they were probably “hooked” on the internet and spent longer than intended online each day. On average, we spend a little more than one day each week online (25 hours), with 10 per cent saying that they access the internet more than 50 times each day.”
Of course, this pattern is not confined to the United Kingdom. Around the same time, CNN reported the results of their study in an article entitled, “Americans devote more than 10 hours a day to screen time, and growing.” The article states:
The average American spends nearly half a day staring at a screen. A new Nielsen Company audience report reveals that adults in the United States devoted about 10 hours and 39 minutes each day to consuming media during the first quarter of this year. The report…included how much time we spend daily using our tablets, smartphones, personal computers, multimedia devices, video games, radios, DVDs, DVRs and TVs.
The report concluded that out of 168 hours in a week, we spend more than 50 with devices, said Douglas Gentile, professor of psychology at Iowa State University, who was not involved in the report but has studied how too much screen time affects children.
Gentile said, “The work week still takes up 40 of those hours, sleep at seven hours a night is 49, and if we assume all personal care — such as eating, bathing, dressing, preparing food — is three hours a day, then we have 58 hours a week left over for all other things. This includes hobbies, sports, spending time with children, spending time with friends and romantic partners, reading, learning, exercise, participating in a faith community, volunteer work, house maintenance,” he added. “If people are spending over 50 hours a week with media for entertainment purposes, then there’s really no time left for any of the other things we value.”
The point is this: Our culture lives online. With our smart phones and wireless satellite networks, which are available everywhere we go, we are always connected. Unless powered down, our phones and computers are in constant communication with satellites that keep us connected to other devices all over the world.
But my purpose is not to make us feel guilty about the hours we spend online. My desire is for us to think intentionally about how much we are connecting to God in prayer. One question the Holy Spirit wants us to ask is this: Am I in constant communication with God? Is there ongoing, habitual communication taking place in my spiritual life?
That is my burden, and it was the burden of the apostle when he crafted the closing words of his first letter to the church in Thessalonica.
16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
These three verses contain three simple commands—commands which are simply stated, but certainly not easy to obey. And they have one thing in common—constancy. All three commands stress the importance of maintaining a habitual lifestyle of dependence upon God. What we learn from these commands is that constant prayer is an essential part of the will of God.
Rejoice Always (v. 16).
The first command in the passage is clear: “Rejoice always.” “Rejoice” means “to be glad” or “to delight in.” The only other occurrence of this word is found in Philippians 4:4 where it is used twice: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” In each case it appears in the form of a command, which means this inner state of gladness is a choice. In other words, your truth-informed will has authority over your emotions.
Pray Constantly (v. 17).
The second command is “pray without ceasing.” The Greek word translated “without ceasing” means “without interruption,” “unceasingly,” or “constantly.” It carries the idea of always being connected. The Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament indicates, “The word was used of that which was continually and repeatedly done; e.g., the uninterrupted necessary payment of hard taxes; the continual service or ministry of an official; a continual uninterrupted cough.”2 All three images imply continual—even nagging—action. Why does God command us to pray without ceasing? Mainly, as an expression of dependent faith. But there are practical reasons, too. Prayer protects us from temptation (Mark 14:38). Prayer also keeps us alert to the attacks of the devil, as the apostle exhorts us to pray as he wraps up his teaching on the armor of God (Eph. 6:18).
Give Thanks in All Circumstances (v. 18).
It is more natural for sinners like us to complain than it is to be grateful. Jerry Bridges writes, “We are anxious to receive but too careless to give thanks. We pray for God’s intervention in our lives, then congratulate ourselves rather than God for the results.” Thankful prayer reminds us that God is our Provider (1 Tim. 4:4–5), brings glory to God (2 Cor. 9:12-15), and is evidence we are filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18–20).
What is your current circumstance? What is stressing you out right now? Thankful prayer combats our anxiety, and brings peace. Being thankful in all circumstances is God’s will for us in Christ. So, I ask you:
- How connected are you to God in prayer?
- Has your connection been lost through neglect?
- Have the things of this world distracted you from what is most important?
- Do you need to reboot your prayer life?
[The post is derived from last Sunday’s sermon at Cornerstone Community Church in Mayfield Heights, Ohio.]