December 2012



Ajith Fernando



Usually I go to see my mother just before I leave on a foreign trip. Recently, I visited her before leaving for New Zealand. I told her that I was a worried because I had a hectic preaching schedule and was suffering from a nasty cough. I was concerned that this would hinder my preaching. While I was explaining this to her she started praying, asking God to heal me. A few minutes later my sister walked into the room and we began to chat. I began to cough while chatting, and again without any announcement my mother broke into prayer. This time after she finished her petition on my behalf she moved into an extended period of praise. She kept thanking and praising God for his goodness especially for the gift of salvation and all the benefits that come from it.


My mother’s spontaneous breaking into prayer is something we have now got used to. What is remarkable is that she is blind, very weak and confined to a bed. She is in an advanced stage of Parkinson’s disease and cannot walk. She almost never leaves her home. But she is in constant touch with God through prayer. She learned the habit of prayer from her mother. Both of them were Buddhists before they came to Christ. I remember spending time in my grandmother’s home when I was a child. I would sometimes get up early morning before sunrise to go to the bathroom. It was still dark and I needed to go through her room. And there she would be, behind her bed, with her head covered, kneeling and praying. Later I found out that after I was born she had prayed for me every day.


In this my mother and grandmother were like Jesus. Jesus often broke into prayer in the middle of a conversation or incident as there was something in that incident which gave him an occasion to talk to God (Matt. 11:25; John 12:27-28). J. G. S. S. Thompson, a scholar from an earlier generation, has said of Jesus, “Prayer was the atmosphere in which he lived; it was the air that he breathed.” Thompson says that the statement in Psalm 109:4 “I am prayer” (literal translation) was literally true of Christ.[1] For a Christian life is prayer. It was the same with Paul, for he too would break into prayer in the middle of his Epistles. Commenting on this, Australian scholar Leon Morris says, “Prayer was so natural to Paul that it inevitably found its way into his correspondence.”[2] When Paul says, “Pray without ceasing” (or “continually” NIV; 1 Thess. 5:17) he was not referring to people speaking out prayers all the time. Rather, he means that our hearts are always in touch with God so that we are in constant communion with him.


My life was greatly influenced by Dr Julian C. McPheeters, who was the former President of Asbury Seminary and lived on campus when I was a student there. Though he was in his seventies at the time he clearly glowed with a love for Jesus and a passion for the gospel and for preaching. And he was still a great preacher. I often thought that it would be wonderful if I would be like him when I am an old man. He preached into his nineties. Then he had a stroke. Dr McPheeters could not speak after that. But he would sing the great hymns of the faith. Though physically debilitated he seemed to have been in communion with God.


The Bible says that prayer is a powerful thing. After urging his readers to “pray for one another,” James says, “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (Jas. 5:16). When we pray we are doing God’s work powerfully. This would mean that even after we retire and are too weak for physical service to God and people, we can still serve powerfully by praying. A Christian leader Dr Bacchus was very sick and a doctor came and examined him. As he was leaving he shared something with the person who was attending to him. Dr Bacchus asked the attendant what the doctor had said. He told him that he had said that he had only a few minutes more to live. Dr Bacchus immediately said, “Quick, then get me on my knees, and let me spend my last moments praying for the salvation of the world.” He was serving God powerfully even at the moment of death.


I must add that a life of constant prayer is the outgrowth of a regular discipline of prayer alone with God. Jesus said, “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret” (Matt. 6:6). Time spent alone with God is what gets us attuned to God and keeps our orientation constantly God-centred. I find that when I spend my regular prayer time, it sometimes takes me as long as 15 minutes to get attuned to God. After that the prayers flow. In our busy world, without a time set apart to be alone with God, it is unlikely that our contact with God will be always intimate. We have too many distractions.


Don’t wait for retirement to start living a life of constant prayer. If you don’t pray regularly while you are vocationally active, it is unlikely that you will do so when you are retired—unless you repent and consciously change your ways. In fact, to people who have not given priority to prayer, retirement could be a thing to dread. But if prayer is central to your life, then you will see retirement as giving you the opportunity to do more of the most important thing you do. Retirement could be viewed as a vocational promotion. So whatever you do now, may it be said of you too that, for you, life is prayer.  


[1] J. G. S. S. Thompson, The Praying Christ (Grand Rapids, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 1959); quoted in Robert E. Coleman, The Mind of the Master (Old Tappan NJ: Fleming H. Revell, 1977), p. 39.

[2] Leon Morris, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, 1 and 2 Thessalonians (Software edition in Logos Bible Software).