In World War II, in the battle of the bulge, but more specifically, the siege of Bastogne, American soldiers engaged with the Germans in a winter setting. Snow on the ground, winter chill in the air, hypothermia and trench foot, which can be just as lethal as a bullet if one isn’t careful. It was the middle of December, and soldiers were locked in conflict. This was one of many battles, where soldiers would dig and build foxholes. These were deep holes or cavities in the ground, a place for people to seek cover from the carnage of bullets, mortars, grenades, and whatever other kind of death war brings with it.
Out of these types of stories we get the terminology “foxhole prayers.” This comes from the idea that when an army is closing in on you, and death is all that surrounds you on the battlefield, soldiers were known to say a quick prayer, asking for safety and health. This term is associated with any time of emergency, any time when it feels like someone’s back is against the wall, any time when we are gripped with fear and anxiety.
For example, the night before a test, when you realize you haven’t even remotely studied, and you know the chances of you failing are more probable than not. You pray. Or when you really want something to go your way, but there is nothing more you can do for yourself. You pray. Or, a loved one is in the hospital, suffering from a disease, going into surgery, in a car accident. You pray. And even when the world is experiencing a pandemic, we find ourselves turning to prayer.
In those moments, even the ones that seem less significant ones, you are in the foxhole in a sense. These are not bad times to pray, seeking the help and intervention of God, or at least a dose of his peace.
The problem with this, though, is that these are not the only times we called are to pray. So today, as I reflect on these past few weeks of self-quarantine, I want to talk about when we should pray, for example, when is the right time to pray, what should we approach God with, so on.
In his letter to the Thessalonians, Paul writes to believers in a town called Thessalonica. Paul had visited Thessalonica, preaching and teaching, and he stayed with these believers for some time after his initial visit. What we see in both letters to the Thessalonians is instruction to the new believers, helping teach them what it means to follow Christ, and be Christian. In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, we see Paul’s brief instruction about prayer; “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
Paul says that we are to pray without ceasing, which essentially means that we are to pray always, never stopping, in all that we do, every moment that we’re alive. That’s pretty daunting and intimidating, ever for people like Mother Teresa, who is a verified saint.
How can we, ordinary people, with lives and obligations, friends and school, hobbies and activities, how can we be expected to pray without ceasing? I did some digging on what this could mean. What’s interesting is that Paul answers the “how” in the passage. He doesn’t just say that we should pray without ceasing, but he also notes that we are to rejoice always and give thanks in all circumstances.
The real question is, what does this actually look like in our lives? Rejoicing doesn’t mean always being happy or excited about what’s happening in your life. Rejoicing, means finding joy in your life no matter what. Even in times such as this, when the future is full of fear and unknowns. Often times, I think that we struggle to understand joy because we have confused it with happiness.
You see, happiness is primarily concerned with the external factors of this life. What is going on in my life, is life easy, are my grades good, am I popular enough, do I have the newest phone, etc.? Joy on the other hand is internal. I have known cancer patients who aren’t happy, but they are joyful. I have known friends who have lost their parents to illness, who maintain their joy. So this isn’t to say be happy always, instead it says to be a person of joy in spite of your particular circumstances.
Thankfulness in all circumstances is a difficult one too. My first question when reading this was, “Does this mean I need to be thankful when something bad happens?” I don’t believe that’s what Paul means exactly. What I believe he is saying is that we must never forget – even in the hard parts of this life, even when life is difficult, and things aren’t going our way – that we must always remember the hope and salvation of Christ.
What I hear Paul saying is that we shouldn’t focus on what is going wrong in this life, but rather focus on the hope we have in Christ, the redemption and salvation that is available. Now, this is not to say that we stick our heads in the sand, and act as if life is all dandelions and rainbows. However, it is like how one can find joy even in sorrow. As well, people can give thanks even in difficult times.
It is in this, through joy and thankfulness, I truly believe we can pray without ceasing. For so long, prayer has been misunderstood. It has become something we do when our back is against the wall, and when we have no other options, and that’s not a bad time to pray. Although, that is not the sole facet of prayer either. Prayer is merely a conversation between us and God. And like any other relationship, we don’t only reach out when we’re in a tough spot, a difficult season, or experiencing pain. So, when we ask the question, when is the right to pray, the answer quite simply is; always.
Our lives should be a constant prayer to God. We should be sharing with God, the good and the bad. Prayer shouldn’t just be something we rely on when things aren’t going well, but rather prayer is a constant form of communication that we share with God, expressing what’s going on in our lives; everything and anything.
So in seasons like this, may you find comfort in the fact that you are not alone. That God is listening. God hears you. And may your very life become a prayer.
Be safe. Be wise. Be Jesus. And be people of prayer this week.