How Can We Pray All The Time?

by Lucinda Secrest McDowell

Pray all the time. Thank God no matter what happens. This the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live.

I Thessalonians 5.17 MSG

prayersunrise       I was once privileged to know a man whose life was a constant prayer. His name was Dr. J. Christy Wilson, Jr. and he was my faculty advisor at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Dr. Wilson had grown up in Iran and spent most of his life ministering in Afghanistan until political unrest forced him to leave the country a year before I met him in the late 1970’s.

I am indebted to him for teaching me how to “pray all the time.”

Whenever someone would mention a prayer need, Dr. Wilson would stop whatever he was doing and say “Let’s just pray about this right now.” And we did! Wherever we were, whatever was going on, we would enter the presence of God and lay our needs before His throne of grace.


Thailand 1980 (l-r) Gordon MacDonald, Lucinda Secrest (McDowell), Ramez Attalah (Bible Society of Egypt) and Dr. J. Christy Wilson, Jr.

Needless to say, this provided great opportunity for mischief among some seminarians in our missions lecture class. When a fellow student fell asleep, he was nudged awake and told that Dr. Wilson had just called on him to pray. He stood up immediately and led the class in prayer while we all snickered. Our professor simply said “Thank you very much” as though it were the most natural thing in the world.

Through the years, I’ve found myself imitating Dr. Wilson by praying immediately for people and situations that are mentioned to me (rather than putting them on a list for later or forgetting altogether.)

This certainly caused some anguish among my young children when I’d be driving them around town and praying aloud for this or that. “Don’t close your eyes, Mama!” Justin would frantically holler from the back seat.

In a personal evangelism class I took with Dr. Wilson, we were instructed to pray by name for every student pictured in the student directory – every single day! That was hundreds of seminarians, and our final exam was a print out in which we had to match names and pictures. Now, this was harder than you might think, unless you had gotten to know them through constant intercessory prayer.

To this day I use a similar strategy when I pray through the lists of attendees at an upcoming conference, students in a class, or, most recently, all the guests at our family weddings.

prayerlistIn fact, at the rehearsal dinner when I finally met some New Orleans friends of the groom who had come to our daughter’s wedding, it was easy to call them by name. When they seemed shocked at my familiarity, I let it slip that I’d been praying for them for months.

But seriously. How can we possibly “pray all the time?”

Brother Lawrence – he who practiced the presence of God – would remind us that constant prayer is accomplished by recognizing God with us in every moment of our lives. “We can’t escape life’s dangers without the actual and continual help of God. We need to pray all the time. And how can we pray to Him without being with Him? How can we be with Him unless we think of Him often? And how can we often think of Him unless by a holy habit of thought?”

Brother Lawrence calls this having holy habits. I would agree that the more I keep my mind and heart focused on God, the more prayer and thanksgiving spontaneously erupt from my mouth.

Others encourage us to pray even as we breathe. Breath prayers, in and out, rehearsing God’s love and provision; confessing our need for mercy. Breathe in: Lord, I receive what You give. Breathe out: Lord, I give thanks for what you give.

I’m quite often shooting up what I call ‘arrow prayers’ – spontaneous pleadings for guidance or protection or gratitude. Contemporary author Anne Lamott freely admits that her two favorite prayers are “Help, help, help” and “Thanks, thanks, thanks.”

Sounds good to me.

prayopenhandsSometimes after a long conversation with friends or an extensive planning meeting, I will wrap up the time with a prayer committing all we’ve covered to the Lord. I can offer up all our discussions as prayer points because God has heard us already. He knows our concerns. He knows we need an answer for this puzzling predicament. But in making our words a prayer, we acknowledge that we are actually bringing ourselves to the only One who can help.

Francis de Sales urged us to “present our souls to God a thousand times a day. Sprinkle in a season of short prayers on your daily living. If you see something beautiful, thank God for it. If you are aware of someone’s need, ask God to help. You can toss up many such prayers all day long. They will help you in your meditation and in your secular employment as well. Make a habit of it.”

Perhaps my favorite part of the  verse at the beginning of the blog is where we are urged to “Thank God no matter what happens.” While it’s impossible to thank God for everything that happens, we can certainly learn the habit of thanking Him in all circumstances.

May we receive with open hands all God allows to come our way.

Knowing that it is also with those same open hands that we lift up and offer back to Him who we are and how we will respond to such gifts. Thank you, Lord should be the prayer that is on our lips at all times in all circumstances.

This is truly a habit that can be developed by even the feeblest of Christ followers over time. And think of the joy and strength we receive in the process!

How canprayershawl you grow in your own prayer life? Several practical suggestions have been made and I encourage you to try one and see how it works for you.  I obviously greatly believe in constant and spontaneous prayer. But I also believe in more substantial prayer times when we are focused on covering all aspects of confession, intercession, petition and thanksgiving to the God who hears. Why not begin with John Stott’s Morning Prayer below and always conclude with the Lord’s Prayer.  Try praying everywhere about everything and don’t forget to breathe…. Breathe in: Lord, I receive what You give. Breathe out: Lord, I give thanks for what you give.

“Good morning, heavenly Father, good morning Lord Jesus, good morning Holy Spirit. Heavenly Father, I worship You as the Creator and Sustainer of the universe. Lord Jesus, I worship You, Savior and Lord of the world. Holy Spirit, I worship You, Sanctifier of the people of God. Glory to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. Heavenly Father, I pray that I may live this day in Your presence and please You more and more. Lord Jesus, I pray that this day I may take up my cross and follow You. Holy Spirit, I pray that this day You will fill me with Yourself and cause Your fruit to ripen in my life: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Holy, blessed and glorious Trinity, three persons in one God, have mercy upon me. Amen.”      John R. W. Stott (1921-2011)

under the mercy, Cindy

copyright 2013 Lucinda Secrest McDowell


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One Response to Pray…

  1. Holly says:

    Thank you Cindy. I heard you in VT past weekend. Needed more of what parts i missed in your last talk on prayer. I am trying to pray audacious prayers…to my God of glory…yes along with those arrow prayers. Thank you for inspiring us closer to God through sharing of your walk with Him.

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