In this passage, the Apostle Paul gives us instruction for prayer: “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.” Someone once ask C.S. Lewis, “Why pray if God knows all and is sovereign over all?” Lewis replied, “You might as well ask me why breathe, for prayer to the soul is as necessary as breathing for the body.”

I read an article by a stress management counselor who recommended prayer or meditation for managing stress. He referenced studies showing that people who spent time praying had normal cortisol levels or less stress. He didn’t care how you prayed or to whom, the practice itself was good for the overall health of an individual. Stress is the great enemy of good health, so says this expert. Therefore you need to pray somehow or someway for stress relief.

Christian prayer however, is different from other prayer or meditation. It is founded upon “thanksgiving.” When Paul says thanksgiving, he means thanksgiving for Christ having laid down his life for you and giving you a right relationship with Almighty God. In order to have this thanksgiving aright, we must understand how far from God we are because of sin.

You might wonder how a man like Paul can be so thankful despite having a litany of events that caused much pain and suffering in his life. He was beaten repeatedly, had a health problem that caused him great discomfort (and God rejected his pleas to remove it), was imprisoned, knew what it was to be hated by men, went without money or lodging, and admittedly faced death all the time.

You might wonder all the more about this since you are constantly bombarded by some teaching that says if a Christian has such problems (as the apostle experienced) it can be traced to a lack of faith. Paul, however, was thankful because he believed he had been delivered from a death and judgment he deserved. He weighed everything in this world in light of that.

Paul had been taught by the Holy Spirit the greatness of his corruption and the even greater salvation given to him in Christ. He not only was free from judgment; he also had rich fellowship with the living God. He knew his days in this world were the only days he had to endure suffering.

Paul saw death around him all the time, as we do. He knew it was now an entrance into blessedness with the Lord Jesus for him. This doesn’t mean genuine Christians don’t have a natural fear or dread of death. If you are fasting, you stomach or body recoils at not having food, but your spirit knows it will be fine. Christians can be like this facing death.

The carnal man, however, who has not made his accounts with God, can pray, meditate, or do all his heart desires and yet has not read the handwriting on the wall concerning his soul. It should make their cortisol levels rise or knees knock together to know the holy God who has eyes too pure to look upon iniquity will cast them away from his presence in judgment.

Is death a matter to be looked upon as an objective study or with stoic countenance as atheists think? When all the comforts and enjoyments of this world end, and there is an inevitable rendering to God, are these matters to be slighted?

Paul bases prayer upon this; that the ear of God is open to those who belong to Christ. They are no longer estranged from God as those of this world are.  So Paul says pray continually, or devote yourself to prayer. View the world in the reality of Christ; devote yourself to him in all things.

Paul also says to be watchful in prayer. This is a word for being alert. Peter instructs Christians to be alert for their enemy the devil prowls around seeking whom he might devour. Paul says in other places to be watchful, so the day of the Lord Jesus doesn’t take you by surprise. Likewise the Lord Jesus warns the church of Sardis (Rev 3) she needs to wake up, so that day doesn’t come unexpectedly.

Being watchful and alert over your soul and spiritual things is not a cause for doubt over your standing with Christ; it is wisdom for a world of tribulations and dangers to your soul. It is a reminder of the need of prayer in that we are completely dependent upon God. So we are to pray always, not just anyway or anyhow, but in view of the truth of Christ. There is no other way to truly pray.