I write about prayer a lot (I've included a list of past posts at the end of this one if you want to read more). Enough, in fact, that you might get the erroneous impression that I pray a lot. But in reality my "prayer life" is sporadic, like a car in traffic, sometimes lurching forward, often sitting in place. I think the reason I write about it so much is that I want to "pray in the Spirit on all occasions," as Paul instructs us in Ephesians 6, and to "pray continually," as he writes in 1 Thessalonians 5. But I still struggle to know what it means to pray all the time, and more so, I struggle to actually incorporate prayer into my life.
As much as I want to be a more prayerful person, I also am under the mistaken impression that I know all there is to know about prayer. But when I read a verse from Colossians yesterday, I was startled at the words:
Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.
First there's the assumption that the people in the church are already praying, that prayer is on ongoing activity, not just a discreet moment of the day. There's still room, of course, for stopping everything else in order to pray, and yet prayer must include more than recitations of prayers or even direct talking to God. Prayer must be a way of life, an overarching attitude toward the presence of God in our everyday experience, a way to redirect our thoughts and attention to the spiritual reality around us all the time.
Second, Paul exhorts the Colossians to "be watchful" in prayer. Which implies that as they enter into this spiritual reality, they should expect things to happen. Prayer, in other words, is exciting. It's not meant to be a task or a boring repetition of words you were taught as a child. It's intended as an invitation into the life of God, the work of the Spirit all around us all the time, if only we have eyes to see.
Finally, Paul concludes this statement with a common enough phrase, "with thanksgiving." When I read that, I usually think that I'm supposed to list the things in my life that prompt thanksgiving. My children. The sunny day. The taste of peaches. And of course I am thankful to God, the giver of all good gifts, for those things. But I don't think that's what "with thanksgiving" is supposed to prompt. Rather, I think Paul wants us to remember that, in being invited into communion with God, we have been invited into fullness of life. We are to be thankful for the privilege of praying.