The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. – 1 Peter 4:7 ESV
There is a manner in which we are to pray that will make our prayers proper and appropriate. It has less to do with form, than with our attitude toward prayer. Some of us worry far too much about our words and not enough about our hearts or disposition while we are praying. Peter gives us a valuable lesson on perspective. He reminded his readers that “the end of all things is at hand”. Peter, like the rest of the apostles, lived with a eager anticipation and expectation that the return of Christ was eminent. This attitude produced in him a day-to-day diligence regarding his lifestyle, including his prayer life. It resulted in a desire to live self-controlled. The Greek word he uses is sōphroneō and it means “to put a moderate estimate upon one’s self, think of one’s self soberly”. It can also mean “to curb one’s passions.” The idea is to live with a realistic understanding of who you are and what you are capable of. Don’t get too cocky and sure of yourself. Don’t get complacent about your sin nature and assume you are above giving in to temptation. Paul used the very same word when he wrote to the Romans and told a man was “not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned” (Romans 12:3 ESV). There is a sense in which we are to come to God in prayer with a sober-minded, realistic view of who we are. We are not to come before Him arrogantly, pridefully or with an attitude of self-righteousness. Pride can have a negative impact on our prayer life.
But Peter also uses the Greek word, nēphō, which means “to be sober, to be calm and collected in spirit”. It carries the idea of watchfulness or wakefulness, to be clear-headed and alert, capable of recognizing what is going on around you at all times. Paul used the same word when he wrote to the believers in Thessalonica. “So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation” (1 Thessalonians 5:6-8 ESV). Paul was also talking about the “day of the Lord”, the end times. He warned his readers that the day of the Lord would come like a thief in the night, suddenly and unexpectedly. At that time there will be those who believe all is well. They will have a lazy attitude toward the Lord’s return. They will be caught by surprise. But Paul told his readers, “you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness” (1 Thessalonians 5:4-5 ESV). As believers we are to live with an expectation of the Lord’s return. It could happen any day. And our awareness of that reality should change the way we live. It should impact the way we pray. Peter said that we should be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of our prayers. We should have a strong awareness of what we are capable of apart from the Spirit’s indwelling presence within us. We have the capacity to sin at any time. We have a sin nature that is constantly battling with the Spirit within us. That realization should produce in us a dependence upon God. It should show up in the way we pray. Our prayers should contain requests for wisdom, strength, protection, direction, and the capacity to live in obedience to His will. We also need to stay alert and awake, fully aware of what is going on around us. Our ability to sense the dangers surrounding us will keep our prayers focused on our need for God. We must constantly remind ourselves that this world is not our home. We don’t belong here any more. In fact, Jesus told us that the world would hate us. It hated Him and so it hates us. We must never lose sight of that reality. Satan would love to convince us that the world is our friend, that everything we need can be found right here. We can even buy into the lie that the things of this world can bring us satisfaction and contentment and allow our prayer lives to be filled with requests for more of what this world has to offer, rather than for requests of those things that God has promised – like peace, joy, contentment, and a hope for His Son’s return.
Prayer is not easy. But it is far more painless and effective when done with a proper perspective. We must remain constantly aware of our sin nature and our predisposition to disobedience. We must never think too highly of ourselves or see ourselves as somehow above the need for prayer. We must also live with a sense of expectation and wide-awake awareness of the Lord’s return. We can’t afford to get lulled into complacency or contentment with life as it is in this world. When we lose sight of the end that God has in store, we can find ourselves living as if this world is all there is. Then our prayers can become filled with requests for temporal rewards and earthly treasures. But God has far more in store for us. He offers us strength for the journey, not stuff to enjoy along the way. He offers us peace and joy in the midst of trial, not a trouble-free life. We are to live with the end in mind. We are to pray with our focus on what God has promised, not on what the world offers. We are to be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of our prayers.