“Pray Without Ceasing”
What does it mean to pray without ceasing?
Paul’s command in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 to “pray without ceasing” can be confusing. Obviously, it cannot mean we are to be in a head-bowed, eyes-closed posture all day long. Paul is not referring to nonstop talking, but rather an attitude of God-consciousness and God-surrender that we carry with us all the time. Every waking moment is to be lived in an awareness that God is with us and that He is actively involved and engaged in our thoughts and actions.
When our thoughts turn to worry, fear, discouragement, and anger, we are to consciously and quickly turn every thought into prayer and every prayer into thanksgiving. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul commands us to stop being anxious and instead, “in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Philippians 4:6 NIV) He taught the believers at Colossae to devote themselves “to prayer, being watchful and thankful.” (Colossians 4:2 NIV) Paul exhorted the Ephesian believers to see prayer as a weapon to use in fighting spiritual battles. (Ephesians 6:18) As we go through the day, prayer should be our first response to every fearful situation, every anxious thought, and every undesired task that God commands. A lack of prayer will cause us to depend on ourselves instead of depending on God’s grace. Unceasing prayer is, in essence, continual dependence upon and communion with the Father.
For Christians, prayer should be like breathing. You do not have to think to breathe, because the atmosphere exerts pressure on your lungs and essentially forces you to breathe. That is why it is more difficult to hold your breath than it is to breathe. Similarly, when we are born into the family of God, we enter into a spiritual atmosphere where God’s presence and grace exert pressure, or influence, on our lives. Prayer is the normal response to that pressure. As believers, we have all entered the divine atmosphere to breathe the air of prayer.
Lessons on candles and prayers
I have to admit that there are some verses in the Bible I have had a very difficult time with. One of them is “Pray continually.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17 NIV) That verse is often on my mind, and I have learned how important it is to pray. I pray often, I pray a lot, but I have to confess that I do not pray continually, so I have often felt guilty about not praying enough.
No matter how good my intentions are, my mind often gets caught up in other things. I will shoot up a quick prayer before I drive, before I eat, or sleep, or when I wake up. I will pray when someone asks me to pray for them. I will often have a prayer list of things I pray for every day. I will pray for someone when they come to mind and I pray for whatever they are going through. But no matter how much I pray, or how long I pray or how well I pray, I know it is never enough. I just can never reach the goal of praying continually.
Recently my daughter flew to Europe. It was a long flight with various connections and I really wanted to keep praying for her all along the way until she arrived safely at her destination. I found a little candle called “Angel’s Whispers” and felt that it really spoke to me that even if I failed to pray continually, her angels would keep praying for her. So I put the candle in a safe, visible place, lit it, prayed for her trip, and then I went about my day. Every time I walked by the candle I would pray for her, and every time I noticed the fragrance in the air, I thanked the Lord for answering my prayer. The candle just kept burning until I heard she arrived safely.
Maybe our prayers are a lot like that candle. Our faith and trust in the Lord is like sweet-smelling incense rising to His throne. Maybe He enjoys the fragrance of our prayers like I enjoyed that candle. The aroma of the candle filled my home. It is a beautiful picture to think that maybe the fragrance of our prayers fills the halls of heaven.
So I decided I will stop worrying about all the times I haven’t prayed. I will do what I can and try to be as prayerful as possible. When there are times that I am desperate, I will light a fragrant candle and give my thoughts and prayers to Him, as much as I am able. Then I will just trust Him with all the rest, with my life and the lives of those I love, casting all my cares on Him because I know He cares for me. Then I will put the verse, “Pray continually” in context. I will try to always rejoice. I will try to pray continually and I will give thanks in every circumstance, because I know that is His will.
Be in constant communion with God
You can carry on a continuous, open-ended conversation with him throughout your day, talking with him about whatever you are doing or thinking at that moment. “Praying without ceasing” means conversing with God while shopping, driving, working, or performing any other everyday tasks.
A common misconception is that “spending time with God” means being alone with him. Of course, as Jesus modeled, you need time alone with God, but that is only a fraction of your waking hours. Everything you do can be “spending time with God” if he is invited to be a part of it and you stay aware of his presence.
The classic book on learning how to develop a constant conversation with God is “Practicing the Presence of God.”It was written in the 17th century by Brother Lawrence, a humble cook in a French monastery. Brother Lawrence was able to turn even the most commonplace and menial tasks, like preparing meals and washing dishes, into acts of praise and communion with God.
The key to friendship with God, he said, is not changing what you do, but changing your attitude toward what you do. What you normally do for yourself, you begin doing for God, whether it is eating, bathing, working, relaxing, or taking out the trash.
Today we often feel we must “get away” from our daily routine in order to worship God, but that is only because we haven’t learned to practice his presence all the time. Brother Lawrence found it easy to worship God through the common tasks of life; he didn’t have to go away for special spiritual retreats.
This is God’s ideal. In Eden, worship was not an event to attend, but a perpetual attitude; Adam and Eve were in constant communion with God. Since God is with you all the time, no place is any closer to God than the place where you are right now. The Bible says, “He rules everything and is everywhere and is in everything.” (Ephesians 4:6b NCV)
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