Paul urged the Thessalonians to “pray without ceasing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17) But what in the world does that mean? Are we to be constantly walking about with head’s bowed and reverently lifting up praise
to God? That would be awesome in some ways but not very practical in other ways. We might have to assume a near monk-like existence to do that and it’s hard for me to believe that God wants us all to withdraw from the world into a ministry of non-stop prayer.
I have two takes on this mysterious snippet, “pray without ceasing.” The first is that in some ways perhaps, yes, Paul is saying we need to stay in constant communication with God, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we are talking at God non-stop during our waking hours. To understand this passage’s possibilities we may have to expand our understanding of prayer.
One possibility is that our daily living becomes a prayer when we reflexive live in humble gratitude, This possibility first came home to me several years ago when I was mowing my lawn on a miserably hot day. I was begrudging the heat and the work, when I realized how blessed I was to have a lawn. Mowing meant I was extremely blessed. I was in an select minority of folks who had the privilege to own property. How humbling it was to realize I was essentially cursing my blessing.
The awareness caused a shift in me and the act of mowing became my thankful response to God for being blessed. Since that time I have had many moments of mundane chores becoming quiet grateful moments of communing with God.
Paul also told the Colossians, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Col. 3:17) If we truly were to commit all our words and actions with thanks to God in Christ’s name, at that point wouldn’t our daily living become truly daily prayer?
My second take on “pray without ceasing” is that this could have also simply been Paul urging the Thessalonians to not give up on prayer. The verse appears near the end of the last chapter of Thessalonians. That chapter begins with Paul urging the Thessalonians to stay diligent, to persevere. For example, he says, “So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober.” 1 Thess. 5:6. Paul is not being literally here. He is being metaphorical and making the point that his audience needs to persevere and be vigilant.
The phrase “pray without ceasing” is nestled in between the instruction to “Rejoice always” and “Give thanks in all circumstances” Paul is urging his audience to stand steadfast in a time when others are not doing so. His instruction to pray without ceasing both comes as instruction to not give up and to carry a particular demeanor to all aspects of life.
Truth be told, I don’t think the issue of “pray without ceasing” is an either or choice between rather literal constant communion with God and an exhortation to stand steadfast. This is a both/and. We should live life prayerfully. Prayer shouldn’t be an activity we simply move in and out of. Our lives should be a constant prayerful response to God’s continual presence and blessings. AND…We should not give up on actively praying to God. We should persevere and actively praising and worshipping God in challenging times.
What’s your take on “pray without ceasing”? Please comment below.
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