Saturday, July 14, 2007

How to Pray Without Ceasing

Pray without ceasing. (1 Thessalonians 5:17)
Many Christians wonder how one can pray without ceasing, without interruption, without omission. Sounds daunting, doesn’t it? But that is because we often think of prayer as that thing we do in a religious meeting, or when we pull ourselves away from all other activity, assume a certain position, or time, or place and speak religiously appropriate words to God. Who can do that all the time? In fact, most people, including me, find it mind-numbingly hard to keep it up for fifteen minutes. Even after only five minutes, our eyeballs start to glaze over.

Fortunately, that is not what Paul had in mind. He was not speaking of duty, but of relationship—and that changes everything. Prayer as a duty is something you perform, and when you’re done, you’re done, until it is time to do it again. But prayer as a relationship is continuous. It is being constantly aware of and enjoying the presence of God.

It is like my relationship with my wife. There are plenty of times when we sit and discuss things, verbally relating to one another. But there are also many times when we are simply together, knowing each other is near, even though no words may pass between us. We may each be doing different things, but we enjoy being together.

In the same way, praying without ceasing is being together with God. This will come as a shock to some people, but not only does God love us, He actually likes being with us. He has many things He wants to say to us, and if we will listen, He will whisper them to us. He is also ready to listen to us when we speak to Him. We can have constant fellowship with Him, even in the middle of whatever else we may have to do.

David understood about the constancy of this relationship; the Book of Psalms is largely a collection of his prayers and praises to the Lord. He said, “My eyes are ever toward the LORD” (Psalm 25:15).

Another psalm makes this promise: “He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty” (Psalm 91:1). Dwelling and abiding speak of the continual awareness of the presence of the Lord.

Clement of Alexandria, who was a teacher of the late second and early third centuries, understood that the life of prayer is 24/7. He said, “For the saints, even their slumber is prayer.” Psalm 127:2 says, “It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows, for so He gives His beloved sleep.” When we spend our days in the secret place with the Most High—whatever else we may have to do—we will find our rest under the shadow of His wings. It is all prayer.

Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection stumbled upon this truth. He was a 17th century Carmelite monk who wanted to know God more, but none of the spiritual guidance he received seemed to be of any help. Finally, he decided that he would not do anything at all except out of love of God. In this way, he developed such a continual awareness of God and His love that he found himself just as much at home with the presence of God in the kitchen as he was in the chapel. It was all the same to him, all part of a constant fellowship with God. He discovered the secret to praying without ceasing, and recorded it in his famous little book, The Practice of the Presence of God.

The Lord Jesus was in constant fellowship with the Father in everything He said and did. He said nothing He did not hear His Father saying and did nothing He did not see His Father doing. Everything He did was out of the desire to please God. He did have many times of special communion with the Lord, as we all should, but even in the heat of ministry, He was continually aware of the Father’s presence and purpose.

Praying without ceasing is continuing in fellowship with the Father. When your heart is always toward Him, even your slumber is prayer.