"Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you."--1 Thess. 5:16-18 What do you think of when you read those words "pray without ceasing"? Hiding out in your prayer closet all day? (Not practical.) Walking around mumbling to yourself? (Weird.) So what does this admonition mean?
Now, I will say up front that I'm only going to try making a stab at this. It really is way beyond what I can comprehend with my finite little mind. As Ruth Haley Barton says in her book, Sacred Rhythms,"One thing I know for sure about prayer these days is that we do not know how to pray. It is only the young in Christ who think they know how to pray; the rest of us know we are just beginners." Amen to that sister! As I continue to walk with God, the more perplexing prayer becomes.
Through prayer, there is a dynamic interchange between the infinite God of the universe, the all-knowing, the all-seeing, the all-wise, the perfect...and me. Small. Limited. Selfish. You might as well try to have a deep conversation with an ant!
And yet, the admonition remains. So often I think of prayer as me bringing my list of requests to Him. I am sure He is glad to hear them. But what if He gave us prayer and asks us to pray often so that we might be continually in communication and communion with Him, so that He may not be left out of any part of our lives?
I know that I tend to live a segmented, divided life. I have time to exercise. I have time to eat. I have time to work. I have time to play. Likewise, I have time to read my Bible. I have time to memorize Scripture. I have to pray. Neat. Orderly. It works.
With that thinking, it is easy to think of life as sacred versus secular. But that is not the way the Christian life is meant to be lived. In Colossians 3:17, Paul writes, "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." (emphasis mine) Later on, as he addresses slaves (whose principles apply to us, as Christ's slaves), saying, "Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men..." (v. 23, emphasis mine) For Paul, there is no division, for all of life is meant to be an act of worship and praise before the Lord.
Perhaps this is a little of what it means to pray without ceasing. Far from hiding in a closet all day, it is about entering into your world with a heart in a prayerful posture. It is doing all I do in a spirit of prayer. Our work becomes our act of worship. Our words become the songs and hymns and spiritual songs that flow out to others from a heart attuned to Him. Prayer is meant to impact our every action, thought, and word as God speaks to us and through us to those around us.
When we pray without ceasing, we are constantly aware of opportunities to praise Him: in a glorious sunset, in the laughter of a little child, in the trials and hardships of the day. When we pray without ceasing, we constantly see our imperfections in the light of His holiness---when we snap at our kids, think selfishly or try to manipulate our world to attain what we desire. When we pray without ceasing, we begin to see with the eyes of thanksgiving the myriad of blessings all around us. And when we pray without ceasing, our hearts are attuned to the hurt, pain and hunger of those around us.
Praying without ceasing, then, keeps the line of communication open between God and myself so that I can truly be the conduit of His life to others around me. It allows me to know "what would Jesus do" in each circumstance that comes my way. It keeps me aware of His presence and roots me in His strength and love. Only when we are that intimately connected with Him will we be able to say, "I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength." Otherwise, I do not have it in myself.
As I progress in the life of faith, I am beginning to see that, like being rooted in the Word, I also need to be rooted in prayer, not just as something to engage in once a day before I head off to tackle the rest of my life on my own. This is not an option, but an essential, as I develop a sacred rhythm that allows me to stay connected with Him. Along with worship, being in the Word, and rest, He begins to fill my soul with the things that I long for most, namely Himself.
And that is His will for me.
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