Pray without ceasing. (1 Thessalonians 5:17)
The apostle Paul was never shy about issuing impossible demands. Take the trio of compact commands he gave in 1 Thessalonians 5:
Pray without ceasing.
In everything give thanks.
Rejoicing is good, but always? You can’t be serious!
Giving thanks? That’s easy on Thanksgiving Day, but normal people aren’t thankful when they lose a job.
And praying without ceasing? That’s hardly reasonable. Especially if you close your eyes to pray in traffic.
Some have taken the command to pray without ceasing literally. A 19th century book titled The Way of a Pilgrim purportedly records the testimony of a Russian monk who made a practice of saying this prayer each time he exhaled:
“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”
Most of us, however, are painfully aware how hard it is to multi-task. We can’t talk to God and talk to anybody else at the same time. How could we possibly pray continuously?
It seems more realistic to say, “We’re going to pray frequently.”
But is that a cop-out?
Let’s take a closer look at the Greek word translated “without ceasing.”
The word is adialeiptōs, and it only occurs four times in the New Testament:
- Romans 1:9 – “God is my witness that without ceasing I mention you in my prayers.”
- 1 Thessalonians 1:2 – “We give thanks to God always for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers constantly as we remember your faith, hope, and love.”
- 1 Thessalonians 2:13 – “We thank God constantly that you accepted the message not as the word of men, but as the word of God.”
- 1 Thessalonians 5:17 – “Pray without ceasing.”
Our word is an adverb, and there is also a matching adjective, adialeiptos, that is worth considering. It appears twice:
- Romans 9:2 – “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart” because the Jewish nation has rejected the gospel.
- 2 Timothy 1:3 – “I remember you constantly in my prayers day and night.”
Observation #1 – This word consistently describes prayer. “Without ceasing” is part of our prayer vocabulary, a goal that all of us can aim for.
Observation #2 – Prayer without ceasing is not a single prayer that lasts all day. Instead, it is a walk through the day with the Lord, carrying a conversation with Him whenever we have something to mention. Or listening to whatever He chooses to say.
Dr. Robert Thomas, my old Greek professor, wrote that this verse “does not mean some sort of nonstop praying. Rather, it implies constantly recurring prayer, growing out of a settled attitude of dependence on God. Whether words are uttered or not, lifting the heart to God while one is occupied with miscellaneous duties is the vital thing. Verbalized prayer will be spontaneous and will punctuate one’s daily schedule as it did Paul’s writings.”
Prayer without ceasing is simply a recognition that God’s presence is with us throughout our day. James 4:6 tells us, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.”
As Francois Fenelon, a French mystic from an earlier century, says, “Should we feel at times disheartened and discouraged, a simple movement of heart toward God will restore our powers.”
We can pepper our day with moments when we turn our attention to God!
© Ezra Project 2019