How to “Pray Without Ceasing”
We’re learning about prayer on Sundays and Wednesdays this month. Last week, we compared prayer to letting the kids “help” with chores and projects around the house. It would probably be easier to do it without them, in many cases, but we let the kids help for the sake of relationship and to teach them. Prayer is God’s invitation to work with us.
We also talked about this perfect trifecta of God’s nature that gives us confidence to pray boldly.
The better our relationship with God, the more bold we become in prayer. But bold or not, the only way to “fail” in prayer is to not show up.
Prayer Will Never Be a Waste of Time
No one ever gets to the end of his/her life and regrets spending too much time in prayer. Jesus even promised that prayer would never be a waste of time.
“But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” — Matthew 6:6, ESV
Pray Without Ceasing
pray without ceasing, — 1 Thessalonians 5:17, ESV
Is this even possible? You have a job and a family and chores. You have things to do. How can we really pray, “without ceasing?”
Two things to keep in mind as we explore a difficult verse:
- God would never ask you to do something you cannot obey. He will ask you to do hard things, but he is not cruel. He will not ask you to do something that you cannot do.
- The Greek word for “without ceasing” is adialeiptos. It was a term used in medicine to describe a specific condition: a nagging, hacking cough.
Praying “without ceasing” doesn’t mean that you literally never stop praying. That’s not what Paul is telling us to do. He’s telling us to pray like a constant, periodic, nagging cough. It’s not non-stop, but it’s periodic throughout the day.
And like a nagging, persistent cough, it becomes almost a habit. You don’t even notice that you’re doing it all the time.
In Practicing the Presence of God, Brother Lawrence describes joining a monastery and thinking he would have lots of time to pray – and then it became his job to wash all the dishes. But he learned that washing the dishes was also a great time to pray. He wrote,
“It’s a great delusion to think that the times of prayer ought to differ from other times. Our biggest mistake is to think that a time of prayer is different from any other time of our day.” – Brother Lawrence
Prayer is about relationship.
1. The Check-In Prayer
Most spouses check-in with each other daily – even if they’re apart, you call at the end of the day, etc.
Praying without ceasing means praying “check-in” prayers throughout the day.
Sometimes we don’t pray because we think that we need to spend hours and hours in prayer. And then when we don’t, we feel guilty and condemned, and it drives us even further from prayer.
God is not necessarily impressed by long, flowery prayers. Often times, the shorter the prayer, the greater the faith. Even Jesus didn’t always pray long prayers. He prayed, “Peace be still,” and the storm was calmed. He prayed, “Father, I thank you that you hear me,” before he called Lazarus out from his tomb.
Nehemiah whispered a quick prayer before he asked for favor with a pagan king (Nehemiah 2). The tax collector who went home justified (Luke 18) simply prayed, “God, be merciful to me a sinner.”
Even the Lord’s prayer is bold and to the point: “Give us this day our daily bread.”
Depending on your season of life, you may not have hours every day to lock yourself in a prayer closet.
How to Pray Without Ceasing, Step 1
Shortly after 9/11 we started seeing these signs everywhere:
Let’s make it, “If you see something, pray something.”
- If you see an ambulance drive by, pray.
- If someone asks you to keep him in your prayers, just pray.
- If you need to make a decision, pray.
Sometimes we don’t think that those quick, on-the-spot prayers “don’t work” or “aren’t good enough.” But that’s arrogant thinking. The power of prayer is not in the one who prays, but in the one who hears and answers it.
O you who hear prayer, to you shall come all flesh – Psalm 65:2, ESV
2. Date Nights and Weekend Getaways
In addition to the daily check-ins, a healthy relationship also needs longer time together on occasion.
And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. — Mark 1:35, ESV
But Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer. — Luke 5:16, NLT
After sending them home, he went up into the hills by himself to pray. Night fell while he was there alone. — Matthew 14:23, NLT
Only twice in the new testament did Jesus pray all night. There are seasons for those kinds of prayer, but they are for our benefit, not God’s. We can pray short, powerful prayers throughout the day because we build relationship during occasional longer times of prayer.
Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. — Colossians 4:2, ESV
How to Pray Without Ceasing, Step 2
Get away for longer prayer times when you can, but don’t try to force it every day if it’s just not possible. Every night is not date night. The greater trouble is when we try to have those prolonged prayer sessions every day, and fail, and fall into condemnation over it.
Start Praying Without Ceasing This Week
Consider keeping a prayer journal. Write down what you’re praying, and write down when and how it gets answered. It won’t always be in your timing or the way you want it answered, but that’s okay. Answered prayer is the fuel to praise and prayer.
Photo cred: Greg Rakozy