What “Pray Without Ceasing” Means

Pray without ceasing. (1 Thes. 5: 17)

Is this advice from Paul realistic? I mean, have you ever seen someone who is praying round the clock? I bet you haven’t, not even in monasteries.

A careful study of the original text of this verse tells us that it means to pray without leaving an interval or gap, without intermission. It is the same word Paul used when he said he was in “continual sorrow” for his fellow Jews who rejected Christ (Romans 9: 2). A point worth noting here: people in sorrow don’t have to be reeling with anguish all the time. They go about there normal routines just fine while they grieve in their hearts without having to break into tears every five minutes.

That is exactly the picture Paul used to convey the idea of praying all the time. You don’t have to be on your knees making supplications to God 24 hours a day. You just have to be in a continuous awareness of God’s presence in which you view everything in life in God’s light.

John 15 has a word for this. It’s called abiding. I love that word. Abiding is when your waking hours are permeated with the thoughts of Christ. All your reactions to normal things of every day life are colored by your unbroken communion with God. Your self talk is replaced with short prayers.

When we do this, few things come into sharp focus. One is that praying is not that hard. It doesn’t have to be flowery and verbose. It’s not reduced to complaining either but just a spontaneous communication with God with the intent of enjoying His presence for the sake of enjoying His presence.

Two, obeying God is easier. With your thought life filled with things that are holy, your predisposition is geared towards obedience. Let’s face it, the only reason we find it difficult to obey God is because we don’t give it much thought. The more you soak yourself with the idea of surrendering your whole being to Christ, the easier it is for you to turn it into action.

Three, sin is automatically displaced from its unique place in your thought life and default reactions. With the consciousness of Christ permeating your entire being, sin has no other recourse but to untangle you. The more you abide in Christ, the more you lose interest with sin. In short, sin dies a natural death in the life of a person whose entire being is soaked with the presence of Jesus. You don’t fight it, you don’t exhaust all your energies keeping it at bay. The power of the cross of Christ is enough to drive it away from you.

I believe that the real struggle among Christians is not really the struggle to fight off sin but the struggle to abide in Christ on a daily basis. And the reason we are losing our battle against sin is not for lack of faith but our fighting the wrong battle.

To put it plainly, our real struggle is to get up every morning and open the pages of the Bible, get on our knees and pray. And then to keep that holy fire of God’s presence burning in our hearts all day until we get to our knees again at night and refuel our empty tanks.

We lose to sin because instead of taking care of our devotions, we rush to the day, trying hard to keep our eyes closed whenever we are bombarded with images of sin and lust, trying very hard not to steal and talk back and harbor anger. We spend our energies trying to quiet down our internal urges, trying to keep ourselves in check.

What do we get out of that routine? Nothing too glorious. Just battle ragged soldiers on the brink of collapse staggering to church on Sunday mornings, looking for a spiritual fix that could get them through the next seven days. And what have we accomplished? Not much. In fact, I believe that the most you could get out of this grim routine is you kept yourself from embarrassing scandals and from the cold prison bars.

If we only have the sense to stop and think things over, we would realize that Christ has much better and glorious plans for us than to crawl through life. The curious thing is that the prescription for a better life is actually written out clearly for us a long, long time ago, back in the days of Joshua. You know what I mean.

“Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.” –Joshua 1: 8