Pray without ceasing
1 Thessalonians 5:17
Richard Foster, in his book Celebration of Discipline, considers the importance of and concludes, “All who have walked with God have viewed prayer as the main business of their lives. For those explorers in the frontier of faith, prayer was no little habit tacked on the periphery of their lives; it was their lives.” For prayer to be the “main focus” of our lives we have to grapple with Scripture’s command to “pray without ceasing”. How do we do that? How do we deal with dirty diapers and pray? How do we handle an angry customer and pray? How do we concentrate on completing our taxes and pray?
Much has been written through the centuries on what it means to pray without ceasing. I find it helpful to consider an ancient papyrus letter written in the days of the apostles that uses this adverb “without ceasing” (Greek: adialeiptos), to mean “incessant cough”. It’s the kind of winter cough I get that I can’t stifle in church or a quiet movie theater. It’s the cough that seems to come out of nowhere in the middle of the night. It can happen any time, any place. I’m finding that a good way to “pray without ceasing” is to be ready for prayer any time, any place. I think of these kinds of prayers as “Abiding Prayers”; we practice abiding in Christ without ceasing. They have come to mean so much to me whether waiting in the TSA line, readying myself for sleep, or responding to a troubled friend.
I choose to take my Abiding Prayers straight from Scripture; I know they will be pleasing to God and will line up my thinking with His. Here are some Abiding Prayers I have ready to repeat for any time, any place:
- “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” (Based on the prayer of the boy Samuel, 1 Samuel 3:10)
- “You are in me, and I am in You.” (Based on Jesus’ words to His followers, John 14:20)
- “Here I am Lord.” (A prayer of presence and availability based on the prophet’s Isaiah’s prayer, Isaiah 6:8)
- “When I am afraid I trust in You.” (based on David’s prayer, Psalm 56:3)
- “Come, Lord Jesus.” (The last prayer of the Bible, Revelation 22:20, and the believer’s fervent prayer for Christ to come in this moment and Christ to come at the end of the age)
- “Abba, I belong to you.” (Brennan Manning’s prayer based on Romans 8:15)
The repetition of any of these prayers is not the “heaping up of empty phrases” that Jesus warns about in Matthew 6:7. First, these are words of Scripture and not empty phrases. Jesus says that pagans heap up empty phrases thinking that God will hear them “because of their many words.” Rather, we repeat these words of Scripture to help us abide in Christ any time, any place!
Take a few moments to still yourself in God’s presence. Then choose one of the Abiding Prayers from above and repeat it prayerfully again and again.
Look for opportunities through the coming day and night – any time, any place – to repeat your Abiding Prayer.
Ask the Holy Spirit to speak to you through Scripture in order to give you your own Abiding Prayer.
“Thoughts continue to jostle in your head like mosquitoes. To stop this jostling, you must bind the mind with one thought, or the thought of One only. An aid to this is a short prayer, which helps the mind to become simple and united: it develops feeling toward God and is engrafted with it.”
Theophane the Recluse (Quoted in The Art of Prayer: An Orthodox Anthology, compiled by Igumen Chariton of Valamo)