the weblog of Alan Knox

Pray without ceasing

Posted by on Aug 15, 2008 in discipleship, fellowship | 5 comments

I wrote this post almost one year ago as part of a synchroblog on prayer (“Pray without ceasing (synchroblog)“). In the last few years, as God has been teaching me about communicating with him, 1 Thessalonians 5:17 (“Pray without ceasing”), has been both a troubling and an eye-opening passage for me. God has helped me understand how I can recognize that I am in a constant communal relationship with him, which includes communication. I am not claiming to be an expert on prayer. But, perhaps this post will help others as well.

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I have been taught many things about prayer. I’ve learned that some of these things have more to do with tradition than with communicating with God (i.e., bowing your head, closing your eyes). Other things that I have been taught or have learned have proven very beneficial. For example, a long fast once taught me how to rely on God instead of material things that I thought I needed to be happy or to survive. I’ve learned how to spend long times of quiet solitude talking and listening to God. I’ve learned how to rest in his presence.

I have gone through many seasons of prayer in my life. Some seasons were marked by times of long prayers in the mornings. In other seasons, I mostly prayed at night. There have been times when songs and psalms dominated my prayer. There have been times of lament, and other times of praise. In each of these seasons, I’ve learned more about prayer, more about myself, and more about God. More importantly, in each season, I have found that God is speaking and communicating whether or not I am listening.

A few years ago, a new friend (at that time – now a dear friend) began to remind me often of 1 Thessalonians 5:17 – “Pray without ceasing”. This is a verse that has scared me in the past. I never understood how I could pray without ceasing. I wanted to pray longer. I wanted to pray more often. But, there was always something that would interrupt my times of prayer – and that something was usually life. Life happens. And, when life happens, life interrupts prayer. Right?

At first, it was easier to simply mark up 1 Thessalonians 5:17 as an example of hyperbole – exaggeration. Paul did not really mean that we should pray without ceasing; he simply meant that we should pray as much and as often as we possibly could. This was a nice, clean, doable answer for me. And, there is the problem. It was doable. This means that I could pray more and longer and feel good about myself. Thus, in this vein, prayer becomes an effort to reach God instead of the grace of God communicating with me.

But, if “pray without ceasing” is not hyperbole, then how should I understand it? Not too long ago, I was reminded about a little book by Brother Lawrence (1610-1691) called The Practice of the Presence of God. In the “Fourth Conversation”, Brother Lawrence says:

[W]e might accustom ourselves to a continual conversation with Him, with freedom and in simplicity… [W]e need only to recognize God intimately present with us, to address ourselves to Him every moment, that we may beg His assistance for knowing His will in things doubtful, and for rightly performing those which we plainly see He requires of us, offering them to Him before we do them, and giving Him thanks when we have done.

In this short passage, I think Brother Lawrence hits on a key to prayer: recognizing God as intimately present. God’s intimate presence is not dependent upon my activity or lack of activity. God’s intimate presence is not dependent upon silence or lack of silence. God’s intimate presence is not dependent upon solitude or lack of solitude. God is intimately present with his children through his Spirit at all times, in all places, in all circumstances and situations. Thus, prayer as communication and communion with God is possible at all times, in all places, in all circumstances and situations.

Through the short passage from Brother Lawrence, I learned about a misconception that I had about prayer. Prayer is not simply a two-way conversation between God and myself that can be interrupted by life. Instead, prayer is a two-way conversation between God and myself that, when life happens, turns into a three-way conversation between God, myself, and life. Thus, life does not interrupt God’s conversation with me; instead, life enters into God’s conversation with me as a third conversation partner. God does not stop communicating with me when life happens. It is possible that I stop listening to God when life happens, but that does not mean that God has stopped communicating with me or that I must stop communicating with God.

I love to sit in a group of friends as we talk with one another and listen to one another. I love the interaction and the symphony of many voices reaching understanding. I do not consider it an interruption when there is more than one other person present. In the same way, God is always a conversation partner – a constant, dependable, trustworthy, and true conversation partner. In fact, God is the only constant, dependable, trustworthy, and true conversation partner. The only difficulty in praying without ceasing is choosing to listen to God’s voice over the roar and den of the world as life happens. God is speaking. But we must listen.

Do I pray without ceasing? In some ways, yes, because God is always a part of my life and conversation whether I recognize it or not. But, in another way, I do not pray without ceasing because I do not always recognize and respond to God’s constant and intimate presence. Do you pray without ceasing?


5 Comments

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  1. 8-15-2008

    Hey Alan,

    It’s funny that you write this. I was thinking about this as we were going through the book of Ephesians. The other day while doing the dishes I asked my wife “why do you pray”, she was kind of taken back. I explained that what I was trying to find out is if she expected anything back.

    I told her that I think we pray in a way that writes God out of the equation. It steemed from your practical deist post. I told her that we should expect to hear something from God just as we would our earthly Father. I think it freaked her out a bit, but that is okay! LOL

  2. 8-15-2008

    Alan,

    Thanks for this post. As I’ve gotten into my own studies about prayer, I’ve realized the same thing. That whether or not I’m talking to Him, God is still there, and my challenge to myself has been to acknowledge His presence. Prayer is a conversation with the Creator of the universe…why shouldn’t we try to keep the conversation going?

    Matthew

  3. 8-15-2008

    Lionel,

    I agree with your wife – it should freak us out! Imagine… living in the constant presence of the creator of the universe… but that’s exactly what we’ve been promised. And, I think we should live that way.

    Matthew,

    “… keep the conversation going…” Amen! We should be constantly listening and ready to respond. Prayer isn’t about spending the first hour of your day on your knee (although there’s nothing wrong with that). Instead, prayer is about being reading to turn to God and respond to God any moment.

    -Alan

  4. 8-16-2008

    Alan,

    This is good stuff. To answer your question, I always try to pray without ceasing. But, some how my flesh always seems to get in the way. And, it seems the more I intend and plan to do so, the more interrupted I become.

    I know that God is always right there with me. But, sometimes I really don’t think about Him. But, I do have to say that I’m better at it than I was.

    Blessings,
    Gary

  5. 8-16-2008

    Gary,

    I’m right there with you. I don’t always live as if God is with me. My perception does not change reality (God IS always with me, even if I don’t “perceive” him as being there). But, my perception does sometimes cause me to misunderstand reality, and to live in that misunderstanding.

    -Alan