“Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). How many times have we heard or recited this verse? Yet how often have we stopped to really ponder it? And how can we obey it?
Reading from JC Ryle’s “A Call to Prayer” has stopped me in my tracks and made me consider my own prayer life. It is a necessary evaluation for each of us:
“We live in days of abounding religious profession. There are more places of public worship now than there ever were before. There are more persons attending them than there ever were before. And yet in spite of all this public religion, I believe there is a vast neglect of private prayer. It is one of those private transactions between God and our souls which no eye sees, and therefore one which men are tempted to pass over and leave undone. I believe that thousands never utter a word of prayer at all. They eat. They drink. They rise… but they never speak to God. They have not one word to say to Him in whose hand are their life and breath, and all things, and from whose mouth they must one day receive their everlasting sentence. How dreadful this seems; but if the secrets of men were only known, how common.”
“Unceasing, incessant prayer is essential to the vitality of your relationship to the Lord and your ability to function in the world,” writes John MacArthur in his book “Alone with God,” but what does “unceasing” prayer mean? MacArthur continues:
“To ‘pray without ceasing’ refers recurring prayer, not nonstop talking. Prayer is to be a way of life–you’re to be continually in an attitude of prayer. It is living in continual God-consciousness, where everything you see and experience becomes a kind of prayer, lived in deep awareness of and surrender to Him. It should be instant and intimate communication-not unlike that which we enjoy with our best friend.”
Jesus prayed for several hours in the Garden of Gethsemane just before His betrayal by Judas. He asked His disciples to join Him in prayer, but found them sleeping instead. “So, could you not watch with me one hour?” He asked Peter. “Watch and pray that you may not enter temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:40-41).
If we pray without ceasing, we will thank Him with grateful hearts when we enjoy His good, beautiful gifts, acknowledging they come from His hand (“Whoever offers praise glorifies Me” – Psalm 50:23a). We will come to God when we are tempted and ask for His help to resist it (1 Corinthians 10:13), as Jesus exhorted His disciples to do. We will seek His deliverance when trouble comes upon us, and when we face fear. “I sought the Lord, and He heard me, and delivered me from all my fears. They looked to Him and were radiant, and their faces were not ashamed” – Psalm 34:4-5. When we are troubled by strained relationships, injustice, evil, or deception around us, we will take our burdens to God, asking Him to make it right and use us in the process if He so chooses, or for grace to wait patiently on Him if not. We will pray for God to draw others to Himself when we remember loved ones, or meet someone, who does not yet know Him. When our hearts are burdened, we cast every care upon Him, knowing He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7). When we feel insufficient to the task at hand, we will ask for His sufficient grace to enable us (2 Corinthians 12:9).
To pray without ceasing, then, means our “life becomes a continually ascending prayer,” MacArthur concludes, as all of our “thoughts, deeds, and circumstances become an opportunity to commune with [our] Heavenly Father.”
Why do we not pray more? In the familier words penned by Joseph Scriven over a century ago:
“What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer!
Oh, what peace we often forfeit,
Oh, what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer!”