Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Yes You Can Pray Without Ceasing!

Dear Friends,

I wrote last week about the Apostle Paul’s direction to “rejoice always” and what that looks like in this one pilgrim’s life. Let’s continue looking at that one scripture that can seem so difficult to do: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thess 5:16-18. How on earth, and in our busy lives, can we possibly pray without ceasing

For many decades, I couldn’t even pray without a prayer book. Some of you know that I grew up in the Episcopal Church back when it looked like the conservative Anglican Church of England and not what the progressive Episcopal Church looks like today. Comfortably perched halfway between Luther’s Protestantism and Roman Catholicism, our “high church” liturgical service was almost indistinguishable from a Catholic Church service. All prayer was read by the priest from the liturgical book with appropriate responses by the congregation. Prayer was primarily a church ritual and any prayer outside of the church walls was usually the recitation of a written prayer or two that had been memorized. I faithfully recited the Lord’s Prayer every night before falling asleep. Six decades later, I still do. I’ll never forget the first time I went to a non-liturgical, Pentecostal service and we gathered in prayer groups to pray for one another. I was terrified. It wasn’t just the heart-pounding thought of praying out loud in front of others. How in heaven’s name can a person pray without a prayer book to read from?

But in the early church, prayer was as natural as breathing. When Paul wrote to the church to pray without ceasing, he wasn’t asking the impossible. In fact, he was simply encouraging them to keep on doing what they’d always done! To pray without ceasing is obviously not the impossibility of praying every moment of every waking hour. It is simply to turn one's heart and mind toward God throughout our day. If you have ever loved, you know how our thoughts just naturally turn to our loved one and we find ourselves thinking of them "without ceasing." That periodic heart connection to someone is what Paul meant.

There are those today who follow a regular and disciplined prayer time and are much blessed by a prayer ritual to which they have made a commitment to follow. That used to be me, but I found that I had compartmentalized my life into my (much too short and too often rushed) prayer time with God and then for the other sixteen waking hours my time was spent in work and in the world. 

My entire spiritual life turned upside down when I came across THE PRACTICE OF THE PRESENCE OF GOD by Brother Lawrence who was a 17th century monk. Brother Lawrence said: “He does not ask much of us, merely a thought of Him from time to time, a little act of adoration, sometimes to ask for His grace, sometimes to offer Him your sufferings, at other times to thank Him for the graces, past and present, He has bestowed on you, in the midst of your troubles to take solace in Him as often as you can. Lift up your heart to Him during your meals and in company; the least little remembrance will always be the most pleasing to Him. One need not cry out very loudly; He is nearer to us than we think.”

I start and end everyday in prayer, but prayer is no longer limited to a specific time of my day. It’s become a lifestyle and, like Brother Lawrence, my own constant prayers – those little acts of adoration throughout the day – have become the background music of my life. I’ll often stop what I’m doing and pray: Lord God, here I am, all devoted to Thee; make me according to the desires of Thy heart.

Oswald Chambers was an early twentieth-century Scottish Baptist and Holiness Movement teacher and evangelist, best known for the devotional My Utmost for His Highest. He wrote, “Think of prayer as the breath in our lungs and the blood from our hearts. Our blood flows and our breathing continues ‘without ceasing’; we are not even conscious of it, but it never stops...Prayer is not an exercise; it is the life of the saint. It is coming into perfect fellowship and oneness with God.”

Speaking the name of Jesus throughout our day invites and instills His presence. The name of God, verbally expressed, contains His presence. Orthodox mystics and Protestants alike ascribe to the ancient belief that speaking forth His name places the reality of God into our circumstances. I have often written and spoken of the ancient monastic “Jesus Prayer.” Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me a sinner. Matthew 16:16; Luke 18:13 I have found that after awhile, the Jesus Prayer becomes as natural as breathing and you’ll find yourself praying it while going about your daily activities. The Jesus Prayer will allow you to stay focused, relaxed and energized at the same time. This prayer is one which can bring us into that perfect fellowship and oneness with God.

Other short prayers maybe helpful for you. They are easily memorized and can be spoken out loud or silently as we think of Him throughout our day:

Lord, You know that I love You.

Maranatha, O Lord come.

Lord Jesus praised be Your Name.

Jesus, You are my Healer, make me whole.

Have Your way with me, O Lord.

Lord God, have mercy on me.

Glory and honor to God.

Lord, give me a heart of (love) (hope) (peace) (strength).

Not my will but Thine be done.

Here I am Lord, I am Yours.

I in Him and He in me.

To You Lord, all the Glory, and Honor and Praise!

Let your prayers become the ambient background in your journey through life. Turn your thoughts and your prayers to God throughout each day and remember, “One need not cry out very loudly; He is nearer to us than we think.”

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