What does it mean to pray without ceasing?
Question: "What does it mean to pray without ceasing?"
Answer: Paul’s command in 1 Thessalonians 5:17, “pray without ceasing,” can be very confusing. Obviously, it cannot mean we are to be in a head-bowed, eyes-closed posture all day long. Paul is not referring to non-stop talking, but an attitude of God-consciousness and God-surrender that we carry with us all the time. Every waking moment is to be lived in an awareness that God is with us and that He is actively involved and engaged in our thoughts and actions.
When our thoughts turn to worry, fear, discouragement and anger, we are to consciously and quickly turn every thought into prayer and every prayer into thanksgiving. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul commands us to stop being anxious and instead, "in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God" (4:6). He taught the believers at Colosse to "devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving" (Colossians 4:2). Paul exhorted the Ephesian believers to see prayer as a weapon to use in fighting spiritual battles (Ephesians 6:18). The famous 19th century preacher, Charles Spurgeon, described the Christian's prayer life, saying it is "Like the old knights, always in warfare, not always on their steeds dashing forward with their lances raised to unhorse an adversary, but always wearing their weapons where they could readily reach them . . . Those grim warriors often slept in their armor; so even when we sleep, we are still to be in the spirit of prayer, so that if perchance we wake in the night we may still be with God.”
As we go through the day, prayer should be our first response to every fearful situation, to every anxious thought, to every undesired task that God commands. John MacArthur warns that a lack of prayer will cause us to stop depending on God's grace and depend on ourselves instead. Unceasing prayer is, in essence, dependence upon and communion with the Father.
For Christians, prayer is like breathing. You don't have to think to breathe because the atmosphere exerts pressure on your lungs and forces you to breathe. That's why it is more difficult to hold your breath than it is to breathe. Similarly, when we're born into the family of God, we enter into a spiritual atmosphere where God's presence and grace exert pressure, or influence, on our lives. Prayer is the normal response to that pressure. As believers, we have all entered the divine atmosphere to breathe the air of prayer. Only then can we survive in the darkness of the world.
Unfortunately, many believers hold their spiritual breaths for long periods, thinking brief moments with God are sufficient to allow them to survive. But such restricting of their spiritual intake is caused by sinful desires. The fact is, every believer must be continually in the presence of God, constantly breathing in His truths, to be fully functional.
Because ours is such a free and prosperous society, it is easier for Christians to feel secure by presuming on—instead of depending on—God's grace. Too many believers become satisfied with physical blessings and have little desire for spiritual blessings. Having become so dependent on their physical resources, they feel little need for spiritual resources. When programs, methods, and money produce impressive results, there is an inclination to confuse human success with divine blessing. Christians can actually behave like practical humanists, living as if God were not necessary. When that happens, passionate longing for God and yearning for His help will be missing, as will His empowerment. Because of this great and common danger, Paul urged believers to "pray at all times" (Ephesians 6:18) and to "devote yourselves to prayer" (Colossians 4:2). Continual, persistent, incessant prayer is an essential part of Christian living and flows out of dependence on God.
Recommended Resource: Prayer, The Great Adventure by David Jeremiah.
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Questions about Prayer
What does it mean to pray without ceasing?