Pray Without Ceasing
This is what we are told to do in Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians. It means that there are at least two types of prayer Retreat Prayer and Regular Prayer.
Retreat Prayer is when you set aside large chunks of time to focus solely on prayer. Jesus did this kind of prayer at the beginning of his ministry when he did a forty day fast. He did it in the middle of his ministry when he stayed up all night praying. And he did it at the end of his ministry in the Garden of Gethsemane when he prayed three times for God to take away the cup of his wrath, he prayed so earnestly that his sweat was like drops of blood.
Our Retreat Prayers will not be this intense.
But I still recommend taking a half-day every month where you get alone and focus on prayer. For these days sometimes I will head to the ocean or the mountains. Other times I will find a nearby chapel or retreat center. I wrote about Retreat prayer here. These times away are very good for praying about the big picture of our lives and making big decisions. What should I do about my career? What should I do about my relationships? What should my annual goals be? What is God’s vision for my life?
However, if this is the only kind of praying we do, then God will actually become more distant.
Talking to someone only once a month, does not build a deep friendship.
And so we also need the rhythm of regular everyday prayer.
Regular prayer is about keeping the conversation going with God all throughout our day. One classic work on this topic was written by a man named Lawrence who served as a cook in a Carmelite Monastery in France in the 1600’s. It is called The Practice of the Presence. He writes,
“There is not in the world a kind of life more sweet and delightful, than that of a continual conversation with God; those only can comprehend it who practice and experience it.”
Some of the most helpful prayers for keeping the continual conversation going with God are one-liners found in Scripture. These are short Biblical prayers that can keep our hearts and minds before God as we hustle from one obligation to the next.
“Jesus, Son of David, Have mercy on me!”
“Lord have mercy on me a sinner.”
“Here I am Lord.”
This last one is from Ananias and his response to Jesus in Acts 9. There are lots of other places like Genesis 46 and Exodus 3 where God’s people pray this way. It is a simple statement that helps us draw near to God.
Pray while you shower. Pray while you cook. Pray while you dress. Pray while you commute. Pray while you work. Pray while you play. Pray without ceasing.
Saint Patrick was famous for teaching the Irish to pray regular prayers. You can see a collection of these here. Here is one Celtic prayer for waking up from St. Patrick’s Breastplate
“I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
of the Creator of creation.
I arise today
Through the strength of Christ's birth with His baptism,
Through the strength of His crucifixion with His burial,
Through the strength of His resurrection with His ascension,”
Brother Lawrence also wrote-
“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.”
He pictured himself as a beggar covered with sores coming to God as a great king. He then pictured God himself receiving him graciously. He writes
“this King, filled with goodness and mercy, far from chastising me, lovingly embraces me, makes me eat at His table, serves me with His own hands, gives me the keys of His treasures and treats me as His favorite. He talks with me and is delighted with me in a thousand and one ways; He forgives me and relieves me of my principle bad habits without talking about them.”
Lawrence called these regular prayers, “Little acts of interior adoration.”
In addition to the regular one-liner prayers throughout the day, and Celtic prayers while we multi-task, Regular Praying means setting aside small amounts of time each day to get on our knees in focused prayer.
In his commentary on 1st John Dr. Martin Lloyd Jones wrote about prayer. He has some helpful insights so a long quote is worth it.
“The first question that John seems to raise is this: what is prayer? I wonder how often we stop to consider that, and yet it seems to me that it is a question which should always be uppermost in our minds. What exactly am I doing when I pray? …There is nothing automatic in it; indeed, I think a case should be made for saying that the most difficult thing of all is to pray. Prayer is not just a repetition of certain phrases, nor is it merely emitting certain desires or giving expression to certain beautiful thoughts…That is not the New testament idea of prayer, nor that of the Old Testament…What is prayer? Well, I cannot think of a better way of describing it than these two words which we have at the end of 1 John 3:19 ‘Hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him.” That is prayer; prayer is coming before Him. Now, we are always in the presence of God- ‘in him we live, and move, and have our being’ (Acts 17:28) – and we are always under his eye. But prayer is something still more special. Prayer is having a special audience and going immediately and directly to Him – ‘before him.’ Prayer is something in which we turn our backs upon everything else, excluding everything else, while for the time being we find ourselves face to face with God alone. There is a sense in which one cannot expound it further; it is just that….When I get on my knees in prayer, then in a sense, I am doing nothing, I am submitting myself, I am abandoning myself before Him. It is He who is in control, it is He who is doing everything.”
One way to do this is to take a psalm each day and use it as a guide. I recommend starting today with Psalm 3.
With the powerful help of God's Spirit dwelling inside us, let's be a people who pray without ceasing.