Exciting phrases, easy acronyms, and memorable lists formed from dense works of systematic theology can be helpful for the everyday Christian. While these reductions of God’s Word and His nature help us understand general frameworks, they are unable to help us understand everything the Bible teaches. It is one thing...
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-17)
To “pray without ceasing” means to have our minds always on the things of God, to be in constant communication with him, so that every moment may be as fruitful as possible. How can we learn to “pray without ceasing?” Here are three practical steps.
1. Plan times for prayer.
Striving to have an attitude of prayer can seem overwhelming. To understand and develop the mindset of continual prayer, we must start with developing the habit of intentional prayer.
If the practice of praying at meals is not something you were taught or do right now, I recommend it as an easy way to pray more. For those of us who follow this practice, it is likely that we quickly thank God for our food and get on with eating. However, being more mindful in our prayer takes little time and can immensely increase the effectiveness of it.
When reading Scripture
Pray whenever you have time in the Scriptures. Start your daily Bible reading with prayer for God’s Spirit to give insight and clarity as you read; end your reading with a prayer inspired by what you’ve read. Recite Scripture as you pray, and elaborate on how it speaks to you of what God is doing or wants to do in you. Do something similar when you sit down to do in-depth Bible study. Make any time you meditate on Scripture a time of prayer.
At the start and end of the day
When you wake up, dedicate the day to God in prayer. Praying at the start of the day focuses your mind on prayerfulness that will help carry you through the day, while developing the habit of constant prayer.
When you get ready for bed, thank God for his provision, and pray through your day. This will help quiet your mind and heart as you give over the things of the day to Jesus.
If you prayed at all these times, even for just a minute or two, you would pray at least six times a day. That may be more than you pray now, but it fits relatively easily into an existing schedule, and none of those times need to take too long initially. The first step is to develop a habit of regular prayer.
2. Start short and simple.
There are people who can pray without ceasing are gifted in prayer. They have regular, lengthy times of personal prayer and are able to stay vigilant and focused. Others seem to have a way with words in prayer. They know how to lift up praise and supplications to God with faith and confidence that he hears and is pleased.
Like many people, I struggle with prayer. First, I have a history of getting stuck on myself in prayer. Second, I struggle to stay focused. I am an avid and accomplished daydreamer, which is often an enemy of long, focused prayer. I may start well, but within a few minutes, I’m thinking about what I would have done differently if I had been the hero in that movie I saw last night. Or something that comes up in prayer reminds me of a Duran Duran lyric, and then I’m wondering what Simon Le Bon (the lead singer) is up to these days. During corporate prayer, I compare myself to other people, which often makes me not want to pray out loud—but then I fear what people will think if I don’t.
In my private prayer time, I’ve found that more frequent, short times of prayer usually work better than long periods of prayer. I can only be quiet for so long. I know that when I attempt longer periods of prayer, I need to constantly refocus (which is a useful skill to develop in prayer and life, but takes time and effort), and often I will not be able to sit still.
So don’t worry if your prayer times are short. Our Lord is not limited by our limitations; he is exalted in them. Only our great God could glorify himself through such frail vessels as us. If we come to him in humility, for his glory, and to bear fruit through him, he will lovingly take whatever we have to offer—even if it is but a trifle. Jesus died to reconcile us and bring us into relationship with God. To keep that relationship flourishing, we dedicate ourselves to time with God through his Word and through prayer, even if we stumble through it at first. God’s Spirit will expand our capacities, but we must trust him and faithfully take faltering steps into prayer.
3. Pray according to God’s will.
To pray without ceasing means that prayer is not primarily about us; it’s about God. While God wants us to come to him with our concerns, we must understand as fully as possible what his concerns are.
When a man asked Jesus what the greatest commandment is, he answered by quoting from Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind…You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:36, 39). Jesus died so we would have the freedom and capacity to love God with all we are. And to love each other.
First, seek to love God with everything you are through and in prayer. Then, seek to love your neighbor through prayer. In this way you seek God’s will in every aspect of your prayers, as you include the concerns, requests, and needs for the people God has put around you.
- your literal neighbor
- those in your church
- the missionaries that you know
- strangers you’ve interacted with recently
- your pastors and your politicians.
Pray without ceasing for all of them as you do for yourself—with God’s will paramount in your prayers for them.
Through your times of active prayer, the Spirit will begin to cultivate an attitude of unceasing prayer. And this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.