I’ve long had a love–hate relationship with some of Paul’s directions to the various churches he wrote to in the NT. The love is for the blessing of the words God inspired him to write, for the feeling that comes when I really dig in. But the hate comes from my inability to follow the instructions.
Where I continually fail is Paul’s directions to pray all the time. Here’s a few examples:
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
And from his own practice:
And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God…
And the passage that I’ve wanted to improve on in my own life is from Philippians:
…do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
What does it mean to pray without ceasing? To bring everything to God in prayer and supplication? Did Paul and other disciples we read about sit most of the day, kneeling before God and praying about all the people they knew? I don’t think that’s the picture we’re supposed to walk away with from passages like this.
After years of wrestling with these passages, I’ve come away with a general sense of how our lives should look. First, it’s a matter of heart. When issues do arise, when questions come, where do you turn first? These passages suggest our response should be to bring these cares to God.
Second, it’s a rhythm. Do your hours, days, and weeks reflect habitual patterns of seeking your Father? To pray without ceasing is akin to eating: I don’t eat all day long, day in and day out. But I do eat every day without a break (fasting aside). I eat without ceasing.
John Piper addresses this very verse when someone asked him what “praying without ceasing” meant. He used the example of Paul using this Greek word (adialeiptōs) in another verse (For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing adialeiptōs I mention you. Romans 1:9). He explains:
It doesn’t mean that Paul was verbally and mentally always, every second, mentioning them. It means that over and over, always, repeatedly, without fail, when I get on my knees, you are in my prayer. That is basically what I think he means by “pray without ceasing” — repeatedly and often.
This encourages me, for I do repeatedly come to God in prayer. And while I often feel like it could and should be more often, I’m already in the habit of doing so. For the rest of my life, I simply want that regularity and intensity to increase more and more.