What does it mean to “pray without ceasing,” as 1 Thessalonians 5:17 says?
Even when I set myself to pray, I struggle to continue calling out to God. I try to punctuate morning Bible reading with a short, allotted time of prayer. Five minutes, usually. That’s just three hundred seconds: a red light, one or two Spotify songs, a shower. Surely I can focus for that long, especially when I craft a list of five to ten people to remember.
Even when I’m on the clock, even when I have an outline — even then, my praises and pleas fizzle out. My thoughts ricochet from the cereal I ate to the email I need to open to the itch spreading across the back of my knee. Suddenly I think, Where was I? Then the clock strikes five minutes, and I sigh. My prayers are prone to wander.
Answers Worth Reading
So, I repeat: What does it mean to “pray without ceasing,” as 1 Thessalonians 5:17 says? Pastor and author John Piper offers three answers worth sharing:
“It means that there is a spirit of dependence that should permeate all we do. This is the very spirit and essence of prayer: dependence. So, even when we are not speaking consciously to God, there is a deep, abiding dependence on him that is woven into the very essence of our faith. . . .
“The second meaning that it has . . . is that praying without ceasing means praying repeatedly and often. . . .
“The third thing I think he means it this: not giving up on prayer. ‘Without ceasing’ means you should never come to a point in your life when you say, ‘Prayer doesn’t work. I am done. I am giving up on prayer.’”
For this article’s purposes, I want to focus on the second meaning of 1 Thessalonians 5:17 — namely, that “praying without ceasing means praying repeatedly and often.” Like I said, praying with such regularity is difficult for me. I imagine it is for you, too. That’s why I want to share a tactic that my husband, T. J., suggested recently.
A Question Worth Asking
First, ask yourself: What tasks do I do without ceasing?
Some tasks we repeat more often than we eat. For example, I know how to battle grime. At least five times a day I snap a Clorox wipe from its container. When at work, I remove crayon marks from desks. I chisel flattened raisins out of the cafeteria floor. At home, I swipe coffee grinds into my hands. I slide the crumbs of once-frozen chicken nuggets into the trashcan. In short, I scrub.
I scrub without ceasing. What if, while scrubbing without ceasing, I were to pray without ceasing? What if I used that time to mention the kids with the crayons, the rebels stomping on the raisins, in my prayers? What if I used that time to remember my husband, the coffee connoisseur and frozen-food lover, in my prayers?
Not only would I better abide by 1 Thessalonians 5:17, but I would more readily say with Paul: “For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit through the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you always in my prayers” (Romans 1:10).
Gifted with Monotony
Won’t that make prayer as monotonous as the tasks? No. It will make it integral to your day — as necessary as keeping tennis shoes tied or water bottles tightened.
T. J. explains it this way: We must rely on prayer — on God — as we go about our daily activities. We should seek to so entangle something like sweeping with prayer that, were someone to ask us how to sweep, “Start praying”would be the first step.
For T. J., the idea sprung from his mom, Angie. She raised four kids, and for more than twenty years she prayed for the kids whose laundry she folded. God is her witness, that without ceasing she has mentioned Savannah, T. J., Ellie, and Sadie always in her prayers.
I can only hope to be as faithful with my prayers. So I encourage you, as well as myself, to pray without ceasing during the tasks you do without ceasing. Your prayers will increase in volume. Lord willing, fruitful will they be.