Paul’s prompt in 2 Thessalonians 5:17, Pray without ceasing(KJV)/pray continually (NIV), has always puzzled me. How could a person fulfill that command? I sometimes have trouble praying for three minutes without being distracted! And then there is Luke 6:12 where Jesus spent the night praying. Or read Luke 18:1, where Jesus said of the disciples “…that they should always pray and not give up.”
Instead of praying without ceasing, I think the more realistic application to my own life is that we should have such an attitude of prayer that we automatically think to pray under any circumstance no matter where we are. At times I should be praying and I simply don’t think to pray.
Let me make a application of this concept from our weekly Bread of Life Café where we offer a free meal to anyone who shows up. As I walked through the room, I saw three of our guests with hands on each other’s shoulders, heads bowed, while one was leading a prayer. There you are, eating dinner, and someone at your table has a problem. Instead of or in addition to offering sympathy or concern, someone suggests, “Let us join together and pray”—there in the middle of a room full of people in the middle of our meal. It was a poignant moment and a personal lesson for me as well.
In the past few years, when a person calls me about a problem or difficulty, I’ll suggest we pray together over the phone. My only regret is that I did not start this habit several decades ago.
I’ve gone another direction with prayer. I script out my prayer and send it to a person in an email message. I’m not sure what it does for the person who receives it without the tone of voice and vocal emphasis, but I certainly benefit from thinking the thoughts longer than usual by typing it on my laptop, praying for that person as I do so.
Think about the different times that we celebrate an event, or acknowledge an accomplishment of a friend, or learn of a new job for someone close to us. Aren’t those good times to stop and pray with that person and what lies ahead for him or her? Or at times we are in an airport waiting for our flight and we see someone nearby weeping or showing emotional stress. This might be a good time to simply go to them and ask to pray with them.
Before surgery, have you ever asked the attending doctors to pray with you? On one occasion before surgery, my surgeon voluntarily said a prayer as he was preparing for my surgery. My friend’s doctor said, “May I pray before we begin?” and proceeded to pray without waiting for her response.
I think the words of F. B. Myer help me understand the “never ceasing” part of prayer. “The great tragedy of life is not unanswered prayer, but un-offered prayer.”