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Prayer and Thought: How To Pray Without Ceasing
The most sore I have ever been was in the Army Combatives Instructor course. As students, we were made to repeat the same action relentlessly while being subjected to a regimen of physical punishment from instructors, students, and intense, sporadic physical training. Over time, this ingrained the training into our subconscious so that when faced with a hand to hand combat situation, we would react without thought. “Praying without ceasing”, I will show, operates on a very similar concept.
The Heart of the Matter
1 Thessalonians 5:17 is brought up in any discussion of prayer. In sermons, books, and other media we are instructed to do things that are conducive to a healthy prayer life. This typically consists of establishing a certain place and time to bend the knee in supplication, praise, adoration, thanksgiving, and confession. Some will argue that it should done in the morning, others in the evening, while others insist that to truly pray without ceasing one must engage in multiple prayer times per day. While all of these arguments have their own elements of validity and truth, I would contend that 1 Thessalonians 5:17 looks to a much deeper meaning of prayer than is typically discussed.
The question one must answer is where does casual thought ascend into prayer and prayer descend into mere thought? Surely we have all experienced the wandering of our mind during devoted prayer time. As we work our way down prayer lists, the concerns and pressures of the day seep into our supplications, stifling our communication with Christ. Likewise, we are well aware of the subject that is so pressing and ripe with emotion that it quickly ascends into a prayer. In the verse in question, I believe, Paul is drawing his reader into a marriage of thought and prayer where the two become one flesh. This is easily seen in the verses before and after as the sport words of a perpetual nature. We see the word “always” (vs.16) and “all circumstances”(vs.18). This compliments “without ceasing” fairly well, underscoring that prayer is meant to be endless.
How does one produce such an endless prayer? I argue that it is not an action, but rather a state achieved in the life of the believer where thought and prayer are intertwined and interlaced so they are inseparable. This is where one cannot observe a wreck on the road without praying for the salvation and deliverance of the victims. In the same spirit, one cannot behold the beauty of a sunrise without submitting in thanksgiving. Nor can one experience an unholy emotion or host unbridled thought of malice without automatically ascending into prayers of confession. To “pray without ceasing” means to seek Christ in every thought so that each one is subject to the obedience of his presence (1 Corinthians 10:5). This must be a daily request and practice in the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2).
Until our automatic reaction to any situation is to engage in prayer, we will continue to struggle with this spiritual discipline. This is only the result of continuous effort to see Christ in all things, good or bad. Only then, when we have embedded prayer in our subconscious, will become the prayer warriors that Christ calls us to be.