Pray Without Ceasing: 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

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What does that even mean?

To be honest, I had a little trouble initially, with connecting to this particular theme. It seemed so basic. Pray all the time, yep, got it. I knew, though, that there was more to it, I just was not sure what it was, so I did what I like to do when I’m seeking answers to my questions. I went to God’s Word.

First of all, I learned that in Hebrew praying without ceasing means to pray with our soul and our breath. In the Greek language, the phrase images ‘without ceasing’ to a hacking cough and also repeated military assaults. Someone with a hacking cough does not cough every second, but rather, he coughs repeatedly and often. He does not go very long without coughing. In the image of repeated military assaults, the army makes an assault then regroups and attacks again and again until it conquers the city. In the same way, we should pray often and repeatedly until we gain the thing for which we are praying—which is not the same as getting our own way—which I will get to later.

Did you know that Paul writes more about prayer than any other piece of the armor of God? He urges us to live in constant prayer in the same manner that the early church devoted itself to prayer right before Pentecost.

What else does God’s word say about prayer? In Matthew 28, we find Jesus promise, ‘I am always with you,” so we know that we can talk to Him anytime, anyplace in any fashion. Which incidentally, brings to mind one of my pet peeves of prayer. Why is it when leading a corporate prayer, we tell those we are leading to fold their hands and bow their heads? When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, he did not give them the low down on positioning their bodies, He was teaching them how to position their spirits, when he taught them to pray these words, ‘your will be done.’

Philippians 4:6 instructs us to ‘not be anxious about anything but to give thanks for everything and through prayer and petitions make your requests known to God.’ Giving thanks does not necessarily mean we are going to feel happy about our current situation but it is saying, by faith, that we trust that God is good and that He knows what He’s doing in the midst of our troubles. We submit to His sovereign hand and purpose with trust.

Proverbs 3:5-6 instructs us to trust God and to not depend on ourselves and our limited ability to see the full picture of our current circumstance. We trust God to guide our decisions and we believe that He is in constant motion behind the scenes for our good.

In Romans 12:12, we are urged to rejoice in hope, be patient when our feet are being held to the fire and to pray constantly. Rejoicing always, is a conscious attitude of contentment, hope and joy that comes from our intentional focus on Christ and the gifts that we have received from Him.

In Jeremiah 33:3, God tells us to seek Him and His strength and to seek His face continually.

The verse that really opened this up for me was Ephesians 6:18. Here we are told to ‘pray in the Spirit, on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.’ Praying in the Spirit simply means to pray according to God’s Word, His Will and His promptings, letting God lead our prayer through all aspects of prayer. Many Christians are most familiar with just one type of prayer—the ‘asks.’ In other words, the petitions and requests. This is certainly correct, but when the Spirit of God leads our prayer, He will walk us beyond requests to prayers of thanksgiving, worship, confession, lament (think Jeremiah-the ‘weeping’ prophet.)

One aspect of praying in the Spirit is corporate prayer—praying with one another. Jesus taught that corporate prayer carries tremendous power. Read the words of Matthew 18:19-20: ‘Again, (He’s said it before, so it must be important) I tell you that if two or more of you agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in Heaven. Keep in mind though that you’re praying together ‘in the Spirit,’ meaning you’re aligning yourself with God’s Will, not the other way around. He’s the one who sees the big picture, remember?

When we pray in the Spirit, we are led to pray for one another, to intercede on behalf of another and allowing others to intercede on our behalf. Some Christians never tap into this kind of prayer, because we may not want to share our burdens with others and we may not be willing to carry the burdens of another.

What else happens when we pray in the Spirit? Well, we alert ourselves to the enemy, Satan, and the ways he tries to trip us up. Remember 1 Peter 5:8, Satan is constantly on the prowl, seeking someone to devour, tempting us where we are weakest. When we pray in the Spirit, we acknowledge our weaknesses and ask for the strength to grow in faith to do battle with the powers of darkness.

Spirit-led prayer perseveres. It has the ‘stick-to-it-ness’ that sees the situation through to the end. Continue to pray, even when you do not see God’s work with your eyes. Pray without ceasing for the salvation of a friend or relative, for continued strength to stand up to a particular temptation, storm heaven’s gates on behalf of His church—whatever it is—continue to seek God’s hand. He is faithful.

Prayer in the Spirit is Gospel-centered. When we align ourselves with God’s will, we are consumed with the spread of His word—the Good News. When Paul was in prison, he didn’t pray for his release. Instead he asked God for the words to preach and the courage to speak them fearlessly. Wow! That’s pretty neat.

Praying without ceasing is a never-ending dialogue with an awareness of being in the presence with our Creator. It’s a conversation, that is Spirit-led, in which we trust God’s good and gracious will to be done. It’s thanking, asking, confessing, lamenting, and interceding in faith and with perseverance. This doesn’t just happen. It requires effort. Yes, it is true that we can pray anytime and anywhere, but it is also important to create a habit of carving out time each day for intentional conversation with our Father. It takes 30 consecutive days to make a behavior a habit. Is it possible that the joy we find in spending time in God’s presence, in 2-way conversation—talking AND listening will lead us to seek His face all the more? Try it and see.

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