“Pray without ceasing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17)
For more of my life than not, the idea of “unceasing prayer” felt a little like one of those ultimate marathons—the kind where people run 100 miles and leave the rest of the world hanging in the balance of awe and unbelief that such a feat is humanly possible (or maybe thinking, “They must not have a life.”)
In my mind, this kind of prayer was a practice only attainable for those who were retired and looking for ways to fill their days, or maybe for the rare housewife who had no kids and few obligations. Even outside of the practical questions I had around how one could truly pray unceasingly, the concept itself felt out of reach.
If I’m being totally honest, the idea of anything being unceasing can be hard to comprehend.
Our culture has trained us to always want the next best thing, sometimes forcing us to need it. Loyalty is lost on most of us and we don’t even know it, because we’ve been taught that contentment is complacency.
Exasperated with hoping for a promotion? You can opt in to have dozens of recruiters flood your inbox in a nanosecond. Tired of waiting for a relationship, a product, a meal? There’s an app for that. Bored? Pick up your phone. You can watch thousands of other people’s lives unfold right before your eyes.
In our lifetime, there will be few things that stand the test of time. Things will be replaced, discarded, and forgotten. Relationships will end, patience will wear thin, dreams will fall to the wayside as realities set in. But in the midst of the constant change that is our world, there abides Unceasing Himself—Jesus, the always-has-been and always-will-be. What’s more, we have access to Him at all hours of the day. We can come to him as often as we want; in fact, we were designed to do so.
Really? Yes, really. It’s possible—even biblical.
Starting in Genesis 2, we see Adam and Eve in constant communion with God. They’re literally hanging out with the King of the Universe, spending their days with him in the Garden of Eden. There we see played out the perfect, unceasing conversation God designed us to have with Him.
Then sin enters the world, and that communion is irreparably damaged. While we don’t have that same kind of communion with Him now, we have been given a supernatural ability and invitation to tap into our greatest power source on this side of heaven—prayer.
Throughout the New Testament, we see mentions of this idea of unceasing prayer—all coming from individuals who weren’t, in fact, retired. On the contrary, they had been given incredible responsibility to spread the gospel among the nations; that meant life on the road, early mornings, long nights, persecution.
On our human terms, they didn’t have time to incorporate an unceasing practice into their day-to-day.
But what they knew is what we must learn: the less capacity we think we have to pray, the more we need to hunker down and do it.
In Ephesians 6:18, Paul urges his readers to “pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere” (NLT).
That first clause, “pray in the Spirit,” is so intentional. It is the Spirit that both enables us to pray and prays on our behalf when we don’t know what to pray (Romans 8:26). As we live in a state of constant spiritual battle—the world working tirelessly to capture our attention and affection—prayer becomes our weapon. It not only helps us overcome strongholds of the enemy; it allows us to take on characteristics of the Spirit as well.
What about moments of anxiety? Philippians 4:6 tell us, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (NIV). In moments of anxiety, we hold the key to unexplained peace. Through prayer, we are extended an opportunity to offload our burdens and place them on the shoulders of the One who has already borne the weight of the world’s sin. Jesus can handle our anxiety; we simply can’t without Him.
In Luke 18:1–8, Jesus tells his disciples a parable to explain the power of persistent prayer. Just as the widow was finally granted justice after persisting with the judge, “… will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night?” (v. 7 NIV, emphasis mine).
There you have it—not “pray in the morning when you’re doing your quiet time,” or “pray before meals,” or “pray before you go to bed at night”—just “never stop praying.”
God does not call us to do anything that we don’t have the power to do through Him, nor does He urge us to do anything that won’t draw us closer to Him.
As I’ve been learning this practice over the past few weeks, I often wonder how much weight I’m bearing simply because I haven’t prayed. God is so ready and eager to talk to us. And no, it doesn’t have to be a production every time we come to him. (Just imagine if you only spoke to the people you love when you had a ten-minute formal speech ready for them!)
God loves it when we ask Him questions, tell him random things throughout the day, and ask for His help with even the smallest obstacles. Take the gift of communication with God we’ve been granted and run with it!
My final encouragement and hope is this: that we wouldn’t confine ourselves to stated times of prayer simply because that’s what we’ve been taught or seen modeled. Prayer wasn’t designed to always be structured or boxed in. And when it becomes hard to pray and you feel like you’re not doing it the right way, don’t stop. Pray without ceasing—God is ready and waiting.