January 15, 2012

Pray without Ceasing

Last week we started looking and praying through 1 Thessalonians 5:16-22 and the similar citation from Philippians 4:4-9. Paul wrote both the letters to separate churches and about a decade apart, yet his encouragement and advice is the same. He starts by urging everyone to Rejoice Always-yet how are we to do that? The next verse gives a clue. We are to “pray without ceasing” and “in everything, by prayer and petition…present your requests to God.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17 and Philippians 4:6)

Praying without ceasing seems almost as difficult as rejoicing no matter what happens. Is Paul asking us to do the impossible in these citations? Not really.

C.H. Spurgeon in a sermon delivered in 1872 noted that rejoicing and prayer are tied together. “The more praying the more rejoicing. Prayer gives a channel to the pent-up sorrows of the soul, they flow away, and in their stead streams of sacred delight pour into the heart. At the same time the more rejoicing the more praying; when the heart is in a quiet condition, and full of joy in the Lord, then also will it be sure to draw nigh unto the Lord in worship. Holy joy and prayer act and react upon each other.”

But how do we constantly pray? How can we continually “present [our] requests to God”? I don’t know about you, but I am easily distracted from an attitude of prayer, but referring again to the Contented Little Pussy Cat, we hear Abner say “No good thing was ever learned without practicing.” There are many ways and styles of prayer. I came across this nice long collection of ideas for praying.  

Of course the basic model for our prayer is the one Jesus taught that starts “Our Father…” (Luke 11:2f and Matthew 6:9f) Jesus himself went away from his disciples on more than one occasion to pray. The photo of a child and dog is cute and captures our cultural concept of what prayer involves. We get on our knees beside our bed, or in church, close our eyes and say a nice prayer.

Prayer doesn’t have to be on our knees in church, though. Paul is saying we can and should pray wherever we are and whatever we are doing. It might be a quick prayer on the phone with a friend, a silent prayer for understanding in a difficult situation, “Thank you, God” when seeing something beautiful or getting through something. Simply pausing in awe of a sunset or child’s joy can be a prayer.

A wise priest once told me that ‘arrow prayers’ can be used at any time we feel the need to offer petitions or praise to God. Turns out, the term has been around a long time (since St. Augustine of Hippo ca 4th century). It is a short prayer relevant to the current situation. Sometimes it is something like “Thank you for the beauty of this sunset.” More often it is a call for help, “Give me patience with this person or event.”

Another fast reminder to pray is your own hand. The thumb reminds you of those far away who need prayer. Your pointer finger is for those who lead us (pastors, teachers, etc.) and your second finger is those who have responsibility or power. Your ring finger is a reminder of those we love and the little finger is for the weak, ill, helpless, etc. Lastly, your whole hand is for yourself as a way to be aware that we are His hands to all we meet.

There are many other aids to prayer-music, Bible verses, candles…the list goes on and on. Perhaps you’d like to share your own as a comment. The verses we are studying during this Epiphany season can be used as prayers and prayer aids, too. Whatever inspires and reminds you to turn to God in prayer is something to treasure and use. Take Abner’s advice and practice a little bit of prayer each day until you will find you are praying without ceasing!

Next week we’ll look at how Thanksgiving ties in with Rejoicing and with Prayer.

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