“Pray without ceasing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17)
This succinct verse is one of many such admonitions that Paul gives at the end of his letter to the Thessalonians. It’s as if he has lots more to say but little time to say it so he just records any last minute thoughts that pop into his head.
This verse raises one very practical question: How do you pray without ceasing? Is it even possible to do what Paul is asking?
Me thinks the answer is yes, of course. But it means that we need to get rid of our traditional way of thinking about prayer. Praying without ceasing has nothing to do with the posture of our body and everything to do with the posture of our heart. Traditionally we bow our heads and close our eyes as we pray. This is what we are taught to do when we are kids. This is what is modeled for us by our parents and pastors and Sunday School teachers. What we really need to learn how to do is not so much to bow our heads but to bow our hearts as we come before God’s throne of grace. Here are a few postures of the heart that need to become ingrained in us if we are going to learn how to pray without ceasing.
1) A Heart Posture of Dependence – This may be the hardest posture for us to learn because as Americans we value independence so much. The American way is to do it ourselves and not depend on anyone else. So when it comes to complete surrender and dependence on God there is much that needs to be unlearned. Perhaps a good way to start a conversation with God is by saying at the very beginning, “Lord, I need you,” as a reminder to ourselves as much as anything.
2) A Heart Posture of Obedience – There is a tendency for us to pick and choose what we want to obey or not obey. A posture of obedience says that we will obey what God’s Word says EVEN IF it doesn’t suit our fancy and EVEN IF it cramps our preferred lifestyle.
3) A Heart Posture of Gratefulness – We are looking at 1 Thessalonians 5:17. The very next verse which is a part of the same sentence says this, “…give thanks in all circumstances for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” ALL circumstances! A heart that is able to say “thank you” to God even when circumstances would suggest doing the opposite is especially pleasing to the Lord and is an audacious expression of faith in the goodness of God.
4) A Heart Posture of Expectancy – It was William Carey who said, “Expect great things from God. Attempt great things for God.” A posture of expectancy gets the order right. Pray FIRST, then act boldly anticipating that God is already at work. It is not uncommon for us to act first and then pray that God will boldly bless OUR actions. This is a posture of presumption and often results in unfounded disappointment with God.
May this brick motivate you to practice these four postures of the heart as you seek to “pray without ceasing.”