“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16–19, ESV)
Do you pray without ceasing? If not, why not? I asked myself this one morning, and as I looked over my day, I started to see why this command was so impossible for me. I don’t pray without ceasing because my mind gets too busy with stuff. I see a mess and I have to clean it up; otherwise, I’m discontent with my environment. I worry about a lot of things, and while I’m worrying, I’m not praying—that’s for sure. I get angry and I stew, not praying. I fear things, and when I fear, I’m not praying. I stress over the lives of others, over their mistakes, their stupidity, still not praying.
As I looked at my life and saw those glaring times when I wasn’t praying, I realized that my life was much less than what I wished it to be. Surprise, surprise—it’s hard to pray to God when you’re worshiping the things of this world: control, order, neatness, relationships. I cannot pray while I’m running the world for myself. So what comes first: prayer, or freedom from the stuff of this world? How do you escape the chains that bind you to the problems of earth and allow your heart to float up to heaven? How do you pray without ceasing?
The answer is found in 1 Thessalonians 5:16: “rejoice always.” These words come right before the command to pray without ceasing; therefore, they must inform us how to do that. It seems to me that these two are intimately linked, that you can’t have one without the other. While I’m obsessing over the struggles of this world, I’m not rejoicing in them. So I must, then, reject the impulse to respond to the things that compel me to action if it is not holy action. If I’m compelled to work at something out of discontentment, anger, resentment, worry, or fear, then I’m failing to rejoice and to pray—because I cannot pray while obeying those emotions.
So I’ve determined that if there is in my life some activity, place, or relationship in or during which I cannot continue to pray, then I’m rejecting the call to pray without ceasing. Have you considered the things that you do that are inconsistent with prayer? Are there places your mind goes where prayer is squeezed out? If you are like me, then you must answer “yes.” Thank God that there is now no condemnation for those of us who are in Christ (Romans 8:1) but, instead, freedom from the chains of prayerlessness and worry, of fear and stress. Thank God that freedom is found in maintaining the fellowship between us and the Father through praying without ceasing.