Pray without ceasing?  Hmm.

A number of years ago, I ran a little experiment.  I was teaching a course in Adolescent Psychology at a midwest college, and because of circumstances in my life and in the classroom, I decided to explore the power of prayer through a very simple exercise.  Over a period of 14 class meetings, I alternated each class period.  On the first day I prayed about the lesson, about being at peace, and asking God to be present and give that peace to the students.  On the second day, I did not pray about the lesson, the students or myself.  On the third day, I prayed, and on the fourth I did not.  I continued this through all 14 class meetings.

My findings?  My non-scientific, non-documented findings?  I began to see a pattern of calmness and a higher level of personal and professional satisfaction with how the class went on those days when I prayed.  It also seemed there was a greater response on the part of the students. Was it just me wanting it to turn out that way?

In conversation with the class, and not explaining what I had done, I asked a simple question:  In your opinion, how has the class gone in recent weeks?  I did not get much of a specific response.  Comments like, “oh, class was alright”, etc. and that was about it…until later.

I was approached by two of my students who informed me that in their opinion, “during these past weeks, we had some of the best class sessions and discussions in the whole term.” They asked me why I had asked the original question.   I told them: “I think I know, but I am not sure.”  Then I explained the experiment that I ran during those weeks.   They couldn’t pinpoint the days that were the best in their opinion, but one of the students said “I’ll bet I know.”  She then told me to keep it up!

Keep it up!?  Wow!  I did.  It turned out to be a very good semester.

It has been said that we should pray as if everything depended on God and act as if everything depended on us.  There is real truth there, the exercise of our faith in God, and the realization that with that faith comes the responsibility to act.  James states, in his epistle, “faith without works (actions) is dead“. And Paul, in his first letter to the Thessalonians, admonished the church to “Prayer without ceasing“! Pray without ceasing? Really?

T.M. Moore, in an article in the Christian World View Journal, makes this statement:  At first glance, we might be tempted to dismiss Paul’s exhortation as just so much spiritual hyperbole. After all, who can do anything without ceasing, much less pray? Sure, he says, “pray without ceasing,” but, since we can’t do that, he must mean something else, something like, “be always ready to pray” or “pray a lot” or some such thing. But if you start down that path – or any other plain teaching from Scripture – you’ll end up veering from the Lord’s course. A general principle of Biblical interpretation says that where Scripture is clear, don’t muddy it.”

John MacArthur, in Grace To You, makes this statement:  To “pray without ceasing” refers to recurring prayer, not nonstop talking. Prayer is to be a way of life–you’re to be continually in an attitude of prayer. It is living in continual God-consciousness, where everything you see and experience becomes a kind of prayer, lived in deep awareness of and surrender to Him. It should be instant and intimate communication – not unlike that which we may enjoy with our best friend.”

MacArthur goes on to say: To “pray without ceasing” means when you are tempted, hold the temptation before God and ask for His help. When you experience something good and beautiful, immediately thank the Lord for it. When you see evil around you, ask God to make it right and to use you toward that end, if that is His will.

If I follow this instruction, then my life becomes a sacrament! Believing and following Christ in all that I do is a form of praying without ceasing! Can actions actually be a form of prayer?  Maintaining an attitude of prayer in all that we do, is that part of it?  Is it that simple? Wait, “simple” may not be the right word! Maybe “Is it that straight forward” is better said. And the answer to all those questions is Yes!

Well, here is another one. Is it a sin to test the Lord?  In Luke 4:12 Jesus answers satan by paraphrasing Deuteronomy 6:16 “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'” No contest. How about this:  Is it a sin to test the power of prayer?  Was my little experiment a testing of God?  Of prayer?  I rather think it was shedding my feeble light on the reality of the power of prayer for me.  We weak, cranky humans sometimes need that reassurance!

In the book The Way of a Pilgrim (author uncertain), the story is told of a seeker for the answer to St. Paul’s challenge to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).  The seeker travels through the ancient world trying to solve the riddle of how do we “pray without ceasing” and still live our lives?   In the course of his travels, he is introduced to the Jesus Prayer (“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner”).  And so, he continues his travels, reciting the Jesus Prayer and introducing others to the power of that prayer.   He comes to realize that he has changed.  That he, indeed, has been praying without ceasing even during those times of conversation with others and that he, personally, felt the presence of God in his life.  His life became a sacrament!

So, do you pray?  Without ceasing?  How does that work in your life?  Do you find, like the Pilgrim, that you are changed, that you feel the presence of God in your life?  If your answers are “not so much” or “sometimes”, etc., you might try my little experiment. At the start of your day, give it to the Lord, ask for His peace.  Then at the end of the day, take inventory.  How did your day go?  Be honest with yourself, but more, be  honest with God.  It could develop into a very special habit! Works for me!

For What Its worth