Whatever could the Apostle Paul have meant when he wrote to the Thessalonians, “Pray without ceasing?” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). That his readers should do nothing else but pray? Not likely.
Yet, the Jerusalem Bible has his words, “Pray constantly,” And J. B. Phillips paraphrases it, “Never stop praying.”
How about this: “Always keep conversation with the Lord at the ready in your heart; and in the unfolding of the day, be quick to turn any blessing or need into a prayer.”
Think of Nehemiah, cupbearer to Artaxerxes of Persia. He learned that the few occupants back in the Jerusalem he loved were desolate and the city itself in ruins and he sat down and wept. The king saw sadness on Nehemiah’s face and asked what it meant.
In the moment, Nehemiah, “… prayed to the God of heaven,” and then he answered the king …” (Nehemiah 2:4,5)
The king’s question, Nehemiah’s prayer and the king’s answer to Nehemiah, all three, seem to have happened at the same moment. Such praying was instant to him.
We know for Nehemiah the normal course of his life made prayer habitual. Look, for example, at how extensive and impassioned his prayer was otherwise in the previous chapter (Nehemiah 1:4-11)
Or consider the case of the evangelist, Stephen, who died as a martyr. The Scriptures say, “While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he fell on his knees and cried out, ‘Lord, do not hold this against them.’ When he had said this he fell asleep” (Acts 7:59). Stephen died praying.
It seems appropriate to assume when the Apostle Paul said, “Pray without ceasing,” he meant both kinds of prayer — first the habitual, daily, ordered prayer that frames our lives, and then the numerous, instantaneous flash prayers launched daily for the thoughts, encounters, interactions, and issues of any moment.
Jesus assured his distraught disciples they always would have access to him. He told them, “I will not leave you orphaned…” (John 14:18). In other words, through the Holy Spirit and by prayer, the resurrected Jesus would be accessible to them all the time.
And he assured them that his Father would make his home with believers. (John 14:23) How could our God offer us greater intimacy than that for our flash prayers? So here are the kind of prayers we can practice:
Flash prayers of affirmation: “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.” “Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory.” “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” “The Lord reigns, let the earth be glad.” Let such rise at any moment.
Flash prayers of petition: “God be merciful to me a sinner.” “May my associates see the joy of the Lord in me today.” “Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck.” Strengthen me to be honest in all my dealings. May I be as light to my fellow workers today. Keep me faithful in the hour of temptation. Always appropriate.
Flash prayers for others: Bless my family near and far. Remember my acquaintances in the hospital or nursing home today. Give heed to my unanswered prayers as I repeat them. Give strength and wisdom to my pastor. May those I touch see your grace in me today. Remember leaders of both church and nation. May they seek your wisdom in all things.
Examples: we might entreat for mercy when driving past the site of an accident on the way to work; when an unbelieving neighbor greets us over the back fence; when we note a student’s sad expression in the classroom; when the little children seem unconsolable; before and during a hard exam; or upon receipt of great good news.
We may not be put on the spot like Nehemiah or called to die for our faith like Stephen, but there are many issues each day that invite flash prayers. They can become a style of life.
If we cultivate this habit the depth and richness of our faith and our adequacy for life will be enhanced.
Photo credit: leadfoot (via flickr.com)