Saturday, September 29, 2007

Pray Without Ceasing

A conversation today touched on those similar words that aren't exactly alike. For example, nauseous is when something induces nausea, while nauseated is when you're experiencing nausea. [The smell of the septic tank backing up into the house is nauseous. I am nauseated by the thought of mandatory standardized testing of my grade-schoolers.] Another example was continuous versus continual. You eat continually, but your heart beats continuously -- well, except when you're subjected to open-heart surgery, but that's another topic. A mnemonic device to help with that one is "-ous" stands for "one uninterrupted sequence." Of course, in ADD-ish fashion, we jumped from continual/continuous to another example, "pray without ceasing."

I know that some people take 1 Thessalonians 5:17 as a command. They are to pray without ceasing. They take this so literally that they try to train themselves to pray subconsciously so that they can obey the command.

Personally, I really like the Jesus prayer. I probably pray it more than I do the Our Father. But it very much bothers me that those who promote the Jesus Prayer do so for legalistic reasons.

In Luke 18, Jesus tells a parable "that men ought always to pray and never lose heart." Then He goes on to tell us about the persistent widow and the unjust judge. Interestingly, the KJV and NKJV say that the judge complains, "lest by her continual coming she weary me." Was this lady banging on the judge's door day and night, every day, for days on end? Or did she come every day and pester him again?

When Jesus says men ought "always to pray," does He mean that we should pray 60 seconds per minute, 60 minutes per hour, 24 hours per day? Or does He mean we should not give up on our prayers when it appears our Lord does not hear us? Does Jesus mean prayer every day, several times a day? Or does He set down a law of perpetual subconscious meditation so that we can follow a supposed rule of "praying without ceasing"?


  1. Gerhard helps:

    "We can pray without ceasing if we pray in the spirit, so that at least our mind is always watchful towards God in holy desires. It is not needful that we should supplicate God with loud cries, because as He dwells in the hearts of the godly He hears the very sighs of our hearts. Nor need we multiply words in our prayers, for He knoweth our thoughts. Sometimes a single goran under the impulse of the Spirit is more pleasing to God than a long and tedious repetition of prayers, where the tongue speaks but the heart is altogether silent." Sacred Meditations XXV

  2. I don't know what the context of that Gerhard quote is, so maybe I'm not getting the real point of it. But it still sounds to me like he's trying to come up with a way to look to himself to obey a rule. Like, "you don't have to say the words of the prayers, as long as you are keeping your mind always watchful toward God." In other words, if I can keep my mind toward God all the time, if I can have holy desires all the time, THEN I will know that I can check this rule off my list: "yup, yup, praying all the time; did that, yup."

    Guess what? I don't keep my mind always watchful toward God. I don't always have holy desires.

    Whenever we run across something in Scripture that sounds like a rule, and our response is "now how can I make sure I follow the rule?" (either by trying harder, or coming up with a loophole) then it just seems like we're on the wrong tack. Why not just say, "I cannot pray all the time. Jesus prayed rightly. He is my righteousness and holiness. God, help me to be assured that I am accounted before You as one who prays without ceasing, for Jesus' sake and because of the Spirit's intercessions. And even more than that, God grant me a heart that clings to Jesus' righteousness and that also yearns to be in conversation with You more and more"?

    I mean, is that an "okay way" to respond to "pray without ceasing" instead of looking to myself and my efforts to be a better and more attentive pray-er?

    (Like I said, I don't know the context of the Gerhard quote, so maybe that's what he's saying too. But as it stands quoted, that first sentence looks like a way to assure myself of my obedience to the "pray without ceasing" rule.)