In 1 Thessalonians 5:17 Paul tells the church to “pray without ceasing.” This can, at times, feel like an insurmountable goal, but I don’t believe that the Holy Spirit would have prompted Paul to pen these words if they were impossible to achieve. The reality is that within the boxes of our culturally constructed view of what prayer is and how it is to be done, I would agree that it is an impossible target to hit. So, either Paul didn’t follow the Holy Spirit’s direction or our historical perspective on prayer must change, the two cannot co-exist.
The cultural/historical perspective on prayer that was mentioned is one that involves the way we use prayer within the church and within our personal lives on a regular basis. Here is a definition for our discussion, “a specific established time set aside to audibly or inaudibly speak with God in confession, thanksgiving, requests, and adoration of God’s holiness.” This definition isn’t theologically incorrect. In fact, we see Jesus using this same method of prayer during his life and ministry. The crimpling aspect of this perspective comes not with the manner in which it is done but in the emphasis of the method as the sole means of prayer.
Human hearts long for freedom but our sin nature constantly beckons us back to enslavement. This statement shows itself true in many aspects of life and can also become a reality in prayer. Enslavement of our hearts comes predominantly in the form of fear or guilt, both of which are manifestations of performing or not preforming certain tasks. When prayer is understood as just a specific task to perform, Satan will throw fear and guilt in quickly if we don’t perform up to the standard.
We must focus on our relationship with God not just the task to accomplish, if we are going to see “pray without ceasing” become a reality in our lives. It is true that Jesus spent specific time alone with the Father in prayer, but it is also true that Jesus was in constant communion with the Father regardless of whether he was off on a mountaintop or walking with His disciples. He was able to remain in communion with the Father because He focused on the intimacy of His relationship as Son. Galatians 3:26 says, “for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.” Prayer is the communication tool established for the Christian to share his heart with his Dad. Sometimes that is done corporately with other believers, sometimes it is done individually, sometimes it’s in silence, sometimes it’s audible, sometimes it’s in a crowd of people, or before a big decision, or quick, or long, or contemplative. Prayer is not intended to be a task to accomplish but a tool to be used. When we understand and teach prayer as tool to grow our relationship to understand the unceasing love and care of our Father God, accomplishing a lifestyle of unceasing prayer no longer seems insurmountable, but a refreshing and life-giving goal to strive towards.