Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-17 ESV Prayer is not so much a state into which enter, as it is a condition in which we live. Prayer, like breathing, is to be ongoing, natural, and effortless. When Paul tells us to pray without ceasing, we tend to conjure up images of hours spent on our knees in a state of constant, uninterrupted conversation with God. It sounds foreboding and impossible to pull off, so we avoid it as unachievable. But in essence, Paul is encouraging us to make prayer a regular part of our everyday lives by treating it as a non-negotiable necessity for our very spiritual survival. It is no different than if Paul were to say to us, “Breathe without ceasing.” That would not sound strange to us. It would sound logical and sensible. To stop breathing would be unnatural and potentially harmful. We would avoid a state of non-breathing like the plague. The same should be true of prayer. To not pray is to cease to relying on God. It is to stop taking in the one thing we need for our very survival: God.
In a real way, Paul is encouraging us to practice the presence of God. There is a wonderful little book, written in the 17th Century by a Carmelite monk, entitled, The Practice of the Presence of God. In it, Brother Lawrence writes of God, “He does not ask much of us, merely a thought of Him from time to time, a little act of adoration, sometimes to ask for His grace, sometimes to offer Him your sufferings, at other times to thank Him for the graces, past and present, He has bestowed on you, in the midst of your troubles to take solace in Him as often as you can. Lift up your heart to Him during your meals and in company; the least little remembrance will always be the most pleasing to Him. One need not cry out very loudly; He is nearer to us than we think.”
The thought of rejoicing always, praying ceaselessly and being thankful in any and all circumstances sounds ludicrous. It comes across as an impossible task to pull off. But it is less a list of activities to accomplish than a state of mind in which to live. We have much for which to rejoice over. But we fail to do so. We have plenty of things to talk with God about, but do we. We have more than enough to be grateful for, but we can through a whole day without uttering a single word of thanks to God for all He has done. Brother Lawrence would encourage us, ““Think often on God, by day, by night, in your business and even in your diversions. He is always near you and with you; leave him not alone.”
Non-stop prayer is far from impossible. It is the life of the believer in Jesus Christ. It is to be our natural and normal relationship as we consider that our very existence is due to God's grace and mercy. He has created us. But even more so, our salvation and future glorification are all His doing. We live because He chose to allow His Son to die. And now we live because of His love for us. We exist according to His power and survive based on His ceaseless presence in and around our lives. God is always with us. He never leaves us. But we constantly leave His presence by forgetting where we are and allowing our minds to drift away to the cares and concerns of this life. Talking with God is to be like walking with a friend through life. We may not always converse or hold an ongoing conversation, but we are always aware of their presence at our side. What we see, we point out to them. What we think we share as we walk with them. We vocalize our thoughts. We share our impressions. We listen. We talk. We live – together. That is the relationship we are to seek with God. Constant. Coexistent. Continual.