Pray Without Ceasing (May 28, 2013)

…Opening To…

Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart
Naught be all else to me save that thou art
Thou my best thought by day or by night
Waking or sleeping thy presence my light (Ancient Irish Hymn)

…Listening In…

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18; context)

…Filling Up…

There are four days left in our survey of verses that found there way onto my old guitar case during my college years of 2001-2005. Today’s passage from the last chapter of Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians is one that has stuck with me for quite a long time. When I was a sophomore I read a short story by Wendell Berry that I think was entitled “Pray Without Ceasing.” (It was either called that or that was the theme.) And I discovered those words came from Paul.

A few years later, when I was in seminary, I discovered that the first letter to the Thessalonians is probably the oldest piece of Christian writing that still exists, so the words from these verses became even more special. Before anything else that we still have was written, Paul urged people to rejoice always and to pray without ceasing. If people took him seriously, that means that while the rest of the New Testament was being written, there were people praying ceaselessly during its composition. What a cool thought!

It wasn’t until a few years after that realization that I discovered one last thing about these verses. I had always thought “praying without ceasing” was really hyperbole – Paul stressing the importance of prayer by telling people to do it all the time. I didn’t realize that it was actually possible. Then I read a description of prayer from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer (BCP). The BCP says this: “Prayer is responding to God, by thought and by deeds, with or without words.”

This sentence completely changed how I think about prayer. If prayer is not just talking to God about stuff, but instead is anything we do to respond to God, then it is possible to “pray without ceasing.” To do so is to cultivate a constant awareness of how each of our actions is done as some kind of response to God’s action in our lives. Each action we take or thought we think puts us in either greater or lesser resonance with God’s movement. By cultivating this constant awareness, we are praying without ceasing.

…Praying For…

Dear God, you encounter me in the words of the scripture and these encounters continue throughout my life. Help me to be sensitive to your movement throughout all facets of my life so that I can better respond to your call. In Jesus Christ’s name I pray. Amen.

…Sending Out…

I leave this moment with you, God, but I take with me your word, which settles deep in my soul and speaks life into my being.

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