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What Does It Mean to "Pray Without Ceasing" and Is It Possible?

What Does It Mean to "Pray Without Ceasing" and Is It Possible?

"Pray without ceasing" ~ 1 Thessalonians 5:17 (KJV)

Wow, sounds impossible to do, doesn't it? Does this verse really mean that God expects us to pray 24-7? Let's take a look at some other Bible translations of 1 Thessalonians 5:17 and discover how we can apply this to our prayer lives today.

  • "Pray continually" (NIV)
  • "Pray constantly" (HCSB)
  • "Never stop praying" (NLT)

What Does it Mean To Pray Without Ceasing

Praying without ceasing, which is actually in 1 Thessalonians 5:17, I believe, is a beautiful text but also one that's often misunderstood. To pray without ceasing does not mean you've got to pray 24/7 and feel guilty for every second you're not praying. Praying without ceasing is all about developing a lifestyle of prayer so that you don't just get up in the morning and have a stated time of 10 to 20 minutes of prayer and then you don't pray again until the evening. But it's your way through the day as you move along in the day. 

A lot of prayers will be what the old forefathers called spontaneous prayers that just go up in little darts and phrases up to God. Lord, help me with this next task I have to do. Lord, keep from sin now. Lord, help me avoid temptation here in this situation. When we're not backsliding as Christians, when we're living close to God, then this kind of prayer life is spontaneous. But when we start to backslide and we start to grow lukewarm, those spontaneous prayers begin to diminish and we fall away from this lifestyle of prayer that involves praying without ceasing. 

Now, interestingly, in the 19th century, there was a group of men headed up by John Newton that meet once a month for theological discussions. They addressed one theological question every month. This was one of their questions for one month's discussion, namely, what does it mean to pray without ceasing? They batted it around for about 45 minutes and couldn't come to a satisfactory answer. 

Finally, there was a maid who walked into the room and was serving. One of the ministers casually said to this maid girl, this Scottish maid girl, "Maybe you can tell us what it means to pray without ceasing." It's an interesting story but she said to them, "Oh, sirs, that's no problem. When I get up in the morning, I cloth myself, I pray that the Lord Jesus might cloth me with His righteousness today. When I came down here before you men came and I dusted the furniture, I prayed that He might cleanse me from the filth of my soul. When I set before you this food and this drink, I prayed that Jesus Christ might be my meat and drink until life eternal. So, Sirs, I just kind of pray my way through the day." I think that's what it means to pray without ceasing.

Is it Possible to "Pray Without Ceasing"?

Paul tells us to pray without ceasing. We know when we read that, sometimes we think we know that means, "Oh my goodness. I shouldn't be doing an interview right now. I should be praying." Or, "I shouldn't be reading a book." Or, "I shouldn't be eating a meal." I think what Paul is saying there is there's never a time, there's never a circumstance, there's never an aspect of your life that you should not be in conversation with the Lord about, making your requests known, desiring to glorify Him, asking for His assistance. I pray about these times before we did ... well, we prayed together, but I mean even this morning I prayed about this. I don't know about you, but in my day, as I walk through my day, there's kind of a dialogue going on. I don't know that I hear Him speak back that much, but I have His word so I have plenty of that. 

I think that praying without ceasing simply means that you're lifting your whole day up to God. There's not an area of your life, there's not a time or a season or a period where you're not regularly, repeatedly turning and bringing it to the Lord in prayer. (excerpt from Mark Dever)

We can use the simple Jesus Prayer, "Lord have mercy on me, a sinner", to continually pray from the heart seeking God's mercy and grace. To "pray without ceasing", is to live with God always in our heart and mind, giving thanks for all things and relying on Him for strength.

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