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

We are told to "pray without ceasing" in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, but is this even possible?
Updated Nov 11, 2023
What Does It Mean to 'Pray Without Ceasing' and Is It Possible?

"Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you." (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 KJV)

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

  • "Pray continually" (NIV)
  • "Pray all the time" (MSG)
  • "Never stop praying" (NLT)

Pray Without Ceasing in the Bible

This well-known Bible phrase comes from Apostle Paul's epistle to the Thessalonians. Here is the surrounding text to see this phrase in its biblical context:

We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil. (1 Thessalonians 5:12-22 NKJV)

In Paul's writings, words such as "rejoice always" (1 Thess 5:16), "without ceasing" (1 Thess 5:17), or "give thanks in all circumstances" (1 Thess 5:18) refer primarily to prayer. 

The Christian tradition teaches that unceasing prayer is a proper goal, for spiritual growth comes through such discipline. 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 in our hearts and minds, giving thanks for all things and relying on Him for strength.

What Does It Mean To Pray Without Ceasing?

The following is a transcript of the video above with Joel Beeke:

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 about developing a lifestyle of prayer so that you don't just get up in the morning and have a planned time of 10 to 20 minutes 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. 

Many prayers will be what the old forefathers called spontaneous prayers that 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, we're living close to God, and this kind of prayer life is spontaneous. But when we start to backslide and grow lukewarm, those spontaneous prayers begin to diminish, and we fall away from this lifestyle of prayer that involves praying without ceasing. 

Interestingly, in the 19th century, a group of men headed up by John Newton met once a month for theological discussions. They addressed one theological question every month. One of their questions for one month's discussion was: 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 exciting 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 clothe 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 this food and drink before you, I prayed that Jesus Christ might be my meat and drink until life eternal. So, Sirs, I 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 it 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 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, and there's not a time, a season, or a period where you're not regularly repeatedly turning and bringing it to the Lord in prayer. (excerpt from Mark Dever)

This article is part of our prayer resources meant to edify and encourage your prayer life:

Prayers for Healing
Morning Prayers
Prayers for Family
Prayers for Surgery

Prayers for Strength
Night Prayers Before Bed
Prayers for Protection
The Lord's Prayer: Our Father

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