"Pray constantly." 1 Thessalonians 5:17
Seriously? Most of you reading this meager offering are probably doing well to read this meager offering. Your prayers may have been hastily muttered over breakfast or in the car on the way to work, but I don't want to get too autobiographical.
Without question I have room in my spiritual devotions for improvement. During this Lenten season I would do well to put aside all the scurrying little urgent things and give more reflective time to the important things. If it's important we need to set aside time for it, and I feel better when I pray and read as I should. A little more Mary, a little less Martha is a good prescription for most of us busy Christians.
But to pray constantly? Even Paul didn't do that. He didn't spend every minute of the day on his knees praying. No saint does that. It's physically impossible. Unless we understand prayer as something more than the specific time of folded hands, bowed head, and closed eyes.
Prayer is that, but it is much more, and that is the key to understanding this puzzling little verse.
Praying constantly assumes a highly personal connection with God. The fact is we all have that, but often live as though it were not true. God knows you. Everything. The good and the bad. God has an infinite love for you and literally dwells within you. We seldom give this truth sufficient room in our thinking.
Let's try. Here's what you are: a bearer of God’s very image. As a Christian, Christ is in you, and you are in Christ! God abides in you and you abide in God. Paul wrote “You are hidden with Christ in God. When Christ is revealed—and He is your life—you too will be revealed in all your glory within Him” (Col. 3:3-4). When you pray the Spirit of God intercedes for you with sighs too deep for words (Rom. 8:26).
Don't think of praying as sending out words across time and space to the distant throne room of God. True praying is a matter of the spirit and the Spirit. Prayer is a mingling of your spirit with God’s Spirit.
Kierkegaard said, "Most people really believe that the Christian commandments (for example, to love one's neighbor as oneself) are intentionally a little too severe—like putting the clock ahead half an hour to make sure of not being late in the morning." We are liable to take "pray constantly" like that, a well-intentioned hyperbole. But don't! God is so incredibly personal that praying constantly is simply a matter of awareness.
I must never neglect a "specific time of folded hands, bowed head, and closed eyes." Dedicated times and even posture are important parts of prayer life. But to pray constantly I need to remember that I live and breathe every moment in the gracious presence of God! That awareness, where every thought and motive is lived-out in communion with God, enables me to pray constantly.
Dr. Terry Ellis
February 22, 2015