Sometime around my sixteenth birthday I became very worried about what is meant by 1 Thessalonians 5:17. “Pray without ceasing.” (By the way, if you thought “Jesus wept.”, John 11:35, was the shortest verse in the Bible, it has contenders -besides being longer in the original languages! 1 Thessalonians 5:17 is in the running, as you can see, but 16 is shorter still: “Rejoice always…”) But, coming back to my sixteen year old self, I can remember, because my family were travelling in the UK at the time, sitting on the tube in London and trying to pray for every single person in the carriage, every person getting on and off, looking at every face and trying to think of what was going on for them and trying to pray appropriately, stop after stop and stop. It was exhausting. And eventually, like the train, I, too, stopped!
I probably decided the verse should be interpreted differently; as surrounding your life in prayer or praying as much as you can… The word here ‘adialeiptos’ doesn’t mean as much ‘non-stop’ praying, but ‘recurring’ prayers; punctuating our life with moments of prayer.
But this week I dipped back into one of my favourite Barbara Brown Taylor books, An Altar in the World, and she speaks there of something she learned from Brother David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk, that prayer is not the same thing as prayers.
Prayers are important, Taylor writes. “Saying psalms in the morning is a good way to head into the day more prayerfully. So is going to church, where I can add my voice to those of a whole congregation aiming to woo God’s ears with their ancient, beautiful cadences. Still, prayer is more than saying set prayers at set times. Prayer, according to Brother David, is waking up to the presence of God no matter where I am or what I am doing.”
Waking up to the presence of God, becoming more aware of God’s presence and God’s activity in the world around us, recognising the movement of the spirit of God in our own lives, bathing our whole lives in God’s love…
Perhaps this is also what is meant by ‘praying without ceasing’. And our prayers, therefore, and every other part of our life where we seek to live for God and with God – in God – help us to find ways to wake up, to be more and more attentive, to God’s presence in our lives.
“My soul thirsts for God,” writes the psalmist, “for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God?”
“He who loves God,” writes the Puritan Tomas Watson, “breathes after communion with him.”
May we ‘breathe after’ communion with God. My we thirst for God. May we wake up to God. May we pray without ceasing! This is my prayer for a life of prayer – for myself and for this church.
Peace be with you, Belinda