Pray Without Ceasing
by Emily Vanden Heuvel
How often should I pray?
As Christians with a commitment to prayer, we might ask ourselves this question: how often should I pray? The answer from the Bible may seem a bit unrealistic, but it tells us we should pray all the time. Here are a few examples in Scripture:
“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer” (Romans 12:12).
“Because [God] turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live” (Psalm 116:2).
“And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people” (Ephesians 6:18).
“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 ESV, emphasis added).
At its core, prayer speaks to our relationship with God, communicating with him our desires, confessions, praise, and laments. But praying can be hard work—it takes discipline and focus to pray continually, especially during seasons of doubt, loss, and suffering.
Constant Awareness of God
In his book, Praying, theologian J.I. Packer writes about what it means to pray without ceasing:
The whole of a Christian’s thought life should be bathed, or perhaps we should say housed, in prayer. When our hearts are changed at new birth, the thought life becomes permeated by thankful, joyful, trustful awareness of God. This awareness flows from a heart already given to Christ and inhabited by the Spirit. . . We thank God for the way he has enabled us to use our minds, and we thank him also for the link between heart and mind whereby gushes and gales of spiritual joy whirl us into spontaneous outbursts of worship (p. 75).
So how do we pray persistently? As J.I. Packer suggests, have your thoughts permeated by an awareness of God’s presence. We can pray anywhere and anytime. Pray silently. Pray with your eyes open. Pray without words: tears are a powerful prayer when pain and doubt is crushing. Songs can also be prayer—how has God’s beauty and grace overwhelmed you?
Up, In, and Out.
Praying like this takes practice, so I suggest that you organize your daily prayers in three directions: up, in, and out. Prayers directed up are praise to God and prayers of thanksgiving. Make a reminder on your phone or put a note near your bed to praise God for a new day, the sunshine, or a good cup of coffee. Make a list of all the ways you have seen God work and praise him!
Prayers directed in are those prayers for ourselves. What do you need to confess? What worries are plaguing your thoughts? Share with God what is on your mind and heart; ask him to give you open eyes to see his work and an obedient heart to follow his lead. Spend time each day reading the Word and growing in your faith.
Prayers directed out are those prayers given on behalf of others. Pray for your friends and family. Pray for those in your life who are hard to love. Say a silent prayer in the grocery store for the weary clerk. With eyes open, pray while driving. Pray for the impatient driver around you, or pray for the first responders when you hear the sirens.
J.I. Packer ends his book on prayer with a reminder:
Think of the truly breathtaking fact that through his Word and Spirit the Lord Jesus is building a friendship with you, sinful though you are, and that he is looking to you to be building a friendship of love, trust, and obedience with him through your responsive words to him in prayer. Then start talking to your Father and your Savior in terms of the thoughts that are now in your mind (p. 286-287).
Thinking about prayers in the directions of up, in, and out may help give you focus as you grow in your prayer life. It may also be helpful to find a like-minded friend so that you can encourage each other in prayer and obedience to God, who is always ready to listen to our prayers. May you have the strength to be persistent and the courage to be constant in your prayers.