Pray Without Ceasing!

Pithy Pastoral Reminders of a Profound Theologian #2 of 7
Based on exhortation delivered during PCC prayer meeting on 16 Sep 2005


“Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

We live in a day of clichés and sound-bites. People have little time nor appetite for reasoned expositions of the truth. Many prefer easily gobbled nuggets of truth which can be swallowed without much chewing.  This was not the case in Paul’s days. There were no television and computer games to dumb down the mind in those days.

Nevertheless, there were times when the apostle Paul appears to be forced to be extremely succinct. One example would be at the end of his letter to the Thessalonians.

Paul wanted to give some pastoral reminders to the Thessalonians in view of the difficulties they had experienced as they began their Christian walk as a church. But space was running out on the parchment. Or so it appears. So Paul was compelled under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to issue several simple pastoral one-liners.

It was very important for the Thessalonians to be reminded of these things. It is all the more important for us who think so little about spiritual things today to be reminded of them too.

In our previous instalment, we considered the first of these sayings—“Rejoice evermore.” In this second article, the Lord helping us we want to consider the next instruction.

Like verse 16, verse 17 is one of the shortest verses in the Bible. In the Greek it has only two words: “Pray without ceasing.”

“Without ceasing” is only one word which means “without letting up”, “without lagging behind,” or in other words, “continually.”

This word occurs four times in the New Testament, but rather interestingly, of the other three times, two are also found in 1 Thessalonians.

“Remembering without ceasing your work of faith…” (1 Th 1:3)

“For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because…” (1 Th 2:13)

But what does it mean to pray without ceasing? Why should we pray without ceasing?

1. What Does it Mean to
Pray Without Ceasing?

a. First of all, it certainly does not that we should do nothing but pray. The lives of the saints and even of the Lord himself testify that this is not what the apostle Paul means.

We cannot, for example, be praying and talking to someone at the same time. At least I find it impossible to do so.

b. Praying without ceasing, then, must mean something else. Let me propose that it means three things.

In the first place, we should have appointed times of prayer and that nothing else we do should eat into those times. Those times should be sacrosanct.

Daniel “kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed” (Daniel 6:10). King David prayed three times a day too: He said, “Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and he shall hear my voice” (Ps 55:17)

Daniel kneeled, and David cried aloud. What does this suggest, but that they had appointed times of prayer? You cannot kneel in prayer or cry aloud in prayer except you first remove yourself from the company of others and from other work you may otherwise be doing.

The Muslims must have learned from the early Christians that this is what they must do. But Islam is a legalistic religion, and so they try to be holier than the saints by out-doing them. They reckon that the more times they pray, the more they would be accepted of God.

But the Scripture does not teach us to pray like that. We are specifically taught not to be repetitious in prayer. Nevertheless, we are taught to pray without ceasing, which must include having regular times of prayers, and being committed to keeping those times.

Every day in the morning, when we wake up; at noon before our meals; and at night before we lay down our head; as well as every week at our prayer meetings… these are excellent times to set apart for prayer.

But whatever time you choose, be committed to them. Do not allow other things to encroach into the time. Yes, there will be times when you will feel very weary, and there are times when you will feel you cannot pray.

But seek to keep the appointment. And as Calvin teaches us,—seek to “counteract every tendency to weariness in prayer by a cheerful performance of the duty.”

You cannot pray without ceasing, except you learn to maintain a regular appointment with the Lord.

Secondly, to pray without ceasing means that we should be instant in prayer. That is to say, we should be ready to pray at all times. When a problem confronts us, we should quickly turn to the Lord in prayer.

King Artaxerxes asked Nehemiah why he was looking so sad in his presence. Nehemiah was afraid, but he did not blurt out a half-truth. He looked up to the Lord in prayer instantly and found wisdom in the Lord to answer the king bravely and truthfully.

So too we must be instant in prayer. Everything should stir us to pray.

A beautiful sight displaying the glory of God in His creation ought to evoke a heartfelt prayer of praise and thanksgiving.

A harsh word of criticism from someone ought not to evoke a harsh retort, but a word of prayer for humility and patience.

An overwhelming realisation that there is much to be done in too little time ought not to evoke despondency, nor a mad frenzy to work and work. It ought rather to stir your heart to ask the Lord for strength and for wisdom to prioritise the work.

A sense of guilt filling the heart ought not to draw us away from the Lord, but to Him in humble contrite prayer.

We must be instant in prayer. If we would pray without ceasing, we must remind ourselves constantly to resort to the Lord in prayer.

But thirdly, to pray without ceasing, must surely mean praying without fainting. Man ought always to pray and faint not says our Lord. We must be like the importunate widow. We must not give up when it appears like the Lord is withholding to answer our prayer.

Is it something legitimate and good that you are praying for? Do not cease to pray. Are you praying for the conversion of a loved one? Cease not to pray. Are you praying for a child or for a life partner? Do not give up praying. Are you praying for a job? Seek first the kingdom of God and continue to pray. He will hear your prayer.

We must pray without ceasing. We must set appointed times of prayer and keep our appointment. We must be instant in prayer. We must keep praying and not faint. We must do so until we reach the Celestial City where the only desire left in our heart is to praise the Lord forever and ever.

Are you praying without ceasing, brethren and children?

But…

2. Why Should we Pray
Without Ceasing?

Well, let me give you several reasons why we must pray without ceasing.

First, we are commanded to pray without ceasing. If there is no other reason why we should pray without ceasing, we should still pray without ceasing because it is commanded of us by the Holy Spirit.

Secondly, prayer is the mark of a regenerate soul as breathing is the mark of a living body.  As the living body breathes without ceasing, so the regenerate soul must pray without ceasing. If we find ourselves not praying without ceasing or praying only with difficulties, then we know that we are sick in the soul as a body that breathes with difficulty is sick. The only way to overcome this sickness is to go to the Lord who is the physician of our soul.

Thirdly, we must pray without ceasing because many things disturb our peace and mar our joy in the Lord every moment. Paul teaches us to rejoice ever more. The only way to rejoice ever more is to pray without ceasing. The more we pray, the more we rejoice—not only because God answers our prayers and give us the desires of our heart, but because in prayer we begin to understand the mind of God—“Call unto me,” says the Lord, “and I will shew thee great or hidden things that thou knowest not” (Jer 33:3).

Fourthly, we must pray without ceasing because it is only through prayer that we are strengthened and guided forward in every lawful business and good work.

Unless we pray without ceasing, how can we expect to succeed in anything we do and to prosper in them when we are so weak and sinful?

Prayer is the act of believers who recognise their needs and their own insufficiency. Prayer is the channel through which God sends His power to strengthen us in Christ.

Conclusion

Beloved brethren and children, will you not remember to pray without ceasing? Will you not set appointed times of prayer and keep our appointment.

Will you not be committed to pray without ceasing in private and in public?

Will you not be instant in prayer? You cannot be a joyful Christian if you are not a prayerful Christian.

Will you not keep praying and not faint? You cannot live by faith rather than by sight if you cease to pray as soon as you think you are not going to have what you want.

Our God is a prayer-hearing God. Our Saviour is and was a praying King. It pleases Him most if His Church is a prayer-offering church. The Lord will bless this church more than we can ever imagine, if only we would all pray without ceasing both individually and corporately. Amen..

—JJ Lim