Pray Without Ceasing? Why?: Towards A Theology of Prayer, Pt. 5

It is not uncommon in Christian cirlces to hear people haphazardly spout off portions of Rom. 12.12 and 1 Thess. 5.17. In fact, I have heard these verses quoted (more than I care to admit), with an air of piousness that is a bit bothersome. In Romans, there is a snippet of a sentence that says "always be in prayer" and in Thessalonians, one can take a snapshot of the statement "pray without ceasing".

These verses have been interpreted a few ways throughout history. For example, St. Chrysostom took them to refer to certain "hours / times" of the day that persons should pray. Others have suggested that since everything Christians do is "in the Lord", then everything Christians do is a form of prayer. Probably, the most popular reading of these texts today is also the most simple, a reading which promotes that of a "vigorous" prayer life.

Yet, what if all of these views are off? What if there is another, more fruitful way to understand Paul's view of prayer? Well, I think there may be! Using not only Paul's theology as a sprinboard for this discussion but also my previous posts in this series, I want to suggest here that "continual prayer" is not necesarrily a reference to set prayer time each day (though there's nothing wrong with that) nor is it the call to a sort of prayerful repetitiveness.

Recalling the definition of prayer that I have been eespousing ("Attending to the presence of God both around us and in us"), I want to offer the thought that continual prayer is the ongoing journey of seeking after God's wants and desires. From this view, prayer is not a repetitive (circular) event. You are not returning to simply say and do the same things over and over; it is not a "going through the motions" type of thing. Instead, from this perspective, prayer is more like a "trip" or "journey"; it is akin to walking a path and being awed time and again at the new things one experiences.

Thus, when we approach God in prayer, each time we do it, we are seeking the "new" desires and wants of His mind & heart. And then, introspection comes as we discern how, in our lives, we can please and glorify God by helping fulfill His wants and desires. This is truly seeking the presence of God in us and around us throughout all of life (e.g. "continually"). So, let's not think of "continuous" as repetitive or scheduled but rather, in a more linear fashion: like an adventurous path that goes on and on--it is a continuous road.

One last thought: The sad interpretations of "praying without ceasing" that many adopt and put forth, which are very self-focused, are quite out of touch with both reality and healthy theology! I always get nervous when I hear modern Westerners recite these verses in a "prooftexting" or "self-gloating" or "pietistic" sort of way; they were never meant to be used or taken as such! Unfortunately, to many today, "praying without ceasing" means "praying for me" or "praying for what I want / need". What this has caused is a narcissistic church culture. Think about it: If prayer is for me and about me and I am at the center of it, then when I pray without ceasing, I am constantly thinking about me, my wants and my desires. Thus, prayer has become nothing more than a psychological phenomenon wrapped in the garb of cognitive (self) therapy. This is but one more way that prayer has been raped and embezzled! Let's remember that prayer is first and foremost about God's wants and desires. And let us not forget that prayer is about attending to God's presence around us and in us! Praying without ceasing is to glorify God and to be seeking His mind and heart!


Other posts in this series:

1) Defining Prayer
2) Imaging Prayer
3) Asking in Prayer
4) Why I Don't Pray For Things

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