July 4, 2019

Unceasing Prayer: 5 Practical Steps to Help You Remain in Continual Prayer

Unceasing prayer need not be a difficult thing, but that doesn’t mean it’s a habit we can turn on with the flick of a switch. Like anything else worth learning, we have to train our minds to align with this way of living.

My husband’s ine (grandma) was the living definition of a prayer warrior. Although I didn’t have the pleasure of meeting her before she passed away at 105, I loved hearing stories of her when my husband would return from his occasional trips to Nigeria.

Unceasing prayer: how and why we should pray without ceasing

Though she couldn’t read, she would roam around the family’s home with her Bible and her mental prayer list, pausing wherever the spirit led her to start praying. My husband comes from a huge family; he can’t even begin to count his relatives. But his ine knew them all by name: her children, her grandchildren, her great- and great-great-grandchildren.

She prayed through this list of names all day long, every day. My husband’s stories about her never included anything other than the prayers she prayed over him. She would sit or stand anywhere, rocking back and forth with her eyes closed, praying God’s blessings and protection over each of her descendants until the very end of her life.

I have often thought of ine and imagined myself as a great-grandmother, having nothing to do all day except read the Bible and pray. I know there will be a peace and a sense of rest that comes with that, but I also know I am called to pray without ceasing even now. In this season of life, with kids, and work, and volunteer commitments.

Jesus didn’t tell us that when we’re old and can do nothing else, we should start devoting ourselves to prayer. He expects it of us here and now. No matter what our day-to-day circumstances look like, prayer is supposed to be a priority in our lives.

But what does that look like in the modern world where few of us even wait in lines anymore without checking our phones for some entertainment? How do we turn our minds and hearts continually toward God in the midst of chaotic and distracting lives?

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. (Eph. 6:18, NIV).

Unceasing prayer need not be a difficult thing. To the contrary, most of the verses about continual prayer indicate it’s something in which we ought to find comfort, not frustration. Paul’s instruction to pray continually in 1 Thes. 5:17 is sandwiched between ‘Rejoice always’ and ‘Give thanks in all circumstances. In Psalm 55:17, David speaks of crying out to God throughout the day, knowing God will hear, save, and redeem him.

Phil. 4:6 says “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything.” Clearly, the call to pray incessantly is not meant to burden us, but rather to lift our burdens. That doesn’t mean it’s a habit we can turn on with the flick of a switch, though. Like anything else worth learning, we have to train our minds to align with this way of living.

Why should we pray without ceasing? 

Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. (Rom 12:12, NLT).

Think of prayer as the breath of your spirit. Our physical bodies need to breathe constantly to stay alive. We don’t think about our breathing (except, perhaps, on a particularly lengthy flight of stairs); our lungs do the work naturally without any prompting. Our bodies are kept alive by the regular intake of fresh oxygen into the body every few seconds.

In much the same way, prayer is the life force of our spirits. They are awakened and rejuvenated through prayer. We breathe in gifts of mercy and we breathe out words of praise and in this recurring pattern, we are sustained.

We pray without ceasing because God wants to hear from us. He wants to hear our thoughts, concerns, fears, excitement. He wants to be included in our decision making. He wants to strengthen us for battle before we walk into a difficult situation. He wants to pour out His love—His kindness, goodness, patience, generosity—on us so we can bestow it on others, but all of this depends on our prayers, on our willingness to ask for and receive what He has to offer. We do not have because we do not ask (James 4:2).

We breathe in gifts of mercy and we breathe out words of praise and in this recurring pattern, we are sustained. #prayer #faith @cuprunsoverblog

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We pray continually because persistence is rewarded. Consider the story of the persistent widow (Luke 18:1-8). She returned to the judge repeatedly asking for mercy, and finally, he acquiesced. Jesus tells us that those who cry out to the Lord day and night will not have to wait to see justice, but will receive it swiftly.

We pray constantly so we might know God’s will and receive the wisdom and understanding of the spirit, so our lives might be worthy of God and pleasing to Him, that we would bear fruit in season and grow in our knowledge of God (Col. 1:9-11). 

We praise Him at all times, because He hears and answers our prayers, He delivers us from fear, He makes us radiant with joy, He provides refuge and keeps us from lacking anything we need, He is close to the brokenhearted and saves those with crushed spirits (Psalm 34).

Whether we are praying prayers of supplication or intercession, or singing songs of praise, we have every reason to keep the Lord at the forefront of our thoughts all day long.

How to pray without ceasing

Here comes the tricky part! I’m sure you and I would both love to attend prayer retreats regularly or have long, quiet, uninterrupted sessions with the Lord where we can pour out our hearts to Him and remain in solitude until we are filled with His joy and peace. But let’s be honest—that’s just not a reality for most of us.

We’re busy women with jobs to do and families to take care of and most days we’re lucky if we can even think a complete thought let alone pray all day. How can we possibly apply this admonition to our current realities?

First, it’s important to remember that prayer comes in many forms. It would be unreasonable to expect anyone to spend the entire day kneeling on the floor in prayer. When we look at the Biblical figures known for their continual prayer—Moses, David, Daniel, Jesus, Paul, etc.—we know they were also busy. They were working, teaching, leading, fleeing from enemies, and avoiding lions among other things.

Fortunately, as Richard Foster notes in Prayer, faithful, steady communion is in some ways easier than our normal way of praying. Here are some simple ways you can keep God in your thoughts and turn everyday moments into prayer.

  • Work as prayer: Philip Yancy tells of an artist who says “I pray as I paint and my painting becomes a kind of prayer….find what you enjoy and then do it for the glory of God...ask God as you’re doing it to remind you that you are doing it for him.” Whether you work full-time or stay home, whatever work you are doing can become a pray if it’s done for the glory of God. Pray as you head into a meeting or as you fold laundry. God will meet you in both.
  • Develop prayer triggers: There is usually one specific area the Lord is really trying to work on or heal in us at a time. Instead of beating ourselves up every time we fall into that behaviour or habit, we can instead use it as a trigger to pray. For example, I often struggle to not hold my kids to standards that are unrealistically high and these unrealistic expectations have caused a lot of strife between us. When I first became aware of the behaviour, I used to feel depressed when I would catch myself in it, but then I started using it as a prayer trigger. When I sense frustration rising up in me, I know it’s time to pray. At the very least, it diffuses the situation; at best, God uses it to soften my heart.
  • Stay thankful and full of praise: Col 4:2 says “Devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart.” We can always be on the lookout for opportunities to thank and praise God. Whether it’s a hot cup of coffee after a long night, a hug from a toddler who is not behaving, or the sight of flowers bursting forth after a rainstorm, there are so many reminders of God’s goodness all around us. Last month, we worked on simplifying our lives enough to notice these signs, so hopefully, we’re still in the habit. Now we can use them as a personal call to prayer.
  • Play worship music: Listening to, playing, or singing worship music is a form of prayer that helps us recall God’s nature and pour out our praise for Him. I have found I cannot be in a bad mood when I am listening to my favourite worship music, so I usually put it on in situations that tend to lack joy. Whether I’m stuck in the car, cleaning up the fifteenth mess of the day, or trying to make it through that last hour before dinner, singing worship songs helps me to connect with God in moments that I would otherwise fall into some rather ungodly anger.
  • Listen: Remember that listening to God, is in itself, a form of prayer. Consciously trying to tune into His whispers and nudgings throughout the day is prayer, even if no words cross your lips. Whenever something catches me off guard during the day—a change of plans, an unexpected interruption, an email with concerning news—I try to stop myself from reacting immediately and take a moment to ask the Lord, what do you most want me to do right now? I try to discern His will for the situation before taking any actions.

I know some of these might not come naturally right away, but play around with them and see what works for you. We want to avoid legalism here, as in all spiritual disciplines. But our spirits do cry out for God and there are many ways in which we can help it find the air it needs. I will leave you with the words of William G. T. Shedd: “If the soul is inclined towards God, nothing can prevent it from approaching Him.”

“If the soul is inclined towards God, nothing can prevent it from approaching Him.” - William G.T. Shedd. #prayer #faith @cuprunsoverblog

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