In 1 Thessalonians 5:17 Paul encourages the Thessalonians to “pray without ceasing.” He also mentions in several other places in his letters that he is praying unceasingly for different people he had met in his travels.
What did Paul mean by this exhortation? How is it possible to pray always, or to pray night and day for someone continuously? Don’t we need to go about our daily lives, to work and eat and spend time with family and friends? Did Paul expect that we would spend all our time kneeling in prayer, even in the night when we need to sleep?
In Matthew 6:6 Jesus told people how to pray. “But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.”
Can you pray unceasingly during everyday life?
This secret place can also be in my heart and in my thoughts. As I am doing different things during the day, the question is where my thoughts are. In Ephesians 4:17, Paul writes about those who go about in “the futility of their mind.” That means they don’t have control over their thoughts. They are just scattered and spent on things of the earth, and have no eternal value. This is the natural state of man – to focus on earthly, visible things. But what if I choose to invest my thoughts in praying for the others, in praying for myself and thinking about how I can use my time to bless instead of spending it all on myself? It takes training and a conscious effort to work with my thoughts so that I use them for heavenly things. But I can do this even in the midst of my daily life when I am free to think, but going about my other tasks.
In Romans 8:26 Paul writes: “For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.” When I have the Holy Spirit living in me, then I also have a constant need to be transformed from the way I was born. For example, perhaps I see in my dealings with people that I am naturally harsh towards them. But it is my desire that when I speak, goodness and love can come forth instead of hard words. So as I go about my day and see how I am towards people, then I can sense inside this constant refrain: “Please set me free from my sinful nature, help me to overcome so that I can be a blessing for the others.” Then I can also have that groaning inside along with the Holy Spirit, who also prays for me. Even when I am sleeping the Spirit continues to intercede for me, because it knows the longing of my heart.
It says that Jesus cried out with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death and He was heard because of His godly fear. (Hebrews 5:7) When I have this godly fear then I understand the value and seriousness of life, and I sense that God is close and that He hears my prayers and will answer that need in my heart.