Pray without Ceasing
1 Thessalonians 5:15–28 (ESV) See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19 Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil. Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. Brothers, pray for us. Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss. I put you under oath before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
Our Lord tells us to pray without ceasing, and He “never lies” (Titus 1:2). We get nowhere by minimizing His demands on us. Jesus is not joking when He says, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). God does expect perfection of us, and anything short of perfection is sin. God does expect unceasing prayer from us, and anything short of unceasing prayer is sin.
“But that’s just unreasonable,” you might protest. “Who could live up to that standard? We can’t live without sleep.”
I don’t remember where I heard this anecdote, but supposedly there was a European ruler in the middle ages who had his servants wake him every hour so that he could pray for the salvation of his soul. He was worried that if he died without having recently prayed for forgiveness, he would wind up in hell. In this poor man’s mind, he thought by waking each hour during the night to pray, he was actually fulfilling the command to “pray without ceasing.”
A great debate throughout the middle ages and on into the Reformation was over whether God would give commands that we do not have the power to fulfill. To many, it just didn’t seem fair He could lay such an expectation on us. Luther and the Lutherans rightly said, “God certainly has given us commandments that we could never dream of fulfilling.” In His demand for us to be perfect, in His requirement to pray without ceasing, in His Ten Commandments, the Lord has laid upon us a burden too great for any sinner to bear.
Anyone who thinks it unfair or unreasonable for God to place such weighty expectations on us frail humans has never fully come to grips with what we owe our Creator, nor has he properly estimated the insidious nature of sin, which is our total rebellion against God. “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God” (Romans 3:10-11).
That’s right, no one seeks after God; rather, everyone seeks his or her own pleasure. Lest we get any silly notion that we can enter God’s courtroom and even open our mouths to defend ourselves on the basis of our level of moral perfection, our faithfulness in prayer, or our obedience to the Decalogue, our Lord stuffs our mouths full by the following words and shuts us up for good: “Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:19-20).
So the answer to the question, “Do I have to pray all the time?” is certainly “Yes!” But as we assess our lives in the light of that law, we are brought to the “knowledge of sin” in our hearts. The situation is much worse than we ever could have imagined. But this is just what God wants us to realize, and that is why He makes such unbelievably stringent demands on our lives. And this prepares us for the Gospel!
“God has consigned all to disobedience, that He may have mercy on all” (Romans 11:32). Isn’t that a shocking statement? If we hope to be found under God’s mercy, we first must be found disobedient. But while we each have been disobedient from the time of our conception, God’s mercy had already been shown when Christ “died for all” (2 Corinthians 5:14). “God our Savior…desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time” (1 Timothy 2:3-6).
For all our failures to pray without ceasing, we have a Redeemer from sin and a Mediator with God, which should change our perspective on prayer: we get to pray without ceasing, and the Father promises to hear and answer according to His good and gracious will!
Prayer: Almighty God, our heavenly Father, we give You thanks that by the patient suffering and death of Your Son You rescued us from all faithlessness. Deliver us from the sin of impatience. By Your Word and Spirit, teach us to commend ourselves to You and to trust that in all things You work for our eternal good. Strengthen us to bear all crosses, adversities, and trials with patience and fervent trust in our Savior as we await Your deliverance and peace; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.