Sometimes following biblical directives can seem like mission impossible. One of those directives is found in 1 Thessalonians 5, where it says we are to pray continually. Did you ever wonder how in the world you could do that—to pray continually while still keeping a job, sleeping, or doing anything else? Some translations say, “pray without ceasing” or “pray at all times,” but any way you look at it, it doesn’t seem possible.
This passage goes on to say that this is God’s will for you. So, it’s God’s will that we should pray continually, but we don’t know how we can do that. What does it mean? Surely God knows we have to do other things, and yet, there it is: “Pray continually;” “Pray without ceasing.”
Currently I’m leading a book study group at my church and we’re reading a book by Sherry Harney entitled Praying with Eyes Wide Open. We’re finding it very helpful in tackling this issue of what it means to pray at all times, so I’ll be sharing some of Sherry’s thoughts with you.
When you think of praying, what comes to your mind? Do you see prayer as a time when you must be quiet, either sit or kneel, close your eyes, and bow your head? Does it seem almost sacrilegious to open your eyes when you are praying or when someone else is? Is prayer to be reserved for those specific times in a day—or a week—when you can get in the right position and the right frame of mind for prayer? If that’s how you see prayer, then praying at all times or praying continually will continue to be an impossibility.
Did you know that the Bible gives no specific directions about your posture or the state of your eyes when you pray? You won’t find any references in the Bible demonstrating that people are praying with heads bowed and eyes closed. In fact, you’ll find many times when prayer was often given standing up and wiith arms outstretched toward heaven. We have passages that speak of God’s people praying in the midst of a battle, while shepherding sheep, on a journey, or in both public and private places. In John 17 we read that “after Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed.”
We see where Solomon spread out his hands toward heaven as he prayed, and David lifted up his hands. The apostle Paul exhorted us to pray with holy hands lifted, as we read in 1 Timothy 2. And often the apostles laid their hands on people as they prayed for them.
No doubt there are good reasons at times for us to close our eyes and bow our heads in prayer, but that is not a requirement. Therefore, praying at all times or praying continually might not truly be impossible if we can pray at any time, in any position and in any place, wouldn’t you agree?
Consider this, if prayer is limited to certain postures and places, then our prayer time is very limited, is it not? But if we can pray with eyes open, silently or verbally, anywhere and anytime, then we are much more likely to expand our prayer life and spend far more time in the presence of our God. We just need to develop a new attitude toward prayer, and determine to keep a conversation going with God throughout our day—as we stand, sit, drive, run, work, lie down—whatever!
In her book, Sherry points out that it is not that we have to pray continually, but rather we are allowed to pray continually. God will not be disappointed with you if you don’t pray all the time. Rather, he invites you into his presence to commune with him at all times, anytime you wish. That is the wonder of our invitation to go to God—entering into the holiest place, at his throne, where he is waiting for us and wants us to be with him, and where we will find grace and mercy to help in our time of need.
Here’s how it works to pray continually: You must become intentional about practicing the presence of Jesus. That means you must determine to be aware—at all times and in all places—that because you are a Christ-follower and have been born again, you are surrounded with the presence of Jesus all day, every day, 24/7. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, you have him with you at all times. The problem for us is that we all-too-often don’t recognize or acknowledge his presence.
For example, let’s say you have a really close friend or family member—the person on this earth closest to you. You are with them as often as possible and, when you are with them, you communicate—you talk. You share the problems and issues of your life, but you also share the joys. You laugh together, cry together, and sometimes you’re just silent together, but that person’s presence is there with you.
This is not a perfect analogy, but consider that Jesus is your best friend, your closest companion, your confidant. And, unlike earthly companions, he is with you 24/7. You’re never away from him. So, if you are aware that he is there, what are you likely to do? You’re going to talk with him—right? Whatever is happening to you in your day, you’re going to share it with Jesus. When you need help or guidance, he’s right there to show you the way. When you see something beautiful, he loves for you to share that experience with him. When something makes you laugh, he laughs with you. When sorrow fills your heart, he cries with you.
This is the meaning of praying continually—praying at all times. You and I must develop the awareness of his presence, and then boldly and confidently talk to him throughout our days—every day, everywhere. You must simply take advantage of your privilege of praying in the flow of life, and as you learn to do this, you are learning what it means to pray without ceasing. You never cut off the communication with Jesus. You don’t have to say “Amen,” meaning this is the end of my prayer time and I’ll come back later. You just keep the conversation going all the time.
As Sherry states, “When we pray with our eyes wide open, our time with God is limitless.” God invites us to be with him, consciously aware of his presence at all times, This means whether we are in a quiet place alone, standing in line at the grocery store, driving to work, or singing praise songs at church, we are able to directly and personally connect with God.
Furthermore, God delights in our presence! Zephaniah 3:17 says, “The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.” Don’t you love that thought—that the God of the universe rejoices over you and takes great delight in you? When you choose to be in his presence throughout your day—verbally or silently—he’s very pleased.
Let me give you some examples of ways you can pray at all times, with your eyes wide open. While you are at work, take those short opportunities you have for prayer. When you walk down the hall, pray for the people you work with. When you’re sitting in a meeting, pray for those in authority over you. When you’re talking to a customer or client, send up a silent prayer for wisdom and care for that person.
Here are some other suggestions. When you watch or listen to the news—most of which is not good—pray for those in the news. For example, the news recently told us about a police office that was brutally murdered at a simple traffic stop. I prayed for those involved in that horrible story. Instead of griping about our government leaders—and I admit that there is much to criticize—pray for them even as you listen to the news, with your eyes open, silently, or out loud, if you can.
If you don’t like the way your organization is headed, or you’re upset at something your boss has done or said, or some new policy seems wrong to you, instead of participating in the office gossip, pray about it as you perform your work. If you’re not happy with your pastor’s recent sermon, or the music at your church, or something else you think is not right—as those things come to your mind, instead of dwelling on them and letting them upset you, turn that thought into a prayer and ask God to move in the situation.
One of the difficulties we have with praying at all times is that our lives are full of distractions. In the last few decades, this has become an increasingly real issue. In addition to praying with our eyes wide open through our entire day, busy or not, we do need times when we put the distractions aside and turn them off while we communicate with God. It is not uncommon for me to work on my computer at home. Because it’s there, all my work is there, and I’ve got a busy schedule, I am often found sitting in my home with a computer in my lap, working or surfing the internet, Facebooking, or something. My husband will begin a conversation with me, which I catch maybe halfway through because I am distracted by my computer. He often says, “Can you just put that away for a minute so I can talk to you?”
I wonder how often God thinks the same thing about me. “Mary, can you just put those distractions aside long enough to give me your full attention, talk to me, and listen to me?” Honestly, I think we have to be even more proactive in guarding and keeping our prayer time with God than in former days because there are so many gadgets all around us making noise, interrupting our thoughts, and demanding our attention.
A few years ago, our Pastor challenged us to turn off all electronics for three days. Unless our work demanded it, we were asked to turn off televisions, radios, computers, smart phones—all the things that demand so much of our attention in a normal day. Let me tell you, it was not easy to do at first. The silence was deafening. But all of us who took part in this agreed that we came to love the quietness and that it actually reduced our stress to turn the sounds off. Of course, it gave us more opportunities to communicate with the Lord, to recognize his presence, and keep the conversation going with him.
So, praying at all times is learning to pray in the midst of our busy lives, in crowded places, and in public arenas. It is learning to reserve those quiet times where we are totally focused on the God who loves us and longs to fellowship with us. As Paul wrote to the Ephesians, it is learning to 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” (Ephesians 6:18).
One thing to add about praying at all times: Our prayers should be full of prayers for others. Paul said always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. If you don’t have time to go through your own prayer list with God, just say, “Lord, you know my needs,” but don’t cut short your time and opportunities to pray for others. Not only are we admonished to pray for others, but when we do, it changes us. We become more others-focused instead of self-focused, and that is one of the best gifts we can give ourselves.
Isn’t it true that praying for others makes you aware that there are people with greater needs than your own? My church has a home for women who have been sexually trafficked, and I have a Bible study with them once a week. Recently I told them about my friends in Rwanda, Africa, who suffered so terribly because of the genocide in 1994. I shared some of their horrible stories with them. I could see that these women realized that, as much as they have suffered, there are others who have suffered even more. I always encourage them to pray for others even more than themselves, because I know how healing it is to realize you’re not the only one who needs prayer.
I would encourage you to read Sherry’s book, Praying with Eyes Wide Open, but you can begin today to broaden your understanding of prayer, truly bask in the good news that Jesus is with you 24/7, and he is waiting for you to share your life with him. In the flow of your everyday life, just keep the conversation going with Jesus all the time, casting all your care on him, because he cares for you.