Have you ever wanted to memorize a Bible verse? Looking for one that’s short and easy to remember? Try I Thessalonians 5:17. It’s just two words: Pray Continually. That’s it. Now if it only seemed possible to live out such a verse.
The average American watches more than four hours of television every day but spends no more than 10 minutes in focused prayer. That’s a long way from praying continually. Most of us are intimidated by so-called prayer warriors. Martin Luther for example, set aside his “three best hours” every day for prayer, the three hours during which he could direct his greatest energy and focus to talking with God.
John Wesley was relentless in his spiritual pursuits. He preached more than 40,000 sermons over the course of his 18th century ministry, traveled almost a quarter of a million miles on foot and on horseback, and was still preaching twice a day in his late 80’s. He wrote in his spiritual journal at age 86: “Laziness is slowly creeping in. There is an increasing tendency to stay in bed after five-thirty in the morning.”
What are we to make of the Bible’s command to keep our eyes fixed on God and pray in every possible circumstance? How can we ever live such a life? The answer is actually rather straightforward. We take the life we already have and infuse it with a continual dialogue with God. We keep company with God no matter where we go, no matter what we do. Our goal becomes to live all our moments in the joyful awareness of God’s presence. We not only live our life but we choose to pray our life one moment at a time.
From the start, it’s helpful to set aside the notion that “real prayers” require formal openings and closings. In his book Prayer, Richard Foster writes, “Countless people have such a stained glass image of prayer that they fail to recognize what they are experiencing as prayer and so condemn themselves for not praying.” In other words, “praying continually” means transforming the running dialogue of our thoughts (which we are always experiencing no matter what) into a dialogue that we choose to share with God.
So what might that look like? First you might offer a silent expression of thanks as you experience the warmth of summer: Lord thanks that someone whose name I’ll never know invented air conditioning! As you greet a friend you can be praying: Send your Spirit to join us during this conversation. If you encounter someone here at Westminster wearing a worried look, pray secretly: God encourage her or him today. When that exceedingly difficult person comes to mind-the one who stabbed you in the heart a month ago or 20 years ago- be honest, God I can’t stand him or her. I know you know that. Keep softening my feelings and somehow use those terrible memories for your glory. If you find yourself wondering why God allows such difficult people to come into your life, you might hear him saying: And exactly what other kind of people are there? He may even add, Don’t worry, you can bet you are somebody else’s “difficult person.”
All day long, no matter what is happening or not happening you can offer this prayer under your breath at any time: “Father, I’m so glad you’re in charge of everything, so I don’t have to be.” We don’t have to trade up for a different life to have regular conversation with God.
By God’s grace, the life we already have can become the foundation for a conversation that never really ends.
Ron Naylor, Chaplain