Many of you will be familiar with that short little verse in 1 Thessalonians 5, “Pray without ceasing” (v. 17). It’s this verse that provokes instantaneous guilt within us and sends us running for the prayer closet because we all know we don’t pray as much as we should. But there’s probably another thought you have when you run across this verse, one that says, “This is impossible!” Are you really called to pray when you’re trying to listen to all three of your kids ask you a question at the same time or trying desperately to finish a report to turn in to your supervisor by the end of the day?
Obviously, it is impossible to fill our minds with more than one thought process, so it is impossible to pray 24/7. But if “pray without ceasing” doesn’t mean praying every second of every day, what does it mean? The best explanation I’ve heard was given in an illustration by Donald Whitney in his book, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. It went like this: imagine you are sitting at a desk with several phones in front of you. You pick up one of the phones to talk to God; this represents your prayer life. You talk to God for a while then one of the other phones on the desk starts ringing; this represents one of the many responsibilities in your day. Instead of telling God you’ll call him back and hanging up the phone, you set the phone off the hook on the desk to take the other call. Doing this creates a sense of urgency for you to get back to your call with God, just as it would if this were a real phone and you left someone waiting on the other end. As soon as you’re done with the second call, you immediately pick up your call with God again, and so it goes for all the other calls (or responsibilities) in your day. As soon as you can get back to praying, you should.
Hopefully now, the next time you think of 1 Thessalonians 5:17, you’ll be encouraged to pray more, instead of discouraged at what once seemed so impossible.