by Mike Ratliff
17 pray without ceasing; 1 Thessalonians 5:17 (NASB)
Of all of the commands from 1 Thessalonians 5:12-22 I am sure that the one from v17, which I placed above, has caused the most consternation and possibly the most bad theology of all the others combined. What does Paul mean that we should “pray without ceasing?” Is this even possible without becoming a monk in some monastery locked up in a cell to spend the rest of your days praying and doing nothing else? Some have actually taught that and tried to put it into practice just like I described. Let us take a closer look.
17 ἀδιαλείπτως προσεύχεσθε, 1 Thessalonians 5:17 (NA28)
17 unceasingly pray, 1 Thessalonians 5:17 (translated from the NA18 Greek text)
While προσεύχεσθε or proseuchomai speaks of prayer in general to God, the adverb ἀδιαλείπτως or adialeiptōs adds a startling truth. It is comprised of the prefix ἀ (without) and διαλείπω or dialeipō (to intermit, leave an interval or gap). This word appears several times in the New Testament. For example, in Romans 9:2 Paul writes of the “continual sorrow” he had for his fellow Jews who rejected Christ. This word was used in Roman times for a nagging cough; while the person did not cough every moment, he would still cough often, so it could be said of him, “He is still coughing,”
Here in 1 Thessalonians 5:17, then, the meaning is clear–prayer is to be offered “continually, without intermission.” In other words, prayer is not just those specific times when we pray, but also a constant communion with God, a continuous consciousness of God’s presence in which we view everything in life in relation to Him.
Another way to look at this is that Paul is telling us that we should be fully aware and conscious of our full dependence upon God. I am convinced that much of what is wrong on the visible Church in our time is that those who have abandoned the narrow path for the broad way of destruction have also pulled away from being God-focused in their walks to being self-focused, from being eternally-focused to being temporally-focused. By practicing what Paul is teaching here would reverse this move into unbelief.
Also, this does not mean we lock ourselves in a monastery where we do nothing but “pray.” Instead, every moment is a moment for prayer, like the cough, we are still praying. For example, if we meet someone we immediately consider where they stand with the Lord. If we hear of something bad happening, we pray for God to act in the situation for His glory and for people’s good. If we heard of something good, we respond with immediate praise to God, for He has been glorified. What have I just described? We view everyone that comes along from a spiritual perspective. When Paul looked around his world, everything he saw prompted him to prayer in some way. When he thought of or heard about one of his beloved churches, it moved him to prayer. This is exactly the thought of Romans 1:9 and 2 Timothy 1:3.
Therefore, if we do not view prayer in this way, we will soon view God only as one we call on in time of need; we will, indeed, lose touch with His will. Our “specific times” of prayer ar actually an outworking of our “constant communion.” As we are continually conscious of God’s presence and our dependence, He will bring people and needs to our minds so that we may bring them before His throne of grace.
Soli Deo Gloria!