Reflection for Today ▶️ ⏹️

No.16, from Train through the Midlands by Tobias Mayer, January 2020

Pray without ceasing
1 Thessalonians 5:17

This short, urgent instruction is part of the longer (but only slightly longer) directive on personal prayer, Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.1 Rejoicing and giving thanks seem to be a natural thing we can do at all times, quietly and privately. Praying ceaselessly is a more curious instruction, prayer being something we think of as being a deliberate ritual, needing a time, place and posture, e.g. dinner time, at the table, hands clasped and heads bowed. Hard to do that ceaselessly.

That Paul suggests we pray without ceasing indicates a need to reassess what we mean by prayer. Clearly it cannot be ritualistic or momentary, nor can it demand voice or particular posture. Prayer is to be woven in to everything we do, every act, every conversation every waking and sleeping moment is carried out in a prayerful way. Many years ago when I worked for the UK Refugee Council helping to retrain refugees for the UK job markets there was one young Muslim man, disenfranchised and despondent who claimed he didn't want to work, but would just live on state benefits. His key-worker, also a Muslim asked him if he considered himself faithful. He replied that he did, and attended mosque regularly. "Then you'll know", his key-worker went on, "that for us to work is to pray."

This was my first introduction to the idea of prayer being something greater than ritual. I adopted the idea for myself and it has served me well now for decades. To work is to pray. To walk is to pray. To read with my children is to pray. To drink coffee with a friend is to pray. To make love is to pray. To travel is to pray. To rest is to pray. To relax is to pray. Saying "... is to pray" for each of these, and all other activities, simply reminds me to do all that I do in a prayerful way, in service to God and to my fellow human. It means to step out of ego and the bondage of self and be there for the other. I certainly do this imperfectly; it is an aspiration more than a habit, even after so many years, but it is still an aspiration. And if I find myself in a place or situation where I cannot pray I am reminded to move on swiftly, towards prayerful space.

1 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18