“Be joyful always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus”
–1 Thessalonians 5:17
I’ve always been puzzled and confused by this verse and others like it, thinking that only a monk would spend all his time praying. I couldn’t imagine a situation in life where all I would do was pray. However, as I’ve begun to learn more about the Eastern mindset and how Jewish people view and approach life, I think I am beginning to see what it means “to pray without ceasing”.
To the Hebrew mind, everything was centered around God. There was no distinction between the sacred and secular areas of life. You didn’t just pray to God and think about God while in church or during a specific prayer time. Life wasn’t compartmentalized into church functions for just a few hours and then regular life the rest of the time. To them, all of life was controlled by God and God’s hand was on every circumstance and situation, whether good or bad. Prayer was the means by which Jewish people communicated with God concerning those circumstances. Instead of making prayer a certain time where you went by yourself, bowed your head and spoke to God, the Jewish person talked to God in short one or two sentence prayers about everything that was happening to them during the day. They said the Shema (Deut 6:4-6) three times a day and then uttered short sentence prayers to God as every circumstance unfolded during the day. They had over one hundred of these “blessings” (berakhot) that were recited to acknowledge God’s direction and hand on everything in the universe. Each prayer started with the Jewish words, “Barukh atah Adonai Eloheinu, melekh ha’olam”, which says, “Blessed are you O Lord, our God, King of the Universe”, and then added what they were thanking him for. They recited a prayer on hearing good news or bad news, when smelling something cooking, or a even a fragrant plant. They also had prayers for seeing the sunrise, thunder, lightning, rain or a rainbow. They even had a prayer for going to the bathroom. The Jews believed that by praying for and about everything, you were able to stay attuned to God and keep His divine perspective on life. They constantly praised God throughout the day with these single sentence prayers, looking for God in the common place events of the day. Each hour, each place, each event, every word spoken was a chance to see God’s hand at work.
Now, when I look at praying from a Jewish perspective, the verses on praying continually make more sense. I am trying to adopt the philosophy of thanking God and talking to God more on a moment to moment basis rather than just having a once daily quiet time. I’m trying to see him in all the small events that happen throughout the day, as well as the obvious big things that happen. Praying without ceasing has taken on a new and more significant meaning. When I read Ephesians 6:18, Philippians 4:6, 1 Corinthians 10:31, and Colossians 4:2, I have a deeper understanding of what the writer was trying to say. Colossians 3:17 may sum it up best – ”And whatever you do, in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him”.
P.S. A great lesson that is a companion to this story is, ”All of Life is Sacred” and conveys some of these same truths.