Paul wrote in his earliest letter to the Thessalonians, “Rejoice always. Pray continually. Give thanks in every situation because this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
Through the centuries, some people have been extreme in trying to live this out literally. Early on, some Christians sought solitude and silence in the desert to achieve it. They went off by themselves and lived as hermits devoted to praying constantly. Some even went without sleep — or at least claimed to do so — so they could pray continually. They went by the name of Akoimitai, which means “nonsleepers.”
But what do Paul’s words really mean for us as we strive for A Healthy Spirituality for Our Time? It surely isn’t an activity to be engaged in 24/7. Rather, it’s an attitude and orientation toward life and an awareness and attentiveness to the presence of God.
In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he must have raised the same kinds of questions when he said that we should “rejoice always” and “give thanks in all circumstances.” Really? ALWAYS? In ALL circumstances?
I think we have thought of prayer so much as something we do—an activity in which we mostly ask for something from God — that it may be hard for us to think of prayer as constant attitude, orientation to God, and awareness of the presence of God.
I have a little book in my library that was helpful for me in making a shift in my thinking. The book is entitled The Practice of the Presence of God. It is a book put together in memory of a seventeenth-century Carmelite lay brother named Nicholas Hermann, or Brother Lawrence. He entered the monastery at mid-life. For ten years he tried Carmelite methods of prayer, but they only frustrated him.
As one who has a hard time sitting still in a quiet room and praying for any length of time, I identified with Brother Lawrence. He found his own way in his service as the monastery’s cook. Washing dishes one day in the kitchen, he discovered that he could talk God and as he went about his work, he could “practice the presence of God.”
For Brother Lawrence prayer was, above all, attentiveness. “My commonest attitude,” he wrote, “is this simple attentiveness, a habitual, loving turning of my eyes to God.”
As you think about Paul’s words in 1 Thessalonians, and as you prepare for worship on Sunday, I invite you consider some questions: What is your prayer life like? When and how do you most often pray? What do you find most difficult about praying? What would it mean for you to “pray continually” or to make all of life a prayer?
I look forward to worshipping with you — online — this Sunday in our 11:00 am Sanctuary worship service.
Grace and Peace,
Dr. Tim Bruster
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
16 Rejoice always. 17 Pray continually. 18 Give thanks in every situation because this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 19 Don’t suppress the Spirit. 20 Don’t brush off Spirit-inspired messages, 21 but examine everything carefully and hang on to what is good. 22 Avoid every kind of evil. 23 Now, may the God of peace himself cause you to be completely dedicated to him; and may your spirit, soul, and body be kept intact and blameless at our Lord Jesus Christ’s coming. 24 The one who is calling you is faithful and will do this. (Common English Bible)