Way back when, the apostle Paul wrote a couple of letters to the Thessalonians (Thessaloopians if you’re a Veggietales fan). Near the end of the first letter, Paul tells the reader to “pray without stopping” (1 Thess. 5:17). And without fail, every time this phrase gets brought up at a Bible study or Sunday school, everyone in the class turns to me and asks: “Preacher, how do we do this?”
The implication is that we as people don’t have time to pray throughout our entire day. We have families, careers, and numerous other things that all clamor for our attention, so we can’t just stay home and pray all day, every day. What about when we’re eating, or sleeping, or going to the bathroom?
So here are a couple of my thoughts on praying without stopping:
First of all, we need to get a better understanding of “prayer”. For many of us, prayer is the time when we talk to God. Or maybe more accurately, talk at God. We list off the things we want God to know about our days or the things we want God to do for us or others. We end with an ‘Amen’, then move on with our day.
The problem is that there is no time built in to listen to God. We tell God all of our stuff, then move on before He can get a word in edge wise. So we forget that when Paul tells us to “pray without stopping”, he doesn’t mean “talk 24/7”. Paul means “be attentive for God at all times”.
Have you ever shown up to a noisy party late and needed to find your friends who invited you in the first place? When you walk in the room, you hear a dozen different conversations going on, all at different volumes, pitches, and paces. People are shouting and laughing, and it’s incredibly distracting. You begin to wonder how you’ll find your friends. Then, out of seemingly nowhere, you hear a familiar voice from across the room and see your friends waving at you.
There is a psychological phenomenon called ‘Pattern Recognition’. Pattern recognition is where our brains have learned the numerous vocal, speech, and visual patterns that come together for someone to, for example, call your name from across the room in a party. It’s why, even if there are a lot of conversations going on, you can still hear your friends call you over. You have grown familiar enough with the rhythm, pitch, and pattern of how they say your name that you can recognize it in a room full of noise and distractions.
My guess is that our biggest problem with Paul’s challenge to “pray without ceasing” isn’t that we don’t have 16 hours a day to dedicate to talking to God – it’s that we haven’t learned God’s “speech pattern” to us. We haven’t learned how to hear God speaking to us above the noise of life.
Think about the last time you felt like God spoke to you.
What was going on?
What were you doing?
Where were you?
How did you know God had spoke?
If you begin to answer those questions, you’ll be able to pick up on God’s “speech pattern” for you.
The point is that if we truly want to be able to “pray without stopping”, as Paul challenged us to do, we need to learn God’s voice well enough to recognize it in the midst of our distractions.
And remember, I love y’all and there’s nothing you can do about it.