“pray without ceasing …” 1 Thessalonians 5:17 (NKJV)
My memory takes me to New York: Topping Avenue at East 176th Street in the Bronx, a place that holds much meaning and has changed my practice of praying. We went there — the whole group of us naive college students — in a rickety 18-passenger van weekend after weekend.
We arrived with everything we would need — peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, bags of chips, water bottles and sneakers. I remember our leader’s rugged face, wispy blonde hair and nonchalant demeanor as we stood looking up at the Bronx row houses bordered by stoops and sidewalks in all their grit and grace.
An older couple opened their door, welcoming our group into their living room. Our leader introduced the host couple and explained the idea behind our mission. He called it “a mission on a shoestring,” meaning a mission on a budget, and he made sure we all knew we didn’t drive 25 miles from Nyack to the Bronx merely to go sightseeing in the city.
While we’d eventually be working one-on-one to disciple youth, our first task wasn’t to preach, nor was it to “fix” things — it wasn’t anything that might lead us to presume the needs of the people and places we’d soon encounter. Our first priority, our first earth-shattering assignment … was to pray.
“Walk and pray,” we were told. “Observe all that’s around you, and open your eyes and hearts to what the Holy Spirit might lead you to pray.”
We were encouraged to consider that all things — especially small things — could serve as prompts for prayer. Graffiti letters on walls: Lord, let Your Word be lifted high. A mother walking with her children: Lord, lead them to follow after You. A car blasting music like a boombox: Lord, may all hearts praise Your name.
Could it really be? Might these small, ordinary things — which we might otherwise judge, complain about, dismiss or simply pass by — really be invitations to see the world the way God does? Can a flower pushing through dry dirt really prompt us to praise God? Can toddler shoes by the door and broken streetlights still shining in the dark really prompt us to “pray without ceasing” as 1 Thessalonians 5:17 says?
Fourteen years later, I still carry this lesson with me, and the mission is in my home. The mission is on a screen where I work and write. The mission is in the grocery store and with my friends and family. The mission is in me.
My son’s abandoned shoe by the back door prompts me to pray: Lord, protect him everywhere he goes.
Making the bed prompts me to pray: Lord, heal my heart and mend my marriage.
Scrolling through folders and finding photos of family on my computer prompts me to pray: Lord, surround them with Your presence in my absence.
Pills washed down with lukewarm water prompt me to pray: Lord, heal and help my body.
The secret to praying without ceasing is seeing that anything is a prompt to pray. It’s trusting that there are countless reminders of God at work around us and endless opportunities to pray for the people and places He cares for.
Praying without ceasing is a relentless act of releasing your cares into the care of a God who is available at all times, in all places, for all people. It’s the ordinary one-liners; it’s mere mumbles under the breath. And more than persistent petitioning, praying without ceasing is constant communion with the Creator of all.
It’s limitless intimacy with the God who desires not just to help you but also simply to hear you.
God, open my eyes to see all the ways You’re at work in the world. Help me to see the world the way You see the world. Help me to love the world the way You love the world. Direct my sight, and inspire my prayers. Draw me close to You as I turn my heart to You. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
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FOR DEEPER STUDY
Ephesians 1:15-16, “For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.” (NIV)
What habits, memories or moments prompt you to remember others in your prayers? How can you pray — to God and for others — without ceasing?
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