I got bored two days ago and read through 1 Thessalonians a couple times. Well, I should say that I get bored every day and I usually watch several hours’ worth of “How I Met Your Mother,” but for some miraculous reason, I decided to read Paul’s letter. The words in 1 Thessalonians are challenging. Paul’s exhortation to “work with your hands” is tough to actually practice. But what caught my attention was a small little verse near the end of the letter.
“Pray without ceasing,” 1 Thessalonians 5:17.
It caught my attention because when I read it, I tried to picture what praying without stopping would look like. Does that mean we’re supposed to constantly walk around mumbling prayers over the most insignificant little things? I hope not. If I were to mumble my prayers while walking around campus or sitting in class, I don’t think I would make very many friends. Does it mean we’re supposed to not ever leave prayer sessions at church? I don’t think so. Somewhere along the way we all have to eat, sleep and especially shower (Danny would kick me out of church eventually – he may not admit to it, but I know he would).
When Paul exhorted the Thessalonians to pray without ceasing, I think he had in mind something that A.W. Tozer talks about in Pursuit of God. I can’t remember the page number or the exact words of Tozer because I don’t have the book with me (someone “borrowed” it several years ago and hasn’t returned it – you know who you are…), but I remember him talking about thought prayers; prayers you merely think to God during the day. Back when I first read it, I loved the idea of it. It gave a deeper meaning to being “heavenly minded.” Ever since that first time reading Tozer’s book, though, it’s been difficult to live by and carry out.
It’s just like day 1 of fasting; it’s so easy just starting out, but eventually temptations come and distractions pull us away. Not eating food is really easy if I just skip one meal, but when I skip the second or the third and start to hear my stomach growling, it gets difficult. With prayer, though, it’s a little different.
I’m very easily distracted. I mean, during yesterday’s 8:30 am lecture on 20th literature, I spent 20 minutes thinking how small I’d have to be for a match to seem like a torch. And then I decided that I’d have to be about as big as an ant and since I watched a couple episodes of Survivor the night before, I started thinking about what the show would look like if ants were competing instead of humans. Jeff would have to use a pen cap to douse their matches and he’d probably whisper “The tribe has spoken” because if he said it loudly, the ants might die. As you can see, I’m not very gifted at this thing called focus, which makes Tozer’s idea of thought-prayers even more challenging.
At the end of the day, though, I think the pros outweigh the cons. Instead of stressing out about homework, tests, or getting a job, I’m relaxing in the comfort of God. “I will pray with my spirit,” Paul says in 1 Corinthians, “but I will pray with my mind also.” The idea is to be conscious and aware of not only what we’re saying, but what God’s saying to us.
When Jesus taught His disciples how to pray, He mentioned the fact that God already knows what we want before we even ask about it, thus proving that prayer isn’t for God’s benefit, but for our own. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been encouraged by God through my own words. I remember certain scriptures or certain messages I’ve heard from others or certain songs, or just certain things people have told me that revealed something encouraging about God and whatever anxiety I might have had was completely erased. It just doesn’t seem as big anymore when I’ve truly lifted it up to God. Lifting things up to God doesn’t mean that we’re merely holding our prayers above our heads like we’re holding up baby Simba; we’re not still holding onto the things we give up to God. We have to let go.
And I can’t say it’s the best way to lift things up, but when we pray with our minds, we make ourselves ready to encourage others, to lift up the sudden surprising challenges, to avoid temptations, to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the lonely, cover the cold, to live by the Spirit. Jesus exhorts the disciples throughout the gospels and especially in Mark to be ready, stand on our guards, and be awake. Sending up thought prayers throughout the day helps to do all of those. I’m distracted less by my favorite TV shows, the half-naked women on campus, and the scare of being unemployed after college.
Faith is believing in the things we can’t see and prayer is what strengthens that faith. How much stronger might our faith be if we prayed from our deepest point?