•A man lectured about the Spanish surrealist painter Salvador Dali and Catalan culture for 124 hours without stopping.
•A United States Marine did 17,003 push-ups without stopping.
•A man in England did 3,750 pull-ups without stopping.
Some pretty “unique” people have set out to do unusual things without stopping. And as the Bible says: We are to “rejoice always, pray without ceasing, [and] in everything give thanks” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). In this article we look at perhaps the most challenging of the three—praying continually.
When it comes to rejoicing and giving thanks, we get the idea that it is possible to “cease” in between occasions of rejoicing and thanking. But “pray without ceasing” has a different ring to it. Paul says we should never cease praying. Ceaselessly means don’t cease; it means don’t stop praying. The Greeks had a clear way of saying these things. The Greek word adialeiptos (without ceasing) is the word for “ceasing” or “leaving” with a negative prefix (“a”) attached to it. The negative prefix means “No” or “Don’t.” So “don’t” plus “cease” sent a very clear message: Don’t stop praying.
Prayer as Spiritual Breathing
You and I may have never attempted the kind of record-setting I mentioned at the beginning of this article, but there is still something that you and I do without stopping that can help us understand what it means to “pray without ceasing”—and that is the physical act of breathing.
Think about breathing—you are doing it right now. You have been doing it all day, all your life, without stopping. If you ever stop breathing, your physical life will end. And therein is the analogy: Just as breathing is necessary for physical life, so prayer is necessary for spiritual life. Think about these dimensions of prayer as spiritual breathing.
1. The involuntary dimension. Yes, you can hold your breath temporarily, but if you want to live you need to breathe without stopping. Breathing is an involuntary physiological response to a physical need for oxygen, while prayer is an ongoing response to all the needs that arise in life. Prayer should be automatic for the child of God—our first response to the joys, sorrows, and needs of everyday life (Psalm 86:7).
2. The continuous dimension. Breathing is not optional for living beings. Just as we continue breathing even when we sleep, so David wrote, “I meditate on You in the night watches” (Psalm 63:6). When David tended his flocks at night or stood watch against his enemies during “the night watches,” His thoughts were directed toward God. David thought about and communicated with God continually.
3. The exchange dimension. When we breathe physically, we exchange—we exhale and we inhale. In the same way, a prayerful life is a life of exchange with God. We talk to God, and we listen to God. That exchange should be going on all the time as we go through the day. Jesus said to the Father, “And I know that You always hear Me” (John 11:42). That was true because Jesus was always exchanging thoughts with the Father.
4. The life-giving dimension. You can have a table full of food and water, but if you’re not breathing, it really doesn’t matter. The same is true with prayer. Solomon wrote, “for You alone know the hearts of the sons of men” (2 Chronicles 6:30). We can have everything else in life, but if we don’t have an ongoing relationship with the only One who knows us, through prayer, the rest really doesn’t matter.
5. The variable dimension. Most physical breathing is involuntary, but at times it is purposeful and focused, especially during times of exertion or stress. Prayer is the same way. We pray different ways at different times depending on the need. For an illustration of the most intense, focused prayer recorded in history, read Luke 22:44. Prayer changes, but it never stops.
6. The complementary dimension. Physical breathing is not the only thing necessary for physical life. We also need food, water, touch, emotional support, relationships, purpose, rest, and others. Just so, we don’t live on prayer alone. It’s helpful to note that, in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, Paul placed prayer without ceasing between rejoicing and giving thanks. All three are important, but prayer is the centerpiece of the spiritual life.
Think of prayer without ceasing like breathing without ceasing. Change the focus, the pace, and the purpose as needed. But never let it stop.
David Jeremiah is the senior pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church and the founder and host of Turning Point for God. For more information about Dr. Jeremiah or Turning Point, visit www.DavidJeremiah.org.
As you read Christ Above All, Dr. Jeremiah’s study of Colossians, you’ll come to better know who Jesus is theologically. In other words, the truth about Him—the whole truth and nothing but the truth—will thrill you. Our minds need solid doctrine so we’ll have a solid relationship with Christ, built on personal reverence for Him and friendship with Him.