Pray Without Ceasing

As the coronavirus pandemic and racial unrest going on all across America continues, we find ourselves living in highly stressful times. One only needs to turn on the TV or go on any social media site to find plenty of reasons for our stress. In fact, a look at an article published on June 2, 2020 titled, Pandemic, Recession, Unrest: 2020 and the Confluence of Crises,” by Susan Milligan, Senior Political Writer at U.S. New and World Report is just one of a plethora of articles related to the current crises going on around America.

I find myself not wanting to turn on the news on TV very often anymore as I don’t want to add more stressful news to what I’ve already heard is going on out there; yet, a head in the sandapproach accomplishes nothing.

For Christians, our first avenue of defense is prayer. There is a lot of power in prayer, and it is not a static activity. Paul wrote in Philippians 4:6-7 (NIV), Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” 

“Anything” can be, well, anything… coronavirus, the unrest that is going on around the country, a job loss, a death in the family, uncertainty in any given situation. In fact, it can be any kind of upheaval big or small–the list of things that can cause us stress is endless.

In an article published on January 29, 2019 on Medium.com and titled, Living Words: Philippians 4:6-7,” by Lucas Quagliata, Marketing Strategist, he writes:

“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand.” (Phil. 4:6-7, NLT)

This verse is special not only because of what it reveals about God, but also for how it empowers us in difficult times. We are told that speaking with God, telling Him what we need and praising Him for what He’s done, will allow us to experience a peace that goes beyond our own understanding, outside of what we can even imagine.

When we face hardship, this is a verse we can look to. When life overwhelms, this verse reminds us to turn to God, ask Him to help us, and think about the positives. The last of those may seem like an odd thing to do in times of trouble. Praising God in times of calamity isn’t our reflexive response.

I don’t believe that Paul, the author, tells us here to think about the positives because then our situation won’t seem that bad, or because it will take our minds off of the trouble, or anything like that. I think it’s more likely that it helps us to view things in a different light and begin to plot a way forward. What can we do to bring good into a negative situation? In a time of scarcity or lacking, what do we have to build with?

While this verse can bring comfort out of context, it can be understood more completely as part of the larger chapter. Paul goes on:

His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.

Paul reiterates that we should focus on the good, focus on building towards what is right. Even when our hearts are in the right place, it’s all too easy to begin with the negative. Paul says here to flip that on its head, to fix our thoughts on what is lovely, pure, and admirable, and to put those things into practice. Won’t that, in turn, crowd out and eliminate what ails us? By doing this, we add light to the darkness and we show ourselves and others the best way forward.

He then writes of how God has shown him how to live when times are great, and when they’re not. Whether he has a full stomach or is starving, when he has plenty or little. It’s worth reading the whole chapter. This ties in well with the idea that God provides us with a peace that goes beyond what we’re able to understand. After all, shouldn’t we feel more anxious when we’re feeling insecure? When we’re not healthy, or we’re experiencing financial hardship, or having problems with our relationships?

Human wisdom would tell us that we should be worried in those situations. But God tells us to spend time in prayer, to think of what we have, and to take action from a higher, enlightened perspective. By taking time to think things through and pray, we receive a calming guidance about where we are and what to do next. This allows us to center ourselves and face our troubles with confidence—a confidence that we ourselves may not even comprehend. This removes the power that the world claims to hold over us and gives that power to its rightful owner, The Lord above. (Quote source here.)

We tend to want to understand (and try to control) everything that is going on around us, and we don’t want to be kept in the dark about anything. However, life is full of complex, convoluted, and larger-than-our-own-lives situations that all too often we don’t understand and we can’t understand. Our understanding is finite. However, God’s understanding in infinite.

In an article published on June 2, 2016, titled, 9 Bible verses to help us understand how unlimited God is,” by Patrick Mabilog, contributor on ChristianToday.com, he writes:

In our own limited human understanding, we often find ourselves putting God in a box and limiting Him, but the Word of God tells us that we serve a God who is unlimited in power, capacity, knowledge, being, compassion, grace and holiness.

It’s been said that trying to understand the fullness of God is like trying to put the whole pacific ocean into a glass of water. It can never happen and it will never be possible. We will never truly understand God fully. How is He three Persons at once? How is He without beginning and end? How could He have created the world in just a few days?

We try to understand God, but there just comes a point where we leave the books on the table, put our hands up in worship and say, “Lord, how majestically unlimited you are.” Yes, it is indeed hard to imagine and basically impossible to truly fathom God’s whole being and person.  Yet we can trust that God is indeed limitless both in power and in His love for us.  When we really get a hold of that, we will realize how much we should never be afraid of anything in our lives.

Here are nine scriptures that will help you to stop putting God in a box and remember just how mighty and great He is.

1 Corinthians 2:9“But, as it is written, ‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him’—”

Isaiah 55:9. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Ephesians 1:18-19. “I ask that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you may know the hope of His calling, the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints, and the surpassing greatness of His power to us who believe. He displayed this power in the working of His mighty strength.”

Colossians 1:17. “And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” 

Job 36:22-24. “God’s power is unlimited. He needs no teachers to guide or correct him. Others have praised God for what he has done, so join with them.”

Ephesians 3:19. “May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.”

1 Kings 8:27. “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain You, how much less this house which I have built!”

1 Timothy 6:16. “…who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see To Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen.”

Psalm 147:5. “Great is our Lord and abundant in strength; His understanding is infinite.” (Quote source here.)

Back to the subject of prayer–prayer can take place anywhere, in any location, at any time, in any situation, and it does not have to be formal or even spoken out loud. I often pray silently. In answer to the question, What is prayer?” GotQuestions.org answers with the following:

The most basic definition of prayer is “talking to God.” Prayer is not meditation or passive reflection; it is direct address to God. It is the communication of the human soul with the Lord who created the soul. Prayer is the primary way for the believer in Jesus Christ to communicate his emotions and desires with God and to fellowship with God.

Prayer can be audible or silent, private or public, formal or informal. All prayer must be offered in faith (James 1:6), in the name of the Lord Jesus (John 16:23), and in the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:26). As the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia puts it, “Christian prayer in its full New Testament meaning is prayer addressed to God as Father, in the name of Christ as Mediator, and through the enabling grace of the indwelling Spirit” (“Prayer” by J. C. Lambert). The wicked have no desire to pray (Psalm 10:4), but the children of God have a natural desire to pray (Luke 11:1).

Prayer is described in the Bible as seeking God’s favor (Exodus 32:11), pouring out one’s soul to the Lord (1 Samuel 1:15), crying out to heaven (2 Chronicles 32:20), drawing near to God (Psalm 73:28, KJV), and kneeling before the Father (Ephesians 3:14).

Paul wrote, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6–7). Worry about nothing; pray about everything.

Everything? Yes, God wants us to talk with Him about everything. How often should we pray? The biblical answer is “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). We should keep a running conversation going with God all day long. Some find the ACTS formula of prayer helpful, but there is really no special formula for how to pray in the Bible. We should just do it. We can pray under any and all circumstances. Prayer develops our relationship with God and demonstrates our trust and utter dependence upon Him.

Prayer is the Christian’s way of communicating with God. We pray to praise God and thank Him and tell Him how much we love Him. We pray to enjoy His presence and tell Him what is going on in our lives. We pray to make requests and seek guidance and ask for wisdom. God loves this exchange with His children, just as we love the exchange we have with our children. Fellowship with God is the heart of prayer. Too often we lose sight of how simple prayer is really supposed to be.

When we make petitions to God, we let God know exactly where we stand and what we would like to see happen. In our prayers, we must admit that God is greater than we are and ultimately knows what is best in any given situation (Romans 11:33–36). God is good and asks us to trust Him. In prayer, we say, essentially, “Not my will, but your will be done.” The key to answered prayer is praying according to the will of God and in accordance with His Word. Prayer is not seeking our own will but seeking to align ourselves with the will of God more fully (1 John 5:14–15James 4:3).

The Bible contains many examples of prayer and plenty of exhortations to pray (see Luke 18:1Romans 12:12; and Ephesians 6:18). God’s house is to be a house of prayer (Mark 11:17), and God’s people are to be people of prayer: “Dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love” (Jude 1:20–21). (Quote source here.)

When stress tries to overwhelm us, the best and most immediate solution is to pray. In fact, we should pray even when we aren’t feeling stressful. We should pray when everything appears to be going right. We should pray no matter what our circumstances might be. And even if you have no clue what to pray or even the right words to pray, Jesus taught his disciples how to pray in Matthew 6:9-13 (NASB):

“Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. [For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.’]

I also find myself praying Psalm 23 often and even in silence in my bed at night, and I personalize it:

Lord, You are my Shepherd,
I shall not want.
You makes me lie down in green pastures;
You leads me beside quiet waters,
and You restore my soul;
You guide me in the paths of righteousness
For Your name’s sake.
Even though I walk through
the valley of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;

You anoint my head with oil;
And my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy
will follow me all the days of my life,

And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Forever.

While 2020 has certainly given us a lot of challenges so far in the first six months, nothing is too hard for God. So if you’re feeling stressed out, take time to pray right now. God is always available. I’ll end this post with these words from 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NIV): Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances….

For this is God’s will . . .

For you . . .

In Christ Jesus . . . .

YouTube Video: “I Will Fear No More” by The Afters:

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Photo #2 credit here

Finding Our Gratitude This Thanksgiving

Somewhere in the past eight plus years that I’ve been regularly blogging, I started to include far more quotes from other authors and reduced my own thoughts on a topic. I’ve been known to quote entire articles available from other authors, and I always give credit and links to those authors and articles. I could just make a note in my blog posts to the titles and authors of those articles, but if you’re like me and you read a lot on online (whether in blog posts or on other websites or social media), when an author links to other articles online most of the time we (the readers) skip over those links and never or rarely end up going back to check them out.

When I run across articles online by other authors that I think are very much worth noting, I’ll post those articles on my blog post–not because I’m trying to plagiarize them, but because I want to share them with my readers. And, I know from my own propensity to not take the time to click on links in other blog posts (or websites) unless my curiosity is mightily piqued, I’ll just skip over the link and not take the time to “go there.” Hence, that is my reason for including large portions of blog posts and articles written by others in my blog posts.

With that being said, today is Thanksgiving Day here in America, and I just ran across the following article published two days ago on November 20, 2018, in The Washington Post titled, Find Your Gratitude This Thanksgiving. Here’s How,” by Kristin Clark Taylor, author, freelance editor and journalist, motivational speaker and lecturer, and a former White House communications strategist. She is also the founder and facilitator of the popular Great Falls Writers Group. In her article she writes:

Thanksgiving is the day that gives gratitude a good name.

Golden turkeys will be admired, platters will be passed. And when it comes your turn at the dining room table to sit up and announce the one thing you’re most grateful for, try not to say the same thing as last year. It might be easy to do a repeat, but that’s kind of cheating.

I get it, gratitude might not be at the forefront for you right now.

Most of us are either preparing food today, preparing to travel — or both. We might be steeling ourselves for high-running family emotions. (Family and politics, anyone?) Tensions are taut just about everywhere, and as family members file through that front door, what often blows in with them is the angst that comes from having lots of folks under one roof who don’t always see eye-to-eye. Somebody’s going to say or do something that upsets someone else.

Gratitude gets crowded out.

But here’s the thing: When things go haywire, that’s when we need gratitude more than ever. My relationship with it has evolved over the years, and today it actually defines my life. I carry it around with me as a constant companion. Many times — particularly during my darkest moments — it carries me.

I need it to survive.

That’s how gratitude is. You have to develop a relationship with it, perhaps even a dependence on it, in your own daily life in a way that is deeply personal and only yours (imagine a fingerprint) — but you have to be able to share it, too, (imagine an outstretched hand).

It’s a two-step process, really: You generate gratitude from within — and in my case, from above — then push it back out into the world.

Simple? Yes. Easy? No. It requires energy, discipline and perseverance. Practiced regularly and constantly, grateful living can become an attitude rather than an action, an instinct rather than an exercise. But it requires a sustained connection. It cannot just be a fling. It cannot just be dragged out and dusted off on Turkey Day.

Thankfulness is much more than a warm-and-fuzzy feeling. It’s a purposeful process that requires a push every now and then to remain vibrant; a gentle shove, from time to time, to maintain its momentum. Left alone and untended, it can get lazy and leave.

When the sun sets on this Thanksgiving Day, try not to allow your sense of gratitude and appreciation to set with it. When you wake up Friday morning, search for new ways to remain committed.

Search for gratitude in new places. Find it in the hidden corners and unexplored pockets of your daily life that you’ve never noticed before. It’s there, I promise — and the darkened corners are often the best places to search. (It’s said that the light of hope shines brightest in the dark.)

Today, I offer up a little platter of tips and techniques that might help. I practice them daily, constantly. They keep me centered.

Some of them might sound a little silly, but I see this as a good thing because although the pursuit of gratitude is serious business indeed, the process itself should be simple and joyful. Smiles should be involved. Laughter should be invoked.

10-Toe Gratitude: Throughout each and every day, I check in with my body, just to whisper a thank-you, to my heart that beats, my lungs that breathe, my fingers that type. During evening yoga (downward dog is the perfect place) I say thank you to each of my 10 toes. Toes work hard and are grossly underappreciated. I love my toes and am grateful to have them.

Similarly, when I’m writing (which is often because it’s what I do for a living), I often pause to touch my wrist, find my pulse, and send a jolt of purposeful gratitude to the blood that flows through my veins. To embrace the very miracles that are constantly unfolding within us is right and necessary. I like to call it vital acknowledgment.

Double-Barreled Gratitude: Some people keep a daily gratitude journal that describes all the things we’re thankful to have (i.e., health, family, fresh cilantro). It’s easy and automatic to express gratitude for all that has been given to us, but what about the flip side?

I’m as grateful for the absence of a toothache as I am for the presence of fresh ginger root in my refrigerator; as grateful for the absence of a desire to drink as I am for the presence of my daughter’s quiet smile. Absence itself has a powerful presence.

If you keep a gratitude journal, try expanding it for a day or two and take the double-barreled route. Create a list that’s made up of two columns, one labeled “Presence,” the other “Absence.” Train your brain to assign value to the absences in your life, too. It will expand your perspective in unimaginable ways.

Kitchen Floor Gratitude: Many years ago, I tripped in my kitchen and twisted my ankle badly. At precisely the same moment my brain perceived the pain, a deep and sudden rush of gratitude rushed in.

As I lay sprawled on my kitchen floor, a miraculous dichotomy unfolded: In the midst of our pain, gratitude can find a home. Translated: My ankle hurts like hell but thank God it isn’t broken.

Brown-is-Beautiful Gratitude: From a very early age, my mother taught me to seek the sacred within the ordinary. I remember sitting in the backyard with my mother one summer afternoon just after a rainstorm, when a brilliant rainbow appeared.

After we admired it for a few minutes, she picked up a brown rock and placed it gently into my little hands. “This plain old brown rock is every bit as spectacular as that beautiful rainbow,” she said softly. “Be equally thankful for both.” Tip: Next time you see a stunning sunset, also remember to reach down and embrace the beauty of the brown rock. Be as thankful for the ordinary as you are for the spectacular.

As you sit down to dinner this Thanksgiving, don’t forget that exploring and expressing your own gratitude can be a constant pursuit, not a one-day affair. Not just today, but every day. So seek it. Find it. Pass it along.

We need it now more than ever. (Quote source here.)

First Thessalonians 5:16-18 states, Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Being a part of the human race, we know that it’s not often easy to “rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in all circumstances.” The tragedies of life are constantly broadcast on the news on any given day, not to mention the things that we personally experience in our own lives. Rejoice? Pray without ceasing? Give thanks in all circumstances? It’s not easy, and sometimes it seems impossible.

It helps if we understand the concept of “praying without ceasing.” In a blog post titled, Pray Without Ceasing,” on AllAboutPrayer.org (a specific author is not mentioned), the post states the following:

How to pray without ceasing — a heart attitude

  • How does one pray continually? We cannot always be on our knees. With the daily demands on our busy lives, we are fortunate to kneel in prayer even a few minutes each day. However, the context of this passage gives us a clue. This passage focuses on heart attitude. “Rejoice always” is an attitude of joyfulness. Giving thanks in everything also requires a mental attitude of thankfulness. How do we rejoice and give thanks? Through prayer! Therefore, effective prayer is a proper heart attitude: a mental outlook of joyful thanksgiving. It expresses itself throughout the day with silent prayers of vital communication with the LORD.
  • Maintaining a healthy relationship requires communication. Always be “on line” with God so when the Spirit moves you to pray, you can instantly agree with Him. The Holy Spirit prays for us with inexpressible groans (Romans 8:26). When in agreement with the Spirit, we are praying continuously. The heart attitude of praying without ceasing means an ever-open heart to the Lord’s leading.
  • If we are praying without ceasing–even while driving, changing the baby, washing dishes, or running a lawn mower–we can be open to the leading of the Spirit when He urges us to pray for something or someone. At that time, we can agree with God and make a mental note to add that concern to our later prayer time.
  • Praying without ceasing doesn’t take the place of time alone in prayer with God. However, it is a joyful experience to unite with the LORD who lays burdens on our hearts. We can’t always stop and kneel, but our heart attitude can still be “praying without ceasing.” (Quote source here.)

I have found that the more I give back to God my personal expectations in any given situation or set of circumstances, and leave the outcome for God to decide and not for me to try to coerce God into doing for me, there is a “peace that surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7) that comes from that total relinquishment of me trying to control the outcome when I pray (you know, like begging God to do something to change that we don’t like), especially in trying situations that never seem to end.

So, on this Thanksgiving Day 2018, as Kristin Clark Taylor reminds us to do in her article above, let us be in a constant pursuit of gratitude (regardless of our circumstances), not just today, but every day . . .

So seek it . . .

Find it . . .

And pass it along . . . .

YouTube Video: “It’s Gonna Be Okay” by The Piano Guys:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here