Pray without Ceasing: How???

In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, Paul gives us a bracing challenge: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Pray without ceasing! How do you even get started?

There are many ways to approach the idea of constant prayer, but one way is through the ancient spiritual discipline called praying the Daily Office. There are a number of different Offices, but the easiest ones for modern working people are Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer.

The Daily Office is a structured yet flexible format for prayer, offering a “backbone” of Scripture readings combined with a framework of traditional written prayers (most of which draw specifically on Scripture verses for their language), with “space” built in for extemporaneous, personal prayer. By making choices about what to include and what to skip, each individual can personalize the Daily Office to fit different preferences and amounts of time, from 15 minutes to... however long you want to pray!

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Wrestling with Contemplative Prayer

Contemplative prayer sounds restful. Instead of spending all my prayer time talking to God, why not just listen once in a while – resting in the presence of God and waiting on Him? My pastor explained that contemplative prayer involved settling down in silence, just focusing on God, and repeating a phrase like "Lord, have mercy" or the name of Jesus to keep one's attention on Him. I recognized that it was exactly the sort of thing I needed to do, and hey! it sounded easy.

It’s not.

Over the past year, as I’ve experimented with contemplative prayer, I’ve discovered that it is, in fact, really hard.

Contemplative prayer feels like gripping tightly onto a rope when there are little hands tugging at my clothes to pull me away.

Beauty Points to Truth

One of the most memorable lines in English poetry appears in John Keats’ “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” in which the poet has his imagined Grecian vase speak directly to the reader, saying “Beauty is truth, truth beauty, – that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”

That vase was on to something.

Beauty is not just... well, nice to look at. It’s important in a larger sense, because it points toward truth.

I live in Southern California, and my church, St. Michael’s by-the-Sea is named quite literally: you can see the Pacific Ocean from the church campus.

One particular morning I arrived at church as usual, pulled into the parking lot, got out, grabbed my purse, slammed the door shut, all on automatic pilot.

The Cross and the Tomb: Easter

“Now, if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him” (Rom 6:8). We have died with Christ; we have suffered the agony of our sin that He carried for us on the cross; we have failed Him, fled from Him, come back in shame and sorrow to kneel beside His tomb.

And then – into the darkness of Holy Saturday shines the light of Easter. An empty tomb. Shock, fear, awe, joy. “He is not here, for he has risen” (Mt 28:6).

Now, only now, can we raise our voices in praise with Paul: “We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him” (Rom 6:9). Christ is risen – not a legend, not a hope, not a spirit, but the Son of God in new, strangely transformed life, the firstfruit of the new creation.

The Cross and the Tomb: Holy Saturday

Jesus is dead. Say it again: Our Lord is a lifeless body, wept over by a few women, his friends having scattered. Darkness lies over the land. We can imagine the disciples, on that terrible Saturday, puzzling over what seemed to be shattered hopes. “We had hoped,” Cleopas would say a day later on the road to Emmaus, “that he was the one to redeem Israel” (Lk 24:21). Is this what the vindication of Israel looks like? Is this what the Kingdom of God looks like? Or is it what it seems to be – shame, death, defeat?

What is there to do? Perhaps only to give up. Yet not everyone had abandoned Him. In the waning hours of Friday, a few stayed faithful, even if it was a faith without hope. Joseph of Arimathea, a man “looking for the kingdom of God,” did what he could, even if it was pathetically little.

The Cross and the Tomb: Good Friday

Christ is risen! On Easter, we raise our voices in praise and thanksgiving, celebrating the victory won for us by Our Lord, our new life made possible in His new life.  

And rightly we do celebrate – but before we do, wait a moment. Paul writes in Romans that “if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Rom 6:5 ESV). How easy it is to jump ahead, in our eagerness to be united with Our Lord in a resurrection like His own mighty resurrection. Stop for a moment. Stop and think on Paul’s words: “if we have been united with him in a death like his.” A death like Jesus’ death. What does that mean?

We cannot come to new life without death. We cannot find the Risen Lord without the Cross; we cannot reach Easter any way except through the agony of Good Friday and the emptiness of Holy Saturday.

What Is Prayer? (2): God Is Not a Vending Machine

A glance at the Christian Inspiration shelves in a bookstore will reveal numerous books touting the power of prayer – to heal, to comfort, to inspire, to get what we want. We should tread carefully here. It is true that our Lord tells us to pray for “our daily bread”: we are indeed called to live in constant humble reliance on our heavenly Father, who hears us and responds to our prayers.

However, we must not fall into the error of thinking of God as a cosmic vending machine: insert prayer, receive desired outcome. That way lies madness. It is a distortion of God, cutting Him down to a size and shape that we find convenient.

Prayer is communication with our heavenly Father, through His Son our Savior, in the power of the Holy Spirit.

What Is Prayer? It’s Like Gravity

Prayer is an example of Christian truth – it is true “all the way down.” Being true at one level, it is true at all levels, but it is not the same at each level.

Consider gravity: a child of three can comprehend that if he drops a toy, it falls to the ground; if he throws the toy up into the air, it goes up and then down. Without any comprehension of how gravity works, he can have many hours of fun tossing, bouncing, and throwing balls.

A mathematician can work out the equations that describe the effects of gravity on everything from rubber balls to entire galaxies. On the basis of minute calculations and sophisticated mathematics, a team of dedicated scientists and engineers can send a rocket soaring out of the confines of Earth’s gravity.

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Dr. Holly Ordway is a professor of composition and literature. She speaks and writes regularly on literature, especially fantasy literature and poetry, and literary apologetics.