What Does “Praying without Ceasing” Mean?
For many years I was puzzled by Paul’s instruction in 1 Thess 5:17. He writes, “Pray without ceasing.” My inner dialogue went something like this, “How is it even possible to obey this command? We must sleep. Doesn’t God want me to sleep? Also, I’m so absorbed in what it is I’m doing that it is impossible to pray. God wants me to concentrate on my responsibilities, right?” My confusion regarding this passage evaporated when I went to seminary.
While in seminary I learned that the verb in this sentence (“pray”) should not be understood in a progressive, continuous sense. That is, Paul is not saying, “Pray in a continuous manner. Never stop.” Rather, the verb “pray” ought to be understood in a repeated, repetitive sense. We might translate 1 Thess 5:17 this way, “Repeatedly and repetitively pray.”
My seminary professor who taught me this puts it like this:
“The idea in this passage is not that believers are to pray every minute of every day, but that
we should offer prayers to God repeatedly. We should make it our habit to be in the
presence of God.”
So, is it OK to go to sleep? Yes. Is it OK to be absorbed in your daily tasks? It is. God “knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust” (Ps 103:14). Nevertheless, God wants you to repetitively and repeatedly to come to him with your praises, thanks, confessions, and needs. As opportunity allows, pray. That’s what it means to “pray without ceasing.”