February 4, 2024 . . .“Bible prayers: Pray without ceasing” I Thessalonians 5:17

February 4, 2024 . . .“Bible prayers: Pray without ceasing” I Thessalonians 5:17

February 04, 2024

“Bible prayers: Pray without ceasing”

I Thessalonians 5:17

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.

Let me take you back in time to just about sixty years ago, to the year 1966. It’s when quite a lot of brand new, first-time-ever, TV shows started, like Star Trek, Mission Impossible, Family Affair, The Green Hornet, The Newlywed Game, and The Jackie Gleason Show. And if you were around back then, you could turn on your television on Wednesdays and Thursdays, (and I mean, literally “turn it on,” because we didn’t have remotes), to watch a show called Batman.

And though the characters were often different, like the Joker, the Penguin, the Riddler, or the Catwoman, the plot was always the same--trouble was brewing in Gotham City--and Commissioner Gordon and Chief O’Hara were at their wits’ end as to what to do about it! And having no other earthly choice, they called Batman, who would come and save the day. And with a “Bang,” a “Pow,” and a “Biff,” they’d put those awful villains behind bars.

So how would the police chief and the commissioner get a hold of Batman? Why, the Bat phone, of course! Now since the Bat number was unlisted, the Bat phone didn’t have a rotary dial like every other phone. All it had was a black button. So whenever the commissioner wanted to contact Batman or Batman wanted to contact the commissioner, all they had to do was to push that black button in the middle of that phone. And sure enough, the Bat phone promptly beeped on the other end, and glowed a bright red.

And just as soon as word got out, Batman, (and Robin, of course), hopped into their trusty Batmobile and drove out of the Batcave to save the day!

And you know, prayer is just that way. In and of ourselves, we are powerless. There is absolutely nothing we can do. But we have a Bat phone. We have a direct line of communication between us and God. We have prayer.

And that prayer can save us from our sins, supply our daily needs, guide us in trouble, keep us from temptation, and deliver us from evil.

And all we have to do is pray.

You can find prayer almost anywhere in the Bible, from the very beginning to its very end, from when Adam and Eve first walked with God in the garden of Eden even to the Bible’s very last words, “Even so, Lord Jesus, quickly come” (Revelation 22:20). Look closely enough, and you’ll find prayer mentioned close to a thousand times!

And there are prayers of all kinds, like prayers of faith (James 5:15), prayers of the body of believers (Acts 2:42), prayers of request (Philippians 4:6), prayers asking for guidance (Psalm 25:4), prayers of thanksgiving (Psalm 95:2-3), worship prayers (Acts 13:2-3), prayers of intercession (I Timothy 2:1), prayers of consecration (Matthew 26:26-27), prayers of contrition (Psalm 51:5), and prayers of adoration (Psalm 99:5).

And when you pray, you can pray in almost any condition or position, like while you’re sitting (II Samuel 7:18), while you’re standing (Mark 11:25), while you’re kneeling (Daniel 6:10), with your hands lifted up (I Timothy 2:8), or with your face bowed down to the ground (Matthew 26:39).

And prayers can be long, (an entire chapter long!), like in Nehemiah chapter 9, I Kings chapter 8, or John chapter 17. And prayers can be really, really short, like Peter’s prayer, “Lord, save me,” (Matthew 14:30), while he was sinking down in the Sea of Galilee.

Jesus had a lot to say about prayer. In Matthew chapter 5, He said, “Pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven (Matthew 5:44-45). In Matthew chapter 6, He said, “When you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites, for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and the street corners, that they may be seen by others (Matthew 6:5). In Matthew chapter 7, He said, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you (Matthew 7:7). In Matthew chapter 18, He said, “If two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done by My Father in heaven (Matthew 18:19). And in Luke chapter 22, He said, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation (Luke 22:40).

In the words of Cynthia Lewis, “If your day is hemmed in with prayer, it is less likely to unravel.” Samuel Chadwick once said, “The one concern of the devil is to keep Christians from praying. While he laughs at our toil and mocks our wisdom, he trembles when we pray.” Or as Martin Luther once wrote, “Do not sit by yourself or lie on a couch, hanging and shaking your head. Do not destroy yourself with your own thoughts by worrying. Do not strive and struggle to free yourself, and do not brood on your wretchedness, suffering, and misery. Instead, say to yourself, ‘Come on, you lazy bum; get down on your knees, and lift your eyes and your hands toward heaven!’”

And when we pray, what happens? Hearts are convicted, sins are confessed, believers are united, the church is strengthened, stubbornness melts, wills surrender, evil is defeated, sorrows are comforted, faith is born, and love triumphs.

And here, in his first letter to the Thessalonians, the apostle Paul had something to say about prayer too. I’ll start at verse 12: “We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (I Thessalonians 5:12-18).

Right about twenty years after Jesus died and rose again, the apostle Paul was on his second missionary journey. And as he spent a year and a half teaching, admonishing, and encouraging the people of Corinth, his heart also went out to the Christians of Thessalonica, who were suffering for the sake of the gospel.

As one commentator wrote, “They were stressed out. They were alarmed and troubled about what was going on around them. And they were worried about many things.”

And so he wrote, “We thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe” (I Thessalonians 2:13). He wrote, “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope” (I Thessalonians 4:13). And he wrote, “For you are our glory and joy” (I Thessalonians 2:20).

And in chapter 5, the very last chapter, as Paul meant to encourage and strengthen them and give them hope, he added some quick words of admonition. He said, “Rejoice always” (I Thessalonians 5:16), “Give thanks in all circumstances” (I Thessalonians 5:18), “Test everything; and hold fast to what is good” (I Thessalonians 5:21).

And in the midst of all that, he also added, in Greek, two words, and in English, three: “Pray without ceasing” (I Thessalonians 5:17). Or as other translations put it: “Pray continually,” “Pray unceasingly,” “Pray constantly,” and “Never stop praying.”

And behind all those translations, whatever they might be, is one little word that we can translate in many different ways, like “always,” “incessantly,” “uninterruptedly,” “without intermission,” “without resting,” and “non stop,” “night and day.” Over time, people have used the word to signify a cough that keeps on hacking, a battering ram that keeps on hammering, and an army that keeps on attacking and just won’t go away.

So how do you pray “without ceasing”?

Obviously, you can’t pray all the time. There are, after all, a lot of other things in life that you have to do, like eating and sleeping. And neither does it mean we should say the same formula to God over and over and over again. Trust me. He already knows!

But what it does mean is this--”praying without ceasing” is a way of life, a constantly expressed dependance. It’s like breathing out and breathing in. It’s a constant, running, never-ending, open conversation between you and God that’s full of commas, colons, semi-colons, quotation marks, dashes, parentheses, and quite a lot of question marks, but not a single period. It’s being in a relationship, in the presence of God. It’s knocking on heaven’s door so hard and so long that your hand is sore and your knuckles are bleeding. It’s a constant demand that what is broken may be made whole, and that what is wrong may be made right.

That’s what it means to pray without ceasing.

And it should go something like this--when you wake up in the morning, say, “Good morning, Lord! You and I are going to have a great day together. Just have Your way with me.”

As you eat your breakfast and enjoy your morning coffee, toast, and eggs, thank God for all those who have made your coffee and breakfast possible, like the farmer who grew and harvested his crops, the baker who baked your bread, and the chickens who laid their eggs.

As you look in the mirror, say, “Help me this day, in all that I say and do, to reflect Your image” (II Corinthians 3:18). As you wash your face and comb your hair, pray the words of Isaiah 26, “You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is stayed on You” (Isaiah 26:3). As you brush your teeth, pray, “Keep me from saying anything I shouldn’t say.” As you wash your eyes, pray, “Keep me from seeing anything my eyes shouldn’t see.” As you wash your ears, pray, “Keep me from hearing anything I shouldn’t hear.” As you put on your shirt and pants, pray, “Clothe me, Lord, in compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience” (Colossians 3:12). And as you put on your socks and shoes, pray, “Keep me from stumbling, that I may be blameless before You” (Jude 1:24).

If throughout the day you hear about some tragedy, pray for those who have been affected by it. If you hear about someone’s pain or disappointment, pray that God would heal and comfort them.

Pray while you wait. Researchers say that, on average, we spend two years of our lives waiting in line, and the average commuter spends thirty-eight hours a year in traffic. Transform that “wasted” time into something meaningful. Turn your car into a prayer closet.

Then finally at night, after all is said and done, as you lay your head down to sleep, you can pray the words of Psalm 4: “In peace I will lie down and sleep, for You alone, Lord, will keep me safe” (Psalm 4:8).

As Paul wrote in the words of I Thessalonians 5: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (I Thessalonians 5:16-18).

A little over five hundred years ago, back in the late 1400s and early 1500s, two boys, one named Albrecht, and the other, Albert, both wanted to be artists. But their parents were poor and could hardly afford to send one of them, much less both of them, to art school.

So late one night, the two brothers made a deal. They would toss a coin, and the loser of the coin toss would go to work in the coal mines near their home to support the other in his years of study. Then four years later, they would reverse roles--the one trained in art would work so the other brother could go to school.

And as it goes, brother Albrecht won the coin toss and, over the next four years, became a very gifted student, good at drawing, painting, and woodcutting, better than many of his teachers!

But after those four years passed and it came time to send Albert to school, Albert suddenly broke down crying, saying those four years in the mine had broken nearly every bone in his hands, making it impossible for him to do the fine and delicate work of an artist.

His brother Albrecht was so moved by his sacrifice that he asked him to pose in prayer for him. And ever since then, his hands, his “Praying hands,” have inspired many.

Do you know there’s One who’s sacrificed more than just His hands for us? Through His life and His death, He’s given us His all, His everything. And no one could love us more than that.

As Isaac Watts once wrote in the words of his hymn: “Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were a tribute far too small. Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.”

We thank You, Father, for the grace You show and the gifts You give. Teach us to pray unceasingly, as we open our hearts to You, for Jesus’ sake. Amen