How Can Someone Pray Without Ceasing?

 Photo by  Joshua Earle  on  Unsplash

Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

Have you ever read something in the Bible and wondered how it would be possible? Perhaps there’s a lot of things you’ve wondered about in the Bible but I’m thinking of admonitions that seem impossible to do.

When someone asks if I take the Bible literally, I try to clarify what they mean by literal. The Bible is full of figurative language—language that has a meaning beyond its literal meaning or dictionary-based definition.

Even some things Jesus said to do weren’t intended to be taken literally—like gouging out an eye when looking at a woman (or man) lustfully or cutting off your right hand if it causes you to sin (Matthew 5:29–30). If we took this literally, then we’d know the truly honest believers because they’d only have one eye and one hand!

Pray without ceasing

When I first read the phrase “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17) and thought about what it meant, I realized this wasn’t to be taken literally. Or is it to be taken literally?

This phase is one of several admonitions at the end of the first epistle to the Thessalonian church—

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil. (1 Thess 5:16–22)

How does someone pray without ceasing? I mean, if it were taken ultra-literally it would mean never eating or sleeping or doing anything else. Ok—it should be obvious that the apostle Paul didn’t intend that. But what is meant by this phrase?

The idea of praying “without ceasing” is to pray in a continual way. This means we are to pray throughout the course of daily life regardless of circumstance and in all situations.

When you think about it—it’s very liberating.

The idea of praying “without ceasing” is to pray in a continual way

Prayer free from form

Our prayer doesn’t need to follow some form or take place with a certain posture. It can be a few words spoken silently or a continuing conversation with God while driving. Come to think of it—there’d probably be a lot less road rage if believers prayed more while driving in traffic and speeding along on a crowded freeway.

I believe there’s a place for more formalized prayer and I prefer to kneel or bow when praying on my own. But I’ve said prayers while talking with people in various situations—asking for wisdom, discernment, clarity, or for peace in a heated discussion or tense situation.

I pray while reading the Bible and have often thrown up a quick prayer while teaching and preaching or while counseling someone.

Sometimes I pray without words—I know God knows my heart but I can’t formulate my thoughts into a specific prayer or don’t know how or what to pray regarding some decision or how to respond to a situation I’m facing.

Learning to pray

I remember an instance early on in my search for the Lord that helped me understand the nature of prayer. I was driving a station wagon full of people along a highway on the northern coast of California. It was the height of the hippie era and I was spiritually lost but searching.

My girlfriend at the time was sitting next to me when a rear tire blew apart. I called out loud to God as I struggled to gain control of the car as it swerved across lanes and I tried to pull off the highway. Once stopped, my girlfriend turned to me and said, “He heard you and answered your prayer!”

It was a simple testimony of God’s grace and protection for both of us. I called out and He heard me. He answered. It wasn’t a formal prayer and I wasn’t a committed follower of Jesus. But God made it clear that He was near and attentive.

I’ve learned to pray without ceasing in various ways. I’m sure I’ll learn more as I continue to follow Jesus and become more intimate in my relationship with Him. I know He’s ever-present and attentive but am I trusting Him in all things through each day?

Faith is a journey of trust and prayer. Unceasing and continuing prayer is how we stay connected to the Lord along the way.

Faith is a journey of trust and prayer

What about you?

Have you learned to “pray without ceasing?”


This post was originally posted on Faith Hacking through Medium

Here are 3 more of my posts on Faith Hacking and Medium—

A Reliable Source

Rhetoric, Relationships, and Racism

The Practicality of Being Spirit-Filled

Sheep Need a Shepherd

People need leaders

A good friend told me long ago, "People need leaders." I was a young pastor and he was a captain of firefighters. We were leaders in our respective fields and I was his pastor—and we mentored one another as fellow followers of Jesus.

His statement resonated in my heart as true. It reminded me of my responsibility in God's kingdom. Not just as a pastor, but as a follower of Jesus. Discipleship done the way Jesus did with the twelve apostles will naturally produce leaders.

An important characteristic of the Jesus People Movement was the importance of life example in leadership. I'm concerned this is a neglected emphasis today in all aspects of leadership, but especially in God's kingdom.

Life example is important for leadership in God's kingdom

Grassroots leadership

Look at the leadership of Jesus and what He endeavored to instill in His followers. What was the key? Jesus was intentional about who He discipled and He did this through shared life—it was personal.

People were drawn to Him in a natural way. From the first to the last, people saw Him, heard Him, and could not ignore Him. Even those who opposed Him and later plotted to kill Him couldn't ignore Him.

So what was it about Jesus that drew people to Him? His design for leadership was to build from the ground up—a grassroots leadership. He set the example with His humility.

People saw Jesus and heard Him but could not ignore Him

Humble leadership

Jesus used no fanfare or clever strategy to draw more people. In fact, He often avoided big crowds of people and His teaching and expectations for following Him seemed to push people away from following (John 6:60-66).

This is so backward to what is popular and prevailing mantra of more and bigger is better.

But that's not the way of Jesus. It's also not the way of great leadership, according to Jim Collins in his book, From Good to Great.

What set apart the companies that rose to greatness? One essential—humble leadership. In a business model, this means putting the company and your people above your self. This was the example of Jesus for the kingdom of God.

Humility is essential for great leadership and to lead like Jesus

Jesus the Good Shepherd

Leadership in God's kingdom involves following the example of Jesus. This is seen throughout the gospels but illustrated and explained in John 10 where Jesus refers to Himself as the Good Shepherd.

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. (John 10:11)

Just as people need leaders—sheep need a shepherd—a shepherd they can trust.

Several years ago, I was asked what the basics were to pastoring and planting a church by a young missionary pastor in Thailand whom I mentor.

I came up with three words to summarize the responsibilities of a pastor—love, feed, and lead—based on John 10:1-18.

3 words can summarize the responsibilities of a pastor—love, feed, and lead

I'd like to unpack these three words related to the leadership of Jesus and pastoral leadership in additional posts. Hopefully, you'll see how they can apply to leadership at any level for anyone who is a follower of Jesus.

As a pastor and missionary overseas, I've found myself challenged by the unending demand and task of leading people in ministry. In the process of leading, I developed a basic list of ministry priorities and values.

Feel free to download that list here— Ministry Priorities and Values

Be a Shepherd Not a Sheepdog

 Photo by  Biegun Wschodni  on  Unsplash

If Jesus—the Good Shepherd—is our prime example as a pastor or leader and the Bible is our primary guide, why is it so difficult to pastor God's people well? Be wary of those who say it's easy—it's not!

When pastors or leaders of God's people speak highly of their own pastoral prowess it makes me wonder…Are they following the example of Jesus or some ideal of their own? Do they reflect the nature and commitment of the Good Shepherd or some image they are convinced is best?

When the expectations of pastors are driven by business leadership guidelines and principles and a result-oriented culture, it won't line up with what we see in Jesus as the Good Shepherd nor what the Bible says.

Are you a shepherd or a sheepdog?

Let's start with why I’m making a distinction between a shepherd and a sheepdog. Both are invested in tending sheep but in different ways because they have different roles. I’ve seen myself function in both roles while pastoring and seen it in other pastors too.

Whether you’ve had formal education and training to be a pastor or more experienced-based training—a learning as you go approach—you’ve probably fulfilled the role of a sheepdog at times. I think we all tend to do so, especially when planting a church and trying to raise up new leaders. Read more...


 

This post was originally published on the Poimen Ministries site blog under the same title– Be a Shepherd Not a Sheepdog
Although it's primarily written for pastors and church leaders, it can apply to believers who are leaders in other settings. It's focused on how we lead others. If it's helpful to you, please share it with others. Thanks for reading!

How Do We Follow the Example of Our Good Shepherd?

 Photo by  Jaka Škrlep  on  Unsplash

Photo by Jaka Škrlep on Unsplash

What is your perception of the role and work of a pastor? Considerable instruction and guidance are found in the Bible but pop culture also has a lot to say about it and a bit too much influence.

The Bible is the primary and obvious guide pastors and leaders ought to seek first. I think most do but expectations based on current trends and opinions compete with it in a strong way.

When expectations of pastors are driven by business leadership guidelines and principles, and a result-oriented culture, the role and work of pastors are easily skewed. Read more...


This post was written for Poimen Ministries but I thought I'd include it on Word-Strong this week. Just click the "Read more..." link to read the whole post.

Here are a few other posts I've written for Poimen Ministries but that weren't posted to Word-Strong (just click on the titles)

Biblical Knowledge or Biblical Ignorance?

Simple Not Simplistic

Teaching with Authority

It's Easter Time!

 Photo by  Aaron Brunhofer  on  Unsplash

What are you celebrating?

When I see bright-colored eggs and chocolate bunnies in pastel-colored displays, I know it must be near Easter. Unless you understand the calendar timing of Easter Sunday, you probably have to check online like I do to find when Easter falls each year.

Easter isn't a big marketing holiday but stores do their best to feature lots of eggs, egg-coloring dyes, baskets, and chocolate and marshmallow bunnies and chicks. And don't forget the food! Ham is a favorite along with some scalloped potatoes or au gratin perhaps, and if you're traditional, some hot-cross buns.

But what are we celebrating with all of this? Is there a difference between Easter and Resurrection Sunday? Well, yes and no. And what about all those other traditional days people observe like Ash Wednesday, Lent, Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday?

How are all of these things related or are they? Exactly! I think there's a lot of confusion about what is being celebrated and, of course, lots of back and forth about how Christians should celebrate Easter Sunday.

Some background on Easter

Easter Sunday is a big celebration for Christian churches. Not only is it an important celebration, it's one of those Sundays when a lot of people who don't normally go to church attend a service, especially if it's a sunrise service.

Our church holds an Easter sunrise service at the beach each year and it's a beautiful and well-attended celebration. I'm partial to sunrise services because it connects so well with the story of the Lord Jesus' resurrection in all four of the gospels.

Back to the question of whether there's a difference between Easter and Resurrection Sunday? There is but some background on other more traditional observances of the church needs to be considered first.

Ash Wednesday and Lent

Ash Wednesday is the beginning of the Lenten season that runs for forty days up to Easter Sunday. It commemorates Jesus' fasting in the wilderness for forty days and His temptation by the devil at the end of the fasting (Matt 4:1-11).

It's observed as a time to give up some pleasure or part of daily life routine as a sacrifice. It was not observed by the early church but developed and set as a church observance in 325 BC. It's observed mostly by Catholic churches and many traditional Protestant churches.

Paschal Triduum

Palm Sunday combined with the final days before Easter Sunday are considered Holy or Passion Week. The Paschal Triduum includes three important days. Which ones? It depends on who you ask or what you accept as the three most important days.

The title is drawn from Pascha, the Greek equivalent to the Hebrew Pesach for the Passover. The Passover or Seder Supper is based on the first Passover in Exodus 12, which was fulfilled by the Lord's atoning death on the cross.

Which three days? Traditionally it's been Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday but others, including me, opt for Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Resurrection Sunday.

Palm Sunday

 Lightstock.com

Lightstock.com

Palm Sunday is the Sunday before Easter Sunday. It commemorates Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey as He was hailed by crowds of people crying out, "Hosanna (Oh Save!) to the Son of David!" (Matt 21:1-11). It is the beginning of Holy Week that concludes with Easter Sunday.

Although the early church didn't observe it, the church in Jerusalem started to observe it about the late third or early fourth century. When Jesus entered Jerusalem that day it was a fulfillment of a Messianic prophecy (Zech 9:9; Matt 21:4-5).

Sadly, many in the crowd who waved palm branches and shouted out "Hosanna!" to hail whom they believed to be the Messiah later yelled out, "Crucify Him!" (Matt 27:15-26). It illustrates how quickly emotions and opinions can change people's minds regardless of the truth.

Maundy Thursday

lightstock_Jesus_washes_feet.jpg

Maundy Thursday commemorates the last night Jesus spent with His closest followers as told in John chapters 13 through 17. It begins with Jesus washing the disciples' feet, which included His betrayer Judas (John 13:1-17), on the night He ate the Passover feast with them (Luke 22:14-23).

The word Maundy is taken from the Latin word for command in acknowledgment of the Lord's new commandment to love one another as He loved us (John 13:34-35). This is something that needs to be remembered and practiced far more often than once a year!

Good Friday

I remember participating in Good Friday services as one of a group of pastors in the community where we shared on one of the last seven sayings of Jesus on the cross. It was a good reminder of how we are one Body—one Church unified by Jesus and His work of redemption on the cross.

My first time in the Philippines was on Good Friday where the whole country virtually comes to a  standstill to observe this solemn day with processions and prayers. As believers, we need to reflect on the atoning death of Jesus—the Lamb of God (John 1:29). Not just for His sacrifice but the purpose of His sacrifice.

 Lightstock.com

Lightstock.com

When Jesus was lifted up on the cross on Golgotha (John 19:17-18), He fulfilled the Passover once and for all (Heb 9:12, 26; 10:10, 12). This is why it is Good Friday! It may have originally been God's Friday but morphed into Good—like God's spell (story) became Gospel.

The very purpose of Jesus dying on the cross was to provide a way for all humanity to be reconciled with God the Father. God came to earth Himself as the Son of God to offer Himself for all people.

All of Jesus' earthly ministry and presence was focused on this day followed by His resurrection—His death and resurrection cannot and should not be separated in our understanding of God's work of redemption. And so, it is Good Friday but remember—as an old hymn declares—Sunday is coming!

Holy Saturday

Holy Saturday is the official end of the Lenten season. It's also called Black Saturday in the Philippines and other places. It's a reminder of Jesus' burial in the tomb. But thankfully, it's not the end of the story!

Easter—Resurrection Sunday

Although most of us know this day of celebration as Easter, I prefer the use of Resurrection Sunday because it expresses what's most important. It's uncertain how it became known as Easter but an early connection to its origin is to the Saxon goddess of spring, Eastre. 

The important thing is to distinguish the difference between how the world around us observes Easter and why believers celebrate it. Without the physical resurrection of Jesus from the dead, there is no hope of eternal life and there is no true redemption (1 Cor 15:13-17). 

Without the physical resurrection of Jesus from the dead, there is no hope of eternal life and there is no true redemption
 Lightstock.com

Lightstock.com

The resurrection of the Lord Jesus on the third day after His death was the primary focus of the gospel for the early church, as seen throughout the book of Acts. It is central to Christian theology. The hope of salvation and eternal life hang on the physical resurrection of Jesus.

It's what the Lord pointed the disciples to before and immediately after His death and resurrection (Matt 16:21; Luke 24:44-47). The resurrection came on the first day of the week (our Sunday) and was the first true Christian holiday observed by the early church and the reason they began to meet on the first day of the week rather than on the last day.

I've written about this many times and in my book. Here are a few links if you're interested—

Easter or Resurrection Sunday?

So, what are you celebrating on Easter? It's easy to react to the idea of a pagan origin to Easter but the resurrection of Christ is biblical and important. It really doesn't matter what you call the day (Rom 14:5-9). What is important is why we celebrate it.

A traditional greeting for Resurrection Sunday is for one person to say, "He is risen!" and for others to reply, "He is risen indeed!" That is the essence of our hope in Jesus.

A simple way to get a true perspective on Holy Week, or Passion Week if you prefer, is to read the account of it all in the Bible. Sometimes it's easy to lose sight of the power of the story—God's story of redemption through His Son Jesus—trying to sort out the what and why.

Not that understanding isn't important, it is, but understanding often comes as we immerse ourselves in the story itself. When you read—allow yourself to soak in all that is written, even read it aloud, so you can see it with your mind's eye. Reading more dynamic versions of the Bible may help and you can also listen to audio versions of the Bible.

Understanding often comes as we immerse ourselves in the story itself

Here are some reading suggestions so you can do that—

Scripture Readings

Maundy Thursday and Good Friday

  • Matthew Chaps 26–27
  • Mark Chaps 14–15
  • Luke Chaps 22–23
  • John Chaps 13–17 and 18–19

Resurrection Sunday

  • Matthew 28
  • Mark 16
  • Luke 24
  • John 20–21
He is risen! He is risen indeed!