Pray Continually An absurdity!!
The apostle Paul wrote a letter about prayer to the church in Thessalonica (First Thessalonians 5 v17). What he said has been translated as Pray Continually in the New International Version of the Bible. Older versions have the translation Pray without ceasing. The meaning is the same.
What do you think of this injunction? At the very least is surely a bit over-the-top? Taking it literally are we being asked to stop sleeping, stop eating, stop washing our bodies, stop working, stop chatting, etc? Family life would disintegrate. Christians would be withdrawn from all social and political activity. The care of the weak, the poor, the blind, the imprisoned, the disabled and the deranged would be left to others. Any sense of a duty-of-care would be abandoned.
Surprise! Surprise! There was a group of early Christians in North East Africa called the Desert Fathers who adopted a manner of life very similar to that described above. They took to living on the flat tops of slender towers till they died. Fortunately that cult did not last too long.
Where do we start, then, in trying to understand what Paul is intending to say to us. Fortunately, Paul tells us quite a lot about his own life-style while in Thessalonica. He spoke as one entrusted with the gospel; behaved towards the new believers as a nursing mother, then as a father to his children; and worked night and day not to be a burden to anyone. When Paul says pray constantly we are, therefore, driven to the conclusion that Paul is using hyperbole, alias exaggeration, to emphasise the indisputable importance of prayer and startle the readers to lead a more prayerful life.
John Stott earned a reputation as one who daily rose early to pray. He led the ministry at Langham Place Church in London from 1950 to 1970. It was a time of great growth in the influence of that church. Then he passed the baton of leadership to another person in order to develop Langham Ministries. This became a highly important international project to improve the quality of church leadershp worldwide, but especially in deprived countries. His godly influence in many areas of Christian activity earned for him the highest respect. One day towards the end of his life a close colleague asked him, “If you had your life to live again would you have done anything differently?”He thought for few moments then said,“I would have prayed more.”
For some strange and unexplained reason corporate prayer tends to diminish over the summer months in our churches. Could this prove a prompt to you and me to engage in more private prayer? When boys, my brother and I went off with our parent for a two week annual summer holiday. One year on the first night I saw my brother kneel by his bedside in personal prayer for the first time. In this holiday-season please let us each be prompted to private praying in a new way.