Yesterday was particularly challenging for me, but far more for my husband. When he came home from work, we both were glad the day was over. He asked me to pray at suppertime and I recall trying to give thanks for all that happened, knowing that God is sovereign still and that our trials are under His command. It was not easy to pray like that while feeling so distracted from the day’s crazy events.
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. (1 Thessalonians 5:16–19)
This morning’s devotional reading is profoundly lovely. I’d like to reproduce it verbatim, but instead will point to bits that explain how we can pray without ceasing, even in the middle and muddle of life. The author of this reading is Fraņois de Salignac de la Mothe-Fénelon, and it comes from Volume 2 of a section called “The Saints Converse with God,” in The World’s Great Sermons. It was published by the dictionary people, Funk & Wagnalls, in 1908.
This man with the long name starts out with a short sentence. He says, “It is not necessary to pronounce many words.”
Jesus said the same thing in the Sermon on the Mount.
And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. (Matthew 6:7)
Praying without ceasing is not about blabbering on and on to God. Instead, it is about having that attitude of heart that can say, “Let your will be done” when life goes contrary to my will. It is raising my heart to God asking for His guidance with my actions, grace with my words, help for my weakness, forgiveness for my frequent disobediences and focus when I am terribly distracted.
Such prayer is not about method or even calculated lists. It does not require me to quit what I am doing. Instead, this is a simple movement of my heart toward my Creator with the desire that whatever I am doing I might do to His glory. “The best of all prayers is to act with a pure intention and with a continual reference to the will of God. It depends much on ourselves whether our prayers are effective. It is not by a miracle but by a movement of the heart that we are benefited, by a submissive spirit.”
Prayer is also meditation on eternal matters. It is taking moments, or hours and days if possible, to get away from a world that speaks and acts as if there is no God and “approach the source of all virtue, that we may revive our declining faith” and the goodness that flows from it. Prayer is the “remedy for our weakness, the rectifier of our faults. He who was without sin prayed constantly; how much more ought we, who are sinners, to be faithful in prayer!”
Knowing that God will bless my work is another powerful motive to prayer, particularly when all else proves useless and my tiny faith knows that I need His blessing to succeed. Saying “help me” when I sit down to write or stand up to put my words into action is part of “praying without ceasing.”
The reading points out that such prayer must be with attention for “God listens to the voice of the heart, not to that of the lips” and my “whole heart must be engaged in prayer” with “every human object” vanished from my mind. He asks, “To whom should we speak with attention if not to God?”
While this preacher says “such attention to prayer may be practiced with less difficulty than we imagine,” I am not there yet. My ADD scattered mind suffers from more than “occasional involuntary distractions” and “these unbidden wanderings of the mind” do trouble me. I find I must walk to keep my mind on praying. Even then, I’m easily distracted, yet there is hope.
The reading says that such distractions “may promote our perfection even more than the most sublime and affecting prayers, if we strive to overcome them and submit with humility to this experience of our infirmity.”
I’m not completely certain of what he means, but it seems that God wants me to take even my distractions to Him in unceasing prayer and by doing so, I can turn this enemy of my prayers into another motivation for praying.