"Pray without ceasing" (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
It's such a small simple verse and yet it can seem virtually impossible to accomplish. Just how does one "pray without ceasing"? This question drove a young monk to consider how his menial tasks in the monastary such as cooking and washing dishes could become worship and the opportunity to be present with God. If God is always present--and he promises that he is--then how can we become conscious of the fact and live in that reality? Brother Andrew's thoughts are contained in a short book entitled, "The Practice of the Presence of God". This book along with two others are excellent and have shaped my views on how to pray without ceasing. In addition to "The Practice of the Presence of God", I would recommend "The Hour that Changes the World" by Dick Eastman and "Prayer: Finding the Hearts True Home" by Richard Foster. More than any others these three books have formed my views on prayer.
Let me also suggest four streams in which it is helpful to pray:
#1--Passionately. If anything is worth doing--it is worth doing with all of our heart. To pray passionately means to pray with emotion and feeling. It is to feel the despair within the heart of the one for which we may be praying encouragement. It is to feel and then to pray from that feeling. We pray healing for the one suffering from cancer by imagining what it must be like to have cancer. Of course this is much harder than merely reciting a list of needs to God which is why we hardly ever do it--and perhaps why our prayers are often so ineffective.
#2--Relationaly. This week I saw a devotional by author John Eldridge that noted the different metaphors that describe our potential relationships with God. He lists six:
--Potter & Clay: Not much communication here--just breaking and molding.
--Shepherd & Sheep: Some communication happens but sheep aren't capable of much.
--Master & Servant: This is where most of us spend our lives--just trying to please the master--doing what we're told.
--Father & Child: I like this one. Pretty intimate. We can tell our dad all of our stuff and curl up in his lap and rest.
--Friends: This is a bit farther along in the relationship model. Friends share their lives.
--Bridegroom & Bride: Intimacy! Lovers! This where we can really learn to pray.
We can pray in each of these six metaphors but I think that you can see how communication would be different in each of the six depending on the relational intimacy. Where are you? Where would you like to be?
#3--Aggressively. Jesus tells us to "Ask", "Seek", and "Knock" in Matthew 7:7-11. Prayer is the stuff of asking--nothing more and nothing less. Do it aggressively!
#4--Yes! We need to learn to pray in agreement with all that God is saying to us. It is impossible to say, "No Lord!".
So, how do we pray without ceasing? I want to share with a very simple tool that I have been using for years in my attempt to pray without ceasing. I have a collection of colored beads that I carry on a keychain. Each bead represents a unique type of prayer. As often as I touch the beads on the keychain, I am reminded to pray. I pray the prayer represented by whatever bead I happen to touch. I have done this in many different ways. I have beads in my pocket. I have beads on my desk. I have beads in my car. I simply pull a bead from the collection and whatever the bead represents that's what I do. I would be happy to send you a set of these "prayer beads" if you would like them. You need only ask.
I include eleven types of prayer represented by eleven colors in these prayer beads:
GOLD: Worship. I think of the streets of gold in heaven and I'm drawn to worship God for who He is.
GREEN: Growth. I think of green grass that is healthy and growing. The green bead reminds me to pray that God would grow me four primary ways: Godliness, Relationships, Obedience, and Wisdom.
RED: Love. I think of red valentines with this bead. One of the most important aspects of prayer for me is simply rest in his love. I close my eyes if possible, relax, and attempt to feel and receive the love of God.
BLACK: Meditation. Much of what happens in my life can seem dark and meaningless. And yet I know that everything has a purpose. With this bead, I am reminded to ask the Father to reveal to me what he is doing in my life through the maze of seemingly unconnected circumstances. I am asking God to lift the darkness and to reveal to me the purpose of all that is happening in my life.
PURPLE: Intercession. Purple represents priestly royalty and reminds me that I am to do the work of a priest--the work of intercession. When I draw this bead, I want to become aware of everyone around me and to begin praying for their needs.
WHITE: Confession. The white bead represents purity--something that I can only find in Christ. This is a reminder to confess my known sins and to ask the Father to make me aware of everything else that falls short of his glory.
ORANGE: Sing. You may want to do this one quietly. I believe that God loves to hear his children sing. I often make up songs--simply singing my prayer. If you are able then sing out with all of your might making known the content of your heart.
BLUE: Deliverance. There are more prayers for deliverance in the Bible than any other prayer. The blue bead reminds me that I need to be lifted out of the deep waters. I need rescue all the time. Jesus taught us to pray in his model prayer, "Deliver us from evil".
SILVER: Petition. The silver bead reminds me to pray for everything that I might need--silver, gold, whatever. I use an acrostic here to guide this prayer. B-ody (the physical), L-abor (whatever I do), E-motions (whatever I feel), S-ocial relationships (whoever I know), and S-pirituality (who I am).
CLEAR: Holy Spirit. I am a leaky cup and I need constant refilling. This bead reminds me to pray for the constant filling of the Holy Spirit who empowers me.
YELLOW: Thanksgiving. We can never say "thanks" enough for all of the things that God does for us. Yellow reminds me of a bright sunshiny day for which I am truly thankful.
The purpose of this tool is to allow us to be reminded of the presence of God. It is not an idol and it is not magic. It is a symbolic reminder of our need to be in constant communication with God. Find a way to use it that allows you to grow in your faith. Change it, develop it, even learn to pray without it. Again, if you would like a set of these beads, let me know and I will drop a set in the mail for you.
Pray without ceasing!