Saturday, June 12, 2010

Pray Without Ceasing

“Pray without ceasing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17)

How do you hear these words of St. Paul? Do they make sense to you? Do they seem realistic?

“Pray without ceasing.” Following his actual word order, he says, “Incessantly pray!”

What does this mean? How is this possible? What form does this take in a person’s life?

In order to understand this admonition from the apostle to the Gentiles we must first understand what prayer really is. Is prayer what people imagine it to be? Is prayer something that a person chooses to do? Is prayer an action or is it something else?

I believe that we sinful humans begin with a perverse perception of prayer. We begin with the notion that prayer is something that originates with us. We imagine that prayer is something that we do.

However, prayer is really nothing more than the ongoing activity of the Holy Communion of God. Prayer is really what God is working in the person whom He has incorporated into the communion of the Holy Trinity. Prayer is really a walking or living in spirit. Prayer is to the soul what breathing is to the body.

I’d like to share an example of prayer that became manifest in my daily activity one day last week.

Last week I was working out of town on a big job. It involved the pruning and deadwooding and cleaning of many trees as well as removal of dead and diseased and scrub trees.

This tree was one of the trees that needed extensive deadwooding and cleaning. It is probably about 60 ft. tall. In preparing to climb this tree, I needed to position my climbing line in one of the upper crotches. After selecting a crotch that would give me good climbing position and support, I shot my throw weight and line many times. Several times I had a perfect shot that went directly through the crotch, only to be bounced back out by a little twig. Many other times it bounced to one side or another off of little twigs and leaves that were in the path of the shot. Several times I cried out, “Why are you fighting me, Lord?” Finally, in frustration I demanded, “Why are you fighting me, Lord? Why do you refuse to allow me this shot? Is there something wrong with this crotch? Do you simply not want me to use this crotch? Is it unsafe? What?” I tried again, and said, “OK. I’ll try one more time and if you still block me, I’ll try another crotch.”

I had to select another crotch. When I climbed to that part of the tree, about 40 or 45 ft. high, I saw that indeed the entire branch was rotted. It looked solid from the ground. It was over six inches in diameter, but the center of the branch was severely decayed and weakened.

I prayed, “OK, Lord. Thanks for keeping me safe.”

The point is that I expect this from God. In my daily work I talk to Him and I listen to Him. Mostly, I listen.

I believe that this is what St. Paul is teaching us regarding our walk by faith. Faith is fear of the Lord. Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Faith is knowledge of the holy, or holy one. This knowledge moves one to acknowledge God’s Holy Communion in every aspect of one’s life. Being established in His Communion is to be continually listening and responding to Him, expecting Him to be present and involved in every activity and aspect of daily living.

Here is the tree after I finished climbing and pruning.

I was in this tree for about two hours. This was two hours longer than I would have been in the tree if I had not been listening and anticipating God to be directing me in my work.

I cannot imagine living without the blessing of incessant prayer. This stands as one little example of the form that prayer takes throughout the day. Prayer includes hymns that the Holy Spirit brings to mind and reflection upon Bible verses and thinking of various interactions with people and pondering plans and wondering about loved ones and longing for being home with my wife. Prayer includes marveling at the depth and power of God’s love. Prayer includes observing the songs of birds as they sing of the wonders of God’s creation. On and on prayer takes hold and manifests itself as God works and blesses.

The Lord commands that we call upon Him in the day of trouble. What day is without trouble? What day is not polluted by sin? What day does not provide limitless opportunities for prayer in communion with the One who loves us?

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