When I was young, the words of 1 Thessalonians 5:17 confused me. “Pray without ceasing,” Paul says. How exactly can a person do that? After all, I have things to do! Am I supposed to simply stay in my closet all day and pray, neglecting my family, my job, and my friends? Or maybe I’m supposed to always be praying while I’m doing other things like reading, working, or talking to people? Wouldn’t that cause me to be perpetually distracted, though? Seems like I wouldn’t be doing anything well at that point!
When we read 1 Thessalonians 5:17, it’s important to understand that the verse is surrounded by two other commands: “Rejoice always” (v. 16) and “Give thanks in all circumstances (v. 18). Those commands are similar to “Pray without ceasing,” because there is a constancy to all three commands. I’m supposed to rejoice all the time, even when things are hard. I’m supposed thank God, even when my circumstances are bleak. And I’m supposed keep praying, even when when I find myself in the midst of trials and suffering.
What Paul is really telling us here is, “Don’t give up!” He’s urging us to keep on praying faithfully even when it doesn’t seem like our prayers are changing things. We don’t stop praying, in other words, when we don’t get what we want. Nor do we stop praying when we DO get what we want. We simply keep it up through all of life’s seasons, and its many ups and downs.
When we pray, the Spirit of God helps us to rejoice always. And He reminds to be thankful in all circumstances. Prayer transforms our own hearts long before it changes the world. So Paul says that we should keep on praying, day in and day out, year after year, without quitting or slowing down. Pray about everything, in every circumstance, and keep on going, trusting that God will answer us in His own good time.