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Hands folded in prayer to illustrate unceasing prayer.
Image by Himsan from Pixabay

Prayer has been on my mind today.

As our visit with friends wound down last night, our conversation turned to the topic of prayer.

A dear friend shared a prayer on social media today that she said was breaking her heart wide open.

Walking and talking this past week, my husband and I talked about prayer, about how as our walk with God grows, so does our prayer life.

My confession about prayer

And yet, so much of my day escaped without prayer today.

The other day I wrote about routines and rhythms, mentioning the rhythm of confession and forgiveness. Even at this moment, I find myself confessing that I didn’t talk with God as often as I could have, certainly not without ceasing.

What about you? How is your prayer life? What’s working well for you? What aspect of your prayer life do you want to change or strengthen?

Henri Nouwen’s instruction

Thus, as “thinking reeds,” we are able to feel deeply and experience life to the full with all its sorrows and joys. This unceasing thinking, which lies at the core of our humanity, needs to be converted slowly but persistently into unceasing prayer.

Henri Nouwen

Henri Nouwen was a Dutch Catholic priest and theologian. His writings always challenge my thoughts. In 1978 he wrote an essay about unceasing prayer. He started by wondering if ever, as humans, we are not thinking. That alone is fascinating. He used Blaise Pascal’s idea that we are “thinking reeds,” that it is the act of thinking that sets us apart from the rest of creation. And if we have unceasing thoughts, then it must be possible to have unceasing prayer.

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Paul’s example

The Apostle Paul didn’t just urge us to pray unceasingly, but he commented on his own prayer life, often indicating that he practiced a continual prayer life.

And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe. 

1 Thessalonians 2:13 NIV

With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith.

2 Thessalonians 1:11 NIV

For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you

Romans 1:9 ESV

I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear conscience, as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day.

2 Timothy 1:3 ESV

How to pray unceasingly

To pray, I think, does not primarily mean to think about God in contrast to thinking about other things, or to spend time with God instead of spend­ing time with other people. Rather, it means to think and live in the presence of God.

Henri Nouwen

We begin to pray unceasingly when we think and live in the presence of God. This means we no long compartmentalize our lives. Monday is no less God’s time than Sunday. We bring our thoughts, our concerns, our questions, our list-making, our grocery shopping, our ____ — you name it — into our conversations with God. So we are no longer just talking to ourselves in our heads, but we are dialoguing with God all day long. We turn all of our thoughts into an ongoing conversation with our Creator. Prayer then becomes unceasing as we are intentionally attentive to the Spirit of God present with us.

Prayer is not artful monologue
Of voice uplifted from the sod;
It is love’s tender dialogue
Between the soul and God.

John Richard Moreland (1880-1947)

My prayer

Father, this is a lesson I learn and forget. I’m so grateful for your patience and your repeated instruction. Will you imprint this lesson on my heart that my thoughts and our dialogue will be one? Always, Your will, Your way, Your glory – Amen.

Nouwen, H. (2022, January 24). Henri Nouwen: How to (actually) pray without ceasing. America Magazine. https://www.americamagazine.org/faith/2022/01/24/henri-nouwen-prayer-unceasing-242269

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