Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Pray Continually

When it comes to prayer, most of us know that the Bible tells us to "pray continually." Pray without ceasing, it says, and we say this to each other, especially when we have an urgent prayer need in front of us. Never stop praying. Pray all the time.

What's interesting is that this verse (1 Thessalonians 5:17) comes in the middle of a whole set of one-line commands Paul gives to the church, and yet, how many of you can name any of the others? There are six others, seven in total, and this is the one that we've latched onto, the one we've adopted, the one we've said that we ought to live our lives by.

But what about verse 16: "Rejoice always"? Paul says it with the same succinctness and force as he tells us to pray continually, but we don't throw this one around at each other.

Then, there's verse 18: "Give thanks in everything." No thanks. We can't really be bothered by that. Can we? There's something about it that's maybe not as catchy, not as devout-sounding or whatever. Eh, we'll take a pass on this one, too.

Okay, then let's look at verse 19: "Don't stifle the spirit." This one's a bit harder because it's written in the negative - something we shouldn't do, rather than something we should. It's easier for us to dismiss ones like this because it's not active or at least, it doesn't seem as active. Maybe he should have written it the other way around "Let the fires of the spirit burn." Still, it's a little passive - we don't have to do anything; we just have to be careful not to interfere with something that's happening.

Moving on, then, we come to verse 20: "Don't despise prophecies." Another one written in the negative, which makes it hard for the same reasons. Maybe he should have said "Consider faithfully the prophecies that you hear." Maybe that's it. But still, most of us aren't hearing prophecies a whole lot. It seems like maybe this one is an "every now and then" sort of thing, certainly not up there with praying "all the time."

Fine. Maybe verse 21 is your thing: "Test all things." But who has the time for that? None of us wants to live our lives at such a leisurely pace that we have time to test everything that comes our way. That's why our brains work the way they do. They build neural pathways that allow us to take shortcuts and process information based on things that we already know, making more things seem obvious to us than truly are. We can't really take the time, all the time, to test everything. This one just seems impractical (which ironically, is the complaint we often have about praying without ceasing when we take it to its logically absurd extreme).

Perhaps, then, you're more of a verse 22 sort of person: "Stay away from every kind of evil." Here again, we have something to avoid, rather than something to do, but this one at least tells us what we're doing. Most of us think we're already doing this, though. We're not committing the "big" sins. We don't turn down dark alleys or take roads we know will lead to destruction. Anything clearly marked "evil," most of us stay away from anyway...so we're pretty sure we don't need this command. Not really, anyway.

It's just interesting. Paul writes these seven very short, concise statements - Rejoice always. Pray continually. Give thanks in everything. Don't stifle the spirit. Don't despise prophecies. Test all things. And stay away from every kind of evil. And out of all of those, we've made wall hangings and pillows and artwork out of just one - Pray continually.

Why that one? Why not the others? They are just as holy, just as much spiritual disciplines as the prayer one.

Just something to think about. 

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