Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God(RSV) 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18.
I have to admit, this verse always confused and confounded me. Other than priests and monks how could anyone pray constantly? Even the second part seemed strange – give thanks in all circumstances – certainly you couldn’t give thanks if you are struck by a drunk driver, locked away from loved ones because of COVID, or newly destitute because of a job loss or other financial reasons. Paul had to be nuts to write this…or was he?
I’m not going to cover the second part in this post (maybe another time), but praying constantly is not as bizarre a concept as it may sound, and is not as difficult once you understand how it can be done.
In the Eastern Church the monks taught (lessons from Seraphim of Sarov) that by praying a short mantra continuously it would become so ingrained into your psyche that you would find yourself repeating it without even being aware of it. In essence, your soul would begin praying it without any conscious knowledge on your part. The pray they teach is not only brief, but encapsulated the entire teaching of the Church:
Lord Jesus Christ,
Son of God,
Be merciful to me,
They taught that you would repeat this, at first, aloud, whenever you were not involved in any work or conversation. Next was to continue repeating it while doing your work. Finally, and the most difficult, was to try repeating it even while conversing. It would be difficult at first, but with time and patience you would find that you could hold an entire conversation while still praying. At this point it would become so ingrained that you would wake up from sleep only to discover that your soul was still praying.
It was a nice concept, and probably doable for the clergy, but hardly practical for the average person. What I have discovered over the years is a different method that can be done by those of us who work in the “real world”.
Have you ever done something that, to your surprise, you succeeded at even though you never thought you would? Did you give thanks to the Lord for helping you through it?
Did you ever have a really good time with friends or colleagues? Something where, afterwards, you were really happy that you participated in? Did you give thanks to the Lord for the opportunity?
After you get home from work, after an especially grueling day or commute, did you give thanks to the Lord for seeing you through it?
Each of these events are times to give the Lord thanks. I’m not talking about getting down on your knees and saying a few Our Father’s. I’m talking about a simple look into the Heavens and just saying “Thanks!”
That is what I started doing a few years ago. After everything I do I just look up and do a quick “Thanks!”. (I will do it after finishing this post, as I did when I was given the idea for the post) I got the idea after noticing how many people would exasperate “Thank god!” after something, without really meaning to give thanks.
I now find myself not just thanking God at the end of a task, but also asking for help before it begins. Asking for help as it proceeds, and thanking when I get past an especially tough part.
I enjoy walking and hiking, and will spend the time just talking to God about what is going on in my life, about the beauty of the trails, admiring the flora and fauna that He created. Then thanking Him for the opportunity to enjoy the wilds, and for the ability to do so.
This is all prayer. Prayer, at its very basics, is just talking to God. It doesn’t have to be anything grandiose. It doesn’t have to occur in a church, temple, or synagogue. God didn’t create any of these buildings, man did. Jesus went out into the wilderness, into gardens, onto mountains to pray, in fact it was Jesus who told us:
The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain; and you say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father…true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”(RSV) John 4:19-24
God is everywhere, in everything; prayer can occur anywhere and at any time. God seeks a personal relationship with us, and that means breaking beyond the repetition of fixed prayers (Lord’s Prayer, etc.) and just learning to talk to God as a friend, companion, confidant. Talk to Him about whatever is on you mind; understand that you can feel free to question Him, to get angry with Him (you can’t have a personal relationship with someone if you can’t be honest about your feelings), to tell Him you are sorry.
So, can we, as Paul states, “Pray constantly”? Yes, if we understand that anytime that we talk with God is prayer. The dictionary defines prayer as:
So, what are you waiting for? Start praying to God now, thank Him for finding/reading this post. Thank Him for the day you are having, or complain to Him if things are going wrong. Ask for His help, thank Him for giving it to you, question Him if you don’t like the help you received.
“Good night, and may God bless.” – Red Skelton