I’ve always found impossible Paul’s imperative to “pray without ceasing.” I mean, seriously, who has time for that? Even Luther’s comment that he’s so busy that he feels he has to pray for 3 hours a day doesn’t quite get at Paul’s impracticable “without ceasing” requirement – 3 hours is hardly “without ceasing.” Surely Paul doesn’t expect me to kneel beside my bed for all 16 waking hours.
But what if “without ceasing” isn’t a measurable category? What if I can’t set my stop-watch count this kind of prayer? What if I can’t gauge it? What if it can’t be calculated by the time I spend on my knees next to my bed or verbalizing prayers from the Lectionary?
I had a liberating thought a while back: Unceasing prayer can only be done in communion with the Holy Spirit…..Here me out before you say, “Thank you Captain Obvious!”
You see, this kind of prayer cannot be put on our check-list of spiritual activities for the day. Rather, it is a continual and constant communion with the Spirit throughout the day. It is the recognition that the Spirit, as a person, is always present and always engaged with us. Like the face of the Deep in Genesis 1:2, the Spirit hovers over us, always drawing us out of the chaos and into communion.
This is also a recognition that all our mundane tasks – “when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Dt. 6:7) - can be done in communion with the Spirit, with an ever increasing awareness of the Spirit’s nearness. God is not distant, God the Spirit desires us to delve deep in Trinitarian fellowship.
So, while Luther’s 3 hours is important (especially as a discipline), we cannot restrict our communion with the Spirit of God to 1/8 of our day. The Spirit’s presence permeates every aspect of our lives. Every cry of our heart against injustice, even the ones we don’t utter prayers for, is heard by the Spirit as an appeal to the Father to set things right. When we hurt the Spirit groans and prays for us – even though we haven’t uttered a word.
No longer do I find Paul’s imperative an impossibility. No longer do I assume I don’t have time for that. No longer am I convicted by Luther’s prayer life in comparison with mine. Ceaseless is as simple communion with another person. It is the desires and thoughts which invite God to establish His kingdom on earth. It is our efforts to work with the Spirit to display, as true image bearers, God’s name in a chaotic and rebellious earth. It is the orientation of our being to God’s Spirit. It is our groanings to have heaven touch earth in such a way that Christ is revealed in all his goodness. In these things we draw deeper into communion with the Spirit, deeper into participation in the divine nature. In these things we pray without ceasing.