When Saint Paul tells us to “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17), this seems to be downright unreasonable. How can we spend our entire day praying? Even if we could manage to achieve such a feat, it would be to the detriment of all of our tasks in this world. The baby wouldn't get fed, the yard wouldn't get mowed, your spouse wouldn't get a kiss, but at least you would be praying! This seems to be a command that only a monk or a nun could fulfill, someone who has dedicated their entire lives to prayer and contemplation. Surely Paul isn't talking to someone who has a 'real job,' who has a family to care for and responsibilities to so many!
But we can't explain away this command. Paul actually calls on us—each and every one of us—to 'pray without ceasing.' We can't escape this demand, from Christ's apostle to Christ's people. All of those excuses and complaints about neglecting our God-given responsibilities simply mask the truth. And the truth is, we have trouble giving one hour a week to prayer, much less an hour a day, making a call to constant prayer seem so ridiculous that we cannot even consider it.
But praying without ceasing doesn't mean that we spend our days with our eyes closed and our hands folded. Instead it means that prayer is interwoven into our entire lives. We are constantly conversing with God, in good times and in bad, bringing our every need to His throne of grace. When a need for prayer arises, we don't try to remember it for evening devotions, we pray right then and there. We are in conversation with Jesus throughout our day, bringing Him into our lives everywhere we go. Jesus is truly present with us in all that we face in this world. To pray without ceasing is to acknowledge that fact, asking the Lord who is there with us in the challenges and joys of this life to grant us peace, comfort, and deliverance.
How can we pray without ceasing? Our spontaneous prayer throughout the day flows from our ordered prayer every week in the Divine Service, and every day in morning and evening devotions. These ordered prayers give form and content for the prayers that arise for the needs that fill our days. We are taught to pray in the Scriptures and the historic prayers of the Church, and then we take that knowledge out into our lives in the world. We are filled with God's Word in the quiet of daily and weekly prayer, and then that Word flows into our lives in this loud, busy, and dangerous world. Around the Church's altar, around the family altar, we are prepared to 'pray without ceasing.'